UN Peacekeeping in the Congo

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2007

32 Pages, Grade: A


Table of Contents


1. Introduction

2. Crisis in the Congo

3. Founding of the UN

4. UN Security Council & Secretariat

5. UN in the Congo

6. The United States’ Unilateral Action in the Congo

7. Cold War Implications on the Security Council

8. Conclusion



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1. Introduction

From the power vacuum in the wake of World War II stepped two new superpowers and a new world order of bipolarity. The war destroyed Europe, once a force on the international stage. The United States and the Soviet Union were left to compete against each other in all forms and arenas for sole dominance. Their decades-long struggle was nowhere more apparent than in the United Nations (UN). This international organization, designed to promote peace and provide a forum for state cooperation, became anything but, as the two superpowers vied in an all out struggle of power politics until the end of the Cold War. A prime example, and perhaps, as Dag Hammarskjöld, the UN Secretary-General from 1953 to 1961, argued, the most important UN peacekeeping operation of the Cold War was the UN intervention in the Congo, Organisation des Nations Unies au Congo (ONUC), that began in 1960. The Congolese crisis demonstrated that the Cold War cleavage was powerful enough to penetrate even the very international organization created to eliminate the influence of individual state interests; the clear East-West divide not only further escalated the internal Congolese conflict but also further strained US and Soviet relations in all aspects of the UN.

2. Crisis in the Congo

Belgium, after nearly fifty years of occupation, withdrew its armed forces from its African colony, the Congo, on June 30, 1960 and granted the territory independence. A Congolese outbreak of violence against the European inhabitants caused Belgium to order a hasty withdrawal prior to the original date set. However, it was ill-planned. The Congo had a diverse population of “13.8 million people belonging to more than 200 different tribes [who had] virtually no sense of national identity.”[1] Few thought of themselves as Congolese. So when the Belgians, the only source of “cohesion and coherence in the vast central African country,”[2] withdrew, the newly independent state was not prepared for the transfer of power to the Congolese leaders, President Joseph Kasavubu and Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba.

Within four days of decolonization, the Congo broke into conflict as the newly formed national army, the Armée Nationale Congolese (ANC), revolted against the remaining European officers. Meanwhile, taking advantage of the chaos, Moise Tshombe, the leader of the Katanga region, a province within the Congo, announced his territory’s secession from the newly independent state. In response to the downward turn of events, Belgium redeployed a number of its troops, primarily to protect the remaining European inhabitants with a secondary mission to restore order. The Congolese government, however, did not request Belgium’s intervention and, as will be examined later, this became an issue of conflict during the crisis. Despite this intervention, Kasavubu and Lumumba turned to the US for aid but were told all aid would be channeled through the UN. They then turned to the UN and pleaded for help in containing the uprising with military intervention. When they did not receive an immediate response from the international body, Kasavubu and Lumumba looked to the Soviet Union for direct aid, unaware that the UN had just authorized a major peacekeeping operation in the Congo.

Patrice Lumumba, the first Prime Minister after the Belgian decolonization, was an “impetuous, impatient, unpredictable, and clever demagogue”[3] who dominated the Congolese crisis until his death. Prior to the Congo’s independence, Lumumba led the Mouvement National Congolais (MNC) that eventually became the leading nationalist party in the country. As Belgium planned its decolonization, it asked Lumumba to form the first Congolese government.[4] With the outbreak of violence after Belgium withdrew, he simultaneously manipulated the UN and the Soviet Union to intervene in the Congo, ultimately choosing the USSR when he became “disaffected at the UN’s supposed Western bias.”[5] Nevertheless, as some US officials have conceded, he gave the Congo “its only semblance of leadership.”[6] But, because of Lumumba’s close ties with the USSR and inclination toward Communism, the US found supporting him too risky a venture. He would, as later examined, become the facilitator of East-West hostilities in the Congo.

Joseph Kasavubu, the first President post-Belgian occupation, won UN and US support during the crisis. He was an early leader in Congo’s independence movement, promoting a federal structure that would ensure his powerful ethnic group, the Bakongo, autonomy. Later, he became president of the cultural-political association, Alliance des Ba-Kongo (Abako). During the Congo’s first national elections in 1960, Lumumba outpolled Kasavubu, but because “neither side could form a parliamentary coalition…[they] formed an uneasy partnership.”[7] Their relationship would not last long, however, as Kasavubu grew increasingly more pro-Western and Lumumba pro-Soviet.

Tshombe, the leader of Katanga during the crisis, came from a privileged background. Related to the royal family of the Lunda people and the son of a successful Congolese businessman, Tshombe received his education from an American missionary school and eventually became involved in politics. In 1951, he was elected to the advisory provisional council of Katanga and in 1959, became the president of the Belgian-supported political group, CONAKAT.[8] Given Tshombe’s privileged background, he was reluctant to see Belgium and along with it, all Western influences, leave the Congo. Therefore, he announced Katanga’s secession to continue ties with the Western state.

The Congolese central government, however, so strongly opposed Katanga’s secession because of the province’s considerable significance. A sizeable fraction of the Congo’s population lived in Katanga and the province itself produced 60% of the country’s revenues.[9] The Congo could not afford to lose one of its richest natural resource regions. The central government also felt that the attempted secession was a Belgian and French plot to “subvert Congolese politics in an attempt to safeguard their neo-colonial commercial and industrial interests in the province.”[10] The clearly pro-Western Katanga’s defiance of the central government, “encouraged by Belgian officers…and by locally based western diplomats,”[11] went unchallenged by the UN at the beginning of ONUC’s operations. As will be explored later, ONUC met staunch resistance when it did finally attempt to enter Katanga.

Even before the UN took action on the Congolese issue, it was evident that the Soviet and American differences would find their way into the situation. On July 13, just a day after Kasavubu and Lumumba’s plea, the USSR warned the Security Council of “the grave responsibility borne by the leading circles of the Western powers for unleashing armed aggression in the Congo, and demanded that it should immediately be stopped.”[12] Nevertheless, Dag Hammarskjöld, in an unprecedented move by a Secretary-General, invoked the rights given him under Article 99 of the UN Charter and called an emergency Security Council meeting that same night to determine the UN’s course of action.

In a tenuous but successful meeting, the Security Council managed to pass Resolution 143, which established ONUC, a UN peacekeeping force, that called for Belgium to withdraw its troops, and authorized the Secretary-General to

Take the necessary steps, in consultation with the government of the Republic of Congo, to provide the government with such military assistance as might be necessary until, through that Government’s efforts with United Nations technical assistance, the forces might be able, in the opinion of the Government, to meet fully their tasks.[13]

ONUC’s forces would be comprised of member states’ troops but not those of the superpowers to avoid the American or Soviet influences on the operation. The meeting was not without strains, however. The Soviet Union denounced Belgium’s “armed aggression,” accused the US of collusion with colonialism, and threatened to abstain from voting on a Tunisian proposed draft resolution that was in competition with its own. Despite the hiccups along the way, both superpowers voted on the Tunisian resolution because, as John Stoessinger aptly stated,

It was in the national interest of the United States to interpose the authority of the United Nations between East and West and to prevent the Congo from becoming another battlefield in the Cold War; it was in the Soviet interest to speed the withdrawal of the Belgian forces and thus to play its self-appointed role as champion of anticolonialism.[14]

Temporarily, the two superpowers were still in consensus, although for very different reasons.

It is important to pause the overview of the Congolese crisis here and examine another critical actor. To fully understand the UN’s actions, the difficulty it faced in intervening in the Congo, and the overwhelming influence of Cold War politics in the situation, one must understand the history and structure of the international organization.

3. Founding of the UN

The concept of creating a world organization that would unite nations and prevent the possibility of World War III first emerged shortly after December 1941, when President Franklin Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill met at a ship-board meeting. From then, the idea developed through World War II; the world powers met in a series of meetings beginning with the Tehran Conference in 1943, which was succeeded by the Dumbarton Oaks Conference near Washington, D.C. in 1944. In February 1945 at the Yalta in Crimea meeting, Roosevelt, Churchill, and Stalin concluded that establishing an international organization to be titled the “United Nations” would be one of the most important post-war actions.[15]

Upon Germany’s surrender to the Allies, the world powers put their proposal in motion as quickly as possible, convening the UN’s founding conference in San Francisco where fifty-one countries adopted the UN Charter on June 26, 1945. Later that year, the UN was formally established on October 24, 1945.

The UN Charter strove, among other things, “to practice tolerance and live together in peace with one another as good neighbours, and to unite [their] strength to maintain international peace and security.”[16] To achieve its aims, the Charter provided for six principal organs: the General Assembly, Security Council, Secretariat, International Court of Justice, Trusteeship Council, and Economic and Social Council.


[1] Ernest W. Lefever. Crisis in the Congo: A United Nations Force in Action. Washington, D.C.: the Brookings Institution, 1965. p. 5.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Richard I. Miller. Dag Hammarskjold and Crisis Diplomacy. Washington, D.C.: Oceana Publications, Inc., 1961. p. 290.

[4] Lumumba, Patrice." Encyclopædia Britannica. 2007. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 5 Dec. 2007 <http://www.search.eb.com.prxy5.ursus.maine.edu/eb/article-9049346>.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] "Kasavubu, Joseph." Encyclopædia Britannica. 2007. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 5 Dec. 2007 <http://www.search.eb.com.prxy5.ursus.maine.edu/eb/article-9044787>.

[8] “Tshombe, Moise Kapenda.” The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. New York: Columbia University Press, 2001-04. 5 December 2007. <http://www.bartleby.com/65/>.

[9] Joseph P. Lash. Dag Hammarskjold: Custodian of the Brushfire Peace. Garden City: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1961. p. 234.

[10] Norrie Macqueen. The United Nations Since 1945: Peacekeeping and the Cold War. London: Addison Wesley Longman, 1999. p. 34.

[11] Ibid. p. 36.

[12] Richard I. Miller. Dag Hammarskjold and Crisis Diplomacy. Washington, D.C.: Oceana Publications, Inc., 1961. p. 268.

[13] Ibis. P. 270.

[14] John George Stoessinger. The United Nations & The Superpowers: China, Russia & America. 4th ed. New York: Random House, 1977. p. 109.

[15] “Founding of the United Nations.” <http://www.un.org/events/UNART/itartassgallery/4.pdf.>.

[16] “Preamble.” Charter of the United Nations. <http://www.un.org/aboutun/charter/>.

Excerpt out of 32 pages


UN Peacekeeping in the Congo
Colby College
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ISBN (Book)
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Cold War, United Nations, Congo, Africa, Peacekeeping, United States, foreign policy, UN, ONUC, CIA, USSR, Soviet Union, US
Quote paper
Tiffany Ng (Author), 2007, UN Peacekeeping in the Congo, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/144529


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