Syed Mustafa Ahmad
Former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan in his defence of UN Peacekeeping forces said, “The first United Nations peacekeeping operation (Congo, 1960) was an attempt to confront and defeat the worst in Man with the best in Man; to counter violence with moderation, and war with peace. Since then, day after day, the UN peacekeepers have been meeting the threat and reality of conflict, without losing faith, without giving in, without giving up.”
What the world needs today, more than anything else, is peace. Two world wars and many civil wars have left people across the world poorer and insecure. Powerful countries are still exercising unbridled power. In such times, it is essential that the United Nations intervene in situations of conflict and try to establish peace. On May 29, the International Day of United Nations Peacekeepers, the world pays tributes to all the men and women who have served and continue to serve in the UN peacekeeping operations. Let us try to know more about these peacekeepers.
According to the UN Charter, the power and responsibility to take collective action to maintain international peace and security lie with the United Nations Security Council. Peacekeeping is a role held by the Department of Peace Operations. Peacekeepers engage in various activities like implementing peace agreements, strengthening the rule of law, and social and economic development. They also facilitate the political process, protect civilians, assist in disarmament and protect and promote human rights. They work in physically and politically difficult environments.
Does the UN have an army?
The United Nations is responsible for world peace. However, it doesn’t have an army of its own. At times of crisis, the UN calls on its member states to provide military service. This service is not free, though – the UN pays for the military service it gets.
Though the supreme command lies with the Secretary-General, these forces have their own commanders. The first loyalty of the UN forces is to their country. They are actually on loan and can be withdrawn by the respective countries any time. They don’t form an independent UN army.
The loaned force includes soldiers, police officers and civilians. 123 countries currently provide military troops and police forces that make up the UN Peacekeeping force. There are currently 13 peacekeeping operations led by the Department of Peace Operations.
UN Peacekeeping during the Cold War
The UN wasn’t able to stop wars during the Cold War. Many large and small conflicts emerged that called for the UN’s intervention. The UN kept watch over such conflicts and in some places arranged ceasefires. It also placed neutral troops to keep the warring sides from fighting each other.
Twelve observer and peacekeeping forces were sent to conflict affected areas between 1948 and 1988. Half of them were sent to the Middle East. But the UN Security Council never tried to use force to make peace among the warring parties. As of February 2002, there had been 63 UN peacekeeping operations since 1948.
The first peacekeeping mission: Israel
The first peacekeeping mission was launched in 1948 in the newly created state of Israel. It was known as the United Nations Truce Supervision Organisation (UNTSO). A conflict broke out between Israel and Arab states over the creation of the new state of Israel. Though there was a ceasefire, the mission remains operational even today.
The second Arab-Israeli War broke out in 1956. This is also known as the Suez Crisis and the conflict was over the nationalisation of the Suez Canal by Egypt. The war was between an alliance of the United Kingdom, France and Israel against Egypt, which was supported by other Arab nations. This resulted in the first emergency session of the UN General Assembly. It was the Canadian representative Lester B Pearson who brought forward the idea of a UN police force. Peacekeeping activities began with the formation of the UN Emergency Force (UNEF). They were deployed in the Suez Canal region. The UNEF policed the Egyptian-Israeli border to prevent violent events from happening.
Congo in the 1960s
The peacekeeping mission in Congo is famous for the controversies it created. This peacekeeping mission involved considerable military operations. Congo became independent in 1960 but the Belgian Commander of Congo refused to Africanise its army. This resulted in a lot of conflicts and even mutinies. The President and the Prime Minister tried to resolve the conflict, but it didn’t work. That is why they sought help from the UN.
The United Nations Operation in Congo (ONUC) was formed in 1960. But the UN’s help was criticised by many Congolese. Many believed that the UN was working for western (Belgian) interests. The USSR too believed so and refused to pay for the mission. The ONUC withdraw from the mission in 1964 even before the conflicts ended.
The Korean War
Korea had been under Japanese control during the Second World War. After the war, a split of opinions emerged between North and South Korea. North Korea was predominantly Communist while the South favoured the United States.
In June, 1950, the North Korean army invaded the South. US President Harry Truman urged the United Nations to intervene. Following this, the Security Council decided to supply troops to resist the attack on South Korea.
It was the first time that the UN used military action to repel an attack. After securing the South, the UN army ventured north. Later, China backed the North Korean army. After a series of fights, both parties agreed to sign an armistice in 1953.
The Gulf War
The Gulf War began in 1991 when Iraq invaded Kuwait. Iraq claimed that Kuwait produced too much oil that led to a drop in oil prices in the global market. The Security Council decided to take action against Iraq. The UN stated that the member states could use whatever means necessary to remove the Iraqi force from Kuwait.
In 1991, a multinational force, largely comprising the US military, assembled in Saudi Arabia for an operation in the name of the United Nations. This was code named “Desert Storm”. It was a bombing campaign that lasted for six weeks. Kuwait was later liberated following a ceasefire. Iraq also agreed to pay compensations to Kuwait.
These are some typical examples where the United Nations Peacekeeping force participated. There is a lot to be done to make this world peaceful. Everyone has to contribute his or her best in order to keep wars at bay. The present age is an age of science and technology. There is a need for a broad consensus on addressing the most important issues that can have a devastating effect on the world. Some such issues are poverty, climate change, human rights violations, state violence, rising inequality, etc. Hope good sense prevails!