by William Shawcross
New York: Simon & Schuster, 2000. .
. . ISBN:068483233X
An interesting and, considering that Shawcross is generally regarded as a leftist (though he has retrospectively revised his wartime hostile views of the U.S. role in Vietnam), not very optimistic look at some of the problems of peacekeeping. The author essentially suggests that we are entering a period in which there will be a lot of small wars, primarily internal. He makes a great many observations on the problem of trying to provide humanitarian assistance, and ending up prolonging the agony. For example, quoting a relief working, providing food relief may end up as a ". . . giant magnet pulling people out of the fields into the towns and out of the towns into the airport," while ignoring "how people normally got food and how that could be supported."
The book is essentially a long introduction followed by a series of case-studies. In the introductory portion, Shawcross notes the many problems that plague humanitarian efforts, such as the "CNN effect," which essentially exploits humanitarian instincts for profit. He also notes that most humanitarian relief organizations are staffed by young, enthusiastic, but largely untrained and unsophisticated personnel. He also gets into what might be termed the "absurdities of peacekeeping," such as using forces from Third World dictatorships to help "build democracy" in places like Cambodia.
On a philosophical level, Shawcross wrestles with the "right" of humanitarian intervention, noting the complex political issues that it raises.
The case studies deal with the principal humanitarian disasters of the past decade (Somalia, Iraq, Bosnia, Kosovo, and so forth), most which he argues were failures, either because action was not take soon enough, or because such actions as were taken were wholly inappropriate.
Much food for thought.