PEACE, one might think, is not the sort of human occupation which should normally require supervision. Yet the United Nations, instead of concentrating on more positive and progressive activities, has ever since its inception been engaged in supervising a kind of peace which has been not much more than the absence of fighting--and not always even that. Now policing a peace--or an armistice--can be an essential international function, at times a dramatic one. It cannot be denied that the United Nations has been successful in this function in some important cases. However, action in this field has been largely pragmatic and ad hoc. I believe--and recent events have strengthened my belief--that the time has come when we should seek ways to enable the United Nations to pursue this work in a more organized and permanent way.

The world's alarm last November over events in Egypt--intensified, if that were possible, by the frustrating situation in Hungary--galvanized the General Assembly into establishing a United Nations Emergency Force, an action which until then had not been thought practicable or probable. We must now do everything possible to ensure that this action is successful in achieving the desired results. If we fail in this, a damaging blow--perhaps a fatal one--will be dealt to the whole concept of supervising the peace and avoiding hostilities through the United Nations Assembly. If we succeed, then we must build on that success so that when we are faced in the future with similarly complicated and dangerous situations we can avoid the hasty improvisations of last autumn.

The United Nations was brought into being primarily as a cooperative endeavor on the part of many nations to seek in collective action the security for which mankind hungered and which the facts of life in the modern world denied to each nation individually. To achieve this the founders of the United Nations recognized the necessity of having military forces at its disposal and they wrote into the Charter provisions which they hoped would bring them into being. Over the years, however, these provisions have developed in ways far removed from the intentions of their authors.

Under the Covenant of the old League of Nations, the Assembly and the Council had concurrent jurisdiction over the peaceful settlement of disputes and recommendations of enforcement action. Under the Charter of the United Nations, however, the Security Council has primary responsibility in this field and, within certain well-defined limits, has the power to direct members to take action. The League Covenant made no provision for the compulsory enforcement of its decisions; any decision which might require the use of force could be taken only with the unanimous approval of all members, including the state against which it was to be directed. Every member of the League had the right of veto over collective action. That, of course, was a guarantee of futility.

The Charter of the United Nations, however, took what was hoped would prove to be a great step forward. The concentration in the Security Council of power to make certain decisions and enforce them gave the new organization immense potential for quick and decisive action--at least in theory. Actually, in the conditions of cold war the veto possessed by each permanent member of the Council was almost as effective in preventing action as if all members had had it.

Despite the dangers inherent in the irresponsible use of the veto, there was hope that the Security Council would prove effective. One reason for hope was that its decisions were to have behind them an overwhelming superiority of armed force deriving primarily from the forces of the Great Powers themselves. In addition, other members of the organization undertook to make armed forces available to the Council, on its call and in accordance with special agreements. These forces were to be organized collectively by the Military Staff Committee of the Security Council, composed of the Chiefs of Staff of the permanent members.

As early as 1947, however, the Military Committee became deadlocked over the issue of the contributions to be made by the Great Powers themselves to the collective force of the United Nations. Their disagreement merely reflected the general breakup of their wartime coöperation and its replacement by the fears and dissensions of the cold war. With no Great Power agreement it is not surprising that the Military Staff Committee also failed to draw up the special agreements between the Council and other members envisaged under Article 43 of the Charter, and upon which the whole military structure of the United Nations was originally meant to rest. As a result, the United Nations today entirely lacks that particular type of international force envisaged in the Charter.

In spite of its inability to use force to implement its decisions, the Security Council was nevertheless able to intervene with some success in dangerous situations in Iran, Greece, Indonesia, Kashmir and Palestine. Then came the outbreak of hostilities in Korea and a temporary but significant change in the pattern of United Nations action to preserve the peace--a change made possible by two accidents of history. First, the U.S.S.R., with its veto, was absent from the Security Council when the decision to intervene was taken. Second, at the moment of the outbreak of hostilities in Korea a United Nations Commission was on the spot, able to report and advise on the facts of the situation. The U.S.S.R., however, is not likely again to vacate its seat in the Council, and there are many dangerous areas in the world where the United Nations maintains no observation agency. The type of Security Council action against aggression in Korea, therefore, is not likely to be repeated. In any event, the United Nations character of that action was as much symbolic as it was real, because the United States supplied most of the forces and exercised most of the control over them. In so far as the possibility of using the United Nations for collective security was concerned, Korea was both an encouragement and a warning.

By the time of the Korean operation, it had become clear that where an important, not to say vital, political interest of a Great Power was at stake, that Power would not readily subordinate its decision to a collective judgment. Because of this, and because of the veto, the earlier idea of collective security through the Security Council became impossible to realize. To escape from the dilemma thus created, many members of the United Nations suggested that questions which the Council was unable to resolve might be referred to the General Assembly; and they advocated that other forms of force than that provided for under Article 43 of the Charter be organized to carry out United Nations decisions.

Even earlier, at the very first session of the General Assembly in October 1946, the Canadian delegation had voiced its concern that the Security Council and the Military Staff Committee had failed to make substantial progress towards a conclusion of the special agreements with individual members required to implement Article 43. It urged that these bodies proceed with all possible speed to equip the Security Council with forces.

In the following Assembly of 1947, Mr. St.-Laurent, then Canadian Secretary of State for External Affairs, said: "Nations in their search for peace . . . will not and cannot accept indefinitely and unaltered a Council which was set up to ensure their security, and which, so many feel, has become frozen in futility and divided by dissension. If forced, they may seek greater safety in an association of democratic and peace-loving states willing to accept more specific international obligations in return for greater national security. Such associations, if consistent with the principles and purposes of the Charter, can be formed within the United Nations." The provisions of the Charter, he added, "provide a floor under, rather than a ceiling over, the responsibilities of Member States. If some prefer to go even below that floor, others need not be prevented from moving upwards." It was the Canadian hope that such a development would not be necessary. If it were unnecessary it would certainly be undesirable.

As we have seen, however, hopes for ensuring collective security were not fulfilled. The Security Council remained powerless to provide such security and the Assembly was unorganized for this purpose. In view of the undiminished threat from the Soviet Union, which had a preponderance in armed forces and pursued aggressive policies, certain members of the United Nations sought for a regional means of providing for their mutual defense within the framework of the organization. The North Atlantic Treaty, for example, was created and exists only because of the failure to attain a really effective system of collective security on a universal basis.

The search for means to establish a universal system nevertheless continued. Against the sombre background of events in Korea, members of the United Nations reviewed again the collective security machinery available, with the result that in the autumn of 1950 the Assembly adopted a resolution which potentially was of great importance. The Uniting for Peace Resolution, as it came to be called, meant simply that the General Assembly had decided to provide machinery for utilizing certain powers which it already possessed. The resolution did not itself constitute any revolutionary departure in interpreting the Charter; it was conceived simply as a practical measure designed to meet certain situations in which the purposes of the United Nations might be frustrated by the negative attitude of a permanent member of the Security Council. The General Assembly was to be used for security purposes only when the Security Council failed to perform, or was prevented from performing, its primary function. If the Council acted, nothing in the resolution would interfere with its action.

But if the Security Council did not act, what then? Were we to admit frankly the failure of our United Nations peace machinery and fall back entirely upon regional collective security arrangements such as NATO? While filling a gap, these obviously were limited in scope or character. Surely, it was thought, some way could be found for the United Nations to provide a force which would at least halt a drift to war by helping to carry out an Assembly recommendation when the Security Council failed to act. True, according to the Charter the Assembly had no legal power of enforcement and could act only by recommendation. Nevertheless, in terms of persuasiveness and moral force, the Assembly's recommendations, if responsibly conceived and generally accepted (two very weighty provisos), would carry as much weight as those of the Security Council--perhaps more. So why not at least make available some machinery which might carry them out?

Such was the background of the Uniting for Peace Resolution. It provided, among other things, that an emergency session of the Assembly might be called on 24 hours' notice for the purpose of making recommendations if the Security Council had failed to agree on means of resisting a breach of the peace or an act of aggression. It also called for the establishment of a Collective Measures Committee to study methods which might be used to strengthen the collective security machinery. Moreover--and this was a foundation on which we could have built--the resolution recommended that each member state maintain elements within its armed forces for prompt use as United Nations units, and that a panel of military experts be appointed by the Secretary-General for advisory and organization purposes.

The Collective Measures Committee recommended in the resolution was set up and it developed a set of principles designed to help maintain and strengthen the United Nations collective security system through Assembly action. The Secretary-General asked member governments to survey their resources to determine the nature and scope of the assistance they might render and to report on the progress made. The result was discouraging. In all, 37 governments replied to his communication. Simple acknowledgments were received from 15 governments; 8 indicated that they could not participate at all in the projects being studied by the Committee, or gave only limited and conditional acceptance of the measures contemplated; 11 took certain minimum steps (largely in connection with the earmarking of forces for Korea) and gave assurances of active support for the principle of the Uniting for Peace Resolution. The Canadian Government stated that its special force, raised for service in Korea, would be available for whatever action might be necessary anywhere in order to carry out military obligations under the Charter.

By the Uniting for Peace Resolution, the Assembly also provided for a Peace Observation Commission to observe and report on the situation in areas of international tension. So far it has not been used.

As a whole, the efforts of the Collective Measures Committee were sterile. With the General Assembly's adoption of its third report on November 4, 1954, it concluded its work. Another series of studies had been accumulated and now were laid away in files and vaults. The United Nations, nine years after its founding, still had no force at its disposal to implement its decisions--even to "secure and supervise" a cease-fire and armistice.

Nevertheless, the Uniting for Peace Resolution remained on the books; and almost six years later, in November 1956, in circumstances very different from those contemplated by its authors, it enabled the General Assembly to meet and discuss in emergency special session the serious situation in the Middle East. The Assembly still was ill-prepared to take on responsibilities for "peace supervision" through police action. The Uniting for Peace Resolution recommended the earmarking of forces for its use in peace and police action, but nothing had been done. When the need for these forces was upon us we had to embark on an improvised experiment, starting literally from nothing. There was neither precedent nor organization available to the Assembly in carrying out the new responsibility thrust upon it.

In a sense this was due to the unexpected nature of this responsibility. With fighting actually going on and threatening to spread, quick action was required. In the crisis, an Assembly resolution set up a United Nations Emergency Force and authorized the Secretary-General to organize it within 48 hours. Due largely to the devotion, energy and intelligence of the Secretary-General and his assistants, the Force was in fact brought into being at once. This amazing example of international improvisation showed what can be done by the United Nations when the collective will to action is strong and united. Moreover, the Force has so far proved effective for the purpose it was meant to achieve, the securing and supervising of a cease-fire.

Nevertheless, these purposes were very different from those originally contemplated in the Charter. What we faced in the Assembly last November was the necessity of organizing quickly a force, not to fight, but to ensure that fighting would not be resumed. We were trying to implement, if not a new concept of United Nations supervisory action, certainly an enlarged one.

Such a concept has already stirred interest and hope and optimism. Some of this optimism is exaggerated, because it does not take sufficiently into consideration the limitations under which the Assembly must act. There can be no certainty that the U.N.E.F. will complete successfully the tasks that have been or may be given to it. It may fail, either because it does not secure the right kind of collective backing in the Assembly or because it becomes the victim of Middle Eastern politics. If so, the failure will extend far beyond the immediate situation. It will destroy confidence in the effectiveness of the United Nations in the whole field of security. On the other hand, its success might well lead to further steps in developing means to supervise the peace.

Whatever may be the ultimate result, the intervention of the United Nations through an Emergency Force in November 1956 was certainly an indispensable prerequisite to the acceptance of a cease-fire and the subsequent withdrawal of Anglo-French and Israeli forces from Egyptian territory. Its action also emphasized, however, the need to be better prepared to meet future situations of a similar kind. Even if governments are unable to give the United Nations a "fighting" force ready and organized to serve it on the decision of the Security Council, they should be willing to earmark smaller forces for the more limited duty of securing a cease-fire already agreed upon by the belligerents. We might in this way be able to construct a halfway house at the crossroads of war, and utilize an intermediate technique between merely passing resolutions and actually fighting.

The first step would seem to be to create a permanent mechanism by which units of the armed forces of member countries could be endowed with the authority of the United Nations and made available at short notice for supervisory police duties. It is not suggested that the present Emergency Force should become a permanent force or, indeed, that its functions should be extended beyond those laid down in the relevant Assembly resolutions. We should, nevertheless, build upon the experience of this enterprise. Otherwise, I repeat, we shall only go back again to the situation in which we found ourselves last November, when everything had to be improvised, when there was no precedent for making units available, no administrative and financial procedure and no organization to which the Secretary-General could turn in the task given him by the Assembly of putting a United Nations force into a dangerous and delicate situation. We improvised successfully then. We cannot reasonably expect the same degree of success a second time.

We now have at our disposal a body of experience from which can be developed some tentative principles governing the establishment of United Nations machinery and, as required, a Peace Supervision Force. Among these principles--some of which I have already referred to--the following strike me as forming an essential minimum.

Member governments, excluding the permanent members of the Security Council, should be invited to signify a willingness in principle to contribute contingents to the United Nations for purposes that are essentially noncombatant, such as, for example, the supervision of agreed cease-fires and comparable peace supervisory functions.

Since the Security Council is charged with the primary responsibility for the maintenance of peace, members who have sought and secured election to the non-permanent seats on it would normally be expected to be among those signifying a willingness to contribute contingents to such a force.

For effective organization, there would have to be some central United Nations machinery. The Secretary-General should have a permanent Military Adviser who, with a small staff, might assume responsibility for the direction of other truce supervision arrangements which have been or might be agreed on.

If at any time a Peace Supervision Force were constituted, the Secretary-General would require an advisory committee similar to that which now assists him in connection with the U.N.E.F. in Egypt.

While such a force is not primarily a fighting force, it must be capable of defending itself once it is in the field, since the inherent duty of a commander is to preserve the safety of his men. It should also include the necessary administrative and supporting elements to enable it to function effectively as an entity.

A force to deal with a particular situation could be established by a resolution either of the Security Council or of the General Assembly. Presumably it would be associated with efforts made by the United Nations towards assisting in the settlement of the dispute. These efforts in turn could be furthered by a revitalized Peace Observation Commission given real responsibility to investigate disputes. In a sense, a Peace Supervision Force would be an extension in space of the Peace Observation Commission and the subordinate bodies it was expected to produce.

By its very nature such a force would not be expected to fight its way into a country. Indeed, since it would be deployed upon recommendation of the United Nations, it could enter a country only with the consent of the government of that country. This consent would normally take the form of an agreement between the government concerned and the Secretary-General acting on behalf of the United Nations. To facilitate the negotiation of such agreements, and also to expedite the creation of a force when required, the Secretary-General should be requested to draw up model agreements regarding the financial, administrative and legal procedures which would govern the operations of a Peace Supervision Force. The agreement recently negotiated between the United Nations and Egypt on arrangements concerning the status of the U.N.E.F. in that country would provide a very useful example of what can be done in this regard.

It is my firm conviction that the sort of machinery I have outlined, and the kind of United Nations force that would be expected to function through it, are practicable, are within the competence of the General Assembly, and might be of great value in avoiding, ending or limiting hostilities. The early arrival of a United Nations force of this kind at a scene of emergency would give assurance to the fearful and hope to the despairing. It would act as the United Nations policeman and his watchdog.

How these arrangements would function would, of course, depend on the circumstances of the particular emergency to be met. Actually, there is nothing so very new in all this. The United Nations has on more than one occasion provided teams of truce observers or supervisors and has now set up an emergency force to enlarge that activity where the danger of renewed fighting, pending the working out of a settlement, required it. A synthesis and systemization of these two concepts would provide a base of departure for the future.

As always, in the last resort, individual governments must determine whether the best laid plans of the United Nations are to succeed or fail. If a plan anything like that which I have outlined is to succeed, governments must, both within and outside the United Nations, follow policies consistent with its objectives and its capabilities. The very least each of our governments can now do, it seems to me, is to draft, in accordance with our respective constitutional processes, whatever measures are required to place us in a better position to support agreed decisions of the United Nations in an emergency. Are we to go on from crisis to crisis improvising in haste? Or can we now pool our experience and our resources, so that the next time we, the governments and peoples whom the United Nations represents, will be ready and prepared to act?

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  • LESTER B. PEARSON, Secretary of State for External Affairs of Canada; Ambassador to the United States, 1944-45; President of the General Assembly of the United Nations, 1952-53
  • More By Lester B. Pearson