Jul 16, 2019 in Book Review

Winning The War On War: The Decline of Armed Conflict World Wide is Joshua Goldstein’s book. In his book, Goldstein examines many years of war and how mechanisms of peace restoration have influence the war. In addition, Goldstein has taken into consideration the measures that the United Nations (UN) have taken to curb the rapid growing war. In this article, I will review the author’s opinions about the UN role and provide a thorough critique of the book.

In an exquisite and expansive manner, Goldstein in this book craftily highlights that before UN formation and during ancient times, human race was a hostile and nasty lot. In this context, he points out the propensities of ancient China, the hostile society of Mongols, Romans, and also European imperialism just to mention a few. Goldstein points out all these past atrocious era to hammer home the point that after the Cold War, UN has been very significant in playing its role in peacekeeping. The success stories of Namibia, Cambodia and Macedonia are worth mentioning. On the other hand, there were UN failures that Goldstein points out, for example, the Somalia conflict and failure to intervene in the Rwandan 1994 genocide. The success of the UN has indeed been overshadowed by the shortcomings and especially the complacency in the deadly scenarios. However, the UN interventions when operations incorporate multidimensional agencies such as police, civilians, and military are inappropriate (p.100). The “Sierra Leone intervention”, according to Goldstein, worked in stabilizing West African security issues. Some of these countries still face numerous security concerns.

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However, Goldstein fails to adequately account (as realists would argue) that UN interventions in the post-Cold War era were bashed and sanctioned, since the operations did not augur well with the national interests of the Permanent Five (UK, US, Russia, China, France) on the Security Council. An example case is the involvement of the US and UK in Iraq and also Russia against Georgia (2008). Both these nations engaged in interstate wars beyond the auspices of the UN, while trying to protect their own interests.

On the effectiveness of the security forces that UN uses, Goldstein states that the body has learned from its past mistakes. In Bosnia, according to him, forces are becoming robust in dealing with armed groups who persist fighting. To refute this claim, the best example case is the Cote d’Ivoire that joint UN mission that involved French armed forces. The mission reinstated the chosen president after the election was highly contested. However, there are still some problems with UN operations and how they are organized. UN forces often come from developing countries and involve poorly trained personnel. Apart from that, there is a common communication breakdown due to language barrier. The troops are inadequately led and are usually drown from countries, such as Nepal and Bangladesh. The distance and logistic coordination has also been a significant challenge that the UN forces still face.

Goldstein states that UN efforts in ensuring that the peacekeeping agencies are well-equipped and receive political backing is quite a success. Goldstein holds the opinion that any war is a continuum that grows and worsens with time. Just as war is a progression, Goldstein asseverates that peace also can be graded from a frail ceasefire to peace talks. Goldstein espouses some astonishing statistics relating to war occurrence in the previous century. One of the factors that make this book interesting is that it is factual. It records not only what happened in the past, but also what is happening currently and what is expected to happen in the future. Goldstein asserts that the reduction in war is born by a united international entity able to deploy peacekeeping forces to end the war and restore peace conflict areas. However, human peaceful nature is paramount to maintain peaceful coexistence, but Goldstein does not mention this fact.

Goldstein mentions eight features that have led to the diminishing state of war since the year 1990. These factors inclue: the termination of the cold war; the US authority, economic advantage of globalization; preaching of peace and upholding of both democracy and human rights; women taking part in politics; emergence of NGOs; and conflict resolution strategies. With these factors, Goldstein disagrees with USIP publication of “intractable conflicts”, as conflicts that were termed unmanageable are now manageable. In my view, USIP is demeaning the efforts that have been put in place over decades to resolve conflicts when it generalises conflicts as intractable. Grading war is plausible, since there are unique measures in implementing peace agreements.

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While disproving the claims that the twentieth century was a murderous century, Goldstein argues that Napoleonic Wars, of the first 15 years of the nineteenth century, were worst. During the Taiping Rebellion, preceding Napoleonic wars, approximately dozens of millions of people died. He adds that, as a result of Muslim uprising during the same time (19 century), five million people in Yunnan China died. During the last half of the century, US civil war and wars that ruined most of Latin America took place. Beginning in 1899, the Boer War started, thus exposing the tension that existed between world powers and colonial areas. Goldstein further looks at the time before 19th century and finds out that things have been getting better and that people have been able to shun war and embrace peace. He concludes that this trend has been a result of the formation of UN, which has played a significant role in curtailing war.

The formation and functions of the UN as appertains peacekeeping are espoused. Goldstein narrates how UN established its first peacekeeping operation in Palestine in 1948 and called it United Nations Truce Supervision Organisation. The peacekeepers’ rules were to remain neutral and unarmed. These were to check danger and to keep them from being targets. Nevertheless, six officers were murdered, seven wounded and an incessant attack on their convoy was made.

Towards the end of 1950, UN formed an armed force (United Nations Emergency Force, UNEF) that had the authority to use force in self-defence. UNEF included UN members who did not belong to the Security Council. Three principals were formulated to govern this force: consent by the host state, equitability and least use of force. As with any growing organisation, UNEF faced challenges but rather termed a success.

Goldstein admits that some UN peace-keeping operations have failed (Bosnia, Rwanda, Angola and Somalia missions), because of underfunding, lack of personnel and lack of quality training. He also talks about the UN successes in Namibia, El Salvador, Cambodia and Mozambique. According to author, success owes to the host states consenting, whereas failure was witnessed in those who did not consent. Additionally, Goldstein provides two aspects that the UN peacekeepers should improve to involve in more accounts of success. Firstly, screening the culture of their military personnel from those of their host and secondly, encouraging their personnel to sacrifice and put their lives at stake. The presence of peacekeepers in a country reduces the chances of war erupting. Goldstein asserts that justice and reconciliation are imperative in maintaining and restoring peace.

Goldstein also takes the reader through growth and development of peacekeeping mission in the UN. He talks about the establishment, disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration (DDR) programs as well as Security Sector Reform (SSR), truth commission and women involvement in peace activism. In spite of the increased movement for peace, Goldstein condemns the lack of seriousness directed into coordinating and supporting UN peacekeeping dynamism.

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