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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

Clinton movingly apologized to Rwandan genocide survivors on his visit to Africa two years ago. But he did not reverse his stealthy assassination of the principle of collective responsibility for peacekeeping. The consequences are evident in every new crisis that breaks. Hence we see regional powers taking prime responsibility for peacekeeping--for example the Australians leading the way in East Timor and NATO's reinvention as a humanitarian army for southeast Europe. In Liberia and Sierra Leone, regional responsibility has discomforting consequences. The Nigerian-led West African force was commonly brutal and corrupt, and the limits of its capacity meant that peace deals have entailed giving power to the warlords who visited such devastation on these unfortunate countries in the first place. What mockery does it make of the "Pinochet principle" when Foday Sankoh, whose soldiers have dismembered thousands of Sierra Leoneans, is awarded the rank of vice president of his country? Meanwhile, the excuse for international inaction over Chechnya, that it is a sovereign Russian territory, obscures the fact that the same impotence would almost certainly prevail if Russian forces had crossed into, say, Tajikistan with the aim of "peace enforcement."

The common theme here is the U.N. franchising its responsibilities. At times, this comes perilously close to the simple doctrine that might is right, provided it stays in its neighborhood and seeks the consent, or at least acquiescence, of Washington. Meanwhile among the powerful, the illusion grows that military power can bring solutions, when it evidently cannot. The first lesson of Kosovo is to learn the lessons of what went before Kosovo.

And what of those countries with complicated wars but no neighbor with the capacity and inclination to bully its way to a least-bad solution? Everyone who has been in the business of peacemaking knows the answer: Each case must be dealt with on its merits, by persuasion, coercion, guile and sometimes plain bribery. Jett, having witnessed the (successful) Mozambican peace process at firsthand and the (failed) Angolan exercise at close remove, has much to say about how peace processes can work, or not. The clear, and pessimistic, lesson that Jett does not need to spell out is that the Mozambicans were extraordinarily lucky. They had a pro-peace consensus among generally supportive neighbors, one party (the Frelimo government) ready to make major compromises, and the other (Renamo) with the modest ambition of coming a respectable second in an election, both parties sufficiently impoverished that they could not sustain an indefinite war and, last, some imaginative and skillful mediators. On each count, Angola was the opposite. It is an illustration of how there may be no solution to a problem, at least not for a while.

Sudan is in many ways as pessimistic a prospect as Angola. As the post-post-Cold War doctrine of regional responsibilities implies, leave it to the Egyptians (northeast Africa's would-be superpower). But Egypt is scarcely a disinterested player in the upper Nile Valley, and as a former colonial power that has never fully shed its imperial mentality, its actions always generate energetic suspicion, especially among southern Sudanese. A peace settlement in Sudan will entail one of the most complex exercises ever undertaken in cease-fire monitoring, disengagement of forces and peacekeeping. But there is not the slightest hint that the United States, or any other power for that matter, is prepared for the commitment that making peace stick in Sudan would entail.

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Concluding his chapter, Dallaire writes, "Peacekeeping cannot be an end in itself--it merely buys time." Solutions to these terrible conflicts come through the slow process of social and political normalization. More and more, every country's internal conflicts are the business of its neighbors and indeed the entire world. It is very rare for a country simply to be left to find its own way to a solution--or to fail to do so. We are more informed than ever before. Moral multilateralism, driven in large part by concerned journalists and international human rights groups, is more vigorous than ever. But political multilateralism is in a parlous state. Occasionally, as Michael Ignatieff writes in his contribution to "Hard Choices," a point is reached at which the "credibility" of Western leaders is at stake, and they feel obliged to intervene. But intervention is no solution, just a pause to think out solutions. Are the powerful states that have the power to make the U.N. succeed or fail ready to commit their diplomats, troops and money for the lengthy periods needed to identify solutions and make them stick?

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