Paving the Road to Hell: The Failure of U.N. Peacekeeping

The United Nations started the 1990s with such high hopes. With the end of the Cold War, the U.S.-Soviet rivalry that had paralyzed the Security Council had become a thing of the past, supposedly freeing the U.N. to become more assertive. The Gulf War, the U.N.'s second-ever military victory, seemed to vindicate those hopes -- even though, as in the Korean War, the baby-blue banner was used as a mere flag of convenience for an American-led alliance. President Bush spoke of a "new world order." Candidate Clinton talked about giving the United Nations more power and even its own standing military force.

It is hard to find any U.S. officials making similar suggestions today, only a decade later. They have been chastened, presumably, by the U.N.'s almost unrelieved record of failure in its peacekeeping missions.

The United Nations itself has recently released reports documenting two of its worst stumbles. According to these confessions, U.N. peacekeepers in Rwanda stood by as Hutu slaughtered some 800,000 Tutsi. In Bosnia, the U.N. declared safe areas for Muslims but did nothing to secure them, letting the Serbs slaughter thousands in Srebrenica. The organization's meddling was worse than useless: its blue-helmeted troops were used as hostages by the Serbs to deter a military response from the West. Presumably, Secretary-General Kofi Annan -- who was head of the U.N.'s peacekeeping department at the time -- hopes that an institutional mea culpa now will wipe the slate clean and allow the organization to play a more vigorous role in the future.

The arrival of Deliver Us From Evil, a new book by British journalist William Shawcross, provides a good opportunity to ponder whether this is a realistic expectation. Shawcross presents a highly readable, if at times repetitive and scattershot, chronicle of U.N. diplomacy and humanitarian interventions in the past decade. Though predisposed to favor U.N. peacekeeping -- much of this book is written from the viewpoint of Annan, with whom the author traveled the world -- Shawcross is too honest a reporter to gloss over its failures. He even concedes that humanitarian aid may sometimes do more harm than good by prolonging a war.

BLAME GAMES

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