The National Catholic Review
Donald P. Kommers

We are witnessing another world war. This is the message of Deliver Us From Evil. Unlike World War I and World War II, this war is not among nations. Conscripted armies do not meet on distant battlefields in defense of national interests. No noble purpose informs this war. No medals of honor dignify its combatants. No monuments grace the memory of its unknown soldiers. Fueled by ethnic and religious hatred, this new world war is being fought among tribes and groups within nations. This warthe scourge of the 1990’s and beyondis the work of warlords, petty tyrants and gang leaders, despots all, who kill innocent men, women and children simply because of who they are, or out of sheer hatred. This war, to borrow a line from Shakespeare, is a contumelious, beastly, mad-brained war.

The subtitle of this book is Peacekeepers, Warlords, and the World of Endless Conflict. Its author is William Shawcross, a prize-winning English journalist who writes about the conflict without end being waged in Africa and other places around the globe. Shawcross reports that 56 wars were being waged in the mid-1990’s, creating 17 million refugees and depriving 26 million people of their homes. The death toll was also in the millions, most of whom were civilians. The victims included 2 million children killed and another 6 million wounded. The horror of the statistics speaks for itself.

Deliver Us From Evil is an authentic and earthshaking story of the brutality that stalks the earth. Shawcross writes from the front lines of several of the most savage of the civil wars he describes, often in the company of U.N. General Secretary Kofi Annan. His account includes chilling portraits of genocide in Rwanda, mass murder in Cambodia, ethnic cleansing in Bosnia, forced starvation in Somalia and mass mutilation of women and children in Sierra Leone, not to mention the indiscriminate savagery associated with places such as Angola, Kosovo, Nigeria, Congo, Eritrea, Burundi, Algeria, Afghanistan and East Timor.

Most of this book is devoted to the international community’s role in dealing with these broken states, and especially with the U.N.’s peacekeeping efforts. As Shawcross tells it, the peacekeeping record of the U.N. is nothing the international communityor the United States as the U.N.’s most powerful membercan be proud of. The record is one of failure and frustration, owing largely to uncertain mandates, ill-prepared troops, obstruction in the Security Council, intimidation by local warlords, fear of placing peacekeeping troops in harm’s way, excessive delays in getting U.N. forces into areas of conflict and lack of cooperation in the field among participating nations.

Somalia was an example of failure: U.N. units (Pakistani) were humiliated and abused by armed gangs of looters, rendering them unable to carry out their mission; the United States withdrew from the mission after 18 of its soldiers were killed in Mogadishu; and several thousand Belgian and Canadian troops authorized by the Security Council never arrived. The Security Council itself acted only after 350,000 Somalians had died because warlords deliberately withheld food aid from the starving and the sick, a calamity the author calls genocide by starvation.

The failuresand limitsof U.N. intervention were also manifest when peace talks collapsed in Afghanistan; when in Cambodia Bulgarian troops were more interested in organizing prostitution rings than in monitoring cease fire violations; when U.N. troops in Rwanda were hampered by serious shortcomings in equipment, personnel, training, intelligence and planning; when Dutch peacekeepers stood by as Serbs slaughtered thousands of Muslim men; when Indonesia refused, initially and at the cost of untold violence, to allow U.N. troops into East Timor; when local rebels [in Sierra Leone] refused to allow the U.N. to be deployed; and when Belgium pulled its troops out of Rwanda at the first encounter with serious trouble, even refusing Annan’s request to leave behind their heavy weapons for the use of other [U.N.] forces.

Yet for all these frustrations, the U.N.’s peacekeeping efforts, as Shawcross notes, have made a difference. Against considerable resistance and threats from the Khmer Rouge, for example, U.N. field workers managed to register millions of voters in Cambodia, bringing a semblance of democracy to that country. The United Nations has helped to rebuild civil administrations, reconstruct local governments and repatriate hundreds of thousands of refugees from places of exile. U.N. forces also helped to bring peace to the likes of Namibia, Mozambique, Kosovo and East Timor. Finally, international armies have been raised to keep the peace under the most trying of circumstances.

Shawcross also documents the heroism and devotion of low-paid U.N. personnel and other international aid workers who have risked their lives to assist refugees, feed the hungry, rebuild schools, oversee elections in hostile environments and generally to extend help to the helpless, all deeds the author rightly celebrates. Many U.N. workers and volunteers have died in the field, and as this is written they continue to die. One thinks of unarmed U.N. refugee workers recently killed in West Timor by armed militia members opposed to the independence of East Timor.

The leading player in this peacekeeping saga is Kofi Annan. Shawcross describes him as a good and uncommon man invested with the hope and moral authority of the world [and] charged to deal with evil. In dealing with evil, however, he has had to tolerate evil and to compromise with evil leaders, ranging from Iraq’s Saddam Hussein to Sierra Leone’s Foday Sarkoh, in the interest of peace. But as Shawcross reports in rich detail, heAnnanhas been buffeted and limited in that task by the world’s principalities and powers, including the United States, with which he has had a sometimes troubled relationship. Yet he emerges from this study as a person highly respected around the world for his diplomatic skill, moral leadership and personal integrity.

When should the United Nations or other outside forces, such as NATO, the United States or other Western countries, intervene to stem the tide of evil in particular nations? Where and when is humanitarian intervention likely to succeed or fail? Why has the international community intervened in some internal conflicts and ignored others altogether? These questions surface throughout this book, but Shawcross sees no easy answer to any of them. But here too Annan has tried to make a difference. In a tough message to the U.N. General Assembly, he recently called for reorganizing and strengthening the peacekeeping department and enlarging the Security Council to give it more diversity and a stronger voice for the developing nations (The New York Times, 9/13/00). Until that is done, Shawcross suggests, the United Nations will be forced to muddle through as best it can with its limited resources and slow-moving decisional machinery.

As the richest and most powerful nation on earth, the United States could be doing far more to ensure the effectiveness of the United Nations. But U.N.-bashing is a favorite sport in the United States, particularly among some members of Congress, and Washington’s continued refusal to pay the massive bill it owes the United Nations is nothing less than a national scandal. The United Nations needs the moral leadership of the United States as well as the help of regional organizations such as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Unless they take the lead in backing the General Secretary’s demand for restructuring the U.N. and strengthening its peacekeeping capabilities, there will be no end to the evil described in this important book.

Donald P. Kommers is Robbie Professor of Govemment and Professor of Law, University of Notre Dame.