10 JANUARY 1964, Page 22


The UN at Arms

BY H. G. NICHOLAS MITE stubborn reluctance of the British public 1. to inform itself about the working of the United Nations can no longer be justified by a lack of authoritative and unbiased infor- mation. These three studies* in their emphasis upon the political and legal realities of UN life and their sedulous avoidance of utopian speculation arc typical of the growing disposition to treat the UN as an established and, for many purposes, central institution of today's world. Yet they are also typical in that only one, Mrs. Higgins's learned study, comes from a British pen and is sponsored by a British institution; Miss Rosner is an American, Dr. Burns and Miss Heathcotc are Australians whose findings have appeared under the auspices of the Prince- ion Centre of International Studies. Academi- cally, the country of Gilbert Murray, Alfred Zimmern and C. K. Webster has fallen well behind.

It is no accident that the focus of all these books falls mainly on the functioning of the UN's military or para-military forces. The greatest change that has come over the organi- sation since San Francisco is not the rise in Afro-Asian membership, important as that is. It is the new concept of how international forces can and should be used to keep the peace. The Great Power policemen wielding the Security Council deterrent are gone, apparently for good. In place of overwhelming force wielded by a united Five against quarrelsome second-class General Assembly-men, you have symbolic force wielded mostly by the General Assembly with an explicit ban on participation by the Big Five. The lightning strike of the few has been replaced by the patrolling flat-feet of the majority. The UN men in blue are, indeed, armed, but they are to use their arms only in self-defence. They are stationed in trouble-spots, but they are there only by leave of their 'host,' who is generally one of the trouble-makers him- self. Fundamentally their function is passive; they are not to act so much as to be, to be a UN 'presence,' in a form so tangible, so manifest as to shame the lawless into peaceful behaviour.

This at least was the pattern of the Suez force, UNEF for short, and it is the inception and development of this idea that form the subject of Miss Rosner's book. She has done an ex- cellent job, replacing for almost all purposes the only previous treatment of the topic, William Frye's A United Nations Police Force. Mr. Frye, a seasoned UN correspondent, wrote in 1957 while UNEF was new; he captured admirably the emergency mood of its creation, but its longer-term implications largely, and understand- ably, evaded him. Miss Rosner has incorporated

*THE DEVELOPMENT OF INTERNATIONAL LAW THROUGH THE POLITICAL ORGANS OF THE UNITED NATIONS. By Rosalyn Higgins. (O.U.P. for the Royal Institute of International Affairs, 63s.)

THE UNITED NATIONS EMERGENCY FORCE. By Gahri:lla Rosner. (Columbia University Press, 50s.)

PEACL-KEEPING BY U.N. FORCES FROM SUEZ TO TIIE CONGO. By A. L. Burns and Nina Heathcotc. (Pall Mall Press. 30s.) the relevant portion of Mr. Frye's eye-witness account and is able to add evidence collected over the seven-year functioning of the Force. She also goes carefully into the problems of law, organisation, control and finance that this inter- national experiment has thrown up, and finally makes her own assessment of its success and prospects.

UNEF, as its name implied, was an 'emer- gency' force. But the emergency passed, as Britain, France and finally Israel withdrew their forces from Egyptian soil. Yet the force re- mains because the underlying causes of local friction, the Arab-Israeli animosity, remain. The problem is not solved, it is merely contained. Peace is preserved by the reluctance of the rivals to challenge the world organisation in visible form and by the willingness of most of the world (but conspicuously not the Arabs, despite all they gain from it) to finance this expensive demonstration of their continued intervention in a quiet Middle East. The success that has so far attended UNEF is partly attributable to the singular far-sightedness with which Dag Ham- marskjold devised the basic principles of the operation.

But it has also been greatly facilitated by happy accidents of geography. It has been comparatively easy to find countries to whom the rivalry of Jew and Arab was a matter of indifference and who could provide con- tingents for the Force which would be politi- cally neutral as well as operationally efficient. Most of the terrain on which the Force operates is ideal for its purpose; no one else lives or has business there, except an occasional Bedouin, so that the Force can do its job with virtually no risk of interfering' in the politics or the economics of the area. Thus in its first large- scale experiment in policing the UN was able to escape the oldest hazard in the business, the odium which always attaches to the army of occupation.

But conflicts cannot be relied on to break out in deserts. The next one flared up in the jungle. Dr. Burns and Miss Heathcote devote almost the whole of their book to the grim and tangled Congo story. Their narrative does not always untangle as well as it might, but their analysis is shrewd and sharp. Pointing out the vast diver- sities between the Congo and Suez operations, they contend that Dag Hammarskjtild none the less kept faithful in the Congo to the essential principles laid down for UNEF, including the abstinence from force except in self-defence and the avoidance of interference in internal affairs.

That this was done despite the chaos of the Congo and the political pressures in the Assembly was a remarkable feat, for which the late Secretary-General has still not received in this country the credit to which he is entitled. How- ever, the lack of support which ONUC received from member States such as Britain, whose Afri- can interests gave them peculiar opportunities to help or hinder, prolonged and intensified its task. It made it harder than ever to work within

the restrictive terms of the original mandate and it may wall be true that, as Burns and Heathcote say, 'with Hammarskjold dead, there also de- parted a degree of scruple about respect for the Charter.' It was in these circumstances that the resolution of November 24, 1961, placed the doubtfully legal UN ban on secession and the military operations of December employed a range and weight of weapons previously un- known.

Yet even here the essential character of the UN mandate was preserved, to a greater degree than the Burns-Heathcote narrative evinces. The power at ONUC's disposal was not used to crush Tshombe or end secession; it was halted at the point where security and freedom of movement were restored and another twelve months of peaceful persuasion ensued. Peaceful, and as it turned out, profitless persuasion, whose failure necessitated the final overwhelming re- sponse in December, 1962, to Tshombe's ulti- mate harassments. Burns and Heathcote are criti- cal of this, too, but the crime they impute is largely of intention rather than of execution, since U Thant's 'plan,' legitimate or not, was never implemented, Tshombe's outbreak forcing ONUC to act once again, and this time once for all, to expel the mercenaries and to secure its own free movement.

No criticism has been more often heard in Britain of the UN's activities throughout Africa and Asia than that they have exceeded the bounds of international law. Opinions may differ as to the value of legal stands in political situa- tions, but one thing the UN has made clear in its short life—namely, the immense impact which its political organs, particularly the Security Council, the General Assembly and the Secre- tariat, have had on the by no means simple question of what is international law. Yet since Goodrich and Hambro drew breath after revis- ing their Commentary on the Charter in 1949 We have had no adequate assessment of this. Mrs. Higgins does not claim to have filled the whole gap, but for certain crucial areas of it she has done a comprehensive job. She is a rara avis, a lawyer with a feel for politics and a capacity for presenting even her legal findings in a form which the layman can use.

Her book is admirably specific. Her chapter on the legal limits to the use of force, for ex- ample, makes the ideal companion and com- mentary to Burns and Heathcote, as she deals one by one with alternative situations and the action claimed to be appropriate for each. She nails their bogey that an isolated indiscretion or a single Assembly resolution can be a precedent which will breach the Charter. It is only de- cisions sustained over time and receiving wide acceptance that build up into the law of to- morrow.

At the same time, she has no difficulty in Showing how far in relation to such concepts as that of Domestic Jurisdiction, or the Use of Force in Self-Defence, the claims of the inter- national community have advanced. She claims with an impressive marshalling of evidence that, in relation to apartheid, for instance, the acts of the General Assembly have adhered remark- ably closely to international law and are not a mere political reflection of the Afro-Asian bloc. On this and on other sensitive topics Mrs. Higgins's findings may seem to many British readers alarmingly radical; before they decide on that account to ignore them they had better make sure that their homework is as thorough as hers and that their insular view takes in as wide a spectrum as that which, like it or not, spreads itself out at Turtle Bay.