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Interventions

Former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan writes of decades spent pursuing the elusive goal of world peace.

By Steve Weinberg / September 10, 2012

Interventions: A Life in War and Peace By Kofi Annan with Nader Mousavizadeh Penguin Press 512 pp.

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Is the United Nations a promoter of world peace and global human dignity? Or, since its creation near the end of World War II, has it served mostly as an ineffective debating society – a multi-governmental bureaucracy that will never achieve true efficacy?

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Perhaps no one is better qualified to grapple with these questions than Kofi Annan. He spent nearly his entire adult life employed at the UN, ultimately serving as secretary-general, the top job, from 1997 until 2006. On the other hand, perhaps his lifelong devotion to the institution makes it impossible for him to see it clearly. (When elected to the highest UN position, Annan became the first secretary-general, of seven total, to rise up the ranks from the inside.)

Interventions, Annan’s interesting memoir, reflects both the invaluable knowledge of a UN insider and the limited perspective of an employee who has never worked outside the UN mind-set. Put another way, Annan’s book contains plenty of cognitive dissonance. The accounts related by Annan, however, are worth every minute spent reading them. Nobody alive can quite match what he has heard and seen. As a bonus, he names names of national rulers and less well-known diplomats. For readers who want to identify heroes and villains, the book provides plenty of material.

There is also a large amount of personal information about Annan, although this is more a book about issues than it is a revealing memoir about Annan’s private life. After an opening chapter about Annan’s privileged “African beginning,” the chapters cover, in succession:

•The trials of peacekeeping in regions torn by civil war (Rwanda, Somalia, Bosnia)

•Accounts of handling massive human rights violations (Darfur, Kosovo, East Timor)

•The drive to give the UN credibility so that global governance can proceed according to the rule of law

•Efforts to bring a modicum of peace to the war-torn African continent

•The need to redefine human security as liberation from poverty

•The search for solutions in the Middle East

•The drive to grapple with terrorism in the wake of Sept, 11, 2001 (Afghanistan, Iraq)

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