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September 18, 1961 – Crisis in the Congo

The plane carrying United Nations Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld has reportedly crashed in darkness, shortly before landing in a forest near Ndola, Northern Rhodesia. Initial reports from Northern Rhodesia suggest it is unlikely that any individual could have survived the crash. At the time this paper went to print, there was no answer as to why the plane had crashed, though British authorities in Rhodesia are questioning whether the plane could have been targeted to avoid a peaceful negotiation process.

Early reports from this tragic situation indicate that Secretary-General Hammarskjold was headed to negotiate a ceasefire in Katanga, the mineral-rich breakaway region of the Congo. In recent years, the Congo has subject to considerable turmoil and tensions have mounted since June of 1960, when the Congo officially gained independence from Belgium. Patrice Lumumba won the Congo’s first election and became the coalition government’s Prime Minister. However, the tension between the Congolese and the formerly colonizing Belgians has only continued to grow after the Congolese soldier mutiny at the Thysville military base on July 5 of last year.

A secessionist movement, led by the formerly ruling Belgians, was launched in Katanga province to push to garner the country’s rich copper belt. In July of 1960, Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba requested that the United Nations step in and help remove Belgian soldiers and foreign mercenaries from its borders. The UN authorized this request and began the United Nations Operation in the Congo (ONUC).

When mutinies spread to other military bases, widespread violence between the Congolese and primarily Belgian Europeans continued and resulted in a request from Lumumba for UN Peacekeepers. While the UN efforts were initially welcomed in the Congo, their presence has recently turned sour as Prime Minister Lumumba feared that the Peacekeepers were interfering with Congolese sovereignty. After the United States declined to support the Lumumba regime directly, the Soviet Union agreed to provide weapons, logistical, and material support. Over 1,000 Soviet military advisors shortly landed in the Congo. This created tension between Lumumba and the rest of his government, especially President Joseph Kasavubu, who feared the implications of Soviet Intervention. Further, this created fear in the United States that a Soviet-aligned Congo could form the basis of a major communism expansion in central Africa. In August 1960, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) agents attempted to assassinate Lumumba and failed.

In September 1960, Lumumba was removed from power and arrested in a coup d’état led by Col. Joseph-Désiré Mobutu, who was supported by both Belgium and the United States. In January, Lumumba was shot by a firing squad with reported assistance from Belgian officials and an attempt to discard the body was made to cover-up the assassination. The killing of Lumumba only created more tension in the Congo. With no clear leadership in Congo, the Congolese and the colonial-Belgians both continue to seek to install a head of government.

Since July of last year, the UN has actively negotiated and draft resolutions to help prevent the conflict in the Congo from worsening. Though the United Nations had finally arranged for both Belgian and Congolese officials to meet the Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld in Zambia for peace talks about the conflict in the Congo, the news of Secretary Hammarskjold’s presumed death has resulted in an immediate void of authority in both the United Nations organization and within this conflict. The United Nations Security Council finds itself in a position to immediately appoint a successor to lead the UN organization while two of its members, the United States and the Soviet Union, engage in a proxy-conflict in the Congo. While no cause has yet been identified for the crash of Hammarskjold’s DC6 aircraft, British authorities in Northern Rhodesia are questioning whether this crash was purposeful and have suggested that the incident was the result of actions taken by the Congolese, and likely were buttressed by the Soviet Union, to prevent the Secretary-General from successfully negotiating peace in the region. The world awaits additional information from the crash site.


September 23, 1980 – Iran -Iraq War

After years of border skirmishes, open war has erupted between bitter regional rivals Iraq and Iran.  While there was a brief detente following the 1978 revelation of a pro-Soviet coup in Baghdad by Iran, Iraq’s president Saddam Hussein has decided to seize his opportunity to move on the Shatt al-Arab river that has long been contested by the two nations, and reverse the 1975 Algiers Agreement that Hussein openly detests.

In retrospect, the 1979 Iranian Revolution provided a critical catalyst for the outbreak of war between the two nations, heightening tensions and providing a strategic opening for Iraqi war planners.  The Iraqis perceive revolutionary Iran’s Islamic agenda as threatening to the Ba’athist party’s pan-Arabism.  And Iran’s Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, bitter over his expulsion from Iraq in 1977 after fifteen years in An Najaf, vowed to avenge Shia victims of Baathist repression and called on Iraqis to overthrow the Ba’ath government.

Strategically, the revolution crucially weakened the Imperial Iranian Army, which saw its operational readiness depleted and most of its highest-ranking officers executed.  Iraq was all too willing to assist in this process: In Khuzestan (Arabistan to the Iraqis), Iraqi intelligence officers incited riots over labor disputes, and in the Kurdish region, a new rebellion caused the Khomeini government severe troubles.

As the once-feared Iranian army disintegrated, President Hussein saw the perfect chance to attack, under the guise of preventing a further spread of Shia Islamic revolution.  Not only do the Iranians lack cohesive military leadership, but the Iranian armed forces lack spare parts for their American-made equipment. Baghdad, on the other hand, possesses fully equipped and trained forces, bolstered by arms from France and the USSR.   Morale in the Iraqi armed forces is running high.  Against Iran’s armed forces, including the Pasdaran (Revolutionary Guard) troops, which are led by religious mullahs with little or no military experience, the Iraqis can muster twelve complete mechanized divisions, equipped with the latest Soviet weapons and material.  President Hussein boasts an army of 190,000 men, augmented by 2,200 tanks and 450 aircraft.

In addition, the area across the Arvand-Roud (Shatt al Arab) poses no major obstacles, particularly for an army equipped with Soviet river-crossing equipment. Crossing sites on the Kharkheh and Karoun rivers are lightly defended against mechanized armor, and Iranian forces in Khuzestan, which had formerly included two divisions distributed among Ahvaz, Dezful, and Abadan, now consist of only a number of ill-equipped battalion-sized formations. Tehran is further disadvantaged because the area was controlled by the Regional 1st Corps headquartered at Bakhtaran (formerly Kermanshah), whereas operational control was directed from the capital. In the year following the Shah’s overthrow, only a handful of company-sized tank units remained combat ready, while the rest of Iran’s armored equipment was poorly maintained and not suitable for immediate action.

For Iraqi planners, the only uncertainty was the fighting ability of the Iranian air force, equipped with some of the most sophisticated American-made aircraft. Despite the execution of key air force commanders and pilots, the Iranian air force remained brutally effective in quashing local riots and demonstrations prior to the outbreak of hostilities and was also effective during the United States’ failed Desert One raid in April 1980. This show of force impressed Iraqi decision makers to such an extent that the Iraqi’s initial assault featured a massive preemptive air strike on Iranian air bases, modeled on Israeli tactics during the June 1967 Arab-Israeli War.

June 5, 1982 – Issue of the Falkland Islands

The Falkland Islands (“Islas Malvinas” to Argentinians) are a series of small islands near the southern tip of Argentina. Settled by British colonists in 1764, the islands have been intermittently inhabited by British, Argentine, French, and Spanish nationals throughout history. In 1833, the British government reasserted control of the islands but was challenged by Argentine leadership. Over the course of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the islands have held an ideal strategic position for Britain to claim portions of Antarctica and to serve as a base for British ships in the South Atlantic.

Both Britain and Argentina have claimed the islands as their own with conflict over the true owner dating back to at least 1833. Although Argentina protested the British claim to the islands regularly throughout this period, it was not until the rise of Argentine President Juan Peron that the situation became tenser. Surging pressures of the decolonization movement and desire to reduce government spending in Britain resulted in conversations between the British and Argentine governments about transferring the islands to Argentine control as early as 1966. When negotiations officially broke down in 1981, the situation escalated considerably, leading to the present conflict.

Since approximately 1976, the Argentine government had been in the midst of a serious national economic and political crisis. In order to deflect attention from the ongoing situation and to strengthen the position of the military junta, Argentine military leadership felt that a war in the Falklands would promote nationalistic fervor and distract from the ongoing problems in Argentina. General Leopoldo Galtieri believed that the British government would not commit serious resources to defend the islands and the Argentine government could secure a quick victory to claim the islands. That victory, the military government believed, would give cause for celebration to the protesting Argentinians and help the government maintain power.

Preparations for the invasion began in 1982 as the Argentine military planned to land 3,000 troops on the island. The military intended to seize the islands with minimal bloodshed and deport the British administrators and military who were based there.

The invasion officially began on the first of April, when Argentine special forces began attacking government buildings on the islands, forcing a surrender of the British administrator on April 2. The British government rapidly responded to the fighting, ordering a naval task force to secure the islands and beginning a global pressure campaign to exert diplomatic pressure on the Argentine government to stop fighting and return the islands. In response, the Argentinians placed thousands of land mines across uncultivated areas of the island to slow British counter-attacks. The British government has approached the United Nations, claiming that the Islands are entitled to self-determination under the United Nations Charter, and asking that the United Nations reaffirm this right.

It is now June of 1982, and the United Nations Security Council is considering the issue of the Argentine invasion of the Falkland Islands. The Council must consider a vast number of factors in making their decision, including the recent trend of decolonization and Argentine aggression throughout this process. The British government has offered multiple compromise plans to resolve the issue of Falkland governance, but it has yet to be seen whether the Argentine government or the international community will support these offers. It is the responsibility of the Security Council to help resolve the situation, advocate for a fair solution consistent with international law, and to respect the rights of the residents of the islands as well as the two governments fighting over them.

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