The period between the end of the Franco- Prussian War in 1871 and the start of the First World War in 1914 was the longest in recent history, covering approximately forty-three and half years without an unlimited war between major powers being fought, and on 6 February 1989 history was created, as 15982 days had elapsed since the end of the Second World War without a similar conflict between major powers having taken place. However it would be erroneous to infer that these four and half decades were peaceful and conflict-free.
The dropping of the atom bombs over Hiroshima and Nagasaki had ushered in not only the atomic age but also a bipolar world and the Cold War. The northern hemisphere was divided on the basis of political ideologies and the world witnessed uneasy peace and rising tensions. Though no major armed conflict took place in Europe itself, there were many conflicts around the world which were subsidiary to the ideological confrontation between the Superpowers.
Since August 1945, there were conflicts in Korea, Suez and Vietnam, clashes as a result of boundary dispute between China and USSR, China and India and between India and Pakistan. There were conflicts between Iran and Iraq which lasted nearly a decade as well as the Gulf War in 1990-91. These conflicts were few of the inter-state conflicts (with the possible exception of Korea which may be argued as a conflict between two factions and moreover Korea was not a state at that time), which probably could have triggered off a direct military confrontation between the US and the Soviet Union. But the myriad conflicts which occurred during this period were internal in nature involving rival communities, as in the case of Lebanon or wars of liberation from colonial rule or between political factions seeking to gain political power with support and aid of groups and agencies from both within and outside, which had the backing of the Superpowers or their allies.
After nearly four and half decades of intense Superpower rivalry, the Cold War came to an end in 1989-90, thereby reducing the chances of an outbreak of a nuclear conflict and a holocaust. Hopes of international peace which seemed to dawn at the end of the Cold War receded with the eruption of ‘internal’ conflicts with international ramifications in various parts of the world. These conflicts had their roots in nationalism, ethnic and racial differences and some had histories dating back to pre- World War I period.The classic case was the violent dissolution of Yugoslavia. This erstwhile Balkan state broke up into units which had their roots in the confrontation between the Russian, Holy Roman (later Austro-Hungarian) and Ottoman Empires. At the same time, non- international armed conflicts erupted in Somalia, Afghanistan, Sudan, Sri Lanka and in certain other parts of the world with varying levels of intensity.
The response of the United Nations, the organisation through which the international community responded to these inter-state and non-international armed conflicts was to a great extent hampered by the rivalry of the Superpowers and the Cold War politics. The Security Council which shouldered the responsibility of maintaining international peace and security and which was empowered to take suitable action in furtherance of these objectives was prevented by the extensive use of veto by the US and Soviet Union.Notwithstanding, the power politics of the Cold War era, the UN to its credit played an effective role in controlling the numerous armed conflicts which occurred during that time. The international community had expected the UN to play a more positive and effective role in the post-Cold War era but this hope seems to have been belied. The main difficulty facing the UN in the discharge of its primary responsibility seems to be the change in the nature of international conflict and the problems at international law in formulating a proper response.