Friday, December 11, 2009

"In Harm's Way" by Martin Bell [14]

Chapter 15: Of Men and Mandates

While the previous chapter raised a few troubling doubts about Bell's overall interpretation of the Bosnia crisis and the people involved in it, this chapter refutes those doubts in spades. You might disagree with some of Bell's individual judgments, but there can be little doubt that he grasped the big picture.

This chapter is largely Bell's recounting of the haphazard manner in which the United Nations stumbled into the unworkable "peacekeeping" mandate it found itself in; furthermore, he outlines the real-world implications of this confused mandate. The UN was keeping people from starving to death so that they could be murdered--Bell saw this clearly.

What he also saw was that many UN personnel were very conflicted about this, and more than a few were outraged. Some quite admirably did all they could to stretch their interpretation of the mandate as far as they could in order to save lives whenever possible. Bell's description of the UN in Bosnia as essentially a Red Cross with guns (which they were only allowed to use in self-defense) is a good one.

He also saw clearly that even as the quality and the moral courage of individual UN commanders made a difference within even a misguided mandate, so did the quality and professionalism of the soldiers. The Ukrainian contingent do not come out looking well in his account.

We also see General Michael Rose again, and the portrait this time is far less flattering than in the previous chapter; Bell tellingly refers to Rose's "supporters" in this chapter, and in context it is clear he is not one of them. Nor is he the man's enemy, but it is clear that he found Rose to be, the end of his first year in Bosnia, a deeply shaken man presiding over a failure of leadership and resolve, a far cry from the confident, decisive, can-do leader in the previous chapter. Rose has lost the plot, and failed to see the Bosnian Serb leadership for the murderous, bullying, untrustworthy thugs they were.

The chapter ends with a consideration of some lessons from the Bosnian experience of peacekeeping. Each of them is elaborated in more or less detail than I will quote here, but these few sentences will hopefully do his excellent arguments justice:

"First, a merely victim-based strategy doesn't work, and probably prolongs the war...

Second, humanitarianism conflicts with peacekeeping, and still more with peace-enforcement. The threat of force, if it is to be effective, will sooner or later involve the use of force...

Third, the credible use of force can yield results...This was the lesson of Bosnia, that force prevails...

Fourth, all threats will be tested; and if they are bluff they will be seen to be bluff...If you declare a safe area you have to make it safe...

Fifth, peacekeeping is a soldier-intensive business in which the quality of the troops matters as much as they quantity...

Finally, peacekeeping is not just soldiering under a different-coloured helmet."

Which concludes this chapter.


Owen said...

Thanks Kirk, that's a very useful summary. I think it's worth noting that Bell's reference to "humanitarianism" here is possibly confusing in the context of Noam Chomsky's ferocious attack on the notion of "humanitarianism".

Chomsky condemns "humanitarianism" as a form of public posturing by which the media in particular can establish a favourable self-image for themselves which allows them to serve the interests of Western power structures.

Bell's sense of humanitarianism is presumably the basic notion of providing immediate relief of unacceptable conditions of life without intervening in the situation responsible for creating those conditions.

Anonymous said...

Hi Kirk!

I am an Italian girl and I am also interested in Balkan issues. I just wanted to inform you about a Bosnian documentary, BORDERLINE LOVERS, which you could like. It is a documentary about three mixed couples which struggle to be together in the aftermath of the war in Ex-Yugoslavia.
You can watch the trailer and get more information here:

Have a nice day!