Wednesday, May 25

Sir Brian Urquhart’s Obituary | United Nations


Sir Brian Urquhart, who passed away at age .0., was best known as the chief architect Of t Withnited Nations peacekeeping activities. He was present at the birth Of t WithN and worked there continuously at the top-level for four decades, ensuring a reputation as the leading authority in the organization.

Urquhart participated in the founding Of t WithN in .945, having joined the preparatory commission in London that drafted t WithN charter, as an assistant to Sir Gladwyn Jebb, your executive secretary. Rather than enter the British diplomatic service, Urquhart chose to become an international civil servant in the emerging UN secretariat, wanting to give him his full loyalty.

When the first UN Secretary General, Trygve Lie, settled in New York in .946, Urquhart accompanied him as a personal assistant. For the next 40 years, Urquhart worked closely with successive secretaries-general, eventually becoming undersecretary-general for special political affairs in .974. In that capacity, he Often dealt first-hand with diplomatic efforts and maintenance operations. Of peace to end conflicts in crisis. -dominated areas, including the Congo, Cyprus, the Middle East, Angola and Namibia.

During a lifetime Of service in the political section Of t WithN secretariat, he never wavered from his faith in t WithN and his belief that in the pursuit Of conflict resolution there was no alternative to “collective internationalism.” He also acknowledged the shortcomings Of t WithN and Often came out as one Of its harshest critics. Nor did he sOften his criticism Of the lack Of support for the world body by some Of its core members.

The son Of Bertha (nee Rendall) and Murray Urquhart, he was born in Bridport, Dorset, and was raised by his mother after his parents’ marriage broke up. Brian’s education began as the only boy among 200 girls at the badminton school for girls in Bristol, where his mother lainbecome a teacher. The public school system subsequently took over: Urquhart won a fellowship to Westminster and went to Christ Church, Oxford, in .937. He enlisted in the British Army on the day World War II was declared and entered service in Algeria, Tunisia and Sicily. . In .945, he was the first Allied Officer to enter the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.

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The war, Urquhart said, taught him many lessons that he took with him to t WithN. Violence only generates more violence. Peacekeeping, he thought, “should not depend on military methods to achieve objectives and should view the operation as fundamentally political rather than military.” He radically opposed defeatist thinking: “At t WithN, a vast and extremely difficult undertaking, in my opinion, it is impossible to contemplate failure. You just have to make the organization work. The likely alternative should not be considered. “

Urquhart served under five very different UN Secretary Generals: Lie (.946-52), Dag Hammarskjöld (.953-6.), U Thant (.96.-7.), Kurt Waldheim (.972-8.), and Javier Pérez de Cuellar (.982- 9.). . He was outraged when it was learned after the end Of Waldheim’s term that he lainlied about his wartime activities and accused Waldheim Of having caused “immense damage not only to his country but to t WithN.”

During the Hammarskjöld period, Urquhart played a key role as Assistant Secretary-General Ralph Bunche’s chief assistant. Although they Often worked .7 hours a day, it was “by far the most rewarding experience” Of their life. Together they launched peacekeeping operations as a core responsibility Of t WithN, despite the fact that their letter contained no reference to such activity.

Urquhart lainforeshadowed peacekeeping in an article he wrote in .944, in which he suggested using soldiers to preserve the peace rather than make war. But it was only when Bunche was crafting the .949 Arab-Israeli armistice agreement that they understood the role that peacekeeping could play in creating such an agreement.

UN peacekeeping troops were first used in .956, after the invasion Of Suez, when they helped drive British, French, and Israeli forces out Of Egyptian territory. T WithN Emergency Force (UNEF) needed some marking to highlight its neutral presence and opted for blue, the color Of t WithN: since then, the phrase “blue berets” has become synonymous with peacekeeping forces from the ONU.

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Urquhart initially viewed them as soldiers with light weapons to assist in the conciliation process, without direct military involvement.

But such a low-key approach could hardly be sustained for long. The first challenge came in the Congo in .960. The country’s newly gained independence was threatened by secession from Katanga, chaos, and civil war. T WithN assembled a force Of 20,000 men to try to bring order.

Urquhart came out to supervise the operation and accepted that the Blue Berets lainto adopt a much more activist role than he lainenvisioned for the peacekeepers, if the territorial integrity Of the Congo was to be preserved. A few weeks after the fatal .96. Hammarskjöld plane crash, Urquhart was caught and beatJapaneseangese soldiers and lainto be rescued by Gurkha troops under the command Of t WithN.

With each subsequent crisis, Urquhart learned more and more clearly that effective peacekeeping required a fundamental overhaul by t WithN and its key organs, including the security council. He was also concerned about the fine line between safeguarding national sovereignty and intervention in defense Of human rights. The question Of whether UN peacekeepers should be involved in post-conflict “nation-building” was also increasingly being answered. Urquhart never lost his idealism and his conviction that t WithN would continue to be an irreplaceable tool in international Upontions.

Upon his retirement in .986, Urquhart was knighted. He chose to remain in t WithS, where, for more than a decade, he was an Academic-in-Residence in the Ford Foundation International Program and became a prolific writer Of articles and book reviews on all aspects Of t WithN. His insightful, but sharply critical and always constructive approach was best revealed in his autobiography, A Life in Peace and War (.987).

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Among other books, Urquhart published a biography Of Hammarskjöld in .972 and Ralph Bunche: An American Life (.993), about his former Urquhartue.

Urquhart is survived by his second wife, Sidney (née Howard), whom he married in .963, and their son and daughter; by two sons and a daughter from his first marriage, to Alfreda (née Huntingdon), which ended in divorce; and for .4 grandchildren and .0 great-grandchildren.

• Brian Edward Urquhart, diplomat, born February 28, .9.9; died on January 2, 202.

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