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UNITED NATIONS: Arms & the Man

22 minute read
TIME

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Early one morning last week a Swissair DC-6B set down ten miles from the Suez Canal city of Ismailia. Out of the plane, looking slightly airsick, trooped 45 apple-cheeked young Danish soldiers wearing sky-blue helmet liners and arm bands. Falling them in, 30-year-old 1st Lieut. Axel Bojsen marched his men past a hangar, gutted by British bombers, up to an Egyptian brigadier. “On behalf of the Egyptian armed forces,” intoned the brigadier, “I welcome you as guests, as troops of the United Nations Emergency Force.”

Within the next 24 hours, the world’s first international police force landed at Abou Suweir air base—196 men: 45 Danes, 97 Norwegians and 54 Colombians. They were the first of a projected 6.000. Along with the Colombians came the man who had brought this historic force into being: a slight-shouldered, sandy-haired Swedish civilian named Dag Hjalmar Agne Carl Hammarskjold.

Equipped only with small arms—and moral authority—U.N. Secretary-General Hammarskjold and his flea-sized army appeared Lilliputian figures alongside the forces they were to keep apart (the Anglo-French invasion force alone was 50,000 strong). In Egypt the puny army must somehow ensure that two of the greatest nations in Europe abandon with grievous loss of face a last-ditch attempt to dominate a region of the world vital to their survival as major powers.

Far to the north lay an even tougher challenge with which neither Hammarskjold nor any of his men had yet come to grips—the barbaric Soviet repression of Hungary’s fight for liberty. And behind these specific problems lay the two historic convulsions of the mid-20th century world: the upsurge of the peoples of Asia and Africa, and the conflict between Communism and democracy. The difficulties were immense. “For the first time in history,” said Dwight Eisenhower, “an international machinery, set up by nations for the settlement of international disputes, is receiving a truly thorough test.”

Armless Parliament. With deliberate optimism, the President left unsaid one fundamental fact: the test which the U.N. faced last week is a bigger one than it was designed to meet. Whatever the world’s hopeful liberals and war-weary, propaganda-stuffed peoples may have believed, the hardheaded diplomats who met in San Francisco to write the U.N. Charter in the dying months of World War II had no intention of establishing a world government. At the common insistence of the major powers—the U.S. and Britain were just as adamant as the U.S.S.R.—the U.N.’s founders wrote into its constitution not just the veto but a series of provisions intended to ensure that the U.N. would never infringe on the sovereignty of its members—or, at any rate, of its big members. The fruit of their calculating labors was an emasculated version of the American Continental Congress: an armless parliament.*

Right from the start of the U.N., peace continued to depend upon the restraint of the big powers and the accommodations they were able to reach amongst themselves. Then, three weeks ago, British and French aggression in Egypt suddenly made clear the dismaying fact that when the chips were down, not only Russia but “respectable” major powers as well were willing to take the law into their own hands, breaking their U.N. pledge to renounce force, when they conceived their vital national interests to be at stake.

At that moment the U.N. found itself at a critical point when it must either evolve or stagnate and die. If it were to avoid the fate of the League of Nations, the U.N. had to find some means of impressing majority will upon even the biggest powers, and of doing what these big powers had said the U.N. was incapable of doing. It had to grow arms.

Not by the Letter. If the U.N. succeeds in evolving into something more, the shape it takes will owe much to Dag Hammarskjold. As Secretary-General of the United Nations, Hammarskjold holds a job whose very title carries overtones of impotence. Today, however, what was originally conceived of as the world’s top civil-service berth ($20,000 a year tax free and $35,000 for expenses) shows promise of developing into an executive post of potentially immense power. Partly, this is a matter of impersonal historic forces—among them the tendency of a frightened legislature to yearn for a strong executive; partly, it reflects a U.S. decision to put its weight behind (or to lean against) the U.N. But partly, the expansion of power reflects the personal confidence which Hammarskjold has inspired.

Keenly aware of the suspicion with which national states regard any proposal to limit their sovereignty—as Deputy Foreign Minister of Sweden he had plenty of practice in thinking in purely nationalistic terms—Hammarskjold moves cautiously, never asks more power than he needs or the situations require. But he refuses to regard himself as a mere agent of a legislature. Given a mission, e.g., to arrange a cease-fire in Egypt. Hammarskjold is guided not by the letter of his instructions but by his understanding of what the majority of the United Nations wants.

The Unchanging Ghost. Today, for better or worse, the U.N. is far more representative of the world as it is than the U.N. has ever been. Last week in a starkly modernistic, shell-shaped hall overlooking New York City’s East River, the U.N. General Assembly opened its eleventh regular session by admitting three new nations —Morocco. Tunisia and the Sudan—and formally welcoming the 16 other new members*hastily admitted in the closing days of the 1955 session. The Assembly’s new president. Siam’s Prince Wan Waithayakon. grandson of King Rama IV of The King and I, pointed out the significance of these admissions: “The increasing importance of Asia and Africa.” In today’s 79-nation U.N.. the balance of voting power has shifted from the 20 Latin American republics, which generally voted with the U.S.. to the Asian-African members, which, despite the absence of Red China and Japan, now number 25. No longer can the Western allies, balked in the Security Council, count upon prevailing in the General Assembly. By adding their votes to those of the nine Communist members, the new nations of Asia and Africa can henceforth prevent any resolution they dislike from obtaining the necessary two-thirds majority.

Representative as it may be, the U.N. in action is rarely an inspiring sight. From their birth, both the Security Council and the General Assembly have inevitably possessed in magnified form all the vices of any legislature—the wordiness, the apparent remoteness from reality, the outbursts of hypocritical indignation, and, above all. the endlessly reiterated statements for the record. Snapped U.S Delegate Henry Cabot Lodge, after a recent attack on the U.S. delivered by burly Soviet Foreign Minister Dmitry Shepilov: “Having been here almost four years and heard the speeches of the late Mr. Vishinsky, of Mr. Gromyko. Mr. Zorin and Mr. Sobolev. I can only conclude, after hearing Mr. Shepilov’s speech today, that the man who writes the speeches is still the same.”

At the opening of a session, or during moments of great crisis, member nations still send their big guns to the U.N. (Last week’s opening of the General Assembly attracted the Prime Ministers of Greece. Laos, Tunisia and Luxembourg, as well as 43 Foreign Ministers, including those of Britain, France and the U.S.S.R.) But the caliber of the permanent delegates today is not what it was.

Today Russia’s permanent spokesman at the U.N. is Arkady Sobolev, an unimpressive Sunny Jim. Britain’s Sir Pierson Dixon. though quietly effective behind the scenes, is a careworn Leslie Howard in appearance. Most impressive of the big-power delegates is broad-shouldered, faultlessly tailored Henry Cabot Lodge. Forceful but no longer overbearing, Lodge has grown on the job. The gallery-conscious dramatics and freewheeling Capitol Hill political habits which he brought with him when he first came to the U.N. have largely disappeared, and ever since the beginning of the Mideast crisis he has shown himself an able tactician, dispassionate and generally diplomatic. Last week he succeeded in keeping off the agenda, for the seventh year in a row, the question of U.N. membership for Red China.

“Quite an Achievement.” The most dispiriting thing about U.N. debates is not their occasional descent into abuse, or their relentless prolixity. It is the fact that, with rare exceptions. U.N. debates are conducted in a vacuum—and when they result in “decisions.” no one who finds those decisions unpleasant feels obliged to listen. Three weeks ago. attempting to justify to the House of Commons Britain’s failure to consult the U.N., Foreign Minister Selwyn Lloyd called the U.N. “a policeman with both hands tied behind his back.” In Canberra last week Australian Prime Minister Gordon Menzies, protesting the exclusion of British and French troops from the U.N. Emergency Force, said with bitter sarcasm: “It won’t be easy … to establish an international force of two battalions to protect Hungary against the Soviet Union, will it? That is a 30-or 40-division job; so I hope you will acquit me of being pessimistic when I say that I don’t believe Hungary is going to be protected …” From Paris, former French Premier Georges Bidault, who helped write the U.N. Charter, chimed in: “The United Nations became harmful a long time ago. They have established many inquiries without solving anything.”

In much of the world, however, the increasing lack of faith in the U.N. was suddenly replaced a fortnight ago by a surge of hope when the armless parliament succeeded in obtaining the ceasefire in Egypt. Said one prominent Egyptian last week: “Arabs have a new attitude toward the U.N. They realize now that it is not simply a camouflage for the ambitions of the big powers.” In Germany, Cologne’s Neue Rhein Zeitung conceded: “One must state with astonishment that the U.N. is stronger than it seemed.” Even New York’s xenophobic Daily News (which usually wishes that its 42nd Street neighbor would drop dead) credited Dag Hammarskjold’s “diplomatic menagerie” with “quite an achievement.”

From Norway and West Germany came suggestions that Hammarskjold be given the Nobel Peace Prize. The weightiest tribute of all came from Dwight Eisenhower, who last week told his press conference: “The man’s abilities have not only been proven, but a physical stamina that is … almost unique in the world has also been demonstrated by this man, who, night after night, has gone with one or two hours’ sleep—working all day, and, I must say, working intelligently and devotedly.”

Private Faces. Sensitive and deceptively youthful in appearance, 51-year-old Dag Hammarskjold is a scion of one of Sweden’s most notable political families. His father was the Prime Minister who kept Sweden out of World War I. Hammarskjold was from childhood a quiet, reserved person whose pastimes were solitary (mountaineering, cycling) and whose interests were intellectual (modern poetry and modern art). Despite what colleagues called his “devastating impersonality,” his brilliant record as an economist and his outstanding administrative skill made him at 31 Under Secretary of Finance, and, at 36, chairman of the Bank of Sweden.

In a freehand paraphrase of British Poet W. H. Auden, Bachelor Hammarskjold often declares: “Private faces should not be caught in public places”—and for some time after he became U.N. Secretary-General he was dismayed by the extent to which his private face was on public display. But he also inherited, as he once wrote, “a belief that no life was more satisfactory than one of selfless service to your country—or humanity. This service required sacrifice of all personal interests”—including, it soon became clear, the pleasures of anonymity. Hammarskjold came to recognize that in a job whose prestige comes from acting as the world’s conscience, there is no substitute for dramatic gestures. The first fruit of this realization was on a trip to Peking in January 1955, to negotiate with Chou Enlai for the release of 15 captive U.S. flyers. “Everything the Secretary-General said to Chou could have been said by diplomatic pouch,” admits a U.N. bureaucrat. “But the physical fact of the trip served to focus world attention and moral pressure, and the flyers were turned loose.”

Fingertip Understanding. A far more significant achievement was his success in winning the confidence of U.N. delegates in hundreds of quiet sessions in his spick, pine-paneled office on the 38th floor of the U.N. Building. He absorbed the opinions and aspirations of delegate after delegate with a clear-eyed sympathy that rapidly earned him a reputation for brilliance, discretion and impartiality. Hammarskjold does not pretend to be impartial at heart (“You love some things and you loathe others”), but he does his best to bring to his job the objectivity of a good historian. “The public,” says he, “never sees that, with the kind of person you have to deal with on a high level, you can take it for granted that in his eyes he has a good case. There must be some elements in his case you can recognize as right.”

In time, Hammarskjold has become one of two men who really have fingertip understanding of the entire U.N. (The other: his executive assistant, Andrew Cordier, a husky, onetime professor from Indiana who has been described as “a Wallace Beery with brains.”) Wisely, Hammarskjold never employed too nakedly this power. “If I think a man is being foolish,” he says, “I may have to tell him. But I can’t, as you say, blow my top. I have to be frank, but without heat.”

“The Highest Regard.” When he first got news of the Anglo-French ultimatum to Egypt, Dag Hammarskjold, who has closer intellectual and emotional ties with the British and French than with any other group in the U.N., went into a state of near shock. Late that night, after Britain and France had vetoed two Security Council cease-fire proposals, Hammarskjold went to his eight-room apartment at East 73rd Street and Park Avenue and tried to get some sleep. But sleep would not come, and at dawn his housekeeper found him hunched over the desk in his study, writing out a statement in longhand.

A few hours later, still trembling with tension, Hammarskjold went before the Security Council and delivered the statement: a diplomatically veiled but unmistakable offer to resign. “A Secretary-General,” said he, “cannot serve on any other assumption than that—within the necessary limits of human frailty and honest differences of opinion—all member nations honor their pledge to observe all articles of the Charter.”

There followed a rare display of international unanimity. One by one the members of the Security Council rose to express their faith in the unsmiling Swede. “The U.S.,” said Henry Cabot Lodge, “thinks highly of the Secretary-General, of his mind and of his character.” The Soviet delegation, declared Arkady Sobolev, “has confidence in the Secretary-General and lends him its support.” Unfazed by Hammarskjold’s indirect reproaches to their governments, the French and British delegates chimed in, too. “We have the highest regard for the integrity and impartiality of Mr. Hammarskjold,” said Sir Pierson Dixon. From Cairo, President Nasser fired off a personal cable to Hammarskjold, urging him to stay on the job.

Out of the Air. Now, buttressed by what amounted to a vote of confidence, Hammarskjold plunged into action. Returning to his office, he summoned members of the Yugoslav delegation and helped them draft a “uniting-for-peace” resolution—the Dean Acheson gambit for bypassing the Security Council, devised to deal with Russian vetoes in the early days of the Korean war. Promptly approved by the necessary minimum of seven Security Council members, the Yugoslav motion gave the vetoless General Assembly authority to act on the Middle East crisis.

At lunch the same day with Canadian External Affairs Chief Lester Pearson, Hammarskjold sparked an even more dramatic move: creation of a U.N. police force. “The idea has been floating around for years,” said a U.N. official. “Hammarskjold reached up into the air and brought it down and there it was, sitting in the middle of the room, staring at us.”

Overnight Effort. On Lester Pearson’s motion, the General Assembly, in a marathon seven-hour session, directed Hammarskjold to devise concrete plans within 48 hours. Despite the constant interruption of cables, phone calls and urgent conferences, he went to work at once.

In the midst of this labor came word that the Israelis had agreed to a ceasefire. Interrupting his dictation, Hammarskjold shot off an urgent note to Eden and Mollet: the time had come, he said, for Britain and France to lay down arms.

An hour later he went before the Security Council to announce a piece of good news: Britain and France were willing to stop fighting as soon as the police-force plan could be adopted by the U.N. Then he hustled back to his office, where, with Cordier and Under Secretary Ralph Bunche, he continued to work over his police-force recommendations until 2:30 a.m.

Nine hours later, into the Secretary-General’s office came Britain’s Sir Pierson Dixon, with word that on the basis of Hammarskjold’s police-force report. Britain and France were ordering their forces to cease fire.

Commander in Chief. Next day Commander in Chief Hammarskjold began organizing his army.

As it turned out, the least of the U.N.’s problems was getting troops. Even before the General Assembly approved his military recommendations, Hammarskjold had negotiated offers of troops from Colombia, Norway and Canada. Less than a week after it came into existence, the United Nations Emergency Force had at its disposal some 5,000 troops of eight nations.*

At Hammarskjold’s request, the Italian government agreed to let the U.N. use Capodichino Airport near Naples as a staging area for the flight to Egypt. Next, Hammarskjold asked his old friend Auguste Lindt, the Swiss observer at the U.N.. if the Swiss government would permit Swissair to lift the troops from Italy to Egypt. Swallowing hard, the neutrality-cherishing Swiss, who do not even belong to U.N.. finally agreed. The U.S. agreed to move the Indians, Danes, Norwegians, Swedes. Colombians and Finns from their homelands to Capodichino, but using the Swiss for the final leg was a characteristic Hammarskjold touch.

The complex job of providing this odd-lots army with uniforms, rations, weapons, billets, etc.—a task Hammarskjold turned over to Ralph Bunche—proved the hardest of all. The first plan to give the UNEF soldiers some distinctive article of clothing foundered temporarily when a hasty check of Europe and North America failed to turn up any berets that could be dyed U.N. blue; as a stopgap, the U.N. planners fell back on blue-sprayed helmet liners furnished by the U.S. Army base at Leghorn. Italy. Rations at Capodichino—continental breakfasts and pasta—left the

Scandinavian troops down in the mouth, and the 24,000 C-rations which the U.N. had requested from the U.S. Army were not yet available. The three DC-6Bs supplied by Swissair could not be expected to lift more than 150 men a day to Egypt, and in short order Capodichino was jammed with more troops than it could possibly billet.

But somehow, despite the innumerable and inevitable snafus, UNEF miraculously began to take shape. This week Canadian General Eedson Burns, former chief of the U.N. Palestine Truce Supervision Organization and commander of the new force, had 540 men actually on the ground in Egypt.

The Loose Ends. As Hammarskjold told it, the reason he flew into Egypt with his police force last week was “to see that there are no loose ends.” In cold fact, as he well knew, there was scarcely anything but loose ends. By universal agreement, the cease-fire in Egypt could be maintained only if the U.N. police force functioned satisfactorily. But no two interested parties agreed on what the police force was supposed to do.

With his armed forces shattered and large chunks of his nation under foreign occupation. Egypt’s Gamal Abdel Nasser persisted in behaving like a victor. “Today.” bragged Cairo’s government-backed Al Gumhuria, “it is Egypt that will dictate terms.” The Anglo-French forces, insisted the Egyptian dictator, must leave Egypt immediately—and as soon as they had gone, the U.N. police force must also get out of the Canal Zone and confine itself to patrolling the old 1949 Egyptian-Israeli armistice line. As for the Suez question, said Nasser, not until British and French forces left Egypt could the Egyptian government even agree to permit any steps toward reopening of the canal to navigation. Hammarskjold was prepared to treat Nasser as the aggrieved party, as well as the host nation of trie first international army.

But to give in too much to Nasser was to ire the British and French, who are unhappily halted in a narrow peninsula at Port Said and along a soo-yard strip running halfway down the canal. Despite the fact that the U.N. cease-fire resolution called for the immediate departure of all foreign troops from Egyptian soil, the British insist that they cannot remove their forces until there is either: 1) a general settlement of Middle Eastern problems, including airtight protection against Egyptian interference with Suez traffic, or 2) an “adequate” (i.e., division-size) U.N. force based in the Canal Zone.

And a third party has still to be brought around: Israel’s David Ben-Gurion, who wants political rewards for surrendering his military gains. Ben-Gurion, from past experience, has a low opinion of Hammarskjold’s famed diplomatic technique. In the Israeli view, Hammarskjold thinks that situations can be solved merely by formulating them.

Hammarskjold well knows that as their original fears diminish, each party to the cease-fire will be more inclined to haggle. But he can also count on their awareness that if the U.N. fails to convert the cease-fire into a stable truce, it is a virtual certainty that the Soviets will be roiling Middle Eastern waters again.

“The Necessary Conclusions.” If the U.N. has not yet clearly demonstrated its ability to deal with the Middle Eastern crisis, it has even less to be proud of in Hungary. “When people heard that the General Assembly had postponed even for a few hours its debate [on Hungary].” said one escapee from Budapest, “a great number of the Freedom Fighters laid down their arms and surrendered.”

Scarcely less humiliating was the way in which the U.S.S.R. and its Hungarian Communist stooges had flouted the U.N. Not only had the new Hungarian regime refused to honor a General Assembly resolution calling for admission of U.N. observers to Hungary, it had also rejected Hammarskjold’s suggestion that he go to Budapest himself. And in the General Assembly. Soviet Deputy Foreign Minister Vasily Kuznetsov brazenly proclaimed his nation’s contempt for civilized opinion and for the General Assembly resolution (passed by a vote of 50 to 8) censoring the USSR over Hungary. “People who are loyal to the high ideals of the U.N.” said Kuznetsov. “will, I am sure, draw the necessary conclusions from Hungarian events—so that never in the future will counter-revolutionary forces, basing themselves upon assistance from international reaction, be able to unleash . . . sanguinary orgies.”

“Orderly Progress.” Yet it is an article of faith in U.N. corridors that “Russia is not indifferent to world opinion,” whatever it may say. And Great Britain, which had so lately ignored the U.N. by its invasion of Egypt, was now trying to say that it had done so only for the U.N.’s own good. “If the result of our action is to equip the U.N. with the effective means to enforce its resolutions.” said Anthony Eden, “we shall be well rewarded.” Privately, some of the U.N.’s presumed best friends were saying that unless it becomes really effective, it should quit; Britons, Frenchmen and Belgians were throwing rocks at precisely the time when the U.N. was trying to grow. Britain’s Lord Birkenhead grumbled that many who seek “refuge in the U.N. are suffering from nothing more complicated than cowardice.” In such a climate and in an hour of crisis. Dag Hammarskjold worked tirelessly, within the limits of his limited powers, to strengthen the U.N. It was not his style to promise sweeping settlements of the world’s problems. “But I do believe,” he says, “in the possibility of an orderly progress toward solutions, and that for me is enough as a source of optimism.” To ask more of the U.N., as it is presently constituted, is to ask too much.

*The Korean war, financed largely by the U.S., andfought largely by the U.S and the South Koreans, involved the U.N.’sblue flag only because the Soviets had stupidly absented themselves from theU.N., and could not use their veto.*Albania, Austria, Bulgaria, Cambodia, Ceylon, Finland, Hungary,Italy, Ireland, Jordan, Laos, Lybia, Nepal, Portugal, Romania, Spain.*Canada, Colombia. Denmark, Finland, India, Norway, Sweden and Yugoslavia.

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