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IR experts discuss professor’s new book

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Friday, October 17, 2008

Four international relations experts came together last night for a panel discussion centered on Associate Professor of Political Science Peter Andreas’ book “Blue Helmets and Black Markets.” The recently published book compiles anecdotes and interviews to trace the development of an illicit economy during the Siege of Sarajevo in the Bosnian War.

Andreas was joined by Professor-at-Large Richard Holbrooke ’62, who authored the Dayton Peace Accords that ended the Bosnian War, Vice President for International Affairs David Kennedy ’76 and Associate Professor of International Studies Keith Brown.

Each panelist spoke to an overflowing audience in the Watson Institute for International Studies’ Joukowsky Forum about his perspective on the siege of Sarajevo, which, according to Andreas, was the longest-running and most internationalized such conflict in modern history. The siege, started when Serb forces surrounded the Bosnian capital, lasted three-and-a-half years, during which more than 12,000 people — mostly civilians — were killed.

“(The UN peace-keeping forces) are gatekeepers formally but they also become black-market helpers,” Andreas said, adding that many people became smugglers of sorts themselves in order to get humanitarian aid to the people who needed it.

Kennedy described “Blue Helmets and Black Markets” as an exploration of the relationship between an international humanitarian response and the black market. The presence of the humanitarian response, the book argues, had the consequence of creating an illicit war economy. The siege of Sarajevo, Kennedy said, is “in a sense, a cautionary tale about the ways (peace-keeping forces) can get caught up in the darker side of political and economic life.”

Holbrooke, who is a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and a former Herald editor-in-chief, shared some personal stories about his experience during the siege. He said he used a fake ID pass from the UN to enter the city in an armored personnel carrier, and what he saw there was often bizarre. “I remember, most vividly, very good-looking women dressed up in fatigues with high heels,” Holbrooke said. The women later changed into dresses to attend a party, Holbrooke added, where “everyone was dancing like there was no tomorrow because there might not have been a tomorrow.”

Andreas’ book has contemporary relevance, Holbrooke said. “It’s not an academic book. … I consider that a compliment.”

Brown added, “It’s provocative and courageous to write a book that focuses on the ‘winners’ (of such a horrible situation),” referring to the war profiteers.

Andreas closed the panel with a discussion of his motivations for writing the book. “The starting point for me is an intellectual curiosity,” he said. “Sieges are supposed to be obsolete in Europe.”

Andreas said that his book is “not a black-and-white story. It’s not an expose. It’s about the double-edge of international intervention.”

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