Bruce W. Jentleson’s book Opportunities Missed, Opportunities Seized is a compilation of accounts from different conflicts in the post Cold War era. These accounts are chosen to show the uses of preventive diplomacy as well as some of its failures. Jentleson’s writing is a very small portion of the entire book; the introduction and the conclusion. It is in these two parts of the book that the thesis is located, the rest of the book is an attempt to prove Jentleson’s hypothesis.
The thesis of Jentleson’s work is that preventive diplomacy is a necessary tool that should be used in order to help stop wars before they start. The author goes further by mentioning that we must take a realistic approach to preventive diplomacy. He defends against critics claiming that preventive diplomacy is a realistic approach to handling international problems. Morally, Jentleson says “[. . .] preventative diplomacy [. . .] is a viable strategy and can be done, and that it has strategic logic and should be done (319).” He defends his thesis by listing the different aspects of preventive diplomacy’s uses, such as its viability and strategic value. Using this, the reader can better understand the concept and later apply it to the specific examples that are provided.
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Jentleson points out that there is no specific formula for preventive action. In some cases there is only a need for reassurance by a third party (such as the UN); whereas in other cases there is a need for coercion in order to maintain stability. However, there is a need for certain circumstances in order for preventative diplomacy to be effective. Early warning is necessary to successfully prevent a problem; intelligence must be of both sufficient quantity and quality. Groups such as the UN must be able to locate the coming conflict accurately. There are problems of “under-warning” and “overwarning.” This is both missing the signs of a coming conflict, or being overly sensitive and jumping the gun unnecessarily, thereby causing more problems.
Once intelligence has located an impending problem, analysts must be able to quickly put this information to use. There are times when the information is misread, causing the peacekeeping operation to fail. This could be a result of the aggressors having more military power than was previously expected. Another problem is the “warning-response gap,” the information is assimilated quickly enough and the reaction time is too slow to allow preventive diplomacy to gain an advantage.
There are several instances in the book where it is emphasized that preventive diplomacy will not prevent all conflicts, though if it is done well, it may slow down those conflicts that it failed to prevent. Most of the time total prevention of war is impossible. However, as is shown in the success stories of this book the suffering can be lessoned by the timely and enthusiastic use of preventive diplomacy.
Jentleson’s primary focus on preventive diplomacy takes place in cases where the “violence is imminent or early but still short of mass deadly conflict (10).” The incidents that the author has chosen all had the potential to become serious deadly conflicts. They also include a variety of cases that are indicative of the post Cold War era, including cases from the former Soviet Union as well as other state conflicts from elsewhere in the world. Jentleson claims that the articles that he has collected by other authors help to prove his point. In the cases where preventive diplomacy failed, the authors are able to cite moments where the opportunity for success was lost. For example, the last chance for successful preventive diplomacy in Somalia was missed due to the generally negative international feeling towards Somalia. The result was a lack of international efforts to aid in the aftermath of the collapse of the government. This lack of intervention allowed an all out war to ruin the economy as well as take many lives.
Because this book focuses on a highly moral argument there are some who will disagree with Jentleson, saying that preventive diplomacy is a waste of resources and peacekeeper’s lives, there are others who would argue its effectiveness. However, Jentleson uses good arguments for the implementation of preventive diplomacy. If it is possible to save innocents from the tragedies of warfare, than it is the responsibility of the international community to do so. It is for this reason that organizations such as the United Nations exist.
The articles in the book add to Jentleson’s argument by painting graphic pictures of the suffering that is going on in those places where preventive diplomacy did not work. The articles are well chosen, and are diverse; the examples have different circumstances that the various peacekeepers had to deal with. These circumstances range from a lack of reliable information to problems with negotiations to civil war.
In comparison to Marrack Goulding, Jentleson’s style is less engrossing, but more orderly. The two authors have similar views on the importance of preventive diplomacy or peacekeeping. In both procedures there is a desire to help alleviate world suffering. Both Goulding and Jentleson feel that an effort must be made to prevent and stop wars before tragedies occur. Further, both authors mentioned the fact that conflicts are very rarely self contained. As refugees flee, the problem can spread to other bordering countries.
The greatest strength of Opportunities Missed, Opportunities Seized, is its comprehensive structure. Jentleson’s organization of the book allows the reader to first understand the concept of preventivediplomacy and its elements. Jentleson then provides the reader with numerous accounts of actual cases where preventive diplomacy was used, successfully or not. Each of the chapters has sub-headings which provide further organization. Because Jentleson states his thesis in both the beginning and the end of the book, there is a clear understanding of what the book meant after its completion. Jentleson uses the case studies to support his claim that preventive diplomacy is important. It is also helpful that he and the authors of the chapters give reasons for the failures as well as the successes of each attempt at peacekeeping and peacemaking.
The book could have been easier to understand if there were fewer examples. Though each example helped the reader to better understand the concept, by the end of the book many of the individual incidents had become confused, leaving more of an understanding of the concepts than an assimilation of all of the facts. This is a matter of preference as many people prefer an understanding to superficial facts. None of the articles stood out as being of lesser quality than the others. Consequently, I feel Jentleson has done a good job of choosing the authors. Each was detailed and easily understood with the aid of the sub-headings.
The most important quality that a book can have is meaningful substance. Opportunities Missed, Opportunities Seized has that. The author’s purpose for writing the book is clearly understood and his thesis holds up. Further, his thesis is believable and reasonable. Jentleson does not claim to know all the answers, rather he states that preventive diplomacy is a necessary part of international relations. I feel that he is correct. Preventive diplomacy could help to stop much suffering in the world and every opportunity to alleviate suffering should be taken. “For if we know one thing for sure, it is that the need for prevention is not going to subside anytime soon (348).” This is why preventive diplomacy is so important; it will be needed far into the future.
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