Cover image for Dubious mandate : a memoir of the UN in Bosnia, summer 1995
Dubious mandate : a memoir of the UN in Bosnia, summer 1995
Corwin, Phillip.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Durham : Duke University Press, 1999.
Physical Description:
xxii, 268 pages : illustrations, maps ; 24 cm
Reading Level:
1170 Lexile.
Format :


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DR1313.3 .C67 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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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.

Author Notes

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.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Given the United Nations' continuing efforts in Bosnia, this narrative of the author's service as a UN political officer will circulate. Like Boutros-Ghali's Unvanquished [BKL Ap 15 99], Corwin's memoir is critical of the U.S., the way Bosnia was covered by the Western media, and the NATO bombing. When Corwin was in Bosnia, UN forces served in a peacekeeping role; after the bombing and the Dayton peace agreement, they assumed a more proactive if ill-defined peacemaking role. 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 than the Middle Ages. Corwin insists, however, that "the leaders of all the various factions in Bosnia were merely gangsters wearing coats and ties." --Mary Carroll

Library Journal Review

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 formers preoccupation with domestic politics and the latters cultivation of its victim status are confirmed in private conversations. Ironically, Bosnian opposition to UN efforts to evacuate the Muslim safe area of Srebrenica contributed to catastrophic civilian slaughter there. This valuable document exposes the motives of all involved parties, describes the UNs impossible mandate, and details the perversely destructive impact of economic sanctions. Corwins objectivity and his self-criticism may be disputed, but they cannot be denied. Recommended for academic and larger public libraries.Zachary T. Irwin, Pennsylvania State Univ., Erie (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Few libraries and even fewer scholars can afford to purchase all the firsthand accounts of the wars of Yugoslav succession. This one can be safely overlooked. It is essentially a diary, a chronological narrative of three months in 1995 when the author was the UN's chief political officer. Although he evidently played only a bit role in policy making and was not on the ground long enough to develop a broad overview, his stay in Sarajevo gave him ample opportunity to nurture an abiding animosity toward the war's Muslim victims and those who tried to help them. This reader was repelled by his vilification of courageous journalists like Christians Amanpour, Pulitzer-Prize winner David Rohde, and chief UN spokesman Alex Ivanko, whom he collectively attacks as "reptiles." Meanwhile he repeats an assortment of bogus myths and cliches in a tasteless attempt to minimize the Serbian leadership's guilt. The book's numerous factual mistakes attest to the ignorance of a man who regards Rebecca West's 1941 Black Lamb & Grey Falcon as the best account of Yugoslavia's history. Alas, this is not the only bad book on the Bosnian conflict, but it is one of the few bearing the imprint of a respectable university press. C. Ingrao Purdue University