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Role of Armed Forces in Maintenance of Peace with Special Reference to United Nations Charter*
by Major (Dr.) Rajiv Vikram Singh Gautam**

Cite as : (2004) MAY PL (Jour) 13

The last century has witnessed many changes in the international law with regard to the use of armed forces. The lust for power creates social disorder and becomes the cause of conflict in every society, irrespective of time, age and place. The two World Wars brought mass destruction and misery to mankind in the world. The sad experience of the First World War led to creation of the League of Nations in 1919, but it failed in its objective and resulted in another war (Second World War). The lessons learnt from the Second World War compelled the international community to create the United Nations Organisation for global peace and security. The miseries of wars had developed a feeling of insecurity in mankind. A feeling of hatred for wars had cropped up in the hearts of everyone. They also aroused the feeling in the world community that international disputes should be resolved firstly by peaceful methods, secondly, by pacific settlement of disputes and lastly by coercive methods i.e. use of force.1

Prior to creation of the League of Nations, the international law with regard to use of armed forces was a decentralised system. Each State was at liberty to decide its own matters and act for itself. Thus, it was a judge of its own cause. The principles regulating the use of armed forces were known to international community, prior to establishment of “League of Nations”. However, there was no organisation to regulate the use of armed forces in international disputes. As such, the law relating to use of armed forces was weak, though the concept of collective security was accepted by the world community. According to Prof. Dr V.G. Goswami, the concept of security has been of fundamental importance for the existence of the world community. It has become the talk of the day that either the people of the world may coexist or may not exist at all. Whenever there were occasions to disturb the balance of international peace and security, the people of the world organised themselves to create instrumentalities to deal with the problem of insecurity. The League of Nations and the United Nations are the obvious examples.2

Prior to the establishment of the League of Nations and the United Nations, various jurists, moralists and social reformers of the world, based on established and recognised principles of international law, tried to distinguish bellum justum and bellum injustum. Bellum justum and bellum injustum meant the lawful and unlawful use of force respectively. But this distinction had never become a part of international law3. Each State was at liberty to decide whether the war was for just cause or not. Hence, the necessity for international organisation emerged out. The term “international organisation” refers to nations united for achievement of a purpose, and to the institutions and methods they have created to assure the necessary collaboration. Sometimes, such organisations collaborate by trial and error methods also. At other times, it is consciously created, as with the League of Nations and the United Nations.4 These organisations were basically established with the aim to coordinate as well as stimulate action for international peace and security5. Thus, international organisations are means to achieve the aims of the international community at large. The functions of international organisations are enumerated in the United Nations Charter:

2. (3) All members shall settle their international disputes by peaceful means in such a manner that international peace and security, and justice, are not endangered.

2. (4) All members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any State, or in any other manner inconsistent with the purposes of the United Nations.

2. (5) All members shall give the United Nations every assistance in any action it takes in accordance with the present Charter, and shall refrain from giving assistance to any State against which the United Nations is taking preventive or enforcement action.6

The above norms are for member countries to achieve the long-cherished aims and objectives for which the international organisations are established. These are the guidelines for maintaining international peace and security. By becoming a member State of the United Nations no member State compromises its sovereignty. The Charter of the United Nations specifies that nothing contained therein authorises the United Nations to intervene in matters, which are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any State.7 The only circumstance to intervene in the internal affairs of any State arises, if the cause of internal disturbance becomes the matter of concern for the international community.

The lessons learnt from the two World Wars brought certain improvement in the Charter of the United Nations. The welfare of the world population became the prime concern of the United Nations. Hence, one of the main reasons for establishing the United Nations was to save the coming generations from the scourge of war. The whole world was considered as a family.8 The United Nations was established after learning the lessons from failure of the League of Nations. The vital difference between the Charter and the Covenant lies in the consequences of a failure to settle a dispute peacefully. In the League of Nations, the member States after adopting peaceful means of settlement could legitimately resort to war in order to resolve the dispute with might. The Charter of the United Nations does not permit war in any circumstances other than self-defence. The Charter has empowered the Security Council to take action against the violation of peace. We have come a long way, but till date the international jurists have failed in their attempt to distinguish justiciable and non-justiciable dispute.

After the First World War, the Covenant had suggested disarmament as one of the main steps for maintenance of peace. For achieving this information every nation’s scale of armament and armament potentiality was required to be ascertained. However, due to disturbed political situations, the desired results could not be achieved. Drawing strength from the past experiences, a balanced approach was attempted in the Charter of the United Nations, to regulate armament. It was carried out with the aim of providing “teeth” to the organisation and preventing the waste of money and resources in the arms race. In spite of repeated attempts, till date, no concrete proposal has, however, been placed before the Security Council for consideration and approval.

It is not true that all nations of the world believe in international peace and security. However, every nation may like to have peace and security for itself. There are instances, when world powers actuated by their self-interest may not agree for collective security system. The recent attack on Iraq by USA and UK on the plea of self-defence signifies this. The other world powers did not support this war in the Security Council. In other words, the permanent members could not agree to decide whether or not “threat to the international peace and security” existed in Iraq. Under the League of Nations, unanimity of members was incumbent to decide whether or not the threat to international peace and security existed. Under the United Nations, only the majority, including the five permanent members, is required to decide the issue. Sometimes, this affects the morale of peacekeeping forces.

Under the League of Nations members were bound to apply economic sanctions, if another member declared war. They were not bound to impose military sanctions though. Under the United Nations, the Security Council has discretion to decide the kind of sanction, but this is not foolproof. Hence, the existence of regional organisations is justified under the United Nations system. The regional organisations also conform to the principles and purposes of the United Nations. Peaceful change, the pacific settlement of disputes and collective security are the three pillars of the United Nations Organisation for the maintenance of global peace and security. These pillars are strengthened by the United Nations Peacekeeping Forces. The said forces are deployed by the United Nations to maintain and restore peace in disturbed areas. They are also required in the areas of conflict among the States as well as in the internal conflicts in individual States. The role of peacekeeping forces is basically of a third party to facilitate the preparation of ground for settlement of contentious issues, which may become cause of international conflicts. Sometimes, it becomes difficult to have peaceful settlement of issues. In such situations, the United Nations Peacekeeping Forces play significant role in defusing the tension. However, there are certain limitations in the deployment of forces. One of the important conditions for deployment of forces is the consent of both the parties engaged in armed conflicts or in a situation, which may disturb international peace and security. The forces may also be engaged to de-escalate the tension between the warring nations/parties.

The peacekeeping forces work under the command and control of the United Nations. They are generally deployed on the basis of resolutions of the Security Council. However, on certain occasions, the initiative has also been taken by the General Assembly for deployment of peacekeeping forces. The Secretary General and the Secretariat have operational control over the peacekeeping forces. Generally there are two types of peacekeeping operations:

(i) unarmed observer groups;

(ii) light-armed military forces.

The role of unarmed observer groups is evident from the name itself. These groups do not use weapons in the performance of their duties. The observer group is responsible for collecting information for the United Nations. For instance, they may be required to report whether or not both the parties are adhering to armistice agreement. Sometimes, unarmed observer groups are supposed to report about the conditions prevailing in the area. On the contrary, the light-armed military forces are allowed to use their weapons for self-defence. The role of peacekeeping forces may also be to keep apart the warring parties and to maintain or restore peace and security. The peacekeeping operations create atmosphere for peaceful and pacific mode of settlement of disputes.

The maintenance of peace is as difficult as fighting the war. Peace as well as war requires idealism, self-sacrifice and faith in the United Nations institutions. Sometimes, the individual State has to sacrifice its self-interest for the larger interest of the world community. The United Nations is an instrumentality to take care of this important issue for the global peace and security.

The United Nations plays no role of super government of member States. Nor has it the resources to do so. The concept of collective security is incorporated in the United Nation Charter. Creation of the United Nations Peacekeeping Forces is possible by pooling the resources of member States. The United Nations has become an international forum for peacekeeping and security of each human being throughout the world. The number of member States of the United Nations Organisation indicates that the faith of world communities is gradually increasing in this august organisation. To date, there are 191 member States on the rolls of the United Nations.9

The UN Charter lays down four purposes of the United Nations, namely, maintenance of international peace and security; development of friendly relations among nations; solving international problems of economic, social, cultural or humanitarian character; and harmonising the actions of nations in the attainment of these ends. Peacekeeping operations are carried out by the United Nations Secretariat, headed by the Secretary General in accordance with the above objectives.

Security operations are broadly divided into three categories: peacekeeping, peace enforcement and stabilisation. Till the recent past these operations, which are conducted by the United Nations forces, were based on experiences of over five decades. The modus operandi was that a ceasefire was first negotiated with nations at war and thereafter the United Nations forces were deployed to monitor the maintenance of ceasefire. The third stage was to provide their good offices to the belligerent nations to resolve the problem by peaceful means.

Study of the practice of past peacekeeping operations reveals that in a large number of missions, only unarmed military observers were deployed. The statistical data of the peacekeeping operations of the United Nations and the number of troops involved in various operations provide the growing significance of the subject-matter. In 1988 the United Nations was actively involved in eleven disputes; in 1992, the number was thirteen; in early 1995, the number was thirty. In 1988, the United Nations had five peacekeeping operations deployed; in 1992, the number was eleven; in early 1993, the number was sixteen. Over the same period, the number of military personnel deployed had risen from 9570 to 62,000. The number of civilian police deployed had risen from 35 to 1169. The number of countries contributing military and police had risen from 26 to 74, and the United Nations budget for peacekeeping has risen from $ 230 million to $ 3.6 billion.10

There is, however, a qualitative change in the peacekeeping operation. Now the conflict often takes place within States and not between two or more States. Instead of police and paramilitary forces, the conflict is now fought by the army. Due to collapse of State institutions, the civilians are very often victims. Many of the recent operations, including the Second Iraq War, which started on 20-3-2003, peacekeeping operations involved demobilisation of troops or armed paramilitary forces, promotion of national reconciliation, restoration of effective Governments, monitoring of elections etc.

Peacekeepers are sometimes deployed in dangerous areas, or in areas where there is no peace to keep and are required to provide security and stability. The situation on the ground can change any minute and military personnel have to be ready to handle many kinds of situations. The requirement is now that of streamlining the training of peacekeepers to make them more effective and result-oriented.

Past experiences indicate that there is always the problem of finding troops for an operation within a reasonable time-frame. Unless some institutionalised arrangements are put in place by the United Nations this problem is likely to haunt the UN. The old method of requesting, earmarking and moving contingents to a mission area needs change as the same is time-consuming. In the case of former Yugoslavia, the contingents took three months’ time to reach the operational area. The Rwanda experience is more bitter. It is true that the Second Iraq War did not have the sanction of UN. Resolution 1483 passed subsequently confers legitimacy to stabilisation operations in Iraq.11 However, considerable time has been taken by the Government of India to decide the issue of sending Indian troops to Iraq. Thus, the United Nations peacekeeping operations have become expensive and more complex. Hence, taking into consideration the fast-changing scenario, it is time that the UN maintained or ensured availability of troops with appropriate equipments; and the means to transport them to the mission area, soon after the Security Council takes a decision on deployment. Steps should be taken to fill in the gaps and eliminate wasteful habits and procedure. In order to improve the system in 1997 the first set of reforms were introduced by the Secretary General of the United Nations, Mr Kofi Annan. The recommendations of the Brahmini Report, a report which addresses some of the most urgent needs of the Peacekeeping Department has been accepted. The report pointed out that predeployment training is one of the most important factors in ensuring that military personnel are ready to tackle the obstacles they face on the ground. It has been suggested that it is not enough for members of the Security Council to pass resolutions to dispatch troops. Before the resolution the Security Council must first make sure that the troops are available. By the implementation of the Brahmini Report the United Nations will be able to resolve some of these long-outstanding issues.12

To streamline coordination strength, cohesion and ensure strategic coherence and direction in the work of organisation, the Secretary General has established a senior management group, which meets under his Chairmanship at regular intervals, to coordinate various activities of the United Nations in the areas of peace and security, economic and social affairs, development, cooperation and humanitarian affairs.13 The Security Council has now been working better with the above innovative means for ensuring effective functioning transparency in its role.

With regard to peacekeeping operation, action has already been initiated to seek “standby” forces for deployment by the United Nations. But some of the drawbacks of the system still persist. The same are as under:

(i) Before the commencement of operation, any member State may decide to withdraw their troops.

(ii) They can give the United Nations notice that they wish to withdraw their forces.

The sending of troops in a mission area on command of the Security Council is purely voluntary action. As such, some time a situation may come, when the United Nations may terminate the operation, because of unilateral decision of member States to withdraw their forces. Sometimes the forces are withdrawn due to financial constraints. Sometimes, it may be due to the inability of the United Nations to pay the dues in time due to lack of financial resources. This situation has made many a State not to send their troops for peacekeeping operations.

There should not be any interference from the United Nations with the internal affairs of a nation on the premise that what is happening there, could endanger international peace and security. This is a matter of perception, and the track record of many of the world powers, who have tried to pursue their goals, on the basis of perception, has not always been blemish-free. For instance, USA’s attack on Iraq, supported materially by the UK cannot be claimed to be correct in law. Unanimity was absent amongst the member States of UN for launching the war on Iraq. Prior to declaration of war, US and Britain prepared two draft resolutions to get the Security Council’s sanction. Russia, France and Germany set explicitly in a joint statement that “in case of failure by Iraq to comply with its obligation” the fact would be reported to the Security Council and “it will be then for the Council to decide attack on Iraq, on basis of that report”. On 11-11-2002, US Secretary of State, Mr Collin Powell, said that if the Security Council failed to act on Iraq’s breaches, “then the US certainly, as does any other member of the Security Council, retains its ability to act in self-defence”.14

Subsequently, the USA and UK started their unilateral attack on 20-3-2003. It is difficult to call it a war. War is waged amongst equals. No arms alleged to be in possession of Iraq i.e. chemical, biological or nuclear were used by Iraq. The majority of public opinion of different countries of the world was not in favour of war. Yet Iraq had to face the destructive fire power of the USA and UK. The war was totally unbalanced and an unequal engagement.15 After the war India was requested by USA to provide troops for the stabilisation operation. India took the stand that it would consider the request provided there was specific UN mandate. Consultations are now on in the Security Council to secure a new resolution, which will give the UN a greater role in stabilisation and reconstruction of Iraq. Reports from Moscow, Paris and Berlin indicate that if the new Security Council resolution would extend a satisfactory mandate, Russia, France and Germany might even consider contributing their troops for Iraq’s stabilisation. In international relations, mature nations attempt to improve a given situation and secure their own national interests instead of harping on the wrongdoings of great powers which can neither be rectified nor punished. Now the task before the international community is to stabilise the situation in Iraq, restore sovereignty to the Iraqi people as early as possible and help in its reconstruction. The above facts prove that the concept of collective security on which the United Nations is based is inherently flawed. States judge aggression in the light of their national interest.

According to United Nations Charter, the member countries of the world community are committed to use peaceful means to resolve disputes between countries. Armed intervention is the last option and the decision must precede adequate deliberations and consensus. The war has brought disrepute for USA. The net result is that the efforts to secure the strengthening of the United Nations system to resolve international disputes have failed. This has paved the way for some rethinking about the desirable conduct of sovereign States.

The United Nations peacekeepers should never be allowed to be threatened, bullied or targeted. Where government authority fails and a civil-war-like situation prevails, the following must be noted:

(a) Member States of the Security Council should not allow themselves to become victim of media pressure in deciding on deployment of the United Nations forces.

(b) Every effort must be made to negotiate with the leaders of warring parties, and if necessary the United Nations forces be deployed.

(c) The United Nations forces must have more power than traditional peacekeeping forces. The force should be in a position to carry out the mandate of the Security Council.

The present situation is indeed not conducive to maintain peace. To improve it the following suggestions are made:

Security Council

(i) Composition.—It is the primary responsibility of the Security Council to maintain global peace. Its decision should reflect the will of the international community. Hence, the number of permanent members should be according to present-day reality. It is suggested that Brazil, Egypt, Germany, India, Japan and Nigeria should be included as permanent members of the Security Council. This would reflect the larger public opinion of member countries of the United Nations.

(ii) The veto power.—(a) Ideally, the veto power of permanent members should be eliminated. Alternatively, it should be extended to new permanent members as well.

(b) The veto power of permanent members should be restricted to specific issues involving the use of sanctions and the use of military force. Similarly, the use of veto power by a permanent member on any issue in which it is itself an involved party should be prohibited.

(iii) A multinational United Nations force.—As stated above, presently several months’ time is needed to send forces for United Nations peacekeeping and peacemaking operations. A small mobile force should be readily available with the United Nations Secretary General. Such a force should be raised from volunteers directly recruited by the United Nations and maintained at its own expense at strategic locations.

The Security Council and General Assembly should take measures to enhance the rapid-reaction capacity of the United Nations in peace and security matters. In addition to this, each permanent member should maintain a minimum brigade of troops with standard arms and equipment at its own cost to be placed on demand at the disposal of the Security Council. The Military Staff Committee referred to in Article 47 of the Charter should consist of Chief of Staff of all the permanent members of the Security Council. It should prepare plan for the establishment of a system for the regulation of armament as required under Article 26 of the United Nations Charter.

The United Nations should raise and maintain a Consolidated Fund for peacekeeping operations, so that no peacekeeping operation is delayed for financial reasons. The funds may be raised by issuing United Nations peace stamp of a certain denomination valid for obligatory use in all member States of the United Nations.

(iv) Disarmament verification machinery.—On behalf of the world community, the Security Council should establish a permanent verification machinery from the financial and technical resources of permanent members to monitor the conventional and nuclear disarmament.

(B) The General Assembly

(i) General Assembly Commission for the prevention and resolution of conflicts.—Most conflict situations arise from deep-rooted, historical, political or socio-economic causes, which can be anticipated and dealt with without resort to force. The United Nations should keep a track on potentially conflict-prone situations. Timely action should be taken to prevent, contain or resolve a dispute before the armed conflict.

The General Assembly should create, under Article 7(2) read with Article 22 of the United Nations Charter, a Commission comprising of seven eminent persons to be elected directly by the General Assembly for a three-year term. Its function should be to assist the General Assembly in discharge of its security-related functions in Article 14 of the Charter.

(ii) United Nations Parliamentary Assembly.—For democratising the United Nations, a United Nations Parliamentary Assembly should be constituted to discuss all matters in the United Nations agenda. The General Assembly can create United Nations Parliamentary Assembly as its subsidiary under Article 7(2) read with Article 22. The representatives of the Assembly should be elected from national Parliaments, with due consideration given to representatives of Government# and opposition parties. The idea is to increase public participation in the work of organisation. The proposed Assembly can meet once in a year for a few weeks’ open discussion on matters mentioned in the United Nations agenda. The delegations from the national Parliaments may report the proceedings of the United Nations Parliamentary Assembly to their respective national Parliaments.

(C) Measures for the progress of democracy and human rights

The promotion of democratic principles and the protection of human rights are major responsibilities of the United Nations. Recently a few more rights like prohibition of dumping toxic wastes and warning against the dangers of genetic engineering etc., have also been added. Some of these rights have been curtailed on the ground of non-interference in the internal affairs of States. This should be resolved by the United Nations for the welfare of the world community.

(D) United Nations finances and accounting

Limited finances are available to the United Nations. The funds of the United Nations may be improved for effective peacekeeping operation through some of the following sources:

(i) International taxation on arms sales, sale of hydrocarbon fuels, airlines/shipping ticket and seabed mining.

(ii) Sale of United Nations peace stamp.

(E) Regional agencies

(i) Some steps should be taken to integrate existing regional pacts more effectively into peacekeeping machinery of the United Nations. A number of suggestions to this end have been made both by the United Nations Collective Measures Committee and the Commission to study the organisation of peace. Most of them, such as the proposal that the armed forces created in connection with collective defence pacts should also be made available to the United Nations in case of aggression anywhere, are clearly designed to extend the control of the United Nations over the enforcement activities of regional organisation.

(ii) There should be direct United Nations control over the regional agencies in order to create balance the United Nations and regional peacekeeping operation. Until the control of the United Nations is extended over the regional agencies, more and more States may feel compelled to pursue their national interests increasingly outside the United Nations system either by a greater use of regional machinery or through bilateral action of an objectionable kind.

It is pertinent to mention here that the suggestions made above in paragraphs (A) to (D) are supported by the Rajiv Gandhi Foundation.16

The two reform packages for the United Nations introduced in 1997 and thereafter in 2002 by the Secretary General of the United Nations, Mr Kofi Annan, represents an effort to redesign and rededicate the organisation aspirations in its structure and its operations to bring about a world, where fear is changed to hope, want gives way to dignity, and apprehensions are turned into aspirations. The reforms currently undertaken by the Secretary General, Mr Kofi Annan will, it is hoped, take the United Nations a long way in achieving the long-cherished goal of peace and security in the world.

* It is an epitome of the thesis submitted for the award of LLD degree by the University of Lucknow, published as required under Ordinance 10 of the Lucknow University LLD Ordinances. Return to Text

** Chief Judicial Magistrate, Lalitpur (U.P.), India. ( Return to Text

1. Werner Levi, Fundamentals of World Organisation, 1950, p. 52. Return to Text

2. Prof. Dr V.G. Goswami, “Legality of Regional Organisations Under the System of Collective Security”, The Lucknow LJ, 1969, p. 111. Return to Text

3. J.L. Brierly, The Law of Nations, 6th Edn., p. 33. Return to Text

4. Werner Levi, Fundamentals of World Organisation, 1950, p. 3. Return to Text

5. Ibid., p. 4. Return to Text

6. Articles 2(3), (4) and (5) of the UN Charter. Return to Text

7. Werner Levi, Fundamentals of World Organisation, loc. cit., p. 32. Return to Text

8. Michael Pollard, United Nations, 1st Indian Edn., 1996, pp. 5-6. Return to Text

9. “A United Nations for our Times” by Prof. Ramesh Thakur, USI Journal, January-March 2003, p. 73. Return to Text

10. “United Nations Peacekeeping operations — A Perspective” by Lt. General Satish Nambiar, USI Journal, July- September 1995, p. 312. Return to Text

11. The Times of India, Lucknow, 16-6-2003, p. 8. Return to Text

12. Talk by His Excellency Mr Kofi Annan, UN Secretary General, USI Journal, January-March 2001, p. 7. Return to Text

13. “A United Nations for Our Times” by Professor Ramesh Thakur, USI Journal, January-March 2003, pp. 70-71. Return to Text

14. “United States v. Nations” by A.G. Noorani, Hindustan Times, Lucknow April 15, 2003, p. 6. Return to Text

15. “USA-UK’s Invasion of Iraq” by Kamla Prasad, Mainstream, Vol. XLI, No. 16, p. 10. Return to Text

16. World Focus, October, November, December, 1977, pp. 51-52. Return to Text

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