049_Global13_Arena_V5

Global 13

Arena Review Interventions: A Life in War and Peace Kofi Annan with Nader Mousavizadeh, Allen Lane, London, 2012, 400pp, ISBN: 9781846142970 K he was the first to be appointed from within the ranks ofofi Annan was not only the first African from south of theSahara to become secretary-general of the United Nations, the UN itself. By the time he took office on 1 January 1997, he had been an international civil servant for nearly 35 years, but if the Se- curity Council powers thought that they were getting a passive bu- reaucrat who would simply follow their wishes, they were wrong. In this book, more a series of essays on the challenges he faced as secretary-general than a straightforward memoir, Annan empha- sises that he wanted a UN that would “step up rather than stand by... and be guided by a purpose greater than protecting the inter- Annan: a philosophy shaped by bitter experience ests of states”. Pointing out that the UN Charter begins with the words “We the Peoples” and not “We the States”, he argues that And that is the lesson of this book: ultimately, the UN, and its the organisation has a duty to intervene when fundamental human secretary-general, rests on moral authority. Despite being in con- rights are threatened, a “responsibility to protect” that overrides trol of 44,000 staff and a budget of $10 billion, Annan could only national sovereignty. How this applies in practice is an issue that offer himself as an enabler, an impartial mediator with endless re- dominated his ten years at the top of the UN hierarchy. serves of patience, willing to listen to international pariahs such as Though Annan’s two terms were bisected almost exactly by the Saddam Hussein while being attacked for even meeting them. In 9/11 attacks and their immediate aftermath, it is clear that his gov- his final paragraphs he alludes to his attempt this year to mediate in erning philosophy was shaped by bitter experience in his last post Syria, which failed for the same reason as many others during his before becoming secretary-general: that of UN director of peace- time in office: the lack of good faith among the parties, and in the keeping. He took on the role in March 1993, just as the UN peace- Security Council (no humanitarian intervention here). What mat- keeping mission in Somalia was heading for collapse. The follow- ters is that he tried. ing year, blue-helmeted soldiers watched helplessly as Rwanda Much of Annan’s account deals not with war or peacekeeping, descended into genocide, and the year after that but with the many other ways he sought to make it happened again, this time in Srebrenica, where the UN speak for people rather than states. He Serb forces slaughtered 8,000 Bosnian Muslim is proud of his part in drawing up the Millenni- men and boys in a UN-declared “safe area”. In um Development Goals, his success in bringing each case, the UN forces had gone in without a NGOs into the work of the UN, and the creation clear mandate to shield civilians from violence. of the International Criminal Court and the UN- They did not even have the means to defend AIDS agency. It is through such persistent, un- themselves adequately, and ended up as hostag- sung efforts that the organisation gained prestige, es, causing worse damage to the UN’s reputation but it has just had a sharp reminder of how easily than almost any episode in its history. it can be squandered. Few are better qualified than Annan, whose Though the UN did not have peacekeepers in first peacekeeping mission was in the aftermath Sri Lanka, humanitarian workers were pulled out of the Arab-Israel War in 1973, to analyse what of the war zone five months before the conflict led to these disasters. The model of peacekeep- between the Colombo government and the Tamil ing, he points out, derived from an era when a Tigers came to a bloody end in mid-2009, leav- ceasefire had already been declared between ing thousands of civilians to their fate. Some warring states, and the blue helmets were polic- 40,000 died in that period, but a UN report is- ing an agreed demarcation line with the consent sued in November 2012 says many senior UN of all parties. Now the UN was being asked to staff “did not perceive the prevention of killing enter mainly domestic conflicts, with a shifting array of bellig- of civilians as their responsibility”, amid “an institutional culture erents, not all of whom had agreed to its participation. And the of trade-offs”. number of missions was proliferating: before 1988, the UN had This lends all the more force to Annan’s comment that “of all the launched only a dozen peacekeeping operations in its history, but difficulties we confronted during my tenure as secretary-general, in the next four years there were another ten. As Annan drily notes, perhaps the most sustained problem was the management of expec- “The gulf between ends and means began to widen fatefully.” tations”. Possibly, he adds, that is the fate of the UN: “to disappoint Despite these failures, the principle of humanitarian intervention the expectations of those who see it as the panacea to the world’s had been established. Nato invoked it in Kosovo in 1999, with An- problems, but to succeed, however incompletely, in giving voice to nan’s support. But he makes it clear that the American and British in- aspirations of individual men and women…” For all the upheavals vasion of Iraq in 2003, in defiance of the UN, was a perversion of the on his watch, he makes a well-argued case for having done all he principle. The following year he described the war as illegal, probably could to leave the world a better place than he found it. ending any likelihood of a third term as secretary-general, had he de- sired one. But in the long run it was the moral authority of Britain and Raymond Whitaker is a writer and editor the USA that suffered, rather than that of the UN or its head. globalfirst quarter 2013 www.global-briefing.org l49


Global 13
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