Resolution and Peacekeeping
Instructor's Notes by Dr. W. Andy
Professor of International Relations, University of Alberta
following notes suggest ways in which College/University instructors
who are teaching courses in Political Science can utilize the
film Ralph Bunche: An American Odyssey. Such courses include,
but are not limited to, international relations, international
organization, conflict resolution, peacekeeping and multilateralism.
gulf between theory and practice is no where greater than in the
political institutions of the United Nations (UN). The principles
and objectives of the UN Charter represent an "ideal" for the
international community. They embody a theory of conflict management
that rests on great power consensus and collective security. In
reality, however, the great powers were unable to reach consensus
on how to maintain international peace and security during the
Cold War era - the period during which Ralph Bunche loyally served
the government of the United States as well as the United Nations.
The political realities of the post World War II period handcuffed
the UN Security Council and limited the application of the Charter
provisions. During this period, Wilsonian utopianism gave way
to Realpolitik and the institutional multilateral structures that
emerged out of the war floundered in their attempt to keep the
world at peace.
is ironic that in the midst of this chasm of theory and practice
stood an individual whose entire career was devoted to blending
theory and praxis, scholarship and activism, idealism and pragmatism.
Ralph Bunche, to use a Gramscian phrase, can be called an organic
intellectual. Whether he was dealing with the decolonization phenomenon,
or mediating armistices between Israel and its Arab neighbors,
or putting in place the conflict management innovation which we
now know as "peacekeeping", Ralph Bunche tried to put
theory in the service of practice and to bridge the gap between
what was hoped for and what was actually attainable.
would be useful as you watch the film to ask: to what extent was
Ralph Bunche successful in trying to bridge the theory/praxis
gap? What were the theoretical underpinnings that guided his actions
as a diplomat? What normative convictions did he hold which caused
him to devote so much of his time and energy to assisting Africans,
Caribbeans and Asians in their quest for independence from the
imperial powers? How did his background as a scholar prepare him
for a career within the United Nations? Did his attempt as an
activist to reconcile the extremes in American society (between
black and white, rich and poor) have anything to do with his efforts
to end colonization, world poverty and global apartheid? Was there
any correlation between his methodical academic writing style
and the drafting skill he exhibited in his contributions to Chapters
XI, XII and XIII of the UN Charter or in drawing up armistice
agreements between Israeli and Arab enemies? How well did his
academic and political background prepare him for the task of
taking Lester B. Pearson's concept of separating warring factions
and turning it into the practice of what we call today as 'peacekeeping'?
In the end, how successful was Ralph Bunche in straddling the
theory/praxis and scholar/diplomat divide?
Bunche: From Scholar to Multilateral Diplomat
Kissinger, like Ralph Bunche, was considered an effective diplomat.
Yet, his approach to diplomacy provides a study in contrast with
that of Ralph Bunche. For one thing, Kissinger's preoccupation
was with national diplomacy in the interest of a global superpower,
the United States, whereas Bunche devoted himself to multilateral
diplomacy in the interest of the international community through
the United Nations.
contrasts do not end there. Bunche, the Harvard educated scholar,
probably would have agreed with Kissinger's endorsement of Hans
Morgenthau's moderate realism -- which called for a confluence
of the geopolitical and moral aims of realpolitik and Wilsonian
Kissinger's clear preference, ultimately, for a version of amoral
realpolitik over Wilsonian idealism 2
might not have sat that well with Bunche, the UN diplomat. Kissinger
had argued that idealism was both 'too vague and too legalistic',
and indeed too utopian, to guide responsible, rational statesmanship.
Thus, for a realist like Kissinger, the UN could only be an arena
and echo for the balancing of the contests of major powers. Whereas,
for Bunche, the UN was a potential channel for bringing social
equity, justice and peace to the globe, in spite of particular
great power national interests.
Bunche was therefore able to avoid the cynicism that masqueraded
as realism, even though he had temporarily lost faith in the essential
goodness of humans after witnessing the rise of fascism and Nazism.
In the end, he held the conviction that "despite so much wickedness,
and evil design in the world, man is essentially good."3
For Bunche, along the continuum between extreme amoral realism
and extreme utopian idealism, there were a variety of positions
that analysts and policymakers might take with respect to diplomacy.
Clearly, from the film one can get a sense of that blending of
idealism with realism as Bunche, the UN Acting Mediator (after
the assassination of Count Folke Bernadotte), successfully negotiated
armistice agreements between Israel and four of its Arab neighboring
enemies - Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. This success catapulted
Bunche into the spotlight and earned him a Noble Peace Prize in
1950 (the first person of color in the world to achieve that honor).
might be useful to examine Bunche's role as a UN diplomat and
ask whether his success as a mediator was merely coincidental.
Was he simply in the right place at the right time? Would there
have been a different result if someone other than Bunche were
in the position to negotiate the armistice agreement? Was Bunche
successful because he was a masterful negotiator or because the
Israeli and Arab state leaders had good political and military
reasons for accepting this arrangement? Can Bunche's success as
a mediator in the Middle East be explained by the fortuitous coincidence
of circumstance, or did he really possess and personified the
'moral authority' of the UN? Were Bunche's diplomatic successes
due to his intelligence, expert knowledge, sound background preparation
and skill at draftsmanship? Or did he simply have the uncanny
ability to formulate compromise solutions between belligerent
factions? Did it have anything to do with his personal charm,
the force of his personality, his patience, his good humor, the
fact that he was a black American, or his skill at developing
procedural innovations? Was he able to combine stubbornness in
terms of the end-goal with flexibility of procedure? How shrewd
was he in dealing with the Israelis and Arabs?
Ralph Bunche: Champion of Self-determination and decolonization
focus on the experience of the 750 million indigenous peoples
world-wide who were subject to colonialism and imperialism in
1945 can be linked to his interest in the experience of his own
people - the subjugated blacks in American society. To him, "the
condition of the American Negro and that of black Africa, as well
as that of colonial peoples throughout the world, was part and
parcel of the same problem of racism and economic deprivation."4
His stated mission in life was to combat this problem at home
as well as abroad. His academic work, public speeches, monographs
and articles had been devoted to addressing this issue in one
form or another. 5
Thus, it comes as no surprise that he, for example, accepted a
position in the US government as an expert on colonial problems,
became chief of the African section of the Research and Analysis
Branch of the US Office of Strategic Services (OSS) and later
went on to work in the Office of Dependent Area Affairs at the
US State Department. At the end of World War II Bunche served
as adviser on colonialism with the US delegation at the UN founding
conference in San Francisco. He was one of the main drafters of
the sections of the UN Charter dealing with potential emancipation
of colonized peoples and in 1946 joined the UN Secretariat as
director of its Trusteeship Division. As one writer put it, Bunche
found himself at the center of one of the great historical phenomena
of the twentieth century - the process of decolonization, the
dissolution of the great European empires, the reassertion of
independence by people of color throughout the world in the aftermath
of World War II.
there something in his academic scholarship that prepared Bunche
for these roles? Was he able to transcend racism in his own country
because of the positions he held? Did Bunche draw parallels between
the plight of black Americans and those who were dispossessed
by imperialism? Did his past Marxist and leftist leaning influence
the position he took on decolonization? How did his past affect
his posts in the UN?
Ralph Bunche: the Peacekeeper
of the ways in which the UN tried to bridge the gap between theory
and practice during the Cold War era was through innovations.
Since collective security, as envisioned in the UN Charter, was
inoperable due to the hostility of the Cold War climate, the organization
had to find creative ways of maintaining international peace and
security. Peacekeeping was one of the UN innovations during the
Cold War, and Ralph Bunche was at the center of this novel development.
Canadian Lester B. Pearson proposed to the UN General Assembly
a concept that would keep warring factions in the Middle East
apart long enough to get them to the bargaining table, it was
left to the then UN Secretary General, Dag Hammarskjold to make
this concept a reality. The UN Secretary-General turned to Bunche
to implement this concept. As Sir Brian Urquhart states: "Ralph
Bunche was unquestionably the original practical architect of
'this novel but still fragile creation' that is now called 'peacekeeping',
and he probably did more to develop the technique than any other
first ever UN peacekeeping operation dealt with truce supervision
in seven states around Palestine in 1948. From this experience
the theory and operational practices of peacekeeping developed.
precisely were the initial rules governing UN peacekeeping operations?
Have these rules been sustained over the years? Is UN peacekeeping,
as Bunche saw it, a continuation of mediation and diplomacy? What
challenges did Bunche face with the early iteration of UN peacekeeping?
How successful was the United Nations Emergency Force in the Middle
East? Was Bunche's past experience of brokering an armistice arrangement
between Israel and its Arab neighbors useful in the development
of the first UN peacekeeping operation? How has Bunche's notion
of UN peacekeeping changed today?
Bunche: An American Odyssey portrays the life of an intellectual
who was also an activist, of a scholar who was also a diplomat,
of an idealist who was also a pragmatist, of a black man who was
able to transcend race in his fight for peace and justice for
the human race. Ralph Bunche's life represents that of a peacemaker,
a conflict manager, a mediator, a negotiator, and an innovator.
His competence and skill was so sought after that he was able
to reach heights which most of his fellow American blacks could
never have achieved. Can his success be attributed to luck? He
seemed always to be in the right place at the right time. Or does
this life story confirm the importance of agency in global politics
(i.e. that one person with bright ideas, a moral cause and lofty
ambition can indeed make a difference in this world)? You be the
Henry Kissinger, Diplomacy
(New York: Knopf, 1994), p. 891
Ibid., pp. 812-13
Benjamin Rivlin, "The Legacy of
Ralph Bunche," Benjamin Rivlin (ed.), Ralph Bunche: The Man
and His Times (New York: Holmes & Meier, 1990), p.20
See, for example, the following
works by Ralph Bunche: French Administration in Togoland and
Dahomey, Ph.D. dissertation thesis (Harvard University 1934);
A World View of Race (Port Washington, NY: Kennikat Press,
1968); Report on the Needs of the Negro, for the Republican
Program Committee (July 1939); "The Negro in the Political Life
of the United States," Journal of Negro Education, vol.10,
no. 3 (July 1941); and "Trusteeship and Non-Self-Governing Territories
in the Charter of the United Nations," Department of State
Bulletin, 13 (December 1945).
Brian Urquhart, "Ralph Bunche and
the Development of UN Peacekeeping," Benjamin Rivlin (ed.), Ralph
Bunche: The Man and His Times (New York: Holmes & Meier, 1990),
Henry, Diplomacy (New York: Knopf, 1994)
W. Andy, A Changing United Nations: Multilateral Evolution
and the Quest for Global Governance (Houndmills: Macmillan/Palgrave,
J. Alvin, Ralph J. Bunche: Fighter for Peace (New York:
Julian Messner, 1952)
Peggy, Ralph Bunche: UN Peacemaker (New York: Coward,
McCann and Geoghegan, 1975)
Benjamin, "The Legacy of Ralph Bunche," Benjamin Rivlin (ed.),
Ralph Bunche: The Man and His Times (New York: Holmes
& Meier, 1990)
Brian, "Ralph Bunche and the Development of UN Peacekeeping,"
Benjamin Rivlin (ed.), Ralph Bunche: The Man and His Times
(New York: Holmes & Meier, 1990)
Babatunde, Makers of Peace: Dr. Ralph Bunche and Chief Albert
John Luthuli (Ibadan: Afircan Education Press, 1965)
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