Sir Brian Urquhart: British diplomat who helped establish UN peacekeeping force dies, aged 101

Matt Mathers
·2 min read
<p>Sir Brian Urquhart, former under secretary-general of the United Nations, left, and former President Jimmy Carter confer during the opening session of a Middle East conference held at the Carter Center in Atlanta, Ga.</p> (AP Photo/Linda Schaefer)

Sir Brian Urquhart, former under secretary-general of the United Nations, left, and former President Jimmy Carter confer during the opening session of a Middle East conference held at the Carter Center in Atlanta, Ga.

(AP Photo/Linda Schaefer)

A former British diplomat who played a key role in setting up the United Nations’ peacekeeping force has died aged 101.

Sir Brian Urquhart died at his Tyringham, Massachusetts, home on Saturday, his family said. His specific cause of death was not immediately clear.

Born in Dorset in 1919, Urquhart joined the British Army at the outset of WWII.

After almost dying when his parachute failed to open during a practice drop in 1942, Urquhart moved to the intelligence services, where he rose to the rank of major.

After the war, he served as a member of the British staff on the Executive Committee of the Preparatory Commission of the United Nations, which established the framework for creating the UN.

He was the second person hired by the organisation following its founding in 1945.

Urquhart became a personal assistant to the first secretary-general, Trygve Lie, in 1946 and moved with his boss to New York, where he remained for the rest of his life.

In a career spanning four decades, Urquhart served as principal adviser to five secretary-generals, directed 13 peacekeeping operations and recruited some 10,000 troops from 23 countries.

He was instrumental in the UN's first peacekeeping mission and led the body's operation in Congo from 1960-64, describing the missions as armies without enemies, only difficult clients.

Current UN secretary-general, António Guterres, on Sunday paid tribute to Urquhart, whose imprint on the body he said "was as profound as that of anyone in the organisation’s history”.

Mr Guterres added: "As an aide to secretary-general, Dag Hammarskjöld, he helped to define the UN’s scope of action in addressing armed conflict and other global challenges.

"And as a close associate of Ralph Bunche, the renowned UN official and Nobel Peace Prize winner, Sir Brian helped to establish and then propel international peacekeeping into wide-ranging use”.

Following his retirement, Urquhart joined the Ford Foundation and wrote books and frequent commentaries for the New York Review of Books and other publications.

His books include a 1987 autobiography, A Life in Peace and War, as well as books on UN leaders and operations.

Urquhart is survived by his wife, five children, a stepson, 14 grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren.

Additional reporting by Press Association

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