What is the origin of the blue helmets worn by UN peacekeepers?
Last Updated: Sep 19, 2018
During the early years of the United Nations, many practices had to be established as the organization encountered new situations and found ways of meeting challenges.
In 1947, General Assembly resolution 167 (II) approved light blue for the United Nations flag. This distinctive color came to represent the UN.
The need for distinctive dress for UN personnel emerged in 1947 with the appointment of the UN Mediator and the subsequent creation of the UN Truce Supervision Organization (UNTSO). According to Charles Henry in Ralph Bunche: Model Negro or American Other?, "Every effort was made to distinguish them as UN personnel with whatever material was available-- armbands, flags, helmets, and so on" (Henry, p.143). In Ralph Bunche: An American Life, Brian Urquhart notes, "The observers wore UN armbands and carried UN flags .... the observers' vehicles were painted white with 'UN' in huge black letters on the sides and top. This also became the standard practice for all UN observer missions" (Urquhart, p.161).
In 1956, the UN Emergency Force (UNEF) was established as the first UN peacekeeping operation. Troops from different countries wore their national uniforms and added distinctive UN arm bands and shoulder patches to identify them as UN peacekeepers. According the the UNEF I Background website, "The blue beret and helmet were created by Secretary-General Hammarskjöld during the formative days of UNEF". Urquhart writes, "What was needed was distinctive headgear easy for a distant sniper to recognize. A UN-blue beret seemed to be the answer, but it was impossible to procure enough berets in time. American plastic helmet-liners, however, were available in quantity in Europe, and were ready, spray-painted UN blue, in time for the first UNEF detachments to wear on their entry into Egypt" (Urquhart, p. 269).
The exchange of letters constituting the status of forces agreement between the UN and Egypt (A/3526), states "The Egyptian Government recognizes the right of the Force to display within Egyptian territory the United Nations flag on its headquarters, camps, posts or other premises, vehicles, vessels and otherwise as decided by the Commander... Service vehicles, vessels and aircraft shall carry a distinctive United Nations identification mark and licence which shall be notified by the Commander to the Egyptian authorities."
Henry, Charles P. Ralph Bunche: Model Negro or American Other? New York: New York University, 1999.
Urquhart, Brian. Ralph Bunche: An American Life. New York : Norton, 1993.
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