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Hard-Earned Prize

The awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to the peacekeeping operations of the United Nations is a long-overdue recognition of this unique contribution of the world organization to easing tensions and limiting the spread of hostilities.

Almost from its creation, the United Nations has found itself involved in peace-observation missions, monitoring with international units sent into situations of violence to help cool hostilities and facilitate cease-fire agreements. The first of the observation missions, the U.N. Truce Supervision Organization, was established in 1948 to monitor the fragile armistice between the new state of Israel and the neighboring Arabs. It is still in place--a fact that recognizes the intractable nature of many disputes.

A second form of peacekeeping, international forces, was invented by the United Nations in 1956 to facilitate the end of the war that Israel, Britain and France had mounted against Egypt over the nationalization of the Suez Canal. It was the first of seven peacekeeping forces that have served in the Congo and on Cyprus as well as in the Middle East. Three of those forces are still in operation in the Golan Heights of Syria, in southern Lebanon and on Cyprus.

The award of the prize coincides with the deployment of yet another U.N. peacekeeping operation--an observer mission that will monitor the peace agreement ending the war between Iran and Iraq. This latest of seven observer missions symbolizes the importance of this function of the United Nations, providing--in a politically explosive situation--an objective international presence that can provide reassurance that the peace agreements are in fact being implemented.

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This service has taken a terrible toll. About 800 persons serving with the peace units have been killed. Their own use of force has been tightly restricted to self-defense, even when moving between belligerents. They have been made political targets as well by those whose aggressions were being frustrated by the presence of the international units.

“It is a tribute to the 500,000 people who have taken part in the operations,” Brian Urquhart said Thursday concerning the Nobel award. He should know. He had been the principal U.N. official for peacekeeping until his recent retirement, and he had been nominated earlier for a Nobel Peace Prize for his extraordinary contributions to the peacekeeping operations.

There remains the question of what to do with the $338,000 prize money. That may not be hard to answer. The failure of many nations to pay peacekeeping assessments, and the reluctance of some nations to contribute to those funded on a voluntary basis, has reduced peacekeeping to a precarious position. The United States, once the most generous and innovative supporter of the peacekeeping program, has joined the delinquents in recent years. Perhaps this new recognition will serve to remind all nations of how much each can benefit from maintaining the vitality of these operations. It may give credibility to the appeal of Finland, which has contributed men and money to virtually all of the operations, for steps to make the funding and manning of peacekeeping more secure.

U.N. Secretary General Javier Perez de Cuellar, commenting on such peacekeeping operations in 1985, wrote: “It is worth noting that peace-keeping operations tend to be established for conflict control in particularly sensitive areas of the world where the danger of escalation is high.”

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Worth noting indeed.


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