ON September 4 of this year the Laotian Government, in a message to the Secretary-General, requested the assistance of the United Nations and "in particular . . . that an emergency force to halt aggression and to prevent its spreading should be dispatched with greatest possible speed." In the debate in the Security Council on September 7, 1959, Sir Pierson Dixon, on behalf of the United Kingdom, said that his Government had for some time favored the creation of a stand-by force which would be available to the United Nations. "But," he said, "the fact is that no such force exists."

Sir Pierson could have gone further. If Laos becomes the victim of aggression, it hardly seems likely that the United Nations will save her, given the fact that the world organization has no stand-by force, even one which by its simple presence might deter military activity. It will be only SEATO, or more probably its principal party, the United States, that can or will come to the aid of this distressed country. In other words, the chief bulwark of endangered states today is not the United Nations but either a great power or a regional organization.

In the context of this article I do not need to discuss the merits of the Laotian complaint. But Sir Pierson Dixon's observations lend point to Mr. Lester Pearson's questions, posed in an article in this review,[i] on the problem of the establishment of a United Nations force available to cope with 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?

The purpose of this article is to urge that in a troubled and divided world the time for improvising in haste is past, and that we need now to grapple with the question of establishing an effective United Nations force readily available in an emergency.

For the events of the past year serve to reëmphasize the need for a permanent force at the disposal of the Assembly of the United Nations. In view of the veto, the Security Council will have no such force. The impasse over Berlin, the confused situation in Laos, the aggressions by Communist China on the Indian-Tibetan border and Mr. Khrushchev's proposals before the Assembly for complete disarmament all point to the need for an urgent reassessment of the problems involved in the establishment of a permanent force. Present difficulties, stemming from powerful and interested opposition, should not prevent an early reëxamination by the United Nations of a proposal for a stand-by United Nations Peace Force, which had the blessing of President Eisenhower in August 1958. The President made this proposal to an emergency session of the Assembly after United States forces had landed in Lebanon and United Kingdom forces in Jordan, each at the request of the respective local governments; and in each case the forces were fully combatant. The President said that recent events clearly demonstrated that his suggestion was a matter for urgent and positive action. Nor is he alone. Mr. Selwyn Lloyd, in the Assembly's general debate on September 17, said that he had always favored the idea of a United Nations force. But he added:

I have realized that it is a topic upon which one must carry with one a consensus of world opinion. The realities impose upon us the necessity to hasten slowly. I understand the limitations. It could not be a fighting force. It could only be put into position by a decision of the United Nations. Its deployment would depend upon the agreement of the countries concerned. I also acknowledge the practical difficulties. To contemplate such a force in practical being would raise great problems of administration and cost. What, however, I do favor--and I hope that serious consideration will be given to it by the Governments of Member States--is the earmarking by Member States of personnel, either as individuals or in contingents, who could be quickly made available. I also favor the setting up of a small planning section in the Secretariat to work out in advance plans for dealing with the problems resulting from a decision to assemble such a force for a particular purpose. Last year I said that I thought that international public opinion by and large was ready for some initiative of this sort. I hope that during this Assembly some indication will be given of the views of other governments upon what I have been saying.

It is clear that Mr. Lloyd is contemplating, not a United Nations force in being at a given place, but a force which could be rapidly assembled and dispatched as a result of agreements to contribute to it by member governments of the United Nations. Mr. Lloyd seems to have adopted the proposal of Mr. Lester Pearson in the article I have mentioned, when Mr. Pearson suggested that "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 non-combatant, such as, for example, the supervision of agreed cease-fires and comparable peace supervisory functions." Mr. Pearson suggested that the states which should agree to contribute to a stand-by force would normally include the non-permanent members of the Security Council. I agree that all states, other than the permanent Council members, should be asked to contribute to the stand-by force.

The disarmament proposals of Mr. Khrushchev and Soviet opposition to a permanent or stand-by force at the disposal of the Assembly, whether in Berlin or elsewhere, reveal an attitude consistent with past reluctance of the Soviet Government to accept an adequate system of controls and inspection and its refusal to agree to a permanent force at the disposition of the Security Council. But, apart from these points, does Mr. Khrushchev seriously believe that following total disarmament "only strictly limited contingents of police (militia) agreed for each country, armed with small arms and intended exclusively to maintain internal order and protect the personal security of citizens" would be adequate, even if they were made available, to deal with the world's danger spots in Europe, North Africa, the Middle East and Asia? Yet in his speech to the Assembly on September 18, 1959, he spoke of police for internal purposes as the only armed men to be left in the world. His proposal for an international control body comprising all states so that "no one should violate their obligation" appears too vague to deal with our present problems. Only a starry-eyed optimist could contemplate the absence in the foreseeable future of substantial armed forces to keep the peace in Europe, North Africa, between Israel and the Arab States, between China and India and the states of Southeast Asia, between China and Formosa and, although here there are some grounds for optimism, between India and Pakistan. If there is to be total disarmament by nations, a substantial international force would still need to be at the immediate disposition of the United Nations.

In the Gaza Strip and the area of Sharm el-Sheikh the United Nations Emergency Force has been stationed since 1956. The establishment of this force, whose presence has preserved peace where there had been none for centuries, is probably the most beneficent act performed by the authority of the United Nations and by the unselfishness of the contributing members, whether in men or money. For not everybody has paid. During my Presidency of the Twelfth Assembly, the Communist bloc, with Chile and Ecuador, voted against the resolution passed on November 22, 1957, whereby the expenses of U.N.E.F. "shall be borne by the Members of the United Nations in accordance with the scale of assessments adopted by the General Assembly for the financial years 1957 and 1958, respectively." This was a resolution, in my opinion, having binding effect and is one of the few instances where the Assembly acts with legislative competence for all its members. Nevertheless, the Communist bloc has so far defaulted on all assessments for the cost of U.N.E.F. Other governments have not yet met their assessments. But with customary generosity, the United States in particular, whose regular assessment for U.N.E.F. in the current year was $4,943,146, has made a voluntary contribution as well of $3,500,000. Without contributions of this nature, U.N.E.F. could not continue to exist. It is a sad commentary on the history of collective measures for the preservation of peace that voluntary contributions are necessary to keep U.N.E.F. in being.

I hope that U.N.E.F. is where it is to stay. One shudders to contemplate the consequences of its departure. It says much for the wisdom of the Egyptian Government that it willingly consents to the continued presence of the force. One of its principal and most valuable components is an Indian contingent composed of 1,171 men. In spite of this, the Indian Government is firmly opposed to the establishment of a United Nations force always available to meet an emergency like the Suez crisis.

In his speech in the Assembly on October 6, 1959, Mr. Krishna Menon said that his Government was "not at present prepared to participate in a standing force of the United Nations as such and we do not think it is a practical proposition. We are surprised to find that some countries have proposed that certain units should be allocated and demarcated for United Nations purposes. But if they are so allocated, what do they do when the United Nations does not want them? Therefore, it is not possible, in a defense force of any country, to have troops allocated and demarcated in this way." Mr. Menon went on to say that with the present state of development in the world, in the absence of world law, and of the universality of the United Nations, and in view of the fact that the United Nations, subject to group politics, could not take objective decisions, his government did not think it right to place at the disposal of such an organization forces which might be moved without the consent of the people concerned.

At this point it is proper to say that I have not heard any delegate propose that a United Nations stand-by force should be disposed of by the Assembly without the consent of the contributing members, without the consent of a two-thirds majority of the Assembly and without the consent of the government into whose territories the force would be moved. Moreover, if the United Nations did not require from time to time forces allocated to it, such forces would often have plenty to do on their own borders, as perhaps Mr. Menon would, on consideration, admit.

With my references to Mr. Eisenhower, Mr. Selwyn Lloyd, Mr. Lester Pearson and Mr. Menon, the issues on the question of a United Nations force are defined, subject to the Secretary-General's approach to the subject. I have myself suggested that a substantial force, made up of contributions from members other than those permanently on the Security Council, should be stationed at some strategic point and be available at the request of a member on its territory at the direction of the Assembly. World opinion may not be ready for this and it does not seem that for the present members would go beyond the proposals made by Mr. Lloyd and Mr. Pearson. Perhaps we have to suffer more before we learn to be provident.

Those who criticize Mr. Pearson's proposals appear to forget that the Uniting for Peace Resolution, passed by the Assembly on November 3, 1950, in effect sanctions the establishment of a stand-by force and that it was by virtue of this resolution that the Assembly was competent to establish U.N.E.F. In 1950 the West was well aware that the Security Council was able to intervene in Korea only because at the crucial meeting the Soviet Union absented itself. Its veto could have prevented any action by the Council. Consequently the Assembly established the Uniting for Peace procedure. Its terms merit enunciation.

The Assembly in 1950 resolved that if the Security Council, because of the lack of unanimity of its permanent members, failed to exercise its primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security in any case where there appeared to be a threat to the peace, breach of the peace, or act of aggression, then the Assembly should consider the matter immediately with a view to making appropriate recommendations to members for collective measures. These measures were to include, 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. If the Assembly were not in session at the time, then it could meet in special emergency session within 24 hours from the time it was requested to do so. Such session would be called if requested by the Security Council on the vote of any seven members, or by a majority of the members of the United Nations. This procedure was not used until 1956, following the Suez and Hungarian crises. The Soviet Union questioned the legality of these provisions but found it convenient to vote for their implementation in the Suez crisis.

Another provision of the Uniting for Peace Resolution tends to be forgotten. That resolution established a Peace Observation Commission. Each year the Commission meets for the purpose of electing its officers. For many years this Commission, as I know from having been its Vice-Chairman, has done nothing else and may at the present time be described as moribund. Pursuant to an Assembly resolution of December 7, 1951, the Commission established a Balkan Sub-Commission, which dispatched observers to the frontier areas of Greece in compliance with the request of the Greek Government. According to a United Kingdom delegate, the observers were successful despite the refusal of Bulgaria and Albania to admit them to their territories.

So far as I know, the Commission has performed no other task. Its members are China, Czechoslovakia, France, Honduras, India, Iraq, Israel, New Zealand, Pakistan, Sweden, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, the United States and Uruguay. This is surely a comprehensive list and should ensure that the Commission can perform the tasks entrusted to it by the Uniting for Peace Resolution.

The resolution provides that the Commission can "observe and report in any area where there exists international tension the continuance of which is likely to endanger the maintenance of international peace and security." The Security Council may utilize the Commission in accordance with its authority under the Charter.

Why, then, is the Commission not used? Mr. Pearson, in the article to which I have referred, suggests that the work of a Peace Supervision Force 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."

Yet it is curious that no member of the Security Council suggested the use of the Commission in the Laotian item. Reference to the Commission would have caused some little delay but not so much, surely, as to be serious. The Uniting for Peace procedures are too important thus to be bypassed.

I now come to the attitude of Mr. Dag Hammarskjold, the Secretary-General, to whose devoted and skillful labors the establishment of U.N.E.F. owes so much. As the head of the Secretariat, which is one of the principal organs of the United Nations, his approach is and has been of great significance. I think that the Secretary-General has best expressed his philosophy in a speech he delivered at Copenhagen on May 2, 1959:

Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter authorizes, in certain circumstances, the Security Council to use military force to maintain peace. It is important to realize what this means. This is not collective security of a kind which a defensive alliance can provide. The Charter expressly permits the formation of such alliances, but the United Nations itself is something else again. The possibilities of the Organization to use military force are limited to acts of coercion in the name of the world community against a nation which violates the peace. Such an action requires unanimity of the Great Powers. This unanimity has a twofold significance. Without it a military police action lacks the foundation necessary to be fully effective. And without it the United Nations would also, in contrast to the fundamental idea on which it is built, be capable of transformation into an instrument of military force in a conflict between the Great Powers--with all that this might mean for the other member states. The rule of unanimity with the right to form defensive alliances defines the position of the Organization. It has never been meant as an organ of collective security of the alliance type, but it is aimed at a universal system for the maintenance of peace which may have, as a natural complement, defensive alliances.

In the same speech Mr. Hammarskjold said that "practical considerations alone prevent even the kind of quasi-military arrangements which are possible under Chapter VII, and which fall within the competence of the General Assembly, from being used except to a very limited extent if at all." The Secretary-General proceeded to ask whether "the United Nations at present is so organized constitutionally that there is any organ which would be entrusted with that kind of policy decision back of a potentially fighting force."

In these reflections I think that the Secretary-General does himself an injustice. I have every reason to remember the Suez crisis because on behalf of my government I supported the action of the United Kingdom and France. That has never prevented my admiring the ingenuity and the sleepless pertinacity of Mr. Hammarskjold, in conjunction with Mr. Pearson, as they, with other skillful aid, established U.N.E.F. What I would like Mr. Hammarskjold to do is to devote his immense skill and experience to the establishment of a stand-by force. I fully realize his difficulties, more particularly because of the opposition of the Soviet Union and India. If politics be the art of the possible, the Secretary-General may wish to rest himself on the application of this maxim to the international field. Yet there is nothing physically impossible in the nuclear and spatial age. I incline to the view that we in politics and diplomacy must catch up with the scientists and equal in political ideas and practice their astounding achievements.

The extract from the Secretary-General's Copenhagen speech requires study in the light of the Suez crisis. While it is true that Sir Anthony Eden, after the launching of the Suez venture, had expressed the hope that the United Nations would finally take over the responsibilities assumed by the Anglo-French forces, pressures in the Assembly undoubtedly contributed to the early withdrawal of these forces. Any diplomat who participated in the Suez debates, as I did, was well aware of the constant and enormous pressures exerted on the United Kingdom, both within and without the United Nations, first to desist from the operation and secondly to withdraw. The effect of financial pressures was scarcely less in its severity on a democratic government than the threat of military measures. The United Nations was certainly used as an instrument of political force against two great powers which eventually gave way to the weight of world public opinion. If this was an example of the rule of unanimity of the great powers, it was one produced under constraint. Nor was U.N.E.F. created with the consent of the Soviet Union, which abstained on the vote. Hence I do not consider that there are insuperable difficulties in the creation by the Assembly of a stand-by force even though one great power may dissent. Nor do I consider that there is any adequate reason why a stand-by force should not be more effectively armed for purposes of defense than U.N.E.F.

The Secretary-General on October 9, 1958, issued a report entitled "Summary Study of the Experience derived from the Establishment and Operation of U.N.E.F." This document is the foundation and, I believe, the guide of Mr. Hammarskjold's thinking on the subject of a United Nations force for the future. He believes that U.N.E.F. is of an ad hoc and temporary character. I can say what he cannot say--that I hope that U.N.E.F. will stay where it is until there is a substantive solution of the problems of the Middle East.

Although the Secretary-General says that U.N.E.F. entered Egypt only with the consent of the Egyptian Government and can stay in the Gaza Strip and the area of Sharm el-Sheikh only so long as the Egyptian Government agrees, he affirms that a decision by the Egyptian Government to ask the force to leave would require discussion with the United Nations. The wisdom of the Egyptian Government would not incline it otherwise.

The Secretary-General concludes that U.N.E.F. is much more than an observer corps but much less than an army having military objectives. It can fire only in self-defense and can never take the initiative in the use of arms. Mr. Hammarskjold is at pains to say that U.N.E.F. is not to be used to enforce any specific political solution or to influence the political balance decisive to such a solution. But the fact is that U.N.E.F. does exercise a political influence because it is preserving the peace in the Gaza Strip and in the Straits of Tiran. An international force must and should produce political consequences.

Mr. Eisenhower's proposals in August 1958 to create a permanent peace force have not borne fruit. During the thirteenth session, following the President's proposals, nothing was done toward the creation of a permanent peace force. The Secretary-General, after an able memorandum delivered on November 5, 1958, dismissed the subject by saying that there was neither reason nor excuse for the United Nations to be unprepared to meet any new emergency requiring similar treatment. In these circumstances he felt that there was no need for the Assembly to take any action for the present.

And so the whole matter lies buried. But is it buried? The situation in Laos has disturbed the funeral ceremonies. And so have the observations of Mr. Selwyn Lloyd.

I have always considered that there is a place for the United Nations in the solution of the problem of West Berlin. Senator Mansfield has lent the weight of his support to this view. At the moment it appears that neither Mr. Adenauer nor General de Gaulle is ready to negotiate. Mr. Eisenhower and Mr. Macmillan, while firmly adhering to the principles that West Berlin must continue a free democracy and that American, British and French forces must remain there, are nevertheless willing to negotiate. One solution, in addition to the Canadian proposal for the acceptance of a U.N. presence on the lines of communication in the city, would be some reduction in the Western forces in Berlin and their replacement, to the extent of the reduction, by a United Nations force. Indeed, when Lord Montgomery visited Moscow in April 1959 he suggested to Mr. Khrushchev that the Secretary-General should investigate the Berlin problem and that a United Nations force consisting of troops from neutral nations could be introduced gradually into Berlin "and the forces of the Western nations could be scaled down at some later date, as mutual confidence developed." According to the Field Marshal, Mr. Khrushchev agreed, although subsequent Soviet statements suggest that the Russian leader has changed his mind.

However, there is no reason why proposals such as those of Senator Mansfield and of others like Lord Montgomery should not be pressed on Mr. Khrushchev. The signing of the Austrian peace treaty proves that persistence with the Russians can earn its reward. If Mr. Khrushchev believes, as he recently wrote in an article in this review,[ii] in the right of the inhabitants of West Berlin to preserve their existing way of life, he should surely agree to the establishment of a United Nations force in that city. The West Berliners are entitled to this method of protection.

History since the establishment of the United Nations has recorded crisis after crisis in which an international force could have played a salutary part. The United Nations intervened in Korea but, as has been pointed out, the United Nations character of that action was as much symbolic as it was real. Intervention during the Suez crisis was of an ad hoc character but has produced invaluable lessons for the future. Surely we should profit by them and proceed 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. If the United Nations fails to do this, it is in danger of failing to fulfill its basic purpose of preserving the peace.

[i] "Force for U.N.," by Lester B. Pearson, Foreign Affairs, April 1957.

[ii] "On Peaceful Coexistence," by Nikita S. Khrushchev, Foreign Affairs, October 1959.

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  • SIR LESLIE MUNRO, New Zealand Ambassador to the United States, 1952-58; President of the U.N. General Assembly, 1958; formerly Dean of the Faculty of Law, Auckland University College, and editor of the New Zealand Herald
  • More By Leslie Munro