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With the deployment of the first fully-fledged United Nations peacekeeping force, UNEF, in the Sinai, Dag Hammarskjöld and Lester Pearson of Canada author the concept of peacekeeping as the world was to know it for decades to come.

1956 marked the beginning of a watershed period in the uses of international organization.

The Secretary-General served as constitutional innovator and chief negotiator and was entrusted with executive responsibilities of unprecedented scope. It began with his cease-fire mission to the Middle East and continued through the dispute over the nationalization of the Suez Canal, the surprise attack on Egypt mounted by Israel, France and the United Kingdom, and the creation of the United Nations Emergency Force (UNEF).

In January 1956, the Secretary-General left on an extended trip to the Middle East and Asia, neither of which he had visited previously. At the end of his visit to the Middle East, he spoke at length of his private meetings with Prime Minister Nasser of Egypt and Prime Minister Ben-Gurion of Israel.

"The visits have been of great value to me. They have enabled me to meet the leading personalities in their own national settings, to give my undivided attention to their observations and comments on the various facets of the situation, and to have profitable exchanges of views based on the desire for peace and tranquillity, which we fully share. I have also been able to gain first-hand knowledge of the important humanitarian work of UNRWA and after seeing the plight of the refugees to realize the urgent challenge that has still to be met."

Although internationally there were dire predictions, Mr. Hammarskjöld perceived additional realities that he thought might provide a foothold for a limited but confidence-building turn for the better. He saw the proper role of the UN to be quietly helpful to both sides as a friendly third party in an effort to keep the tensions of a then intractable conflict within bounds, and to seek at every turn to find the greatest common denominator in the positions of the two sides.

He considered proposals for an outside military response to be wrong in principle and folly in practice. He did not believe the United Nations should attempt to impose solutions and he deplored talk of great-power intervention from either side in the cold war. Because both Israel and the Arabs agreed with him on that, he thought they might recognize that a restoration of the armistice regime, which would end the present state of partial belligerency, was a better and safer course than the continuing drift toward war. 

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When he arrived in India, he addressed the opening of the 12th Session of the Economic Commission for Asia and the Far East (ECAFE) whose membership had just tripled to 12. Mandated by resolution 560 (XIX) of the Economic and Social Council [French| Russian| Spanish], Mr. Hammarskjöld wanted to initiate efforts to accelerate industrialization and increase the rates of productivity in economically underdeveloped countries. While initially it would be undertaken by the United Nations as a whole, he envisaged a joint enterprise with the specialized agencies and the Technical Assistance Program. 

The following day, 3 February, Mr. Hammarskjöld addressed the Indian Council of World Affairs. His speech, "The United Nations - Its Ideology and Activities" was considered remarkable, not only for the content but also because it was mostly extemporaneous. It was subsequently published two months later as a pamphlet by the UN Department of Public Information.

When he returned from his trip, the Secretary-General held a press conference, on 27 February. He called his trip "a very great emotional experience" and discussed in particular the Middle East and the refugee problem.

In March, at a flag-raising ceremony for sixteen newly-admitted members, Mr. Hammarskjöld welcomed this evolution and saw in it an opportunity to thaw fixed patterns which existed for years and move closer to universality:
"The flags symbolize this uniting force - this affirmation of belief that there can be brotherhood in diversity, that constructive cooperation for the common benefit is an attainable alternative to war. As they fly side by side in front of the buildings, may they be a constant reminder - alike in times of disappointment and of achievement - of this engagement to which men of goodwill of every nation, race, and culture are called upon to give their faith, their courage, and their loyalty."

In April, a revised draft statute for the relationship of the IAEA with the United Nations had been unanimously approved in Washington by the twelve sponsoring governments, and was submitted to the General Assembly together with a study [French| Russian| Spanish] by the Secretary-General.

On 4 April, the Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution, [Chinese| French| Russian| Spanish] requesting the Secretary-General urgently to survey the state of compliance with the Armistice Agreements and to arrange with Israel and the Arab states for measures to reduce tensions along the armistice lines. He hoped that the knowledge and understanding gained during his visits to the region just a few months prior would prove valuable in his quest for a cease-fire agreement.

The resolution gave the Secretary-General strong diplomatic support for his mission but he also used the opportunity to place on record with the Security Council his views that the assignment was one that he could, under the Charter, have assumed on his own responsibility. Further, he asked for cooperation from the governments with which he would be negotiating as well as from those outside the region, requesting "restraint in word and action".

After a series of talks and negotiations with Israel, Egypt, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan, the Secretary-General secured a commitment to a cease-fire, with reserves only for retaliation and self-defence.

The cease-fire remained in effect; yet not one of the unilateral moves toward restoring full compliance with the armistice agreements, for which Mr. Hammarskjöld had hoped, had been undertaken. Concurrently, the United States, displeased with recent actions by Egypt, abruptly withdrew its offer for financial assistance for the Aswan Dam project. This triggered the subsequent withdrawal of the International Bank and Britain and then, finally, Nasser's announcement that he was nationalizing the United Suez Canal Company.

The British and French governments reacted by openly threatening to use force unless negotiations led promptly to the return of the Canal to international management. In early August, they began the joint planning and building of their forces in the Eastern Mediterranean that would be required for an attack on Egypt if talks failed. At the same time, the Franco-British attitude in the Suez Canal dispute affected Israeli policy toward its Arab neighbours and the armistice regime. Thus, in the middle of August, Israel resumed organized military reprisals for Arab incursions, acts of sabotage or shooting across the line. Measures to strengthen the UN deterrent capacity along the armistice lines were evaded or refused. Instead further restrictions on the freedom of movement of the UN observers were progressively imposed. As a result, pressure was increased on the Secretary General to bring a successful conclusion to negotiations on the Suez Canal dispute.

On 20 May, the Secretary-General gave an address at the New York University Hall of Fame Ceremony on the Unveiling of the Bust and Tablet for Woodrow Wilson. In this address, he discussed the League of Nations and noted:
"I have no doubt that 40 years from now we shall be engaged in the same pursuit. How could we expect otherwise? World organization is still a new adventure in human history."

In the introduction to his annual report [Chinese| French| Russian| Spanish] to the General Assembly, Mr. Hammarskjöld reiterated his belief that Member governments had tended to emphasize the role of public debate of issues at the expense of the resources for reconciliation that the United Nations could also provide. He wrote:
"The tensions of our time are too severe to permit us to neglect these resources and should impel us to use the United Nations in such a manner as to widen the possibilities for constructive negotiation".

Thus, he devoted all his powers of persuasion and private diplomatic skills toward turning the Council's consideration of the Suez Canal dispute from confrontation to constructive negotiations. Through a series of private Council meetings and talks in the Secretary-General's office, agreement was reached on six principles or requirements as the basis for a peaceful settlement. These principles were approved unanimously by the Security Council on 13 October and there also was progress in preliminary discussion of the concrete arrangements that might be negotiated to meet the requirements.

Unfortunately, just at the time the Secretary-General was making progress with Egypt, Israel, in collusion with Britain and France, launched an invasion of Egypt on 29 October. Immediately after, Britain and France delivered a 12-hour ultimatum to Egypt and Israel, demanding evacuation of the Suez Canal Zone in favour of a Franco-British force with the supposed mission of "protecting" the Canal and "separating" the combatants. When Egypt rejected the ultimatum, British and French planes launched an air attack on Egypt.

The Secretary-General was shocked by these violations of Charter obligations and treaty commitments. His shock was made more severe because it came just after negotiations, in which he played the central role, had seemed to be opening the way to a fair and peaceful settlement of the Canal question. On October 31st, he presented the members of the Security Council with a declaration of conscience that also posed a question of confidence. 

Additionally, he defined the principles under which he could continue to serve as Secretary-General. If they disagreed with his view of his duties he clearly implied he was ready to resign.
"The principles of the Charter are, by far, greater than the Organization in which they are embodied, and the aims which they are to safeguard are holier than the policies of any single nation or people. As a servant of the Organization, the Secretary-General has the duty to maintain his usefulness by avoiding public stands on conflicts between Member Nations unless and until such an action might help to resolve the conflict. However, the discretion and impartiality required of the Secretary-General may not degenerate into a policy of expedience. He must also be a servant of the principles of the Charter, and its aims must ultimately determine what for him is right and wrong. For that he must stand. A Secretary-General cannot serve on any other assumption than that within the necessary limits of human frailty and honest differences of opinion - all Member nations honour their pledge to observe all Articles of the Charter.... Were the Members to consider that another view of the duties of the Secretary-General than the one here stated would better serve the interests of the Organization, it is their obvious right to act accordingly".
[Security Council Official Records, Eleventh Year, 751st Meeting, October 31, 1956 - [Chinese| French| Russian| Spanish]

On 1 November, the General Assembly called an emergency session and passed a resolution (A/3256) [Chinese| French| Russian| Spanish] urging an immediate cease-fire, troop withdrawal and a reopening of the Suez Canal. With few exceptions, member states had turned against Britain and France. Canada, however, was in a unique situation with ties to both Britain and the United States. Foreign Minister Lester Pearson had worked tirelessly over the years to strengthen the influence of the United Nations. When he arrived at the emergency session, he was determined to work for a United Nations response of a kind that might bring a prompt end to the military intervention by opening to the offenders an acceptable line of retreat from their mistaken course. Since the United Nations action in Korea, he had proposed providing the UN with a police and peace-keeping capacity, large enough to keep the borders at peace while a political settlement was being worked out.

The British government saw in Pearson's proposal a way to salvage an enterprise threatened by disaster. Thus on 2 November, the United Kingdom and France issued a joint statement declaring that they would accept a ceasefire if the Egyptian and the Israel governments agree to accept a United Nations force to keep the peace (A/3267) [Chinese| French| Russian| Spanish]

Mr. Hammarskjöld had initial doubts about attempting to create suddenly and out of nothing a United Nations force. However, as he explored the constitutional, political, and practical aspects in talks with Lester Pearson, U. S. Ambassador Lodge and others, he soon decided that the idea was not only feasible, but perhaps an essential key to a solution of the crisis and that a plan could be worked out that would win the necessary degree of support in the Assembly.

It was imperative that the mission of the force would be divorced from political objectives and would serve solely the Assembly's call for cease-fire and withdrawal. Thus, in General Assembly resolution 998 (ES-1)  [Chinese| French|Russian| Spanish], it was requested that the Secretary General submit to it within forty-eight hours a plan for the setting up, with the consent of the nations concerned, of an emergency international UN force to secure and supervise the cessation of hostilities in accordance with all the terms of resolution 997 (ES-1) of November 2, 1956  [Chinese| French|Russian| Spanish]. 

By resolutions 1000 and 1001 (ES-I),  [Chinese| French|Russian|Spanish],  respectively of 5 and 7 November, the Assembly established the United Nations Emergency Force (UNEF) to secure and supervise the cessation of the hostilities and endorsed plans submitted by the Secretary-General for the United Nations Emergency Force, including guiding principles for its  organization and functioning  [French| Spanish]. It was to act in accordance with all the terms of General Assembly resolution 997(ES-I) of 2 November  [Chinese| French| Russian| Spanish], which, inter alia, called for: a cease-fire and the halting of the movement of military forces and arms into the area; the withdrawal of all forces behind the armistice lines and the observance of the armistice agreements; and, upon a cease-fire being effective, the reopening of the Suez Canal and the restoration of secure freedom of navigation.

The Secretary-General proposed in a report, dated 20 November 1956, [Chinese|French|Russian| Spanish]  that the General Assembly should authorize him to negotiate agreements for clearing operations of the Suez Canal. The Assembly, on 24 November, adopted by 65 votes to 0, 9 abstentions, a  resolution [Chinese|French|Russian|Spanish]  in which it noted with approval the progress so far made by the Secretary-General in arrangements for clearing the Suez Canal and authorized him to proceed with the exploration of practical arrangements and the negotiation of agreements, so that the clearing operations might be speedily and effectively undertaken.

That the Secretary-General was able to meet the 48-hour deadline and submit a plan for a United Nations force - and with no applicable precedents to work from - was remarkable. Besides Pearson and Lodge, the Secretary General received invaluable help from Arthur Lall of India, Hans Engen of Norway, and Francisco Urrutia of Colombia. However, Hammarskjöld was the "helmsman who steered the enterprise safely and rapidly among the many dangerous reefs upon which it could so easily have been wrecked". Though composed of soldiers it would be a non-fighting force, yet more than an observer corps. Its function would not be to impose a cessation of hostilities and withdrawal of forces but to supervise and to help secure by its presence the fulfilment of negotiated agreements to these ends.

An interesting innovation was the command structure of UNEF. Hammarskjöld proposed that the Assembly itself appoint the commander - General Burns, then the UNTSO chief of staff. The chain of command would thus extend from the General Assembly to the Secretary-General to UNEF's commander instead of being delegated to one or more national governments.  It would make UNEF the first force in history under a command with purely international responsibilities.

On November 7, the Assembly adopted the Secretary-General's report in all aspects. Just 8 days later the first advance units flew into Egypt. To accomplish so much so quickly required not only a dazzling succession of improvised arrangements for UNEF’s recruitment, assembly, transports, and supply, but difficult and delicate negotiations with the Egyptian government, whose consent was required for the entry and deployment of UNEF on its soil. By mid-December, UNEF's strength in men was over 4,000 and the evacuation of British and French troops was complete on December 21. On 10 December, on the inauguration by UN Radio of special programmes for the men serving in UNEF, the Secretary-General recorded a message.

Soviet military intervention in Hungary coincided with the military intervention in Egypt by Britain, France and Israel. A second emergency session was convened on November 4, to deal with the question. When news arrived that there was a new and massive attack by Soviet troops and tanks in Budapest, the Security Council reassembled as soon as the Assembly adjourned, shortly after three o'clock in the morning of November 4. By the afternoon, it had adopted a resolution calling on the Soviet Union to withdraw its forces from Hungary.

For the next two months, the two issues confronted delegates and Secretariat alike simultaneously. In contrast to the Middle East, attempts by the UN to bring about a Soviet withdrawal were ineffective. Without any expectation of compliance, the General Assembly called upon the Soviet Union to withdraw "forthwith", called upon the Hungarian government to admit UN observers to check on compliance, and called for free elections under UN auspices to establish a new government.

The sixty days from 2 November to 31 December 1956 were some of the most innovative and fruitful two months in the history of the United Nations: the attack on Egypt was halted; the United Nations Emergency Force (UNEF) was created and began its deployment; the British and French withdrew their troops; and the Suez Canal clearance operation was organized and launched. The constitutional, political, and administrative achievements crowded into this very short time were all the more remarkable because they were brought about when the simultaneous Hungarian crisis was demanding much time and attention from delegates and Secretariat alike.

Unless otherwise noted, the information included in these pages is based on the "Public Papers of the Secretaries-General of the United Nations: Volumes II-V: Dag Hammarskjöld", selected and edited with commentary by Andrew W.Cordier and Wilder Foote, Columbia University Press, 1974-1975. 
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