William Shawcross' 'Endless Conflict': Hope for peace?

March 19, 2000|By Craig Eisendrath | Craig Eisendrath,Special to the Sun

"Deliver Us From Evil: Peacekeepers, Warlords and a World of Endless Conflict," by William Shawcross. Simon and Schuster. 416 pages. $27.50.

Since the Cold War ended, the United States, secure as the world's only superpower, has slowly sunk into a complacent isolationism. William Shawcross' "Deliver Us From Evil" comes as a poignant reminder that, during this same period, millions of people have been killed, starved, mutilated or displaced in conflicts that have ranged from the former Yugoslavia to Rwanda to Iraq, Cambodia and Indonesia.

Shawcross, a journalist whose books have covered the Hungarian uprising ("Crime and Compromise: Janos Kadar and the Politics of Hungary"), Cambodia ("Sideshow: Kissinger, Nixon and the Destruction of Cambodia") and Iran ("The Shah's Last Ride"), among others, is uniquely qualified to write this history.

His latest chronicle is informed by hundreds of interviews with the key actors in each situation, and by trips in which Shawcross describes directly what he sees. The reader is given graphic descriptions of the killing fields, of the leaders' decision-making process on all sides, and of how the international community has attempted to intervene, or has failed to act.

Shawcross has wisely chosen to see these conflicts mainly through the eyes of two men who have been in the eye of the storms -- the secretaries general of the United Nations, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, and, from the end of 1996, Kofi Annan, with whom Shawcross has had a close personal relationship.

The U.N. leaders' attempts to ameliorate these crises have taken the form known as "humanitarian intervention." While justified by the U.N. Charter as dealing with threats to international peace and security, these multilateral peacekeeping missions, generally through the United Nations, are designed to reduce the appalling human damage of conflict and chaos. Despite Shawcross' statement that his history is "a hopeful story," the results are mixed.

At the end of 1999, Shawcross presents the following world picture: a continuing war in Chechnya; a somewhat more stable Cambodia, after the horrors of the Khmer Rouge; a still-stateless Somalia, although with hundreds of thousands fewer deaths than it might have had without the 1992-93 intervention; a still-divided Bosnia, patrolled by NATO; a Kosovo barely contained by the U.N.; a raging war around the Great Lakes of Central Africa; a horror story of genocide and inadequate aid in Rwanda and its contiguous areas; a defiant Iraq, still flouting U.N. inspection; another horror story in Sierra Leone; and a problematic future for East Timor, after a late and only partially effective U.N. intervention. Equally troubling, the decade's most notorious butchers, Saddam Hussein and Slobodan Milosevic, are still fully in power.

The reader is often overwhelmed by the book's details. Superb as it is, what "Deliver Us From Evil" lacks is an analysis of specific circumstances to answer the larger questions it raises.

Under what conditions can humanitarian intervention work? How can intervention forces best be constituted? Can Russia, China, France and the United States agree sufficiently to form the basis for Security Council action? Can the United States and other nations rise above their own domestic preoccupations to risk casualties or major expenses in helping the world deal with international crises that don't directly affect their security? Under what circumstances could a standing rapid-deployment force under U.N. auspices be created?

While Shawcross clearly favors humanitarian intervention as the hope for the millions of victims of the world's conflicts, these questions need to be answered if hope is going to become dependable reality.

Kofi Annan has recently established an international commission designed precisely to do this. What this commission must do, and what Shawcross fails to do, is to compare the experience of the United Nations in this decade with its longer history.

Here a useful resource might be Brian Urquhart's superb "Hammarskjold" (Norton, 1994) which provides a detailed account of the international organization's most powerful secretary general (1953-61) as he wrestled with problems in the Middle East, Indochina and the Congo, and set up U.N. peacekeeping mechanisms that are still the principal tools available to his successors. The commission must also ask how the world has changed, and how these changes affect its capacity to realize the dream of multilateralism offered by Dag Hammarskjold or, even earlier, by the U.N.'s founders. Under the circumstances of the post-Cold War world, can Kofi Annan revive it? Shawcross' brilliant history would suggest that Annan has his work cut out for him.

Craig Eisendrath, a former foreign service officer and now senior fellow at the Center for International Policy in Washington, D.C., is the editor of the just published "National Insecurity: U.S. Intelligence After the Cold War" (Temple University Press, 296 pages, $34.50).

Michael Pakenham's column will return next week.

Pub Date: 03/19/00

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