The difficulty of beating swords into plowshares

WHY PEACEKEEPING FAILS By Dennis Jett St. Martin's Press 236 pp., $49

Dennis Jett, career Foreign Service officer and former ambassador to Peru and Mozambique, has written a sober and careful analysis of the challenges of multilateral peacekeeping operations. "Why Peacekeeping Fails" will be a useful complement to other literature on the subject for those with a keen interest in the field.

Unfortunately, however, it falls short of what it might have been. It is neither the first-rate assessment of peacekeeping in general that Jett seems to intend, nor as comprehensive and insightful an analysis of the Angola and Mozambique UN peacekeeping experiences as it should have been, given the author's interests and background.

The book is organized into nine chapters. The first two are overviews of peacekeeping, with a number of references made to recent experiences in the 1990s, as well as to earlier periods of UN operations around the world. Jett has some useful insights in these pages, and he concisely describes various historical phases of peacekeeping.

However, most of what appears in these first two chapters has been articulated more originally and more cogently in numerous other places. Moreover, some of what appears in these early chapters is misleading or wrong. Jett cites the conventional wisdom that civil conflicts have greatly multiplied in number and severity since the cold war ended, but this is not correct.

Jett is also very confusing about his terminology in places, seeming to conflate peacekeeping operations actually conducted by the UN (as in Angola and Mozambique) with those simply authorized by it (as in the 1991 Persian Gulf War and most of NATO's recent efforts in the Balkans).

The book's remaining chapters include essays entitled "Failing Before Beginning," "Failing While Doing," "Humanitarian Aid and Peacekeeping Failure," and "Inconclusion: Why Real Reform Might Not Be Possible." This negative tone is somewhat surprising in light of the fact that Jett rightly wants to argue the Mozambique case - one of his two main subjects of study - as a success.

Nonetheless, Jett does point out a number of problems in the UN operations in those two countries. He does so fairly and compellingly (even though he is unnaturally silent about his own role in the Mozambique experience, depriving the book of a sense of personal history that would have enriched it).

As primary weaknesses in these UN missions, he notes inadequate resources, poorly trained and poorly selected personnel, and an overly narrow interpretation of the mission mandate by those charged with carrying it out. On these specific criticisms, Jett is at his best.

But the book has a major problem with its larger message. Even though it is largely about Angola and Mozambique, those names appear nowhere in its title or table of contents, and feature only sporadically in its introductory chapters.

Second, Jett never really tells the story about Angola and Mozambique. He presents pieces of the history of their conflicts, but the book is organized more like a UN mission evaluation than a political-military history of the conflicts and the international community's role in ending them. The reader looking for a hard-headed and revealing understanding of these conflicts will go away frustrated.

Worst of all, because his focus is on individual activities and events rather than the big picture, Jett never really tells us why Mozambique is now at peace and Angola at war.

He often offers the same criticisms of both missions, while acknowledging that one effort turned out to be successful and the other a failure.

For example, we wind up unsure whether Jett thinks that the personal nature of Jonas Savimbi and other structural elements of the Angolan civil war made peace there fundamentally untenable, or whether a better UN mission could have shored it up.

In the end, Jett's book does not read like an informative history or a hard-headed policy analysis, but something in between. That will severely limit its general appeal. For the reader willing to work through it, though, there are nonetheless some real rewards.

*Michael O'Hanlon is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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