The Difficulty of Beating Swords into Plowshares

By Michael O'Hanlon | The Christian Science Monitor, March 3, 2000 | Go to article overview

The Difficulty of Beating Swords into Plowshares


Michael O'Hanlon, The Christian Science Monitor


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. …

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