Role of UN in Post Cold War

The United Nations Organization (UN) website starts with an optimistic punch line…United Nations, We the Peoples….A stronger UN for a better world. It was this vision for a better world after the catastrophes of two world wars which gave birth first to the League of Nations and ultimately to The United Nations Organization. However the League of Nations founded at the end of World War 1 in an attempt to eliminate war and violence had been defunct for many years, and had been in no position to oppose the approaching tragedy of the World war 2nd. This failure on the part of League was that it was never able to bring all the great powers into its Permanent Council to take responsibility for world peace. The United States of America, despite the fact that the whole project had been initiated by President Wilson, never became a member. Such was the failure that world witnessed another war which was even more deadly and haunting than the first one.

US President Franklin D. Roosevelt in view of the unabated aggression on part of the German Reich, Italy and Japan, was convinced that another huge war was unavoidable and US would have to be involved in it. But because of the already failed League nothing could be done to avoid such havoc. It was during 1941, that Roosevelt in order not to repeat the mistake proposed to the British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill that a security organization for monitoring the conquered enemy should be set up and such organization should belong to both UK and USA. One year later, Roosevelt, was willing to add the Soviet Union and China to the circle of powers responsible for World Peace. In their concluding declaration, the four powers stated, “that they recognize the necessity of establishing at the earliest practicable date a general international organization, based on the principle of sovereign equality of all peace-loving states, and open to membership by all such states, large and small, for the maintenance of international peace and security". (Joint Four Nation Declaration, 1943, Point 4). Conferences in Tehran in November 1943 and Yalta in February 1945 where the United States of America as the lead- state drafted an outline plan for the world organization. The Charter, with 19 chapters and 111 articles of detailed provisions, came into force on 24th October 1945. The charter represented the success of a remarkable compromise, achieved in the exceptional context of the Second World War. The UN thus exhibits much stronger egalitarian tendencies and characteristics borrowed from the League of Nations than Roosevelt had intended. This was a brief history of the emergence of United Nations as a world organization in the aftermath of the catastrophic Second World War. It was but of course for a brief time after the war that an improved international order with great reason, law, assumption of unity, and collective security seemed feasible. But alas! Soon after its birth it got entangled into another chaos of the Cold War which lingered for even longer period. It led to the stagnation in important areas such as the Security Council.UN was in many ways prevented from meaningful action of any kind, but was in some areas able to develop initiatives and instruments that would never come to pass without such organization.

With its members polarized into two camps, the United Nations was unable to maintain the peace and prevent conflict as was originally intended. Belligerents in conflicts sought partners in the East or the West. Superpower support in any given case meant that UN conflict management was problematic because either Washington or Moscow would block effective UN involvement. A new means of peace maintenance was but necessary, one that would permit the world organization to act within carefully defined limits when the major powers agreed or at least acquiesced. UN became involved in four major security crises that influenced subsequent developments and possibilities: in Palestine, Korea, Suez, and the Congo. Directly after Israel declared its independence in 1948, war broke between it and its four neighbors- Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. Soon thereafter, the Security Council ordered a cease-fire under Chapter VII and created an observer team under Chapter VI to superwise it. This group grew into the United Nations Truce Supervision Organization (UNTSO) in 1949 and assumed the role of guard. Observer groups deployed along the borders of Israel and those of its neighbors were unarmed and operated with the consent of the parties involved. Troops were unarmed and had no enforcement capability, but their presence sometimes put off ceasefire violations. They represented the international community which often enabled them to exercise their mandates without relying upon military might. Although observers wore the uniforms of their respective national armies, their first allegiance theoretically was to the world organization. Blue helmets became the trademark of UN peacekeepers. UNTSO has performed a variety of important tasks. They set up demilitarized zones along Israel-Egyptian and Israel-Syrian borders, established Mixed Armistice Commission along each border to investigate complaints and allegations of cease-fire violations. If any such violations occurred, the chief of staff of UNTSO attempted to deal with the matter locally, negotiating cease-fires when necessary before they blossom into significant threats to the peace has been the chief function of the operation. UNTSO also became a training ground and resource center for other peacekeeping operations, its observers and administrators were consistently redeployed in other parts of the world. UNTSO’s experience over the years has been integrated into other operations to improve their functioning. [1] 

The first coercive action taken in the name of the United Nations concerned the Korean Peninsula when North Korea invaded South Korea. The Security Council met immediately and was able on that same day to pass Resolution which demanded more than just the “immediate cessation of hostilities" and the withdrawal of the North Korea armed forces. The Security Council required all member states ‘to render every assistance to the United Nations in the execution of this resolution and to refrain from giving assistance to the North Korean authorities’. The resolution was passed with the absence of Soviet Union which was boycotting the Organization in protest at the General Assembly’s decision to recognize the nationalist Chinese government which had fled to Taiwan after the Chinese Civil War, instead of the Communist People’s Republic government as the legitimate representative of China. Disregarding the Soviet’s absence, the Security Council determined to use force against North Korea. It recommended ‘that the Members of the United Nations furnish such assistance to the Republic of Korea as may be necessary to repel the armed attack and to restore international peace and security in the area. Thus the collective security mechanism of the UN was set in motion for the first time. This was not done, however, according to the provisions of the relevant chapter VII, but rather in the form of a Security Council recommendation legitimizing the use of military force. Further more, when the Soviet Union returned to take over the rotating presidency of the Security Council on 1 August 1950, the blockading began. As President of the Council, the Soviet Union was able to hinder votes through creative use of the order of business, and in September 1950 it began to use its veto on all Korean resolutions. Nonetheless, on an American initiative on 3rd November 1950, the General Assembly passed its famous Uniting for Peace Resolution which stated in the very first paragraph that

“If the Security Council because of lack of Unanimity of the permanent members, fails to exercise its primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security in any case where there appears to be a threat to the peace, breach of the peace, or act of aggression, the General Assembly shall consider the matter immediately with a view to making appropriate recommendations to members for collective measures, including in the case of a breach of the peace or act of aggression the use of armed force when necessary, to maintain or restore international peace and security.". A commission was then set up, the activities of which did finally contribute to the ending of a bloody war that had stretched out over three years. This action heralded a power struggle between the General Assembly and the Security Council. After all, according to Article 12 (1) of the charter, the General Assembly enjoys only a subsidiary competence to address issues of international conflict with which the Security Council is already occupied. The Uniting for Peace Resolution threw serious doubt on the validity of this rule, and it has in fact over the years lost all significance. The General Assembly’s right to give recommendations is now essentially uncontested, and has been confirmed in ten Emergency Special Sessions. On the other hand, the hopes the USA nurtured at the time of establishing the General Assembly as an alternative decision –making forum for those times when the Security Council was gridlocked were not fulfilled. The authority of the General Assembly has never gone beyond the making of recommendations. All important strategies and tactical decisions pertaining to Korea that carried the UN’s name were in fact made in the White House or the Pentagon. A number of other states fought for the defense of South Korea, but that military operation was in fact a U.S. operation behind a blue international fig leaf. The defense of South Korea was not a classical example of collective security. [2] 

The1956 Suez Canal crises was quite distinct from the Korean crises. It resulted in the first use of what later became known as “peacekeepers" to separate warring parties. France, Britain and Israel had attacked Soviet-backed Egypt against the wishes of the United States, claiming a right to use force to keep the Suez Canal open after Egyptian President Camal Abdul Nassar had closed it. Britain and France used their vetoes and action by the Security Council was blocked. The General Assembly resorted to the Uniting for Peace Resolution –this time for peacekeeping, not enforcement and directed Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjold to create a force to supervise the cease-fire between Israel and Egypt once it had been arranged. The first UN emergency Force over saw the disengagement of forces and served as a buffer between Israel and Egypt. In this instance, Washington and Moscow were not so far apart. UN peacekeeping in 1956 and for a decade thereafter was hailed as a great success.

At the same time, the efforts by the world organization to deal with one of the most traumatic decolonizations, the former Belgian Congo (now Zaire) illustrated the limits of peacekeeping. The United Nations Operation in the Congo almost bankrupted the world organization and also threatened its political life and Secretary- General Hammarskjold lost his own life in a suspicious plane crash in the country. The conflict was both international (caused by the intervention of Belgium in its former colony) and domestic (caused by the secession of a province within the new state). The nearly total absence of a government infrastructure entailed a massive involvement of UN civilian administration in addition to 20,000 UN soldiers. The situation got peculiar when the Soviet Union, its allies and many nonaligned countries supported the national prime minister who was subsequently murdered while under arrest, the western powers and the UN organization supported the President. Instead of neutral peacekeepers, UN forces became an enforcement army for the central government, which the UN created with Western support. In this process the world organization could not count cooperation from the warring parties within the Congo. Some troop contributors resisted UN command and control; others removed their soldiers. The Soviet Union and later France refused to pay assessment; Moscow went further in trying to destroy Hammarskjold’s independence by suggesting the replacement of the secretary-general. Many African states were threatened by secessionist movements but UN had a large budgetary deficiency and a hesitancy to become involved in internal wars.

UN peacekeeping proved mostly capable of navigating the turbulent waters of the cold war through its impartiality and limited range of activities. Again, global politics determined the nature of UN activities. Although peacekeeping is not specifically mentioned in the Charter, it became the organization’s primary function in the domain of peace and security. The use of troop contingents for this purpose is widely recognized as having begun during the 1956 crises in Suez. Close to 500,000 military, police and civilian personnel-distinguished from national soldiers by their trademarks blue-helmets served as UN peacekeeping forces during the Cold War and some 700 lost their lives in UN service during this period and it was in 1988 when UN peacekeepers received the noble peace prize. In the ten years after 1978, no new operations materialized even as the regional conflicts involving the superpowers or their proxies sprang up around the globe. Much of the impetus for the increased tension between East and West and for the end of new UN deployment came from Washington after the Regan administration assumed power in 1981.Non cooperation with the UN reached its peak from 1985 to 1987, when Washington also refused to pay all of its assessed dues. The organization was in near bankruptcy at the same time that traditional respect for international law seemed to evaporate and unilateral action gained favour. Intervening in Grenada, bombing Libya and supporting insurgencies in Nicaragua, Angola, Afghanistan and Cambodia attested to Washington’s preferences. The Soviet Union countered these initiatives and Central America, Africa, much of southern Africa, and parts of Asia became battlegrounds for the superpowers or their proxies. This situation changed only with the Gorbachev regime in the Soviet Union vowing to reform his country politically and economically. Soviet leader Gorbachev prescribed programs aimed at integrating the Soviet economy into the world economy and reducing East- West tensions. Changes in Moscow’s attitudes towards the UN influenced the international climate and more particularly Washington’s approach toward the world organization. Soon President Ronald Regan abruptly altered his public stance and praised the work of the organization, the secretary general and UN peacekeepers. This position was continued by President George Bush, a former U.S. permanent representative to the U.N. Big power cooperation grew, allowing the Security Council to resume part of its role as a guarantor of international peace and security, including the dramatic efforts to reverse Iraqi aggression against Kuwait.

After a ten year gap in deploying new UN security operations, five post cold war operations were launched-in Afghanistan, astride the Iran-Iraq border and in Angola, Namibia and Central America (for Nicaragua). These operations were finished by 1993 and were similar to those of the past. It is true that they incorporated some new elements in the improvisation that is so characteristics of peacekeeping. E.g., there were large number of civilian tandem with soldiers in Namibia and Central America: the first supervision of domestic elections as well as the collection of weapons from insurgents took place in Nicaragua. These precedents illustrated clearly the UN’s capacity for evolution and growth in the new era, although improvisation and task expansion were always present in earlier UN activities. These post Cold War operation all enjoyed the consent of fighting parties and relied upon defensive concepts of force employed by modestly equipped UN soldiers, few of whom came from armies of the major powers. The follow up operations in Angola and the one in the Western Sahara fall into the traditional peacekeeping categories. The UN Good Offices Mission in Afghanistan, and Pakistan (UNGOMAP), the UN Iran- Iraq Military Observer Group (UNIIMOG) , the first Angola verification Mission (UNAVEM 1) and the UN Transition Assistance Group in Namibia (UNTAG) were missions that renewed peacekeeping’s visibility and perceived workability in the international areana of conflict resolution. [3] UNGOMAP, UNIIMOG and UNTAG are also significant because they afforded the UN the opportunity to demonstrate its usefulness in war zones, a capacity that had been frozen from 1978 to 1988. These operations are examples of “observation" a diverse set of tasks that occupies the least controversial part of peacekeeping activities. The oldest UN operation, the United Nations Truce Supervision Organization (UNTSO) has been observing the Middle East since 1948.UNGOMAP verified the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan after 1988. The operation encountered few problems with the Soviet withdrawal because the USSR was eager to leave but the political will needed to implement the remaining provisions concerning peace, elections and disarmament was absent. The work of the United Nations in Central America were similar to the Afghanistan operation in one way: The world organization was helping a superpower move beyond an unwinnable confrontation in its own backyard. An analysis of the United Nations Observer Group in Central America (ONUCA), the United Nations Observer Mission to Verify the Electoral Process in Nicaragua and the United Nations Observer Mission in El Salvador (ONUSAL) illustrates the complex transition process that the UN’s peace and security functions began to undergo. These also set the stage for the following analysis of the UN-sponsored Chapter VII enforcement action against Iraq. ONUSAL in particular shows the independent nature of UN action when states give the world organization some political room to maneuver. One unusual development was the extent to which the UN operations were linked to supporting efforts from regional and non governmental organizations. The organization of American States (OAS) –in particular the secretaries-general of the UN and the OAS-cooperated closely in diplomatic efforts and in civil observation. The operation began in August 1989 and ended in February 1990 with the surprising defeat of Sandimista government.

The operations in the Persian Gulf marked an important point in the histories of UN response to aggression. They also suggested the extent to which changing world politics have created new possibilities for collective security. The Security Council’s process of decision making and its conduct of the war have led some critics to be skeptical about the precise value of the Gulf War as a precedent for subsequent Chapter VII enforcement action. Factors include the overwhelming ability of the United States to lead the organization to serve its goals in the Persian Gulf, the decision to replace no forcible sanctions with force as the dominant means of ensuring Iraq’s compliance with the organization’s wishes, the extensive use of force that ensued and the UN’s inability to command and control the operation. Each of these criticisms raise important questions about the ability of the UN’s collective security apparatus to function impartially.

The UN had never been an impartial forum. Western dominance in the early years had been partially replaced beginning in the 1960s by the Third World’s automatic majority in the General Assembly but not in the Security Council. The United States was able to use its considerable political and economic influence in the Security Council to ensure that its Persian Gulf agenda was approved. Non forcible sanctions were overtaken by force by forcible ones after only three months. According to Article 42, the Security Council may authorize force after all other means of settlement and economic sanctions in particular have proven inadequate. Yet the Security Council chose to use military force before the sanctions leveled against Iraq had a chance to take full effect. Critics pointed out that in South Africa; by contrast, partial sanctions had not been discarded in favor of military force even though that country’s racist policy had been condemned for decades. Also Israel’s expansion and continued occupation of territories had not been met with either economic or military sanctions. The other criticism of the handling of the Persian Gulf War is that no limit on the use of force was enacted and that the organization exerted no control over military operations.

In the former Yugoslavia, the UN became involved in an military operations on European soil after many years in which regional conflicts were assumed to be a monopoly of developing countries. The dissolution of the former Yugoslavia entailed violence and displacement of a magnitude not seen in Europe since World War II. The UNPROFOR operations in the former Yugoslavia tried for a long time to stick to the classical peacekeeping formula. It soon became apparent, however, just how useless a proven instrument becomes when it is applied to a context for which it was not designed. ‘Blue Helmets’ were deployed despite the lack of a reliable peace agreement. The mission, begun in Croatia in 1992 to keep the conflicting parties away from one another, slowly broadened to include Bosnia –Herzegovina. Eventually, under pressure of events, the mandate evolved into an intervention to protect the civilian population from massive human rights abuses. The Secretary –General had warned several times that the peacekeepers should not be given tasks for which their training and rules of engagement were not suitable. The new mandate, however, was not accompanied by appropriate changes either in the military outfit or in the legal and political definition of the rules of engagement. There were several cases of ‘blue helmets’ being taken hostages or used as human shields. These problems ensured that UNPROFOR constitutes a somewhat less sparkling chapter in the history of the UN. In the winter of 1995/96, the responsibility for military peacekeeping in Bosnia-Herzegovina was transferred to NATO. [4] 

Somalia provided another gruesome model for UN involvement in internal wars. It was another example of violent fragmentation. A single ethnic group sharing, the same religion, history and language split into heavily armed clans. Somalia had no government in any meaningful sense, and one-third of the population risked death from starvation because humanitarians could not reach the needy, the Security Council at the end of August 1992 authorized 3,000 to 4,000 UN soldiers to help, applying chapter VII to yet another situation by authorizing the reinforcement of the United Nations Operations in Somalia (UNOSOM I). These troops were to be deployed after belligerents agreed to supplement an initial infantry battalion of 500 and some 50 unarmed observers. Their goal was to help protect the deliver of humanitarian succor throughout that hapless country but after the death of 24 Pakistani soldiers, the blue helmets abandoned their neutrality and once again became party to a conflict where they are supposed to be impartial. In November 1994, the Somalia mission was broken off with the resolution to withdraw the troops completely no later than 31 March 1995. A hundred and thirty two ‘blue helmets’ and an unknown number of Somalis, died during the course of the mission. UNOSOM II suffered primarily from the fundamental contradiction that the ‘blue helmets’ were not going to support an existing peace, but to compel one and under heavy losses they joined the conflict instead of stopping it.

As far as Afghanistan is concerned, the International Security Assistance Force ( ISAF) which has been under NATO leadership since August 2003, is a mixture of robust peacekeeping and an ad hoc coalition, but is not a UN peacekeeping mission in its strictest sense. The UN has named Lakhdar Brahimi as s special representative for Afghanistan whose task is to co-ordinate and supervises all UN programmes and activities in humanitarian situation and in the protection of human rights.

With the recent developments in the world especially after September 11, the USA and the UN shares a shattered relationship. According to the USA’s 2002 security strategy, since classical security precautions such as deterrence or arms control offer no support against terrorist organizations and despots, the USA must be in a position to strike its enemy before the enemy can attack. In particular, it is willing to act without involving the UN, whose functions and responsibilities are not mentioned at all in the entire US security strategy. The US administration has long insisted on the rights to sovereign decision making, independent of international norms or bodies, for the purpose of ensuring the security of American citizens and this includes the decision to use military force. With such concern for her own citizens, the sole super power has once again put the world into doubt about the role of the world organizations when acts like September 11 are hovering in the world at present and with the operations like Desert Fox, the largest military action undertaken since the end of Gulf War, Iraq’s military potential was hugely weakened in just a four day air operation. This operation was conducted without the approval of Security Council and even Russia, China and France hugely protested the attacks. The failure of the Security Council, brought about by its most important members, produced the worst results for everyone and the damage done to the United Nations and to the principle of multilateral peacekeeping is considerable and attempts to restore these will mean a great deal of efforts from all sides.