Book review: Deliver us from evil

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Deliver us from evil takes a morbid look at that cruel joke of modern times – United Nations (UN) peacekeeping. It should be compulsory reading for all those who commit the crucial mistake of taking the “world body” seriously.
The author, William Shawcross, casts light on the usually murky workings of the UN and finds worms feeding on the cadaver of hope. Taking a good look at the UN`s operations in Cambodia, Somalia, Bosnia, and Rwanda, amongst others, he finds a UN aparat consistently and predictably falling down on the job. And there`s enough blame to go around why this is so.
“In short, the [UN`s] task [is] virtually impossible. The UN`s commander in Bosnia, [French] General Francis Briquemont, complained about the ‘fantastic gap between the resolutions of the Security Council [that South Africa is so keen to join], the will to execute these resolutions, and the means available to commanders in the field.”
One can add to these the thoughts of the UN`s commander in Rwanda in the weeks before the start of its 1994 genocide. Canadian general Romeo Dallaire`s force was “close to a shambles” with his resources – according to Shawcross – so “desperately unmatched to the gravity of the growing crisis” that “Dallaire wondered whether it would have been better for the mission to withdraw [if it could] rather than stay on, pretending it was effective.”
Thus “pretending” pretty much sums of this book. There is an awful lot of pretending in the UN system. The charade begins with the Security Council that lacks for nothing but political will and continues up the chain of command to the heads of government of the countries that sit on that committee. National interests, office politics and horse-trading combine in what passes for diplomacy, a thin veneer covering duplicity, double-dealing and hypocrisy by presidents, premiers and diplomats alike.
Had Rwanda`s Tutsis and the Bosnians of Srebrenica realised this early enough, many of them may still have been alive. Alas!
Deliver us from evil is a profoundly upsetting book. Read it. Deliver us from evil makes it abundantly clear the UN is a failed system and that those who rely on it for their salvation will likely die disillusioned. It is the ultimate proof of the adage that for evil to succeed it only needs good men (and women) to do nothing. Indeed, Deliver us from evil makes one wonder who is the most evil: Ratko Mladic and his death squads at Sarajevo or Madeleine Albright (and US President Bill Clinton) who worked hard to craft a Bosnia policy “that sounded courageous and was yet free of risk”, a “perfect policy, a rhetorical policy, one consisting solely of words.”          
But does the blame end with them? Or does it reside with their electorates? Diplomats engage in this type of theatrics when the politicians who instruct them are influenced by a public that wants “something” to be done but have no stomach to pay in either blood or treasure.        
Ultimately, the UN system is weak because we will it so. Yet, at the same time we convince ourselves it is all-powerful and can deploy well-armed, well-trained peacekeepers anywhere in quick time. Hope triumphs over experience and when that hope fades we blame the UN`s Secretary General.
  
William Shawcross
Deliver us from evil – Warlords & peacekeepers in a world of endless conflict
Bloomsbury
London
2000