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Interventions: A Life in War and Peace

Sir Michael Aaronson

To cite this article: Sir Michael Aaronson (2013) Interventions: A Life in War and Peace, The RUSI
Journal, 158:1, 80-81, DOI: 10.1080/03071847.2013.774644

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Published online: 08 Mar 2013.

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Contemporary Security Interventions: to promote the interests of the most
deprived and vulnerable people of the
Michael Aaronson reviews A Life in War and Peace world in the face of poor and oft en
Interventions: A Life in War and Peace Kofi Annan with Nader Mousavizadeh
corrupt leadership in the South, and poor
By Kofi Annan with Nader Mousavizadeh Allen Lane, 2012
and oft en short-sighted leadership in the
Paul Newton reviews
War from the Ground Up: Twenty-First-
In this context, the ti tle Annan has
Century Combat as Politics chosen for his memoir is signifi cant.
By Emile Simpson ‘Interventi on’ usually connotes coercive,
military acti on, albeit with a declared
Nuclear Issues humanitarian intent. And, indeed, Annan
does trace the familiar path of so-called
Paul Schulte reviews ‘humanitarian interventi on’ through
The Cuban Missile Crisis in American the catastrophic failures of the 1990s

Memory: Myths versus Reality ofi Annan’s memoir concludes in to the emergence of the concept of the
By Sheldon M Stern May 2012, shortly before the brutal Responsibility to Protect (R2P), which
violence against civilians in the Syrian he successfully nurtured and steered
Shashank Joshi reviews
Nuclear Iran: The Birth of an Atomic State
town of Hama marked the beginning of through the UN General Assembly
By David Patrikarakos the end of his mediati on mission there. in 2005, describing it as ‘a universal
In the book, he acknowledges that from principle of protecti ng fundamental
Heather Williams reviews the start many people saw his mission as human rights, not as a licence to make
The Second Nuclear Age: Strategy, Danger, impossible, given the level of violence war in the name of peace’ (p. xi). But it is
and the New Power Politics that had already occurred and the clear that he views as equally important
By Paul Bracken intransigence of the key players both in the adopti on by the UN in 2000 of the
Syria, among the regional powers, and in Millennium Development Goals, and the
Maritime Security and History the UN Security Council. Yet his account establishment in 2001 of the Global Fund
of his career in the UN, culminati ng in to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria.
Lee Willett reviews
ten years as its Secretary-General from In other words, his view of
Britain’s Future Navy
By Nick Childs
1997 to 2006, suggests that ‘mission interventi on is a broad one; a wide range
impossible’ could be a descripti on of policy instruments is needed if states
Frederic Ischebeck-Baum reviews of the job of the Secretary-General are to achieve the purposes for which
Pirate Alley: Commanding Task Force 151 off itself. Annan’s story is of his struggle to they founded the UN. The ‘three pillars
Somalia maintain the principles, the integrity, of security, development, rule of law and
By Terry McKnight and Michael Hirsh indeed the sovereignty, of the United human rights’ are all equally important
Nati ons in the face of the self-interested and interdependent. Someti mes one
John T Kuehn reviews acti ons of its members, in both the feels Annan has leant too far backwards
The Age of Titans: The Rise and Fall of the North and South. His account shows that in his att empt to build a global consensus;
Great Hellenistic Navies if not quite impossible, this is indeed a for example, in arguing that we should
By William M Murray
Herculean task. view HIV/AIDS as a security issue (p. 237)
All this raises the questi on: what or that ‘failed development and poverty
exactly is the United Nati ons? Most creates inequaliti es that underpins many
obviously, it is more than the Secretary- of the grievances that drive terrorism’
General and his staff ; it has to be the (p. 234) – Annan himself gives a more
Book Reviews Editor member states that have agreed to act nuanced view when describing the
Adrian Johnson collecti vely, and of whom the Secretary- essenti ally politi cal grievances at the
General is the servant. Yet, as Annan heart of the Israeli-Palesti nian dispute
The Editor welcomes reviews of all insists throughout his book, it exists (p. 253). Nevertheless, the scope of his
volumes related to international to serve not states but – as per the ambiti on is impressive.
and national defence and security
issues, as well as military history. fi rst words of the UN Charter – ‘We Annan’s tenure as Secretary-General
the Peoples of the United Nati ons’, in was split down the middle by the events whose name it was founded. His story of 9/11 and the subsequent invasion of
is of a batt le to uphold the rights and Iraq. In his early years, he was successful

© RUSI JOURNAL FEBRUARY/MARCH 2013 VOL. 158 NO. 1 pp. 80–90


in building a global consensus at the UN concert, if necessary pooling some of senior leaders must be both brave and
to tackle the problems of global poverty their sovereignty, in pursuit of a greater bright, for as Simpson illustrates, the lines
and, in particular, the deprivations faced good. In other words, how much they between policy, strategy and the tactical
by people on his own continent of Africa. see the UN and its principles as creating actions of a platoon in a remote corner of
But the UN had already suffered ignominy a set of commitments to be honoured, Helmand are blurred.
in failing to address mass atrocity crimes and how much as ‘a useful means toward
in Somalia, Rwanda and (initially) Bosnia, ends that may or may not be legal and
and it was clear that the challenge of legitimate in the eyes of the world’ (p. Simpson writes with
how to justify and regulate coercive 365). The former view is clearly the one confidence about
intervention would have to be addressed. that has guided Annan all his life, and yet
There were ominous signs when NATO as a realist he has always had to keep complicated material
decided to intervene in Kosovo in an eye out for the second. However, the
1999 without a UN mandate, but the book ends with the defiant call: Simpson’s scholarship ranges widely.
real disaster occurred with the US-led He draws his analysis from contrasting
invasion of Iraq in 2003; from that point A United Nations that serves not only Catholic and Protestant interpretations
on, Annan was fighting a defensive battle states but peoples – and becomes the of the Bible in Reformation England,
to preserve the sovereignty of the UN and forum where governments are held a perceptive analysis of the Borneo
the wider focus he had established for it accountable for their behaviour to their Confrontation, and then via Tolstoy
– and in the end, with the Oil for Food own citizens – will earn its place in the to an airfield in Afghanistan, where
scandal, his own personal reputation too. 21st-century. one can almost smell and feel the hot,
Annan was excoriated by US politicians acrid exhaust fumes as Simpson and his
when he said, in September 2004, that That is a challenge for us all; not just heavily-laden Ghurkhas board a Chinook
he believed the invasion of Iraq without Kofi Annan’s successors.  for a night assault into Taliban-held
a second UN Security Council resolution territory. He writes with confidence about
was illegal. He only just weathered the Sir Michael Aaronson is a professorial complicated, intellectually challenging
subsequent storm, but in his book he research fellow and director of the material, but does so without pomposity.
delivers a caustic criticism, describing Centre for International Intervention at Despite the title, those in search of a
the intervention as ‘a unilateral war that the University of Surrey. shot-and-shell battle account should
replaced tyranny with anarchy’ (p. 363) DOI: 10.1080/03071847.2013.774644 steer well clear. Simpson takes Clausewitz
and, from the perspective of the United as his theoretical point of departure, and
States’ standing in the international Afghanistan as his primary case study.
community, as ‘a self-inflicted wound of There is plenty here for deep scholars
historic proportions’ (p. 366). of the Prussian master to argue about,
Unsurprisingly, Annan’s memoir but fortunately for the rest of us, there is
contains many fascinating accounts of War from the Ground Up: also much more to learn from this timely
his involvement as a mediator, both as Twenty-First-Century book.
Secretary-General and subsequently Combat as Politics Simpson argues that ‘war’ in its
when he successfully brokered an Emile Simpson traditional Clausewitzian paradigm
agreement between the parties in Kenya Hurst, 2012 assumes military activity will set
in the violent crisis following the 2007 conditions for a political solution as
elections. Perhaps most striking is his a result of coercive action against an
insistence on talking to anyone with ‘enemy’. However, he finds that the
the power to end conflict and violence, West is confused about what it is trying
regardless of how complicit they are in it. to achieve in Afghanistan and about the
As he puts it: ‘The stakes are so high that proper role of the military. Embroiled in
you do not have the luxury of saying ‘“I’m a conflict characterised not by a binary
not going to talk to this guy. I’m not going relationship, but by a kaleidoscope of
to shake his hand.” By doing that you may actors who seek advantage primarily
be condemning thousands and millions against one another, there is no ‘enemy’
to their deaths or further persecution’
(p. 329). This principled neutrality –
which the Secretary-General is required
W  ar from the Ground Up is an
impressive book by an impressive
soldier/scholar. Emile Simpson is that rare
– even the term ‘Taliban’ has multiple
meanings. He sees the Afghan conflicts
(for they are multi-layered and multi-
to uphold and represent – is one of the breed in an army that sets the academic faceted) as being more akin to armed
main reasons why we need the UN. attainment bar for potential officers lower domestic politics than a ‘war’. In
This memoir is a valuable than that required to join the McDonald’s agreement with recent UK joint doctrine
contribution to the vital debate about management-training scheme. In today’s for stabilisation, Simpson too argues that
how much states are willing to act in confusing conflicts, junior as well as the outcome of such conflicts is better