A UN Volunteer Force—The Prospects

Editors’ Note: In the June 10 issue Brian Urquhart, former Undersecretary-General of the United Nations, proposed that a UN volunteer military force be organized to meet the need for an “international volunteer force, willing, if necessary, to fight hard to break the cycle of violence at an early stage in low-level but dangerous conflicts, especially ones involving irregular militias and groups.”

“Clearly,” he wrote, “a timely intervention by a relatively small but highly trained force, willing and authorized to take combat risks and representing the will of the international community, could make a decisive difference in the early stages of the crisis.” Such an international force, Mr. Urquhart said, “would be under the exclusive authority of the Security Council and under the day-to-day direction of the Secretary-General.”

Several comments on Mr. Urquhart’s proposal appeared in the June 24 issue. Six further statements on the proposal follow.

Robert Oakley

Sir Brian Urquhart has since World War II been one of the foremost thinkers and doers who have been concerned with the role of the United Nations in international peace and security. First, he worked directly inside the system with Ralph Bunche and successive secretaries-general in planning and conducting United Nations peace-keeping operations. More recently, from the outside, he has remained keenly interested and actively involved as a scholar, writer, commentator, and adviser, contributing to both long-term studies and near-term decisions on how the United Nations can do a better job. Therefore, when he says that the time has come to put into effect Trygve Lie’s original idea of a permanent UN military force, we should all take notice.

There is no denying Sir Brian’s point that traditional UN peace-keeping operations cannot deal with the new waves of largely intrastate violence, and with the humanitarian crises arising from local conflict, that are sweeping the post–cold war world. Similarly, this trend will undoubtedly continue, even as the likelihood of major conflict between states diminishes. In response to this new situation—which includes cooperation between the US and Russia on seeking solutions instead of exacerbating local and regional unrest—thirteen UN peace-keeping operations (PKOs) were begun between 1989 and 1992. This is equal to the total number approved between 1945 and 1989. However, many of the PKOs have been too slow in getting organized, too small and too weak logistically for the task. Frequently their mandates and missions have been imprecise or inadequate. As a result, UN forces have often been unable to achieve success and have become bogged down in a deteriorating environment where the violence they were supposed to stop continues largely unabated around them.

Under such circumstances, the international community has several alternatives: to mount much larger, more forceful initial or rescue operations (as in Somalia); to acquiesce in a compromise in an attempt to minimize the loss of life (as in Bosnia); or to sit on its collective hands with the UN force an impotent witness to continued conflict, death, and destruction (as in Angola). In view of the large cost…

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