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Flawed Diplomacy: The United Nations and the War on Terrorism

Flawed Diplomacy: The United Nations and the War on Terrorism by Victor Comras. Potomac Books, 2012, 265 pp.

Regulations and resolutions currently in place by the United Nations (UN) have been ineffective in combatting the growth and ambitious sentiment of the Islamic State. Retired US diplomat and author Victor Comras has built a work on the fallacies of the UN response to global terrorism. Flawed Diplomacy emerges from personal experience and research conducted as a result of failed UN Security Council processes in response to al-Qaeda. The author revisits a segment of Cold War history that has taken the lives of many, destroyed property in the billions of dollars, and commanded government actions and responses around the world. This very topic has inspired discourse among academics, politicians, and professional soldiers from the international community. The sequential order of the book concludes with an incredible reference listing.

Flawed Diplomacy is a narrative highlighting the big points of what was a conflict with state supported operatives, individuals, and groups. It leaves enough room to question and inquire about future positions. Historically vetted in social or political movements, groups adopted revolutionary violence easily influenced through state support, discrete financing, and very obscure networking systems for logistics. Considering it a flaw, Comras alludes that the role the United States and Russia played in trying to influence the third world and the Middle East created the ideology that terrorist groups are often associated with. Detailed support in Flawed Diplomacy explains the very influence these countries had in those regions of the world throughout the Cold War. Comras also asserts this is the reason a Middle Eastern bloc was formed, which grew in strength and eventually commanded the responses of government interaction. Terrorism was a tool that kept the bigger influencers at a reasonable distance but spread ideological principles. Comras’ work supports the notion that the UN has acted, which it has, but the responses are reactionary and not preventive in nature. There is evidence provided that some nations called for reform of the Security Council’s actions toward terrorism and insisted it respond with substance. Through meticulous wording, Comras argues that much of the reform of UN Security Council terrorism countermeasures has been in the form of updating the “wording” in diplomatic responses. The US State Department urged the UN Security Council to combat terrorism from components off the battlefield. However, in the aftermath of 9/11, a military response gained prominence.

A key question Flawed Diplomacy premises throughout the work is, what role does the UN play in response to terrorism? Comras has outlined through his research that the role of the UN in responding to terrorism can, in some occurrences, be disappointing. There is no criticism of the UN program itself but certainly an unwanted check on the role that this organization has played thus far. Terrorism is an international threat to safety and security for every nation, and it calls for an international response, but Comras argues that the UN has failed to develop that response. Through investigation a definitive point is made in the work; a definition for the term “terrorism” served as a general barrier for a UN response because the term is viewed differently among members. A breakdown in tracking individual terrorist or organizations has led the UN from being able to enforce and maintain rosters of terrorists and groups.

Comras’ expertise falls within the domain of terrorism and the financing that is involved with keeping the role functional; he was specifically appointed as part of a five-person team to oversee the creation of measures by the UN Security Council to focus on terrorist financing. The analysis argues that the resolutions produced in the wake of the tragedy targeted the outlets that support the al-Qaeda organization, more importantly, what the United States and some of the other developed nations suggested. However, due to continual discernment over viewpoints between member countries of the United Nations, goals and agendas have not completely formed, or the United Nations created resolutions that essentially prevent the organization from obtaining a real power to combat terrorist groups. Comras’ point on this was paramount because of the very position he maintained in the United Nations. Despite the failure of UN member nations coming to an agreement on diplomatic ways and countermeasures to confront the global crisis of terrorism, the United States has also displayed over time its own internal antagonist because critics felt that there was no way to resolve the problem of terrorism through rhetoric, and it could only stave through a strong military response.

Flawed Diplomacy, available in hardback, is a well-written sequential, and the text carries professional weight of an expert from the field. This book is not intended for the beginning reader on this particular topic; the audience is more than likely someone already versed on the issue of terrorism and the policies that have been generated to combat it. The audience should have certain background knowledge of the United Nations; otherwise, there may be difficulty grasping the concept of the United Nations and its existence as an international entity. Comras, again, does not deride the United Nations as a whole, nor does he disparage the United Nations for reforming in response to the global community reaching out about the issue of terrorism. However, there should have been more research into the general history of the United Nations. The book is absolutely worth adding to a collection for readers simply interested in this field or for those whose professions are in counterterrorism and those interested in following diplomatic history.

T. Matt Meador
Belhaven University

"The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US government or the Department of Defense."

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