Thursday, 22 November 2007

Lessons from Rwanda I: "Situating the estimate"

I have started reading Shake hands with the Devil: The failure of humanity in Rwanda, by Lt. Gen. Romeo Dallaire. As head of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR), he was the man who was left holding the ring while the UN and its member states turned their back on the Rwandan genocide.

Having skipped over the fist half century of his life at a mercifully brisk page a year, on p56 he describes how from day 1 his peacekeeping mission was hobbled. He was asked to prepare an assessment for a mission to support the newly signed Arusha Accords, but describes how the head of the Military Division of the Department of Peacekeeping Operations
'...told me not to come back to him with a request for a brigade sized mission.
His words were roughly "This thing has to be small and inexpensive, otherwise it
will never get approved by the Security Council." I was taken aback. He was
asking me to "situate the estimate," as we say in the military, to design the
mission to fit available resources rather than to respond to the actual demands
of the situation we were being sent to assess.'
I've several hundred pages left to read, but I already know that Gen. Dallaire spent six weeks during the genocide begging his superiors to give him just a single brigade, with which be believed he could stop the slaughter and save hundreds of thousands of lives.

Sadly, the United Nations does not lend itself to swift, decisive action. For that, nation states are still required, perhaps forming (none-too-fashionable) "Coalitions of the willing".

And as George Santayana noted, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

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