Brian Urquhart, Troubleshooter for the U.N., Dies at 101


In a postwar era rife with revolutions, regional disputes and Cold War conflicts, darkened by fears of an East-West nuclear conflagration, Mr. Urquhart deployed and often led his lightly armed peacekeepers into war zones in the Middle East, Congo, southern Africa, Kashmir, Cyprus and other places. They sometimes failed to defuse explosive situations, but often succeeded in easing tensions and assisting refugees.

“The United Nations may have been shoved to the sidelines long ago when it came to the political ordering of the world,” Madeleine G. Kalb wrote in a New York Times Magazine profile of Mr. Urquhart in 1982. “Yet the United Nations has undeniably chalked up one proud success — peacekeeping in conflicts where the vital interests of the great powers were not directly involved.”

As the crisis negotiator in shooting wars, he was often in danger. In Congo in 1961, trying to subdue a secessionist Katanga Province, he was kidnapped, held for hours and stomped and beaten with rifles by rebel troops, until Katanga’s president, Moise Tshombe, intervened to save his life.


By 1986, when Mr. Urquhart retired, he had directed 13 peacekeeping operations, recruited a force of 10,000 troops from 23 countries and established peacekeeping as one of the United Nations’ most visible and politically popular functions. In an editorial, The New York Times hailed him as a visionary soldier of peace.

“Mr. Urquhart persists in believing that the Soviet Union and the United States may yet find it in their interest to join in peacekeeping operations that can contain local conflicts,” the editorial said. “As Mr. Urquhart asks in reflecting upon his life’s service, ‘Why should not the lion sometimes lie down with the lion, instead of terrifying all the lambs by their mutual hostility?’”

The U.N. peacekeeping forces won the 1988 Nobel Peace Prize.

Brian Edward Urquhart was born on Feb. 28, 1919, in the southwest of England, in the town of Bridport, one of two sons of Murray and Bertha (Rendall) Urquhart. His father quit the family when he was 7. His mother taught at Badminton School in Bristol and, with his brother Andrew at school elsewhere, she enrolled Brian as the only boy among 200 girls there. One of his classmates was Indira Nehru, who became Prime Minister Indira Gandhi of India.

He graduated from Westminster School in London in 1937. After two years at Oxford University, he joined the British Army when World War II began in 1939. During training camp in 1942, his parachute partly failed in the last moments of a jump; he recalled looking up at its “tulip shape” as he plunged into a plowed field. Severely injured, he was told he might never walk again. But within a year he had rejoined his unit and saw action in North Africa and Sicily.


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