Byline: Niall Ferguson
As the Palestinians learned last week, the U.N. serves the interests of great powers. Just as it was meant to.
The Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas's bid for full U.N. membership was dead on arrival in New York. So why bother even raising the subject? The answer: to drum up international sympathy for the plight of the Palestinians. Yet other defeated peoples have suffered far more than they. Think only of how--and at whose expense--the U.N. itself began.
Born in the gently foggy city of San Francisco, the U.N. was conceived in the Ukrainian resort of Yalta. Though nestled amid the green Crimean hills and lapped by the Black Sea's languid waves, the city was severely battle-scarred in February 1945; Winston Churchill dubbed it "the Riviera of Hades." Its diabolical master was the Soviet despot Joseph Stalin, who acted as host to Churchill and the ailing American President Franklin Roosevelt.
Of the Big Three, as Sergei Plokhy shows in his riveting study Yalta: The Price of Peace, Roosevelt alone truly believed in the dream of a world parliament, and even he knew the U.N. would need to give greater weight to the great powers than its ill-starred predecessor, the League of Nations. Thus it was Roosevelt who proposed a Security Council on which the war's victors--plus France and China--would be permanently represented and armed with veto powers.
Churchill and Stalin were realists. They saw the postwar world in terms of "spheres of influence." Though perfectly capable of such realism in practice, Roosevelt still yearned for the idealist's world of peace based on collective security. Yet Churchill was deeply reluctant to accept that Stalin's postwar sphere of influence would include Poland. His predecessor had acquiesced in the destruction of Czechoslovakia at Munich but had gone to war when Hitler (and Stalin) carved up Poland between them. Was Yalta to be the Poles' Munich?
"We can't agree," grumbled Churchill, "that Poland shall be a mere puppet state of Russia, where …