Dubious Mandate

A Memoir of the UN in Bosnia, Summer 1995

Dubious Mandate

Book Pages: 312 Illustrations: 20 b&w photographs, 3 maps Published: April 1999

Author: Phillip Corwin

General Interest > Biography, Letters, Memoirs, History > European History, Politics > Political Science

A critical year in the history of peacekeeping, 1995 saw the dramatic transformation of the role of United Nations’ forces in Bosnia from a protective force to being an active combatant under NATO leadership. Phillip Corwin, the UN’s chief political officer in Sarajevo during the summer of that year, presents an insider’s account of the momentous events that led to that transformation. Dubious Mandate interweaves personal experiences of daily life in a war zone—supply shortages, human suffering, assassination attempts, corruption—with historical facts, as Corwin challenges commonly held views of the war with his own highly informed, discerning, and trenchant political commentary.
Sympathetic to the UN’s achievements, yet skeptical of its acquiescence to the use of military force, Corwin is critical both of the Bosnian government’s tactics for drawing NATO into the conflict and of NATO’s eagerness to make peace by waging war. He challenges the popular depiction of the Bosnian government as that of noble victim, arguing that the leaders of all three sides in the conflict were “gangsters wearing coats and ties.” Highly caustic about Western reportage, he examines the policies of various Western political and military leaders and gives a detailed account of a pivotal phase of the war in Bosnia, a period that culminated with NATO’s massive bombing of Bosnian Serb targets and ultimately led to the Dayton Peace Agreement. Without a proper understanding of this critical period, he argues, it is difficult to understand the greater scope of the conflict. Corwin also offers insightful portraits of some of the leading players in the Bosnian drama, including Yasushi Akashi, the UN’s top official in the former Yugoslavia in 1994–95; General Rupert Smith, the British commander in Sarajevo in 1995; and Hasan Muratovic, a future Bosnian prime minister.
Capturing the essence of a tense and difficult time, Dubious Mandate will interest diplomats, politicians, military personnel, scholars, and those still trying to fathom the continuing mission of the United Nations and the unfolding of events in the former Yugoslavia during the 1990s.


“The most illuminating of the latest additions to the burgeoning Balkan library. . . .” — Richard Gott , New Statesman

"Dubious Mandate, the title of Corwin’s book, goes right to the heart of the matter. . . . Dubious Mandate ranks at the top of the list. . . . If you want to know how today’s world of mercenary peacekeeping and random bombing came to be, read this book. It is a must." — Nebojsa Malic , Serbian Unity Congress

"A highly critical, honest, and opinionated chronicle by a top United Nations official of the period that saw the UN’s transformation from peace-keeper to peace-enforcer. . . . Corwin gives an honest account, clearly and succinctly explains his biases, and provides useful insight into key figures, episodes, and encounters during this pivotal phase. Trenchant observations on the Bosnian war of particular interest to those trying to make sense of the latest events in the Balkans." — , Kirkus Reviews

"Corwin was United Nations chief political officer for Bosnia as that terrible conflict was leading up to the Dayton accords. Subsequent events in the Balkans make his candid, even chilling, book timely reading. Sharply critical of the willy-nilly way in which the ‘mandate’ of both NATO and the UN has been transformed, Corwin’s account is also a bracing antidote to the media’s sensationalist good guy/ bad guy scripts for a part of the world that conspires against easy moral judgements." — , First Things

"Corwin, chief UN political officer in Sarajevo during the summer of 1995, records a unique perspective seldom mentioned in published memoirs and scholarship. He details UN efforts to provide Sarajevo humanitarian aid and utilities at a time of resurgent fighting culminating in the NATO bombardment and the Dayton Accords. Corwin records the cynical opposition to his mission from all sides, including, surprisingly, the United States and the Bosnian government. The former’s preoccupation with domestic politics and the latter’s cultivation of its ‘victim’ status are confirmed in private conversations. Ironically, Bosnian opposition to UN efforts to evacuate the Muslin ‘safe area’ of Srebrenica contributed to catastrophic civilian slaughter there. This valuable document exposes the motives of all involved parties, describes the UN’s impossible mandate, and details the perversely destructive impact of economic sanctions. Corwin’s objectivity and his self-criticism may be disputed, but the cannot be denied. Recommended for academic and larger public libraries." — , Library Journal

"Given the United Nations’ continuing efforts in Bosnia, this narrative of the author’s service as a UN political officer will circulate. . . . Corwin’s book is based on notes the author made while he was stationed in Bosnia; his later comments are enclosed in brackets. Corwin is not one of the many outsiders who view the people of the Balkans as incapable of getting along together; he traces the war’s origin to World War II, rather that the Middle Ages. Corwin insists, however, that ‘the leaders of all the various factions in Bosnia were merely gangsters wearing coats and ties.’" — , Booklist

"In 1995 Phillip Corwin was the UN’s chief political officer in Sarajevo. In Dubious Mandate, he presents his diaries and argues that the leaders of all three groups in the Bosnian conflict—the Croats, the Serbs, and the Bosnian government—were ‘merely gangsters wearing coats and ties.’ He also feels that the UN made a terrible mistake by allowing NATO to bomb the Serbs in order to enforce the peace under its flag. The UN, in so doing, let go of the ideal that ‘the highest moral achievement is durable peace.’" — , Publishers Weekly

"The book should be required reading for those who wish to reform the UN peacekeeping system, as Corwin exposes the entire gamut of failures, both within the system itself and the countries which wish to use it as a repository for crises they want off their agendas."

— Kurt Bassuener , Journal of Croatian Studies

“Coming after a shelf full of books about the Bosnian civil war by the parachutists of the press, here is something different: Philip Corwin’s view of the final months of the conflict from the inner sanctum, the United Nations headquarters in Sarajevo, where he experienced the Bosnian leadership as it really was: greedy for power and money, and life-threatening.” — David Binder, New York Times

“Phillip Corwin’s book provides a useful antidote to the numerous portrayals of the war in Bosnia as a tidy melodrama featuring Serb aggressors and Muslim victims. Corwin’s account of his role in Bosnia as an official of the United Nations offers graphic evidence that the political leaders of all three factions—including the Muslim-dominated government in Sarajevo—were corrupt, brutal, and manipulative. Although readers might justifiably question his positive assessment of the UN’s performance, Corwin’s first-hand observations will be valuable to anyone who wants to gain a greater understanding of the complex events in the former Yugoslavia.” — Ted Galen Carpenter, Vice President for Defense and Foreign Policy Studies, Cato Institute

“Phillip Corwin’s meticulous account of events in Bosnia shatters the well constructed myth of ‘one victim, one enemy.’ With unswerving attention to detail and a sense of duty, this dedicated UN official unveils the behavior of senior Bosnian officials and their callous disregard of their own people’s suffering. The author modestly persent his memoir as a ‘source book, without which a thorough history of Bosnia cannot be written.’ I may add, this is a first-hand account that policymakers, too, will be well advised to read before they substitute images for reality in formulating policies and before they dispatch more American soldiers to distant places to settle civil wars that local demagogues have caused in their pursuit of power and in their greed.” — Donald M. Payne, U.S. House of Representatives

“The largely untold ‘other side’ of the story focusing on the role of the Bosnian government is written with intense verve by a dedicated UN international civil servant coping with deep distrust, ethnic cleansing, cruelty, threats, and war. Corwin’s service was in the tradition of Ralph Bunche, whose dedication to the UN and its charter set an example of integrity and commitment for other UN officials serving in peacekeeping and peace enforcement operations.” — Dr. Joseph J. Sisco, Chairman of the Academy of Diplomacy and former Undersecretary of State


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Phillip Corwin held a number of posts during his twenty-seven years with the United Nations, including that of a speechwriter for former Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar. After participating in peacekeeping missions in Haiti, Western Sahara, and Afghanistan, he became the UN’s chief political officer in Sarajevo. He is also the author of three collections of short stories and three books of poetry.

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Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-2126-2
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