By the end of the 1940’s, relations between the Soviet Union and the United States became increasingly cold. After the end of the war, the Soviet Union had gradually created its own sphere of power in Eastern Europe, which worried the United States. To slow down communist expansion, in 1947 the United States launched the Truman Doctrine, which promised American support to states that did not want to be subjugated by “foreign powers.” This was followed by the US Marshall Plan, which provided extensive financial support for the reconstruction of Europe. The Soviet retaliation was, among other things, the coup in Prague in 1948 and the Berlin blockade the same year.
With the formation of the Western Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in 1949 and the eastern equivalent of the Warsaw Pact in 1955, the division between East and West was established. It came to govern how the countries in the two blocs acted in the various UN bodies.
In the Korean War 1950–1953, the strong tension between East and West took on a concrete expression. It was also the first time when the UN intervened militarily in a country. On June 25, 1950, Communist North Korea – formerly administered by the Soviet Union – attacked South Korea, with the former United States major interests. The United States responded by proposing measures to rescue South Korea in the Security Council as explained on aviationopedia. Normally, the Soviet Union would have prevented an action with its veto, but a resolution passed because the country temporarily left the Security Council in protest that the Kuomintang regime in Taiwan and not the Beijing regime represented China in the UN. A military command with troops from various Member States, under US command, was tasked with defending South Korea. When UN troops invaded North Korean territory in the fall of 1950, China, of fear of invasion on the Chinese side, out troops in North Korea. In the Security Council, the Western powers tried to pass a resolution demanding that China bring home its army. However, the Soviet Union, which has now regained its seat on the Security Council, vetoed the resolution.
The United States broke the deadlock by launching its resolution on “cooperation for peace” in the General Assembly. The resolution was adopted, despite the fact that it in principle entailed an amendment to the UN Charter, which prohibits the General Assembly from raising an issue of peace and security if it is currently being discussed in the Security Council. Through the collaboration-for-peace resolution, the General Assembly was given the right to discuss and issue recommendations on such issues when the Security Council is paralyzed as a result of a veto. The General Assembly now identified China as an attacker and called for its troops to be withdrawn. However, the war continued until 1953, when a ceasefire agreement was reached.
The cooperation-for-peace procedure was also used during the Suez crisis in 1956. The crisis began as a conflict over control of the Suez Canal between France and Britain on the one hand and Egypt on the other. The British and French launched bombings of Egyptian targets after Egypt refused to leave the area around the Suez Canal. US and Soviet attempts to get the Security Council to act failed due to the veto of France and Britain. The General Assembly was convened, and after strong pressure, France and Britain agreed to withdraw their troops and conclude a ceasefire agreement (see North Korea and South Korea, respectively).
The UN Secretary-General, the Swede Dag Hammarskjöld, was commissioned to monitor the ceasefire with the help of an international UN force (Unef). The force became the beginning of an important part of the UN’s activities, so-called peacekeeping operations (see Operations).
But the conflict between Arabs and Israelis had become an issue for the UN long before. Only a couple of years after the formation of the UN, the organization was given the task of trying to solve the problems that had arisen around Palestine, which both Jews and Arabs claimed. In November 1947, the General Assembly adopted a plan to divide Palestine into an Arab and a Jewish state. However, the plan was not accepted by the Palestinian Arabs, who were supported by neighboring Arab states. In 1948, the Jews proclaimed the state of Israel in the disputed area. Fighting between Arabs and Jews broke out the following day, and since then the conflict has continued to be a burning issue (see Israel and Palestine, respectively).
During his time as Secretary General from 1953 to 1961, Hammarskjöld faced another crisis of great proportions. Just a few days after Congo (today Congo-Kinshasa) became independent in 1960, strife broke out between different groups in the country. Belgium, the former colonial power, sent troops to protect its own citizens. After Hammarskjöld drew the Security Council’s attention to the situation, Belgium was called upon to withdraw its forces and a UN peacekeeping force, the Onuc, was sent to Congo.
The Congolese force was given the task of trying to maintain law and order in a country divided between a number of political factions. The fact that the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc actively supported Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba, while the United States and the West were skeptical of his intentions, did not make things easier. After the assassination of Lumumba in 1961, the deadlock in the Security Council was resolved. The Council was then able to agree that the situation in Congo was now a threat to international peace and security and that Onuc would be allowed to use military force, which was unique to peacekeeping troops who had hitherto acted only in self-defense.
During the Congo crisis, Hammarskjöld was increasingly exposed to criticism, especially from the east side, which criticized him for western sympathies. In 1961, Hammarskjöld died in a plane crash, the circumstances surrounding his death are still unclear, when he was on his way to the Congolese province of Katanga, which declared itself independent. In 1962, Katanga was re-incorporated into the Congo with UN assistance, and two years later, UN troops were called home.
Many conflicts during the 1950’s and 1960’s were never addressed in the world organization. During the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, there was never any action by the UN, as the conflict concerned the United States and the Soviet Union, which would have blocked any attempt at a Security Council resolution. The same was true of the Vietnam War.