Two of the most horrific civil wars of the twentieth century have ended in recent years, in Sierra Leone and Liberia. The book by Olonisakin sheds considerable light on the path back to peace in Sierra Leone, and the RAND study of Liberia offers a program to rehabilitate the security sector -- and in the process suggests how devastating for basic public institutions over a decade of violent depredation can be. Olonisakin's objective is to analyze the history of the UN peacekeeping efforts in Sierra Leone in the late 1990s and the early years of this century. After a humiliating beginning -- a substantial proportion of UN troops were captured and disarmed by rebels in 2000 -- UNAMSIL (the UN Mission in Sierra Leone) would eventually turn itself into a model multilateral peacekeeping mission. By 2002, it was the biggest peacekeeping force in the world, with over 17,000 troops. Olonisakin credits organizational learning for this turnaround, by both key staff members in the field and the often maligned bureaucrats on the East River in New York. Most striking, the UN was able to orchestrate the bringing to justice of a number of the civil war's warlords on various human rights violations and crimes against humanity. Olonisakin tells the story well, and the book includes many of the key UN documents in a valuable appendix.
The RAND study begins the story of Liberia roughly where Olonisakin ends his analysis of Sierra Leone. The end of violence in Liberia has left the country without an effective national security sector, given the profound dysfunctionality of the army, the police, and the justice and intelligence organizations, after two decades of intense politicization, corruption, and general underfunding by incompetent and venal governments. Another UN peacekeeping force, UNMIL (the UN Mission in Liberia), is now in the process of being wound down, and national security institutions need to take its place. How should these institutions be structured so as to encourage democratic control and effectiveness at an affordable cost? This study offers a series of useful guidelines, both for Liberia and for the international community and the United States. The authors might have mentioned, though, that the last major U.S. effort at security assistance in the region was in fact in Liberia in the 1980s, with less than compelling results.