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Kosovo Conflict: Richard Holbrooke’s “To End a War” Essay (Book Review)

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Updated: Apr 26th, 2022

Richard Holbrook best captures the events that took place in Kosovo during the Balkans war in the book ‘End a war’. This book highlights various controversial issues. In particular, the role -played by the U.S. and Nato in the peacekeeping mission are controversial and they come out in this book. Although the Kosovo war is over, many questions remain unanswered to this date.

The question of who were responsible for the atrocities committed to the people and the role of America and Nato are some of the big questions that remain unanswered. The war took place between 1998 and 1999 in Kosovo, which was a province of the former Yugoslavia republic, Kosovo Balkans war, was of interest to the whole world.

This is because the world had not experienced a war to such caliber since the world war two. For anyone interested in following the events that took place during this war and which resulted in the split of Yugoslavia, no other material does it better than the book ‘To end a war’ by Richard Holbrook.

In his book, Holbrook described Kosovo to be the most dangerous place to be during that war in Europe during that particular time. In the book, Holbrook refers particularly the Igman route to Sarajevo as the most dangerous road in Europe. The road was literally littered with wreckage of vehicles that had been shot by Serb gunmen (Holbrooke, 1999, p. 22-24).

The war had also been rated as the worst war in the European history. Working in Kosovo at the height of this war was therefore something that was unthought-of. How Holbrook decided to take his job as the chief mediator in Kosovo is still a controversy.

In his book, however he gives an insight to the controversy by quoting that he had a passion for his mission. For his mission to be successful then the United States, Nato and the UN had to play their role.

The U.S. Nato and the UN

Since the creation of the United States of America, no single conflict in the world has ever become its business. In any conflict, America wcould play the roles of the chief peacekeeper, mediator and judge. There is nothing wrong in assuming such responsibility in order to stop a war or to stop atrocity committed to the public. However, in most cases America has assumed unnecessary responsibility.

How America is able to manipulate other European powerful countries in accepting its ideologies is also of great interest. “Who is Nato?” and what role does America play in Nato? Although Nato was supposed to be a joint European military force, America has been able to manipulate and control Nato for its own interest.

Although the west had the capacity to end this war, their intervention was a total failure and this is particularly noted in chapter 2 where Holbrook attempts to list five factors that made that western intervention in Yugoslavia a total failure and this chapter is the most insightful in this book.

The fact is that Richard Holbrook was passionate about his mission as the chief negotiator in the Kosovo war and an ambassador of the United States. Although his mission was controversial, Holbrook had faith that peace in Kosovo could only result from a blend of western leadership, use of force and diplomacy.

In all this components of the peace-bringing complex, the United States had the greatest role to play and Holbrook noted this. With the United States playing the chief role in settling the conflict, the role of the united Nation comes under criticism.

The UN is supposed to be neutral in its operation but the U. S. seemed to take sides. If the U.S. had taken sides in such conflicts that are of world’s concern, then what is the role of the UN and Nato? This and others questions are among some of the major questions that were of concern to the people worldwide. This is observed from how the people back in Washington were against the US deep intervention in the crisis.

In fact, most of the people in America were against the military role played by America. The act of sending Holbrook to Bosnia as the chief negotiator and the representative of the US can be viewed as a gamble. During this war, Clinton was the president of the United States and his role in this war was further to define his political career and his role as the president of the most powerful Nation in the world.

The question of whether the US should have sent its troops to Kosovo remains unanswered. Critics have argued that the US could have left the UN to carry its mandate as the world peacekeeper. In the book, it is a fact that intervention by the US was a failure. Particularly, the book notes that the united state’s intervention in the war was nearly disastrous.

In this war, America displayed its military might; there is nothing wrong in America being the most powerful country in the world but how this power is applied is of concern. In the Balkans war, America assumed unnecessary roles and is noted to have misused its powers. Holbrook noted that the Kosovo war was a perfect demonstration of the use and misuse of American power (Holbrooke, 1999, p. 26-29).

American intervention in Balkans war is just a drop in the ocean and this is noted in the book. Holbrook argues that American interventions have gone beyond the boundaries of the Balkans (Holbrooke, 1999, p. 25). Although people have criticized Holbrook on his work in this book by claiming that the work was meant to win back the favor of the people his claims on the role played by the US is questionable.

Richard Holbrook in Kosovo

Holbrook’s has been described as a daring and courageous man following his mission in Kosovo. To be in Kosovo during this time of war is the most difficult part in his career as a diplomat. The book gives a picture of his mission as a heroic mission, which begins as a tragedy following the death of his four-team members that took place when they attempted to reach Sarajevo.

How Holbrook is portrayed in the book is also amazing, the way he plays his role, as the chief mediator of the Balkans is also interesting. In particular, his roles as a white house official and the leader of the Balkans are two contradicting positions. Holbrook however is able to balance these two roles and his efforts particularly in the intervention are commendable.

His career in foreign affairs could be the main reason for his success. His personality was another reason that made his intervention process possible. In the book, Holbrook refers to himself as a proud peacemaker and therefore peace making to him was a calling.

‘To end a war’ is one book that will bring reality so close to fiction. This is the only book where death will be used for the purpose of experimentation on human ignorance and behavior. The book is therefore a contradiction of ideologies. In this book, people will use the current state of other people such as wars for their self-interest without considering the pain and loss that they suffer.


Holbrooke, R. (1999). To end a war. New York. Random House Group.

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