Whether the United Nations can become a more effective force for peace in the next century will depend in part on how well it can analyze and absorb the lessons of its peacekeeping ventures in the 1990s. Somalia presented problems of civil disorder and famine following the collapse of a dysfunctional state. The United Nations, having taken no preemptive action to avert the collapse, together with American officials botched several attempts to help the country establish a transitional authority that could begin reconstruction. This succinct book looks at the political dimensions of peacekeeping and portrays the U.N. failure in Somalia primarily as a result of its simultaneous pursuit of two contradictory strategies: accommodating existing forces (armed factions led by predatory warlords) and encouraging new institutions (to be formed by previously intimidated components of civil society, given time and externally guaranteed security). Impatient to shed the expense and responsibilities of extended peacekeeping, say the authors, the international community lacked sufficient commitment to the latter strategy and withdrew prematurely, leaving Somalia's fragile and demoralized society at the mercy of its worst elements.
Get the best of Foreign Affairs' book reviews delivered to you.