Review in J Mil Hist
Published in Journal of Military History, Vol. 79 Issue 2, p.545 (April 2015).
This book grew out of a workshop “On the Wings of Peace: Aerospace Power in United Nations Operations” held at Canadian Forces Base Trenton on 15-16 June, 2011. The book is edited by Professor A. Walter Dorn (Royal Military College of Canada), a noted Canadian scholar on Peacekeeping Operations, who also authored five of the seventeen chapters in the book.
Dorn’s stated purpose in assembling the book is to fill a gap in the literature on peacekeeping and air power “… a major gap in the public, professional and academic literature” (p. xxv). He outlines a basic aerospace ‘doctrine’ of three core capabilities; transportation, observation, and firepower, around which he seeks to organize his contributor’s articles. The book is not so much a work of military history (although it certainly contains military case studies) as an exemplar how the United Nations has employed airpower in the past, how it is currently using it and how it should use it in the future.
Dorn is correct in stating that there is a paucity of literature on the subject of UN Airpower, and most of what can be found concerns itself with humanitarian airlift operations. There is very little on air observation and still less on UN aircraft being employed in combat roles. Of course there have been few UN combat air operations (with the exception of UN mandated operations flown by national air forces).
One of the early episodes of UN combat airpower being deployed came in the Congo during the early 1960s. The first three chapters of the book discuss various aspects of this UN air force as it built it up its strength to challenge and overcome the rebel air force of the separatists in Katanga province. Other conflicts covered include India-Pakistan, Lebanon 1958, the Iraq-Kuwait border zone 1991-2003, Sarajevo 1993-94, Somalia, the Congo again 2003, and the Allied air campaign in Libya.
The book’s chapters not only provide historical case studies but also offer insights into current UN air assets and where the organization should go in the future in building up its airlift, observation and, yes, even combat capabilities. The book also bears the imprint of its Canadian origins and there is a strong Canadian presence in several of the topics discussed.
Air Power in UN Operations has different contributors’ perspectives; from eyewitness recollections, to academic analysis, to current day practitioners. The book does not come close to covering all UN missions or even time periods (the 1970s and 1980s are largely ignored). Much more needs to be researched and written on this subject, as Professor Dorn readily admits.
Not strictly a military history, the book would be of interest for anyone working or researching in the field of peacekeeping. As the book does not concern itself in any great detail with the background/causes of the UN missions it discusses, it would not be recommended as a primary text for any undergraduate classes in peacekeeping, although it could be useful as a supplemental reading.
Andrew Young Ottawa, Ontario, Canada