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The Quality of Mercy

WHY PEACEKEEPING FAILS By Dennis C. Jett; St. Martin's Press: 240 pp., $49

HARD CHOICES Moral Dilemmas in Humanitarian Intervention By Jonathan Moore; Rowman & Littlefield: 320 pp., $24.95

DELIVER US FROM EVIL; Peacekeepers, Warlords and a World of Endless Conflict By William Shawcross; Simon & Schuster: 416 pp., $27.50

March 19, 2000|ALEX DE WAAL | Alex de Waal is the author of "Famine Crimes: Politics and the Disaster Relief Industry in Africa" (Indiana University Press 1997). He is the director of Justice Africa, London

Globalization has frayed edges. The job of peacekeepers is to knit some of the roughest loose ends together, not only to save the lives of unfortunate residents of strife-torn countries but also to prevent the global order from being riven more deeply. A noble mission, it perhaps can snatch remedies beyond the reach of law and diplomacy. But idealists and realists alike make a poor defense of military intervention, of both the consensual and the forced-entry versions. For each it's a second best. Bellicose utopians, determined that universal rights be upheld everywhere, see today's peacekeeping missions as merely the prelude to more, and more clearly defined, operations in the future. Kissinger-school realists concede that humanitarian interventions can--in some exceptional circumstances--serve the national interest.

On one point, the two schools agree: Greater globalization plus chronic insecurity in some countries make it inevitable that military interventions will be indispensable tools of 21st century coercive diplomacy. Unfortunately, however, truly multilateral intervention is a thing of the past. In October 1988, the Nobel committee announced that the United Nations Department of Peacekeeping Operations was the winner of that year's Peace Prize. As it has so often, it proved something of a poisoned chalice. Just five years later--Oct. 3, 1993, to be precise--multilateral peacekeeping died, according to Dennis C. Jett, former U.S. ambassador to Mozambique and author of "Why Peacekeeping Fails." On that day, 18 U.S. servicemen died in Mogadishu and, writes Jett, "the expectations that had been so high in late 1988 also died."

The burial began five months later, on March 31, 1994, with the publication of Presidential Decision Directive No. 25, the outcome of the National Security Council's post-Mogadishu review of peacekeeping. It blamed the U.N. for a disaster that was all American in its inception, planning and execution. The U.N. was routinely deemed incompetent in Somalia, but it was Centcom in Florida that sent American servicemen to die in the Mogadishu streets (taking several thousand Somalis, militiamen and civilians alike, with them to their graves).

The principle of collective responsibility for peacekeeping did not survive the following five weeks. Presidential Decision Directive 25 was described as a "comprehensive policy framework suited to the realities of the post-Cold War period." Until this point, the United States had been a willing partner in a multitude of U.N. peacekeeping and peacemaking operations. Henceforth, the United States was to use its Security Council veto and its financial power in the U.N. to ensure that only those operations that met an absurdly stringent set of criteria could go ahead--even if no U.S. forces were to be deployed.

Possibly the most disastrous item of foreign policy legislation to be produced in the Clinton White House, it was undoubtedly the most badly timed. By the time President Clinton signed Presidential Decision Directive 25 into law on May 3, 1994, the government of Rwanda had adopted and implemented a policy of killing every one of its citizens who happened to be Tutsi, along with Hutus who objected. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright made the "disciplined and coherent choices about which peace operations to support" that the Presidential Decision Directive 25 called for and chose to do nothing. Following to the letter the draft policy, she also objected to other plans for intervention in the fast-developing and bloody situation in Rwanda on the grounds that the costs and exit strategy of the proposed force were not fully specified.


The ghosts of a million Rwandan dead haunt the survivors, killers and witnesses of that central African holocaust. Gen. Romeo Dallaire, commander of the U.N. Assistance Mission in Rwanda, whose courage saved thousands of people from certain death but who had to watch helplessly as unnumbered more were dispatched with grenades, guns and machetes, is still tormented by the needless annihilation of the Rwandan Tutsis. Dallaire was famously warned about the impending genocide by a highly placed member of the Rwandan government, who also tipped him off on the location of illegal arms caches. He passed the warning and his recommendation for a preemptive raid on the arms caches to the U.N. Department of Peacekeeping Operations, which chose not to heed his advice. The day after the genocide was launched, the U.N. Security Council decided to withdraw the peacekeeping force. Some 450 soldiers remained, ill-equipped and outnumbered, when Boutros Boutros-Ghali, then U.N. secretary general, realized his mistake and, under pressure from African countries and Western public opinion, began to push for a U.N. intervention force to be sent. Dallaire's chapter in Jonathan Moore's "Hard Choices"--entitled "The End of Innocence"--should be an obligatory read for every student of international relations.

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