Roles Of The Un During The Cold War Politics Essay

Maintaining peace and order in the international system have always been the concerns of the states and statesmen.But ubiquitous anarchy and practicing poltics of absolute gain rather than mutual gain by the states have been major hindrance in achieving desired goals.First world war(1914-18)deteriorated the condition of peace and security in the international system.Seeing the catastrophe of the war and future possiblitiy of such devastating wars,the idea to set up an international organization,able to bind the states by an universally agreed set of laws and conduct came in the mind of then the US president Woodrow Wilson,he propsed:a general association of nation must be formed under specific covenants for the purpose of affording mutual guarantees of political independence and territorial integrity to great and small states alike.This association of states was called League of Nation,which could not live up to its commitment to maintain order in the international system because of its few shortcomings as a general feeling existed that the league was an imposition of the victorious countries of first World War,Germany and USSR both made a late entry,and the US was not part of the league despite the fact that creation of the league was the brainchild of the US president Woodrow Wilson.Other reasons for the fall of league were acute economic crisis of that time and lack of commitment of the member states of the league.

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As the League of Nations was a product of first World War,so was the United Nations a product of the second World War.During the the war period,the idea that a new,major international organization would be needed to maintain peace and security in the post-war world,gradually gained popularity among the allied powers.The term “United Nations”was coined by the US president Roosvelt.Its purpose,as laid down in article 1 of the charter,are:

1.To maintain international peace and security;

2.To develop friendly relations among nations;

3.To achieve international cooperation in solving international problems of an economic,social,cultural or humanitarian character;

4.To be a centre for harmonizing the actions of nations in the attainment of these common ends.

The maintenance of international peace and security has been quite logically placed at the top of the list of purposes of the UN because in the absence of peace and security none of its other purposes can be realized.

“For the maintenance of international peace and security the UN will take effective collective measures for the prevention and removal of threats to the suppression of acts of aggression or other breaches of the peace,and to bring about by peaceful means,and in conformity with the principles of justice and international law,adjustment of international disputes or situations which might lead to a breach of peace”.(Article 1.1)

Fearing that these“effective collective measures”would provide valid ground for frequent military and sometimes unjust actions too,Article1.2 of the charter encourages more positive steps as“develop friendly relations among nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and self determination of people”.The charter has specified certain methods too for the peaceful settlement of dispute among nations.These are“negotiation,enquiry,mediation,conciliation,arbitration,judicial settlement,resort to regional agencies or arrangements,or other peaceful means of their own choice.

Since the purpose of maintenance of internal peace and security can not be realized under conditions of social unrest,economic backwardness and cultural drawbacks, the charter enjoins that the organization will seek to solve international economic,social,cultural and humanitarian problems on a basis of cooperation among nations that will promote and encourage“respect for human rights and for fundamental freedom for all without distinction as to race,religion,sex or language”.(Article 1.3)

Despite all the obligations and a benevolent charter it has been observed that many a times,UN just becomes the instrument in the hands of powerful states and its member’s commitment to peace and security remains a sincere but unlikely to be fulfilled hope.The General Assembly,the Economic and Social council and the Trusteeship council can only make recommendations but have no authority to make binding decisions.Only the security council has the authority to make binding decisions.But it also can be paralysed at any moment by any of the permanent members through the application of the veto.

United Nations has seen its worst loggerheads and strong disagreements during the cold war,a short analysis is described here:

United Nations:During Cold War-

During the Cold War,the concept of collective security by which aggression against one member is met with the resistance by all,underlies the chapter 7 of the charter,which grants the security council the power to order coercive measures-ranging from diplomatic,economic,and military sanctions to the use of armed forces,in cases where attempts at a peaceful settlement have failed. Such measures were seldom applied during the Cold War, however, because tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union prevented the Security Council from agreeing on the instigators of aggression. Instead, actions to maintain peace and security often took the form of preventive diplomacy and peacekeeping.

The Korean war:At the end of the second World War,Korea split in to two parts. The south part was supported by America while USSR dominated the north.Though the UN involves itself to the Korean matter in 1947,before the partition.It declared that UN would be there to oversee the elections for the whole country to ensure the credibility of the elections.USSR did not allow UN observers in northern part which was under its influence as a result,UN declared that results from north part were not acceptable as they had not been independently observed.By the end of 1948 Korea split in to North Korea and South Korea.North Korea was supported by communist USSR and China.The south was supported by America and was considered by the west only democratic country out of two.Both governments claimed the right to govern the other.Meanwhile North Korea backed by USSR and China attacked South Korea in 25 june,1950.When the Security Council met for the Korean regard,USSR delegation did not attend the meeting.Therefore the use of veto by the USSR did not occur and America instantly claimed that North Korea had broken the world peace by attacking South Korea and called on North Korea to withdraw its forces from South Korea.On June 27th 1950,America called on the UN to use force to get the North Korea out as they had ignored the appeal of the internation community to withdraw their troops.USSR could not use its veto as they were still boycotting the UN.The UN now had to formulated its plan to to attack North Korea.Seventeen member states provided troops under UN joint commond,the UN force was dominated by the US troops its commander being American general Mac Arther.The UN troops effectively pushed North Korean troops out of South Korea.Mac Arther then advanced to the North Korea,ignoring the warning from China.As a result,situation got dramatically complex and Chinese attacked UN troops and managed to push back the UN forces.In 1953 a cease fire was agreed.the UN received much support for taking robust action but surely not from the USSR and its allies.South Korea regained its independence and contuned to be supported from America.USSR later dropped it boycott of the Security Council and rejoined it during the Korean war.USSR blaimed UN security general Trygve Lie to act out of his powers.The Korean war gave a clear indication that the rivalry between the the two super powers would further drag on and mar the effectivity and credibility of the organization.

Suez Crisis:On 26 July 1956,Egyption president Gamal Abdul Nasser nationalized the Suez canal,the canal was owned by Suez canal company which was controlled by the British and French interests.The crisis was provoked by American and British decision not to finance Egypt’s construction of Aswan high dam,as they had promised.In response to Egypt’s growing ties with communist USSR and its ally Czechoslovakia,Nasser reacted to American and British decision by declaring martial law in canal zone and seizing control of canal company,stating that the tolls collected from ships passing through the canal,would pay for the dam’s construction within five years.Britain and France feared that Nasser might close the canal and cut off shipments of petroleum flowing from Persian gulf to western Europe.When diplomatic efforts to settle down the crisis failed,Britain and France secretly prepared the military action to regain control of the canal and if possible,to depose Nasser.They found a ready ally in Israel whose hostility toward Egypt had been exacerbated by numourous raids by Egyption supported commandos in near past.

On 29 oct.1956,Israeli forces invaded Egypt,routing Egyption forces.British and French following their plan,demanded Israeli and Egyption forces withdrawing their forces from canal and they would intervene to inforce cease fire ordered by the United Nations.On 5th and 6th Nov.British and French troops landed on Port Said and began occupying the canal zone.This move was soon met by growing opposition at home and by the US sponsored resolution in the UN(made in part to counter Soviet threats if intervention),which quickly put a stop to the Anglo-French action and brought a ceasefire in action and 6000 UN troops from nine countries known as`Bblue Helmets’were deployed it also established the first United Nations Emergency Force(UNEF)to secure and supervise the ceasefire.Suez crisis again warned that when the powerful states work for just vested interest(as Britain and France did in this case)global peace is always at stake and global peace is greatly threatened by not just failed and non democratic states but by democratic and modern states too.

Congo Operation:The role of UN in Congo conflict has been quite controvisial.Congo till 1960 had been a Belgian colony.It became independent on June 30,1960.Belgians left the country in the state of complete confusion and disorder.This disorder broke out and Belgium sent its troops to the Congo,stating that its aim was to protect and evacuate Europeans.The government of Congo had not invited foreign troops.This was an illegal act as Congo was an independent country by then.Problem worsened when the mineral rich province of Congo,Katanga was declared independent by one leader Moise Tshombe who lead the people in Katanga.tshombe was backed by European companies who worked in Katanga as they hoped to take a cut from the considerable profits that could be made from mining.Katanga had the potential to make Congo one of the wealthiest African states,without it the new nation would remain poor.In such a scenario prime minister Patrice Lumumba appeared in the UN for help.The Security Council created an army to restore law and order in Congo.The army was instructed to restore law and order,stop other nations getting involved in the crisis,assist in building nation’s economy and restore political stability.The UN force was only allowed to use force as a measure of self defence and instructed to act impartial in any situation.Situation worsened when Lumumba asked the UN troops to crash the power of Tshombe.Secratery general of the UN Dag Hammerskjold turned down his demand.Lumumba immediately accused the UN of siding with Tshombe because of Katanga’s rich European componies that mined the the region.After being turned down by the UN,Lumumba turned to the USSR for help.The USSR provided Lumumba’s government with weapons that gave him appourtunity to launch an attack against Katanga.Congo president Kasavubu dismissed Lumumba government for this attack and appointed the chief of the Congo’s army,colonel Mobutu as the new PM.Lumumba set up a rival group in the east of the country.But soon he was murdered.Through all of this the UN could do nothing as it had been agreed not to take side and fire in self defence only.Now to prevent a possible civil war,the Security Council gave permission to the UN army based there to use force to prevent a civil war occurring.Government in the centre asked the UN to provide military support for an attack on Katanga as it was well understood by then that no peace is possible unless the Katanga insurgency is solved.In August 1961,5000 UN troops launched an attack on Katanga and captured keypoints in the province.As a result of high onslaught,Tshombe agreed to talk to the government.Later Katanga was reunited with the rest of Congo.

Apart from its military intervention and its consequences,the un had taken responsibility for the humanitarian programme as famine and and epidimics were endemic in Congo,un did significant work to amend the condition of the country.Though UN troops saved the country from felling in to civil war but UN had been accused of taking sides in Congo and it again showed the struggle of world powers to establish their poltical ideology in foreign land for their geo political purpose.Congo also regarded as playground of cold war politics.

In short ,it has been analysed that during Cold War the UN has become a centre where America and the USSR always tried to pull each other’s leg to assert their superiority over the other and smaller and weaker nations always payed for their hostility.During the Cold War their situation can be compared to a group of school children,where two“big boys”fighting for their dominance in the class and rest of the smaller kids looking at them with fear and helplessness.But we can not neglect the introduction of few very useful new concepts which proved to be crucial for future UN role as peacekeeping,peacemaking and humanitarian assistance.

United Nations:Post Cold War Era:

After the demise of the Cold war soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev,vowed to reform his country politically and economically and reduced the east-west tension by redefine the Russia’s relationship with the UN.Russia withdrew its forces from Vietnam,Cuba and few other parts of the world to show its commitment to the United Nations and collective security for the second inning.Gorbachev seemed to understand the futility of being loggerheads to the America as its treasury had drained and Russia was in acute financial crisis because of the proxy war with the US.

In that new atmosphere of hope and trust it was believed that at last now the UN would be able to perform more effectively and adeptly.This was the time when Boutros Ghali’s An Agenda for Peace was introduced to the UN which covers:preventive diplomacy,peacemaking,peace building and peacekeeping.

Gulf War:This atmosphere of trust among the member states was best seen during the gulf war when Iraq’s leader Saddam Hussain invaded Kuwait with the appreant aim to occupy Kuwait’s oil resources.On August 3rd 1990 UN Security Council called for Iraq to withdraw from Kuwait.But Saddam steadfastly refused to withdraw as he maintained Kuwait would remain a province of Iraq.As a response allied forces which included other Arab nations forces and led by the US reached the strength of 70000.On January 16-17,1991,the first gulf war began with massive US led air strikes.This military operation was given the name“Operation Desert Storm”Iraq’s military power soon collapsed and Kuwait was retaken by allied forces.By the time then US president George Bush declared a ceasefire,Iraq’s resistance had completely collapsed.This collective operation plan was passed with unprecedented unanimity.It also strenthend the hope for the future role of the UN in maintaining international peace and security.After the Gulf war UN also engaged itself to the problems of Iraq’s minorities(Shite and Kurds)and managed the refugee problem.An indication of its broder future role.

Another remarkable point about the post cold war scenario was that conflicts largely became intra state rather than inter state.first Gulf war remained an exception where Iraq attacked Kuwait.

Yugoslavia Case:Conflict on ethnicity entailed so much violence and displacement of the population which Europe had not seen after the second World War.UN regisrered a late entry as it was first seen as the internal matter of the state.Security Council granted the proposal for a peacekeeping operation and the UN protection force(UNPROFOR)was established in 1992.But through out the conflict the impression grew that UN was largely impotent as carnages and bloodshed were still happening .It was also felt that international community was reluctant to intervene into intra state conflicts as they were not so much threatening global peace.Peacekeepers and humanitarian actors were attacked and theUN suffered economic crisis as well.But it at least prevented the spill over of the conflict in to neighbouring states and provided humanitarian assistance which was useful to some extent as it provided the framework for the final peace negotiation and agreements.

Somalia Conflict:In 1991-92 Somalia was in total disorder and chaos as warring clans took over the parts of country.UN operation was done in a condition where there was no form of legitimate government,no security and no order.Famine and shortage of food were common.At first a small force formed by Pakistani troops(UNISOM1)was sent to Somalia to protect the humanitarian and relief workers .The Security Council resolution 794 authorized a large US led troops.This effort was labled as Operation Restore Hope or the United Task Force(UNITAF).Seeing no satisfactory development the Security Council authorized UNOSOM2 to use whatever force was necessary to disarm local warlords who refuse to surrender their arms and to ensure access to suffering civilians.Heavy army and cobra helicopters were called in by the UN command in 1993.This way UN engaged itself to the war of retaliation,an unexpected military adventure from a responsible international body.In retaliation local militia killed several foreign journalists and aid workers.At last UN had to withdraw its troops in March 1994 which further deteriorated already precarious condition.UN performance has been very mediocre and its morale was loose.In Somalia UN broke one of its principle as it intervened in Somalia without any request made by the state.It also showed its institutional weakness and learnt that it has a lot to learn about the situation of intra state war which was rather a new entry in the international system after the end of the Cold war.

All we can say in short that they ray of hope which was generated after the Cold war regarding the responsibility and effectiveness of the organization,has been diminished as in intra state conflicts the UN has not performed well but one thing one must keep in mind that The UN role in the global system has been ever changing thus many a times creating difficulities for its functioning.Since the 1950s the working of the UN has been greatly affected by the advent of new members from the third world,the impact of changing superpower relations which have diminished or enhanced its role from time to time,the problems it has faced in peacekeeping,the budgetary crisis it has faced over the years,political conflicts inside the organization as once between the east and the west and now between the north and the south,the disintegration of the Soviet Union and unprecedented war on terror.All such factors are responsible for some times effective but many times poor performance of the organization.

In resent past too genuine questions have been raised about the creadibility of the organization.Mainly in 2003 when the US attacked the Iraq for the second time.Then the US president George W.Bush did not look for the diplomatic effort and did not seek UN permission to launch attack on an independent country.The US payed no heed to the objections raised by other states of the Security Council.Contrary to the first Gulf war,this time most of the states did not support the attack as it was done on no solid ground.The US president George W Bush stated that Iraq had weapon of the mass distruction and Saddam had ties with Al Qaeda.WMDs have not been found till date and Saddam was such a figure that Al Qaeda or Osama Bin Laden would have loved to hate for his secular views in politics.So both the statements of then president Bush can easily be classified as the lies of the decade,dedly lies as they claimed several civilian lives in Iraq.

This kind of behavior accentuates the problem of eliticism in the organization,But as the adage goes by that“something is always better than nothing”.We can only envisage the situation of absence of the UN.In such a condition the wars and conflicts which have been averted by the UN efforts,would have been full fledged wars and claimed innumerable lives.Another example of the UN’s commitment to the more stable world order is seen in the resent past with the creation on UN Peace Building Commission in 2005 to help the countries who have just faced the conflict and who has the great chance to lapse back into conflict situation.This commission is set to assist such countries in transforming in to peaceful society from the conflicted one.Though the numbers of such successful efforts are not too high but if an international organization can become a reality as a result of the genuine effort.It can surely be transformed in to more effective machinery but commitment,sensible enthusiasm and hope for a better and secure future are needed one more time.


1.Gareis,Sven Berhard and Varwick Johannes;The United Nations:An Introduction.

2.Oudraat,Chantal De Jonge;The United Nations and International Conflict.

3.Wilkinson,Paul;International Relations:A Very Short Introduction.

4. UN Security Operations after the Cold war,from the readings.