- Title: [SW Country](Irish Times) CATASTROPHE OBSERVED - DELIVER US FROM EVIL
BY WILLIAM SHAWCROSS, BLOOMSBURY
- Date :[22-Apr-2000 12:00:00
OBSERVED - DELIVER US FROM EVIL BY WILLIAM SHAWCROSS, BLOOMSBURY, 416 PP, (POUNDS) 20 IN
Irish Times ; 22-Apr-2000 12:00:00
The 1990s were the decade of displacement. In 1987, the United Nations High Commission
for Refugees assisted 12 million people. By 1993, the figure was 25 million, with worse
still to come in Europe, Africa and Asia. As the tectonic plates of a new, post-communist
world order began to settle, local tyrannies erupted, expelling unwanted populations like
eruptions of lava through fissures in the earth.
These events and the catastrophes they either signalled or portended are the evil of
William Shawcross's brilliant study, and the delivery, such as it was or is, was the
response of 'the world community' or rather, the UN, and then, rather more forcefully and
- when, finally, it was allowed to be effective - NATO.
For Europe, one name stands from decade, marking a turning point away from its
debilitating, infantilising relationship with the US - Srebenice. This, after all, was a
UN safe haven, repeatedly declared to be so by its military commanders. But its
unfortunate Dutch garrison was at the receiving end of the UN at its equivocal worst;
confronted by the homicidal duplicity of the Serb war-criminal, Mladic, the UN sought
refuge in propitiation and appeasement.
The most shameful hour in European history since 1945 occurred in July five years ago,
when the Dutch garrison commander, his battalion depleted by a Serb refusal to allow
replacement troops travel to Srebenice, its morale collapsing through hunger and filth,
sought NATO airstrikes against Serb positions besieging the town. As William Shawcross
relates, two such requests were turned down by his UN superiors in Zagreb.
He does not identify the nationality of the UN official - it was French. France was
still desperate to maintain its cordial relationships with Serbia, and the suspicion must
remain that it was using its nationals in the UN as a hand inside a tragically obedient
Quite as deplorable was the behaviour of the Dutch government, which, when airstrikes
were finally begun, argued that they should be stopped because they were endangering their
troops. Thus the butchery of the Muslim males of Srebenice was able to proceed
These abysmal events convinced Milosevic that he could do whatever he liked without
fear from NATO. Equally, it convinced NATO that it must never ever submit itself to the
vagaries of UN political control. There was a third factor in the subsequent campaign in
Kosovo which erupted from the first two: the character of US President Clinton, who having
avoided war in his own youth, was not prepared to risk the lives of soldiers under his own
command. Hundreds of civilian lives on the ground were lost as airmen flew so high that
mistakes were inevitable.
Yet these European tragedies did not occur in isolation; they were preceded by and
profoundly influenced by events in Africa, which cast a long shadow over UN and US policy.
As the author notes in his chapter 'Crossing the Mogadishu Line',
the insertion of US special forces in Somalia began farcically - the first US military
operation was to attack a house containing UN officials; continued brutally - the next
operation, to catch the warlord Mohammed Aideed, merely
netted a former chief of Somali police, to whom the disappointed Americans gave a beating;
and ended in a calamitous firefight in which 18 Americans and hundreds of Somalis were
That adventure soured whatever US appetite existed for African interventions. The fate
of a Belgian contingent in Rwanda the following year explains why so many countries felt
similarly. When the Hutu coup occurred in April 1994, 10 brave Belgian soldiers did their
military duty and unsuccessfully tried to protect the moderate Hutu prime minister, Agathe
Uwilingiyimana, from assassins. After they surrendered, they were tortured and murdered,
their bodies then mutilated. This was an atrocity which not merely numbed decision-makers
across the world's capitals: it must have weighed heavily in the minds of the Dutch
soldiers of Srebenice a year later.
The author is critical of the western response to the calamity of Rwanda; but what is
any outside power supposed to do when an entire population turns against its neighbours
and machetes them to death? Rwanda is the size of Northern Ireland: no battalion or two
would have sufficed. Moreover, where is the democratic government which will send young
soldiers into a battlezone in which it has no interest and where, if captured, they will
certainly be tortured to death? Sell that one next election.
William Shawcross stands as the foremost journalist of his generation, and his stature
in this book is not so much observer as moral participant: he is, it seems, Kofi Annan's
constant companion and faithful disciple. He shares Annan's goodness and his naivete,
which are evident in the Secretary General's question: 'If, in those dark days and hours
leading up to the 1994 genocide, a coalition of states had been prepared to act in defence
of the Tutsi population, but did not receive prompt (UN) council authorisation, should
such a coalition have stood aside as the horror unfolded?'
The author declares, approvingly, that the implication was no. This is the kind of
high-mindedness one might expect from a journalist or a UN Secretary General, and one can
only hope that it be confined to such good but relatively powerless people. The idea of
such swashbuckling and illegal virtue filling the breasts of men with access to armies is
quite terrifying. That reservation aside, this is an admirable book by an admirable man.
( The full title of the book is Deliver us from
the evil of Warlords and Peace-keepers.
You can find it in most major book stores).