The Diplomacy of Hope: The United Nations Since the Cold War

Newton Rowell Bowles. New York and London: Tauris, 2004

By Derek Paul (reviewer)

While a fine statement of Newton Bowles's achievements and involvements can be found in Canadian Who's Who, an appropriate introduction to this author for present purposes can be drawn from The Diplomacy of Hope, in his own introduction, page xiii:

"As the son of a Protestant pastor, I was raised in Semitic mythology, fables of hope and despair, of escape from evil, of a new life. For those who bore the burden of hope, the Red Sea would open and we would walk into the Promised Land where all is peace. In these dark days as we walk into a new century, who can live without such a vision? In the dungeon of hate, where is the vision?

" 'We the peoples' who keep hope alive have learned the bitter lesson. The Red Sea will not open up. There is no other Promised Land. This is the Promised Land, to do with as we can.

"We live by our myths. We make myths to give meaning to our lives. The United Nations is a myth. Only 'We the peoples' make it real. We are the Red Sea, the blood of life, the blood of hope."

In this nice book of fewer than 200 pages, Newton gives us history and insights into the UN that nobody else could, as he spans not only the great breadth of the whole organization, but is able to trace the origins from the Charter itself to the many agencies that are part of the UN or affiliated with it.

Everyone should read Diplomacy of Hope, though it will not carry the same messages for all. It is a first-class primer that will serve those who want to know more about the UN, and it will enable them to start looking for important details, thanks to the adequacy (but not superfluity) of notes.

Newton, now 89, remains an optimist though he is rooted in realities that are often extremely grim. But his optimism is also supported by fact. For example, page 88 lists 14 factors governing the welfare of children in terms of UN Millennium Goals and the progress in these areas since 1990. One finds progress in 12 of the factors and worsening in only one -- the HIV/AIDS pandemic.

In the 17 chapters he takes us through the thaw produced by the end of the Cold War; human insecurity; disarmament; terror; the International Criminal Court; human rights; women; children; humanitarian rescue; poverty; HIV/ AIDS; civil society ('We the people'); UN planning, management and money; significant UN events around the millennium; and the first few years of the 21st century, notably what happened at the UN prior to the US-UK invasion of Iraq.

Newton tells his stories as they are, or appear to him, without pointing the accusing finger at offending states, when this could easily be done. He states the facts. The Diplomacy of Hope will thus be readable by Americans, even strong supporters of the present US administration, who could easily be offended by anything seemingly anti-G.W. Bush. One might suspect that it was written deliberately so as not to offend Americans, but Newton is not someone to offend people anyway, either in his writings or social discourse. This is clearly evident in The Diplomacy of Hope. But let us not make a mistake, the book is not designed to protect politicians either. Newton mentions that the US has not signed the Landmines Treaty. If he were out to protect the US Administration from criticism, he would have added that the US puts more money into the removal of land mines than any other country, including those that have signed and ratified the treaty. But he omits this.

Does a book as uniformly excellent as this have highlights? Surely the chapters on women and children show Newton at his best. He spent many years with UNESCO, so he inevitably knows this area of UN affairs best of all. He reminds us of the necessity of representation of women and by women. For example, he says regretfully of the General Assembly summit of 2000, which was attended by 147 heads of state, that "among the summiteers, only three were women."

We looked for flaws in this book and found very few. An obvious trap always arises in the discussion of terrorism (chapter four and several other bits and pieces). States tend to use the word terror to mean non-state terror, which removes the possibility of their own acts of terror entering the discussion.

Newton avoids this trap very neatly by including state terror in his own understanding of the word "terror" itself. However, it is clear from Ryan Gawn's article "In Larger Freedom" (page 16, this issue) that this understanding does not extend to the Secretary-General's attempts over the past few years to get UN Member States to agree on a clear definition of terrorism.

Kofi Annan's working definition is that terrorism is "any intentional attack on civilians and non-combatants by non-state actors for political purposes -- any act intended to cause death or serious bodiliy harm to civilians." Thus, for the obvious reason that Annan has to deal with States, he excludes the major terrorists -- the States themselves -- in his definition.

To define terrorism fully, it is necessary to include the terror perpetrated by States, even if State terror and non-state terror are to be separated within the whole definition. The States must not be allowed to escape, so to speak. The signatories of the UN Charter are all of them States, notwithstanding the opening words of the Charter: "We the peoples of the United Nations determined to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war...."

The United Nations is an organization for States to sign up with, but at the same time it is meant to represent the world's peoples. It is at loggerheads with its own objectives when a State party does not properly represent its people. This theme recurs in diverse ways in The Diplomacy of Hope, and Newton always sheds light rather than confusion. At the same time, he says (p.151) that Vaclav Havel, then Czech President, "envisaged a new UN with two parallel assemblies, one like the present General Assembly, and the other directly elected by everyone in the world."

Havel's idea may not have been new. An entire chapter on this subject in United Nations Reform, eds. Eric Fawcett and Hanna Newcombe (Science for Peace/Dundurn Press, 1995), makes a good case that the second, peoples' assembly is needed sooner rather than later.

There are two places where Newton needs to be corrected. He opens chapter three ("Disarmament: Life or Death?") with a statement drawn from Lawrence Keeley to show that war has always been with us. Quoting from one man is simply not sufficient when the statement itself is so important and as controversial as this one is. Distinguished archaeologist Marija Gimbutas (now deceased) found, by contrast, no evidence for war or weapons of war in Old Europe prior to 4300 BCE. To be sure, there has always been conflict and doubtless also murder occasionally, and deaths in struggles between individuals. But that is not war. War requires organization and planning. In this context the very title of Keeley's cited book, War Before Civilization, has the sound of an oxymoron. If Keeley is right, there can be little hope for the world, since the guarantee of war in a nuclear age must surely spell doom. In the findings of Gimbutas and some who have followed her discoveries, the appearance of war and of male gods (gods of war) began about 4300 BC. These developments parallel the onset and subsequent growth of male dominance in human society, something Newton recognizes we must get away from. Therein lies hope.

A relatively minor flaw may be seen in Newton's interpretation of the US failure in Somalia. We find: "...[eighteen] Marines fell into the hands of Aidid's mob.... The US army pulled out and the UN was blamed for it." Evidently some foreign news didn't reach the UN or the public press. The US went into Somalia like the other UN forces to keep the peace between Aidid and his rivals, and the US mistakenly thought they were fighting one of the two sides, an untenable situation for peacekeepers or peacemakers. In fact the attack on US forces was being carried out by a small private army -- armed from the Sudan by Osama bin Laden, who was living there in exile at the time. The ignorance of this fact in the US command (if that was the case) amounts to a gross failure in military intelligence.

The Diplomacy of Hope can be purchased from the UN bookstore and through Amazon.com.

Reviewed by Derek Paul, a retired physics professor in Toronto.

Peace Magazine Oct-Dec 2005

Peace Magazine Oct-Dec 2005, page 29. Some rights reserved.

Search for other articles by Derek Paul here

Peace Magazine homepage