The UNEF: An End Run For Peace

By Zachary Logsdon

Note:  This op-ed is set in the late 1950s, at the time of the deployment of the first UN peacekeeping mission to the Suez Canal.

From the tall windowed building on 42nd Street, New York City, comes monumental
news. An emergency force, aptly named the United Nations Emergency Force (UNEF), is to be
deployed to Egypt in order to try and help bring an ordered close to the recent fiasco over the
ownership of the Suez Canal. The attempt made by Britain and France to steal the canal from
Egypt, an attempt at armed robbery on a scale so huge as to make John Dillinger look like a
common mugger, has collapsed in the face of American pressure and Soviet threats, and it seems
that this disgraceful affair to be concluded. While many will marvel over the outrageous of what
British and the French have done, the real story here is the UNEF, and the promise that it has to
be a potent weapon in the arsenal of peace, as it provides a model for future operations that is
independent of the Security Council.

We must look at the UN Charter to first see why the UNEF has the potential to be a
potent weapon for peace. Under Article 42 of the UN Charter, only the Security Council may
authorize “peace enforcement” missions.1 Yet the UNEF has not been set up as a “peace
enforcement” mission, rather it has been invited by the Egyptian government and authorized by
the General Assembly. In effect, Secretary General Hammarskjöld and the General Assembly
have got right around Article 42, the Americans, the Soviets, British, French, and Chinese to
establish this new “peacekeeping” force.

This is critical for the success of similar future operations precisely because this
“peacekeeping” model circumvents the gridlock of the Security Council and sets a precedent for
future missions that do not require Security Council approval. The Security Council is an
unwieldy instrument, and the inability of all five permanent members to agree on anything has
the potential to prevent decisive action, such as in the case of the Suez Crisis where two
permanent members were the aggressors. In going around Article 42, the Secretary-General and
the General Assembly have ensured that, provided the parties involved are willing to give peace
a chance, the UN can become involved even if the Security Council cannot agree. This clears the
way not just for peace in the Suez Canal Zone, but the possibility of future such missions being
deployed, as the Security Council will find it difficult to block such efforts. As such, we me
confidently expect more missions similar to that of the UNEF, which can only further the cause
of peace.

Some people will argue that the UNEF and the type of mission it sets the mold for will
not be effective. They will say that without the support of the Security Council, such missions
will be doomed to fail, and that we must continue to place our faith in the five permanent
members to authorize peace enforcement when it is necessary. However, I would remind them
that the only peace enforcement mission that has been authorized was the intervention in Korea,
and it was only approved because the Soviet Union was boycotting Security Council meetings.
As such, those who place their faith in peace enforcement overestimate the likelihood that the
Security Council would authorize peace enforcement missions, and are naïve as to the political
realties of the Security Council. It is crucial that the UN possess some way to circumvent the
Security Council in order to further, and the UNEF model gives the UN precisely that.
The UNEF provides an excellent framework for future “peacekeeping” operations, as it
establishes a system whereby the General Assembly and Secretary-General can approve the
deployment of troops to help implement peace agreements, even if the Security Council
disagreed, or cannot agree. I cannot say how the Egyptian-Israeli conflict will end, however I do
believe that its best chance of ending peacefully is with the UNEF maintaining the demarcation
line between the two sides, and as Sir Winston Churchill put it “to jaw-jaw is always better than
to war-war.”2 In the coming months and years, we must press our leaders to support similar
operations wherever they are needed and requested, and we may confidently expect that such
operations will help further the peace and stability that we have enjoyed since the end of the
Second World War and the Korean Conflict.

Zach Logsdon is a 2018 Miami University graduate who is returning to earn a master’s degree in History.

1 “Middle East: UNEF I Background,” Department of Public Information of the United Nations,
2 Richard Norton-Taylor, “Jaw-jaw is better than war-war,” The Guardian (London, UK), Sept. 10, 2015.

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