Former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan writes of decades spent pursuing the elusive goal of world peace.
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Each chapter offers anecdotes and initiatives that serve as rough drafts of history. Annan never pretends the UN peacekeeping efforts worked out well. He concedes that an estimated 800,000 died in Rwanda in just a month while the UN membership staged no meaningful intervention – an abject failure by any measure.Skip to next paragraph
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Annan comes across as self-aware as he describes his hopes as the “dreams of a realist.” Anyone filling the position of secretary-general successfully would need that sort of perspective. Born in Ghana in 1938, Annan joined the UN 50 years ago in Geneva, headquarters of its World Health Organization arm. When the scourge of HIV/AIDS began to appear, Annan was ready to fight it. When national governments suppressed the education of young females, Annan tried to shame the suppressors. Annan also dealt with the effects of natural disasters, heading up projects like post-tsunami relief efforts.
Against stiff opposition Annan has discouraged military intervention in favor of humanitarian intervention. He believes that “military action pursued for narrower purposes without global legitimacy or foresight about the consequences – as in the case of Iraq – can be as destructive as the evils it purports to confront.”
As he completed the manuscript in 2011, Annan paid attention to what he terms the “Arab Awakening” centered in Tunisia and Egypt. Annan characterizes it as “young people throughout the region step[ping] forward as one – desperate for dignity, and demanding the opportunity and the freedom to pursue their aspirations for a better life.” Annan believes such a force “cannot be resisted – at least not for long.”
When the resistance of the young spread to Syria, Annan received a call from his successor as secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon. Would Annan consider serving as a mediator in Syria, seeking a reduction in the violence? Annan said yes. He calls the situation in Syria “a conflict as complex, and as virulent, as any that I had encountered in my 50 years of international diplomacy.”
Whether Annan can make a measurable difference in the years left to him remains to be seen. With his book as his legacy, perhaps he will inspire younger individuals to make inroads against incredible cruelty around the world and particularly in global hot spots like Rwanda, Somalia, and Bosnia.
Steve Weinberg is the author of eight nonfiction books.