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Fiddling while Rome burns...
on 8 December 2012
This is a book that everyone should read, voluntarily or not, just to see how incompetent, ineffectual and complacent our 'leaders' really are.
The book is well written, clearly laid out around a number of themes and obviously heartfelt. Kofi Annan himself is obviously a decent man, hard working, caring and diplomatic. But to what end? This book is a record of failure after failure, procrastination, buck-passing and extraordinary complacency; of societies riven by dictatorship and despotism while the UN agonises over methodology. A story of democratically elected leaders failing time and again to act in a way that would encourage improved security in the trouble spots of the world, failing to live up to promises on aid, failing to provide troops for peace-keeping missions, failing to do the one thing we pay them to do - that is, lead.
However good Annan's intentions may have been, even he can find very few successes to point to, and as head of an organisation with a $10 billion per annum budget and 44,000 staff (figures he gives himself) that's a fairly damning indictment of the UN and the international community in general. Drawing up policies and goals is one thing, living up to them quite another. But again and again Annan congratulates himself and the UN on simply coming up with a form of words or getting people round a table - the process is celebrated regardless of outcome.
As you may be able to tell, this book made me furiously angry - the resumé of some of the worst horrors we have witnessed over the last two decades, together with the description of blind-eye-turning or worse on a massive scale, may not be telling us much we don't already know, but it draws it together into a stark tale of failure and futility that made me question, for the first time in my life, whether there is any point to the UN at all. Not what Annan intended, but then unintended consequences seem to be a recurring theme of the book.
An important book - if we want an effective UN (and I do) then we need to be aware of how the people we elect are undermining and abusing its principles every day. And on that basis, highly recommended.