The United Nations; 65 Years of Success or Failure?

un fightBy Ian Howarth

The preamble of the founding Charter of the United Nations (1945) sets out its principles, and its norms, and as such is probably the fairest way by which to judge the organisations success or failure.

‘WE THE PEOPLES OF THE UNITED NATIONS DETERMINED

  • to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind, and
  • to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small, and
  • to establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations arising from treaties and other sources of international law can be maintained, and
  • to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom,

AND FOR THESE ENDS

  • to practice tolerance and live together in peace with one another as good neighbours, and
  • to unite our strength to maintain international peace and security, and
  • to ensure, by the acceptance of principles and the institution of methods, that armed force shall not be used, save in the common interest, and
  • to employ international machinery for the promotion of the economic and social advancement of all peoples,

HAVE RESOLVED TO COMBINE OUR EFFORTS TO ACCOMPLISH THESE AIMS

(UN Charter, San Francisco, 26th June 1945)

The basic structure of the United Nations (UN) consists of three key components, the General Assembly, the Security Council and the Secretary General’s Office.  The General Assembly is the body where all member states have a seat and a vote on resolutions placed by the various member states before the Assembly. Here resolutions are passed by a simple majority.  In the case of the admittance of new members or matters of great importance such as peace and security a two thirds majority is required.’ However, the decisions of the General Assembly are not legally binding on the member states and their enforcement relies on the moral weight of the UN and world opinion.

The Security Council is made up of fifteen member states, five permanent members, China, United States, United Kingdom, France and the Russian Federation which represent the great power relationships as they stood at the UN’s foundation, and ten member states elected by the General Assembly for two year terms.  Currently the ten elected seats are held by, Argentina, Australia, Azerbaijan, Guatemala, Luxembourg, Morocco, Pakistan, Republic of Korea, Rwanda and Togo.  The Security Council is the power wielding institution of the UN, the five permanent members each hold the ability to veto any motion placed before the council, (the ten elected members do not have a veto). Resolutions adopted by the Council are legally binding on all the member states, and the Council has the powers to enforce its resolutions through economic sanctions or even military action.  The Security Council is the body within international relations that grants legitimacy or otherwise to the actions of its member states.

The successes and failures of the UN can be measured against the achievements or otherwise of its founding principles and norms, the fundamental one being that “armed force shall not be used, save in the common interest”. In short the UN was established by the victors of the Second World War to prevent another world war, which became a more urgent endeavour in the fresh glow of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

It is apparent that the UN has failed to bring about world peace and end all war.  However, it would be wrong to conclude that due to this the organization is a failure.  There are gradients of success and failure and when one looks at the broad scope of the post-war period up to the present there are clear initiatives taken by the UN that have averted armed conflict and brought the aggressors to the bargaining table.  There are also periods over the last 57 years when the UN has failed miserably in its responsibilities under its founding charter, and in the next few paragraphs I shall highlight and explore these failures and successes and attempt to form a judgment on the performance of this regime.

The failures of the UN are unfortunately more numerous than its achievements, incidents in which the UN failed to intervene include Vietnam (1954-1973), Afghanistan (1979-1989), Hungary (1956), Czechoslovakia (1968), East Timor (1978) Rwanda (1995), the Invasion of Iraq (2003) and the current on-going bloody civil war in Syria to name but a few.  The first incident that I am going to highlight is the Budapest uprising of 1956 and the Prague Spring (1968), during which Hungary and Czechoslovakia both nations that had been under Soviet domination since 1945 briefly regained their independence, before the Soviet tanks rolled in and quashed the uprisings.  The failure here of the United Nations highlighted the true measure of its powers within the cold war bipolar system.  The USSR and the USA had both agreed spheres of influence, and Hungary and Czechoslovakia lay well within the Soviet sphere, consequently the UN was handicapped to intervene on the principle of self-determination set out in its charter due to the veto powers of the Security Council.  This incident just went to further highlight the power that the superpowers held over the UN and their manipulation of the UN in their continuing cold war.

The above example also highlights the way in which the decision making processes of the UN can and often do prevent the UN from being a more pro-active force in international relations.  The powers held by the permanent members of the Security Council mean that the interests of these members can never be placed under the scrutiny of the General Assembly or the Secretary General.

Another failure of great significance is Rwanda in 1995; this is significant due to the fact that the Cold War was over.  The failure in this case was entirely down to a lack of leadership and an inability by the UN to galvanize the necessary support from the western member states in order to send in an intervention force, consequently the world looked on as hundreds of thousands of Tutsis were massacred by their Hutu neighbours in a demonstration of ethnic cleansing not seen since Stalin’s purges.  This humanitarian disaster was symptomatic of the failures of the UN throughout the 1990’s.  Srebrenica in the same year as the Rwanda genocide saw ‘7000 Bosnian Muslim’s’ (Calvocoressi; 2001) massacred in the worst genocide in Europe since the end of the Second World War.  In both instances the UN failed to intervene in time, and in the case of Srebrenica the Dutch UN peacekeepers watched on as thousands were taken from the UN enclave and murdered.

These incidents only went to highlight the inability of the UN to operate without the support of its member states and primarily the Security Council.  The weak mandate in Bosnia led to the appalling events of Srebrenica and no mandate at all led to genocide in Rwanda.

In short the failures of the UN since its inception can be placed into two categories; those that were related to the cold war power plays of the Superpowers e.g. Vietnam, Afghanistan, Angola etc. This meant the Security Council was never going to intervene with both the United States and the Soviet Union holding a veto.  And those that were down to poor leadership and a lack of political will, such as Rwanda, Bosnia, Somalia and East Timor (1978).

However despite the indications above to the contrary the UN has recorded a number of successes, which include Korea (1950-1952) East Timor (1999-2002), Persian Gulf (1991) Cyprus (1972- Present), Congo (1960-1964) Sierra Leone (1998) Kosovo (1999) and Libya (2011).

The first significant and arguably successful intervention under UN auspices after its foundation was the Korean War.  The UN largely under American pressure landed a massive coalition force on the Korean peninsula in order to preserve South Korean independence in the face of North Korean aggression.  However, despite the failure as the United States considers it to defeat the North Koreans the UN did succeed in re-establishing the pre-war status quo on the peninsula a situation which remains to this day.  However the success in Korea was the first indication of the nature of the relationship between Washington and the UN in New York.  The United States was intent on using the UN to further its fight against communism and exacerbate attempts by the UN to intervene in proxy wars across the world e.g. Angola, El Salvador.

Despite the UN’s failure to intervene when Indonesia invaded East Timor shortly after its independence from the Dutch in 1978 the UN intervention to preserve East Timorese self-determination in the wake of a wave of violence following the referendum on independence in September 2000 was an overwhelming success.  Although the majority of UN forces arrived a month late on the ground it clearly prevented a more serious incident and directly led to the independence of East Timor from Indonesia in 2002.  Sierra Leone also represents an achievement by the UN although a lot less resounding than East Timor, the UN force in Sierra Leone initially faced a lot of pressure due to a weak mandate and an insufficient number of troops.  However, after the UN supported British intervention in 2000/2001 to re-enforce the UN mission and the adoption of a more robust mandate a final resolution to that nation’s decade long conflict between the government and rebel forces was secured.  A UN intervention in Angola has also brought about a settlement after 30 years of war.

The Persian Gulf War was also a significant UN achievement.  The coalition force that was assembled during operation Desert Shield in late 1990 and early 1991 was done so under a Security Council resolution.  The defeat of Saddam Hussein and the liberation of Kuwait was a resounding success, which brought about great hopes for future UN intervention’s which were later dashed by the incidents in Bosnia and elsewhere. The implementation of sanctions against Iraq by the UN was also initially a success, with an estimated 85% of Iraq’s biological weapons stockpiles being destroyed, and the entire nuclear weapon development programme being shut down.  However, later events that led up to the US/UK led invasion of Iraq in 2003 marked one of the UNs lowest points in its sixty years of history.  The divisions that opened up in the Security Council before and during that period were far greater than at any time since the Cold War, and utterly paralysed the UN as an actor in the ensuing conflict.

Other areas of the world that UN intervention has brought about positive results include Ethiopia and Eritrea.  The Congo in the early 1960’s almost bankrupted the UN and led to heavy casualties amongst the UN Force but it did succeed in ending the civil war and re-uniting the Congo.  It was the first UN led intervention within a member state, something the charter forbade.  The lessons of this intervention also partly explain the reluctance within the UN to intervene in conflicts within member states such as Bosnia, and Rwanda, as well as the on-going war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Despite the UNs failure to end war and its significant and numerous failures, the organisation has brought about change for the good, and remains the primary force for conflict resolution and international cooperation.  The existence of rival institutions such as NATO which also aims to promote global security has weakened the ability of the UN.  However, significantly there has so far been no third world war.  It is arguable that the institutional framework of the UN provided the superpowers with a vital non-violent means to confront and discuss issues in a formal environment within which each felt equally legitimate and non-threatened.  It is important to note that up until Gorbachev’s détente of the late 1980’s there was no regular contact between the Soviet Union and the USA, and therefore without the contact that the UN provided, misunderstandings could have grown into something much more serious.

The UN was established primarily to prevent a third world war and provide conflicting parties a means by which to meet and negotiate.  Within the terms of that ambition this regime has so far succeeded.  Furthermore, its norms and principles have been accepted by all the member states and although not yet implemented by all, the fundamental ideal of human rights, and meaningful discussion rather than war has gained ground and greater acceptance throughout the world. +

Bibliography:

Calvocoressi, Peter (2001) ‘World Politics 1945-2000’ p346-347 Longman: Harlow England p235, 237

Krasner, Stephen (1983) ‘International Regimes’ p2, Cornell University Press, Ithaca: New York.

Stern, Geoffrey (2000) ‘The Structure of International Society’ 2nd Edition, p237, Pinter: London

http://www.un.org

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Kennedy and US Foreign Policy during the Cold War

kennedy BreznevBy Ian Howarth

The Eisenhower administration that preceded the election of President Kennedy had continued the Containment policies adopted by President Truman during the early days of the Cold War. Containment involved limiting the spread of Communism to within its own spheres of influence. This was achieved by giving aid to anti-communist regimes and promoting capitalist/western values.  The arrival of the Kennedy administration, marked a significant development in US foreign policy, as can be seen in the rhetoric of his inauguration speech.

‘Let every nation know, whether it wish us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and success of liberty.  This much we pledge, and more…’

Extract from the Inauguration Speech of John F. Kennedy 20th January 1961 

Since 1945 the US had attempted to contain the Soviet threat to Western Europe by allowing the USSR freedom of action within its sphere of influence and with the exception of the Berlin Blockade a quarter of a century earlier this policy had avoided a direct confrontation with the USSR.  Containment had been adopted as a pragmatic response to the understanding that Soviet conventional forces far outnumbered Allied Forces in Europe.  The maintenance by the United States of massive conventional forces in Western Europe would be expensive and unpractical, while containment offered the US a position that opposed the USSR while only requiring the defence of Western Europe not the liberation of the East.  This could be supplied relatively cheaply through the Nuclear Umbrella.  The leaders and supporters of the Hungarian and Czechoslovakian uprisings experienced the brutal consequences of this policy for themselves. With both countries firmly within the Soviet sphere of influence US policy was clear, it was a Soviet matter. The world watched on in horror as both uprisings were brutally suppressed by the USSR without US or Allied intervention despite the calls for help emanating from anti-communist forces in Prague and Budapest.

The arrival of the Kennedy administration to the White House in 1961 marked a sea change in US foreign policy towards the USSR and communism as a whole in the world, and marks the ascendance of Domino Theory within US policy making.  Under Truman, and Eisenhower the furthest the US had gone in actively preventing the spread of communism was through financial aid to states threatened by communist insurgences, or populist movements, with the one exception of Korea (1950 – 1953).  Korea was to represent the model for future engagements between East and West.  The Korean War saw a US led UN coalition supporting a US backed Capitalist South Korean regime on one side and a Soviet/Chinese backed communist Korean regime on the other.  This model of confrontation was to be repeated in Vietnam (1965–1973) and Afghanistan (1979-1989) with the US or USSR backing the insurgencies in each respectively and in the end seeing there advanced militaries suffer humiliating defeats at the hands of lightly armed yet popularly supported insurgents.

This change in policy within the US was in many ways a response to the policy that the USSR had been engaged in since the end of the Second World War.   This Soviet policy can be briefly described as the support of armed uprisings in foreign countries financially and militarily without the need for direct Soviet occupation or war waging.  This had first been seen in Korea in the early fifty’s and yet the US did not respond like with like until Kennedy.  The attempted invasion of Cuba, which led to the Bay of Pigs disaster, was a US funded operation, an attempt to remove a communist regime militarily without the direct use of US military assets, and therefore so the idea went, without the responsibility.  In this first tentative and disastrous case President Kennedy accepted full responsibility.  However, in the future official denial became the policy of many a president. This was seen in Chile where the CIA supported a coup against a democratically elected socialist regime in order to protect US interests.  With further similar examples in Afghanistan were the CIA and US special forces trained the mujahidin and supplied them with cash, intelligence and weapons, to fight off the Soviet invasion.

Without doubt the largest and most costly conflict of the Cold War involving the direct use of US troops was Vietnam.  This began during the Kennedy Administration as an Afghan or Cuban scenario, with advisors and military/financial assistance to the South Vietnamese who were facing a Soviet/Chinese supported Communist insurgency.   When it became apparent to Lyndon B Johnson following President Kennedy’s assassination that the assistance already being committed to Vietnam would not be sufficient to prevent a Vietminh takeover he committed US ground troops.   Vietnam was a punishing and ultimately futile ground war that failed to achieve any of the objectives that had been established for US Foreign Policy in South East Asia and caused the destabilisation and deaths of millions in Cambodia and Laos. The same thing was to happen in Afghanistan were repeated attempts by the USSR to establish a communist regime failed, requiring their direct intervention to bring about the desired result; like the US in Vietnam it was a futile effort.

These conflicts between East and West conducted through regional players are called proxy wars. Essentially this is where the two conflicting parties (USA/USSR) use other parties to do the dirty work. This avoids a nuclear confrontation while still achieving the strategic policy objectives against the enemy.  In Vietnam the Chinese and the Soviet Union provided assistance to the Communist Viet Cong, and in Afghanistan it was the US supplying aid to the Afghan resistance.

After Kennedy proxy wars became the norm and were waged across the world right up until the collapse of the USSR in 1991.  The results of these superpower driven conflicts in the developing world are still evident today.   Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan, as well as instability and autocratic regimes in Sudan, Algeria, Colombia and Cambodia are all remnants of Superpower intervention in the domestic disputes of nations, which in many cases intensified and prolonged the conflicts.

To quote President Kennedy again, ‘Let every nation know, whether it wish us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and success of liberty.  This much we pledge, and more…’

Kennedy’s inauguration rhetoric was clear in its intent for the future direction of US Foreign Policy, to ‘support any friend’, meant any friend, irrespective of intent or action as long as they backed the USA.   This is how brutal regimes like General Pinochet’s came to power with US support, ‘meet any hardship’, Vietnam, and ‘pay any price’, American assistance to Afghanistan totalled in the billions of dollars.  The benefits for US policy against the Soviet Union derived from Kennedy’s rhetoric were in the adoption of a foreign policy that allowed for a more aggressive and less restrained campaign against communist threats.   However, letting the leash off the CIA and the US military led to unsavoury practices and unexpected results, as more often than not ‘supporting any friend…’ led to corruption and scandal as well as the US becoming involved in illegal practices such as the Iran Contra Affair of Reagan’s Presidency. While ‘paying any price…’ meant inflated defence and intelligence budgets which angered Congress and worried the US taxpayer, which in turn led to more underhand dealings, again citing the Iran Contra affair were the USA was not only in violation of a UN security council resolution banning the sale of weapons to Iran or Iraq, but the CIA with the undoubted knowledge and support of the president conspired to keep the costs of this adventure hidden from Congress and the taxpayer.

Kennedy’s brief administration marked a turning point from the post war period of limited engagement and low cost support of friendly foreign regimes, to the start of the full commitment of all US military and intelligence assets to the defeat of Soviet foreign policy objectives worldwide.  The extent of its success is for others to judge, although the need of the USSR to keep pace with the relentless advances in US technologies and economic developments in the end crippled the economy of the USSR which ultimately led to its collapse.  It is arguable that this was always the inevitable consequence of Soviet polices when faced with competitive and dynamic capitalist free markets.  However, as can be seen in the case of China, without the intense pressure and relentless checking of Soviet moves globally by the US and its Allies it is possible that we could still be living in a world split between East and West, one in which the USSR was given the time to adapt and change as the Chinese did.

The Relationship between Political Socialisation, Political Culture and Political Systems

By Ian Howarth

None of us are born a Conservative, or a Socialist.  We acquire our political values from ‘learning and social experience’ Heywood (1997 p186). This process is political socialisation and whether we turn out to be a Socialist or a Conservative depends largely on our early social experiences. That is to say our family life, and experiences at school. These are the primary agents of early political socialisation as they are our main points of contact and interaction with the world and consequently with political concepts and values.  The family is particularly seen as the ‘agent that accomplishes ‘primary’ socialisation, providing individuals, in late childhood and adolescence in particular, with a framework of political sympathies and leanings that adult experience may modify or deepen, but not radically transform.’  (Heywood (1997 p187) This process of socialisation forms the basis of our individual values and ideals, deeply rooted in our own unique and personal life experiences.political

Political culture is the term used to describe the range of predominant values/ideologies which exist in society.  Political culture is a consequence of political socialisation as the outcomes of political socialisation vary between each individual to the fact that we all experience different socialisation patterns. This produces a vast reservoir of values and ideologies within society and it is the combination of these different values and ideologies that forms a nations political cultures. It is from this broad political culture that the political system is drawn; the political system is the Government and associated elements e.g. NGO’s, International Organisations, UN, NATO.  The political system in simple terms is the structure, which takes the values, and ideologies that have come to prominence within the political culture and turns them into social policy.

The political system operates within the confines of its political culture as the values and ideologies that the political system employ come from that political culture.  Therefore change in the political system can only come after change has occurred in its supporting political culture.  An example of this can be seen in the feminist movement of the early 1960’s.  It began as a minority movement, which over time gathered wider support from the public.  This increasing support with the political culture saw the ideals become more widely accepted and the strength of the movement became a more significant force within the political culture.   Eventually feminist ideals found their way, through its acceptance within political culture, to lawmakers and pressure groups which adopted there values and promulgated them amongst the political class.  This process of change finally saw the basic values of feminism i.e. the equality of women with men becoming widely accepted amongst the entire political system and embodied in legislation and accepted norms of behaviour.  This example clearly demonstrates the dependent relationship of political culture and the political system on one another.  Underlying a nation’s political culture is the processes of political socialisation and reinforcing political socialisation is the political system, as a primary socialisation agent is government.  It is a self-supporting and reinforcing system which takes ideas from the bottom of society and delivers them to the top, which then passes them back down to the bottom were they become part of another generation’s political socialisation.

Marxist’s argue that the political system is used to restrain the socialisation process; Karl Marx argued that in capitalist societies the state and economics control the patterns of socialisation.  This perspective argues that the capitalist economic system structures socialisation, and consequently brainwashes people into agreeing with it and happily being bankers, pilots, servants and so on.  It maintains this system of brainwashing due to the self-interest it encourages, e.g. the worst thing that can happen to a bank clerk is for the bank to close.  Therefore, the clerk is not going to do anything which jeopardizes the bank and consequently his job.  Marx argued that this is a static system as there is no change, the economic system just reinforces itself generation to next through the continued implication of capitalist economic policy by successive governments, Marx argues that the means of replacing this static system is through revolution, which they [Marxists] argue must bring about a ‘fundamental social change’ (Heywood (1997 p198) that is to say replace one economic system (capitalist) with another (communist). Marxists see the 1917 winter revolution in Russia as a positive thing but reject the French Revolution of 1789 as it did not result in a fundamental economic change that would result in an altering of the socialisation processes of a capitalist society.

Traditionalists in contrast to Marxists see the system of socialisation as dynamic. It is viewed as organic due to the varying role each socialising agent plays in our respective lives and the nature of our own unique experiences within society.   This leads too many different values existing within society some of which gain wider support and become ideologies while those that don’t become significant minority views.  This creates a dynamic system which constantly introduces new values/ideologies which can influence and change the political system.

It seems that while viewing the scope of history that the socialisation processes of communist Russia were far less adept at adapting to and managing change within the political system than within capitalist countries.  The example of the change within socialisation, culture and system around issues of female equality can be seen as a prime example of the dynamic system postulated by traditionalist in action.  Similar process of change can be seen around issues of Gay Rights, and Race Equality.  The arguments that capitalists systems only offer static, non-changing systems seem weak in the light of this.   However, the rise and longevity of a communist political system in the Soviet Union and its satellites does in my opinion present evidence that it is possible for a political system to grow independently of its culture and then impose itself upon first the political culture and consequently the socialisation process.  This can be further seen in Nazi Germany and Communist China.

In all but the latter case the underlying dormant vibrancy of the dynamic traditionalist system remained and eventually overthrew the imposed political system.  However, in both cases it took considerable forces to bring this about and shows that the existence of a broad political culture cannot alone guarantee a corresponding political system.  In short tyranny’s can emerge from dynamic systems, and in doing so bring about their suppression.