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4.3 out of 5 stars
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4.3 out of 5 stars
Interventions: A Life in War and Peace
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VINE VOICEon 6 August 2013
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I ordered this ona bit of a whim really... I figured anyone who'd won the Nobel Peace Prize and been head of the UN for 10 years must have something interesting to say. I also had a longstanding interest in the man's role in Rwanda ever since I studied the genoice in a previous life at uni. His memoir is called Interventions, as if to recognise that any assessment of his career will centre on his role in the UN's most ill-fated operations. In addressing them, it must be said that his candour is refreshing - there are detailed and frank reviews of his most difficult episodes, notably Rwanda, where Romeo Dallaire famously sought Annan's authorization for military action to arrest what he rightly foresaw as a possible genocide. Annan (in)famously turned Dallaire down. Annan's response here to subsequent claims that preventive military action by the UN at that point might have averted the genocide is revelatory - he actually admits that Dallaire's force was "a peace-keeping force, sent in a deliberately weak and vulnerable form to engender the trust of both sides." Blimey.
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on 23 November 2012
Awakens a realisation of just how onerous and deep were the challenges confronting Kofi Annan during his tenure as UN Secretary General and who, despite the persistent lack of political will of member States, possessed a courage and tireless resolve to intervene in intra-State conflicts, tackle poverty and the HIV epidemic and by so doing, saved thousands of lives. An inspiration and revelation.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon 20 May 2013
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This is partly a biography, partly an all-too-rare look inside the workings of the UN, the people wielding and often wasting, misusing, or abusing it. The catalogue of projects with which Kofi has been associated, and been leader of, is impressive by any measure, but so is the catalogue of the UN's failures - failures to act in time (or at all), and to overcome its internal politics and remembers the reasons for its existence.

Kofi's story is one of personal endeavour and achievement, but all the way through this book, I couldn't help but sense the shadow of failure looming over it all.
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on 24 May 2013
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Not quite an autobiography, not quite a career analysis, not at all a secret drawer full of dirty secrets, although there is some insight into dirty deeds and the occasional negative remark about certain well-known individuals, usually politicians responsible indirectly for violent trespass, criminal damage, mass murder, and wholesale robbery. However, this book being a mixed bag is no bad thing, for the style is clear and concise but rather dull, so variety helps the pages turn.....usually into another career episode, for career is what dominates here. And of course this means the United Nations, the organisation set up with The People in mind; nowadays it moves slowly, is overstaffed (some corrupt), not properly audited (so prone to fraudulent activities), and not noted to be particularly successful in what it does. Kofi Annan does not avoid these issues but he doesn't much elaborate on them, either, except for the mission failures which seem to be caused by politicians not really giving a hoot about the issues under discussion, or concerned only with their country's interests or alliances, or businesses, etc. The People are now secondary and Kofi Annan wanted that to change. To a certain extent he succeeded, but such noteworthy progress is easily reversed.

The UN is riddled with factions representing all manner of different interests, many diametrically opposed or even in active conflict, and it's a wonder anything gets agreed and implemented. One might well wonder if it is worth having the UN; KA shows clearly that it is, for the alternative would be truly scary; ergo, the UN is better than nothing, and out of the media attention does a lot of good work that is basically charitable. And that's another issue: charity versus politics. Doing good for the people .v. doing good for the people by way of increasing their suffering in the short-term in order to improve their lot later on. Not much good if they're dead, maimed, orphaned......

Kofi Annan is a very well connected man, with much experience in diplomacy and world affairs, yet even he did not always seem up to the job as far as results went, and that's because the job was/is virtually impossible. Like being a referee in five football matches simultaneously. It's a wonder he achieved anything, yet he did. He made excellent contributions to increasing the well-being of millions. This could have been an even higher figure had Blair and Bush not pursued their callous and utterly disasterous invasion of Iraq, a matter explored in this book, along with Afghanistan, Israel/Palestine, Somalia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Lebanon.

KA is a remarkable man who depite the ups and downs he endured, did what he could to make the world a better place. Pity that so many who should have known better proved to be obstacles and only wanted the opposite. 'Interventions' is worthy and educational, although limited and functional in its behind-the-scenes details. Those interested in world politics and past players, or in the UN, would probably benefit most from this book.
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VINE VOICEon 15 March 2013
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Kofi Annan's Interventions: A Life in War and Peace is one of the most fascinating, well written and informative books I have had the pleasure to read. Part biographical, Mr Annan comes across as a man of integrity, modesty, intelligence and great commitment as he describes and analyses the challenges and issues he was involved with during his 40 year career at the UN. For the final 10 years he was the Secretary-General and, for me, his passion and commitment to make a difference in the face of worldwide wars, poverty, HIV and other epidemics worldwide is unrelenting.
His job brokering top level diplomatic decision making in the face of some of the most horrific and inhumane events and issues in recent World history. Somalia, Rwanda, Bosnia, Iraq, Afghanistan, all are examined. Frustrated by the ineptitude, procrastination and perhaps even cowardice (?), of well known World Leaders to take decisive action and step up to the plate to meet their obligations and promises, his account gets behind the scenes in a credible manner of someone who was there and not just a news medium reporting what they've been told at press briefings. It also goes someway to explain why, despite the massive costs which the UN incurs in staffing and running costs, there is seemingly little which they have actually achieved in real-terms. He is also honest in his self examination and analysis into why he, and the UN, failed despite the detailed and painstaking efforts undertaken. His approach was very much in keeping with the UN mandate of working for "the peoples" and the "legitimacy and necessity of intervention in the case of gross violations of human rights" while World Leaders were more interested in working for their state!
Mr Annan writes in a manner which is compelling, captivating and very easy to understand. For me, he is a man with a strong moral compass and I would whole-heartedly recommend his account as a must read for anyone who is interested in major World events over the last couple of decades, or indeed for history/politics students as mandatory reading - it will be one of the most informative sources of information they will find!His account also goes someway to explaining why, in my opinion, he was a worthy winner of the Noble Peace Prize and many other plaudits.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon 13 February 2013
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The 20th century is reckoned to be the bloodiest in history, and the 21st has started badly with Afghanistan, Iraq etc. Kofi Annan was born before World War II and has spent his career in international diplomacy with the United Nations for which he was the first Secretary General to be appointed from within. His book `Interventions', produced in conjunction with Nader Mousavizadeh, is a first person account of recent and ongoing geopolitical events encompassing his public and private dealings with major players including George W Bush, Tony Blair, Colin Powell, Saddam Hussein, Yasser Arafat, Al Assad etc. A variety of books exist referring to the same issues and there are differences over points of view and recorded detail - with the most important probably being Kofi Annan's judgement that the war in Iraq was illegal. `Interventions' is a 5-star addition to commentaries on the world workings of statecraft, and readers can reach their own conclusions from what is presented in a fairly neutral and easy to assimilate manner.

There is no doubting Kofi Annan as a genuine, decent and caring individual, yet amongst well-meaning world leaders he has also had to deal with a succession of dictators, tyrants, bigots, criminals and the like leading to much frustration. He has been awarded a Nobel Peace Prize for his work at the UN but also he has received criticism over issues like the Oil For Food Programme in Iraq, he has withdrawn from matters as envoy to Syria, and by some he has even been accused of putting the future of the UN in peril. None of this prevented Kofi Annan pursuing what he considers are human rights of individuals, and he argues these should override the claim of states to non-interference. He repeatedly gives explanations on how the Charter of the UN was issued in the name of `We the peoples' and not `We the governments', and he stresses the UN is not a pacifist organisation. Hence his book title `Interventions' embracing a shift from sovereignty to internal affairs with involvement of everyone and sometimes use of military force when it is impossible to ignore humanitarian crises.

In seeking to make the UN more representative Kofi Annan intervened on numerous occasions, and though constrained by the trappings of office and protocol he brought a moral dimension to the previous largely administrative and organisational UN. It is discouraging to read how much of UN business is shadow boxing and compromising with an opaqueness to wording of initiatives, agreements and `summit' declarations. Kofi Annan must have despaired when after time consuming negotiations, and presumably at great expense, his proposed UN mandates were not acted upon by member states. Talking seems to have eclipsed everything else as Kofi Annan continued to remain objective, avoid confrontation, seek support, inveigle combatants to meet etc. but it is appalling how so much effort was wasted.

What went on behind the scenes with posturing, fudging, blind-eyes and side-lining becomes almost double dealing, and readers will share Kofi Annan's frustrations over how vitally important decisions are watered down as investigations, reports etc. are subsumed by to-and-fro deliberations until outcomes reach the lowest common denominator. Kofi Annan registers disappointment over failures such as in Rwanda and Bosnia, and he balances these against successes as a new constitution for Kenya, independence for East Timor or establishment of the International Criminal Court. Perhaps this latter creation allows the greatest `intervention' of all, and the book ends hopefully with recognition that if the UN serves not only states but peoples, and becomes the forum where governments are held accountable for their behaviour toward their own citizens - then it will earn its place in the 21st century.
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on 16 April 2013
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Kofi Annan is a hugely respected figure, having run the UN in difficult times and coming out of it with integrity and respect from his peers. This book is a real eye opener into what went into running one of the worlds most important organisations.

The style of writing is well structured and I found it very engaging. It is very honest and it makes even some of the more challenging and potentially dry sections readable and worth getting into. Don't take that as an indication you won't find this a frustrating book to read, just that the frustration has nothing to do with the style it has been written in.

The frustation I mention is entirely down to the subject matter. Time after time we are presented with failure and incompetency, and sometimes downright negligence, from leaders around the world who seem bent on thwarting good intentions. I appreciate the fact that Annan presents the UN as far from perfect, and certainly will shatter any illusions anyone might have that this is a perfect organisation. The UN is shown with the flaws, disappointments and frustrations that seem common and accepted.

The detail the book goes into is frighteningly stark. The failures are so frustrating that it risks disillusioning readers for good towards any hope of international co-operation on a scale needed to fix serious situations. The only criticism I really have is that there is a lot of blame laid at the doors of various countries and world leaders but not so much taken on board by Annan and the UN itself. For a huge and well-funded organisation it seems pathetically run and worryingly over obsessed with niceties in the face of genuine crises.

As frustrating as this book is I think it is a genuinely important read for anyone interested in geo-politics. It is tough to put down and when you do you will invariably do so with anger, but it is worth it.
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VINE VOICEon 26 July 2013
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Kofi Annan was born into a family of United Nations. His father worked for a multi-national company, had four wives (although it's not clear whether they were all at the same time). The family itself was amongst the Gold Coast's aristocratic elite, a mix of the Fante and Ashanti tribes. His father saw no problem in being part of a European multi-national, an hereditary chief, a Freemason and a devout Anglican 'in a culture of tribes and ancestral worship'. Decolonalisation in the Gold Coast was not a struggle between blacks and whites but between radical and gradualist Ghanaians, Annan's father being amongst the latter. In reality Nkrumah's mockery of the rule of law, abolition of civil liberties, Marxist ideology and authoritarianism paved the way for military rule. Little wonder Annan prefered a career in the international bureaucracy of the United Nations (UN).

Annan's book can be read as a catalogue of failure but such a reading would be superficial. The UN's principles of peacekeeping were formally codified in 1973. They included provisions which made UN action ineffective. The code required peacekeeping troops to only use force in self-defence, to be strictly impartial, to be deployed only with the consent of the parties of the dispute, to be reliant upon voluntary contributions of member states for military, personnel, equipment and logistics and to be mandated and supported by the Security Council. Interventions could not be imposed which meant local politicians could prevent action from being taken on the grounds of national sovereignty. There was no political will at the UN to enforce its policies against regimes which were essentially criminal.

There was a sea-change in international peacekeeping operations in the early 'nineties. Before 1992 most operations consisted of less than a hundred observers. By 1994 this number had expanded to 80,000 forces deployed in seventeen operations worldwide. Three of those operations occurred in quick succession - Somalia in 1993; Rwanda in 1994 and Bosnia 1995, the latter taking place at Srebrenica in a UN-designated 'safe area'. In 1992 the Security Council decided it might be necessary in future to deploy peacekeepers without the full consent of the warring parties. In Somalia there was a series of multiple and shifting mini-wars between political factions and gangs. Humanitarian aid was sabotaged and relief workers were killed. The failure of U.S. troops to capture one of the main perpetrators, General Aidid, resulted in a collapse of support for U.S. troops in Somalia with Clinton declaring ' U.S troops would never again be put in harm's way in a UN peacekeeping mission' notwithstanding the culpability of the U.S in diverting resources from the main humanitarian aims of the UN mission.

Hence there was no appetite for providing troops to deal with the situation in Rwanda where the Tutsi invasion force attacked the Hutu government. In 100 days 800,000 people were killed. Annan lays the blame firmly on those nations, including the U.S., for whom what happened in Rwanda was not in their perceived national interest. In addition, Rwandans had learned the lesson from Somalia that the deaths of a few peacekeepers would kill interventionism. General Dallaire criticised Annan for not intervening. Annan's response is that 'ending the genocide and protecting civilians on a large scale would require military capacity and the political will to act to stop the killing'. There was a significant gap between UN resolutions, the political will to execute those resolutions and the means available to enforce them. In Bosnia the British made it clear UN troops were deployed to deter attacks against safe areas not to defend those areas. Consequently, 'the international community's complicity with evil - of standing by when in full knowledge of horrors on the ground that it had the power to stop' forcefully raised the question of when the international community should intervene to protect innocent peoples from being slaughtered.

Annan includes African nations in his criticism. He makes the point that many African countries which were created at the 1885 Congress of Berlin made no sense on the ground, partitioning kingdoms, states and communities. When African nations became independent they lacked genuine national identities and political institutions to support them. In the 1960s when Africa was wedded to the 'Big Man' idea Western liberals argued it was the most appropriate way forward. African leaders excused the behaviour of Robert Mugabe who systematically destroyed Zimbabwe's economic strength with a series of aggressive and disastrous land reforms which was exacerbated by his increasing paranoia. Annan rejects the idea that the problems experienced by Africa were the fault entirely of colonial rule or neo-colonialism. 'The poverty of Africa, the violence of Africa, is.....the consequence of choices and decisions made by its leaders'.

The invasion of Iraq receives short shrift. 'The Iraq War was neither in accordance with the Charter nor legitimate'. Its 'justification' kept changing and included regime change which was unacceptable to the vast majority of states. The global consensus against terrorism in the wake of 9/11 (which included many Arab nations) fractured as the United States went its own way. The high moral ground claimed by the U.S disappeared with the abuses and crimes at Abu Ghraib and the continued existence of Guantanamo Bay in contradiction of due process. East Timor may have been a success for independence but failure is inherent in the UN. Annan argues forcefully for the UN's over-riding commitment to human rights to trump claims of national sovereignty. Annan's critics overlook the point that the Secretary-General can only act as he is empowered to do so. Unlike those he dealt with he is not a dictator and cannot impose his will. As a Swahili proverb holds, 'You cannot turn the wind, so turn the sail'. It's an art not a science as British policy towards Syria shows demanding an end to the Assad regime while not appreciating the Sharia extremism of the rebels. Credit to Annan for trying. Five stars for a must read book.
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VINE VOICEon 22 June 2013
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Integrity, stature and purpose get unpacked on the global stage here, powerfully well. But, how do you explain Kofi Annan's enduring moral prestige?

The puzzle is that it has survived failures, both his own and those of the institution he served for fifty years. Personal charisma is only part of the story. In addition to his charm, of which there is plenty, there is the authority that comes from experience. Few people have spent so much time around negotiating tables with thugs, warlords, and dictators. He has made himself the world's emissary to the dark side. This is a chewy memoir with rich content.

In the face of often dire negotiations, Annan brought a soothing temperament that became second nature early in his Ghanaian childhood. His father, Henry Reginald Annan, lived across two worlds, as a senior executive with a British multinational corporation and a hereditary chieftain in a country poised on the eve of national independence. In the Ghanaian struggle, the Annan family occupied the cautious middle, supporting independence but keeping their distance from the revolutionary nationalism of Kwame Nkrumah.

From these experiences, Annan became adept at circumspection and skillful in dealing with all sides, while keeping his own cards concealed. It was a temperament perfect for the UN. When he found his career in Ghana blocked by a succession of military regimes, he enlisted in the UN and has spent all his life in its upper reaches in New York and Geneva. Kofi Annan learned early to live across racial divides and to position himself as the rational and relaxed confidant of all, while belonging finally to no one but himself.

Reason, challenge, opposition and tenacity are powerfully explored.
Brilliantly written and full of candid perspectives.
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on 12 April 2013
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Kofi Annan was Secretary General of the UN from 1997 to 2006 (that I did know). What I didn't know was that he had spent most his career in the UN including Peacekeeping Operations. This book is a reflection on Annan's career, what made him take the career path he did and a biography of the what? why? and what if? of his time in charge.

Annan writes briefly about the influence of his father (actually I think the book would have benefited from a little more about his childhood) and how he found himself using the skills of diplomacy and balance from his father throughout his career in the UN. From there he moves onto the meat of the book which is the efforts of peace keeping and international order during his time in Peacekeeping Operations and as Secretary General of the UN.

He doesn't hold back in his criticism of world leaders (or, to my surprise, his predecessor as Secretary General of the UN, Boutros Boutros-Ghali). However, he also balances this with compliments when he feels something positive has been done (for example George W Bush's support in the fight against HIV/AIDS). His writing appears honest in terms of his efforts to move from conflict to peace but also frustrating for the number of cases where the UN simply did not meet its aims.

It is easy to blame the US for this (and Annan does to an extent, notably re Iraq) but there is more to the critique than that. For all the support for international law and world peace, Annan highlights how 5 countries having a veto doesn't really work in the 21st century.

I found it a fascinating book, educational in terms of conflicts I did not know much about, but also helping me to gain on understanding of some of the challenges for the UN in the years ahead.
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