Western Europeans and Others: The Making of Europe at the United Nations

Article excerpt

This article examines the emergence of the so-called Western European and Others Group as well as that of the caucus of European Communities at the General Assembly of the United Nations based on a study of documents from Nordic foreign ministries in the period 1945 to 1975. It shows that the global entanglement of Western Europe both stimulated and inhibited the development of closer subcontinental collaboration during the Cold War, and it demonstrates that a European core was necessary for facilitating common political action. The hesitant and reactive evolution of Western European collaboration at the United Nations, the arbitrariness of its geographical scope, and the alienation of its members provide a key to understanding European identity in the second half of the twentieth century. Keywords: United Nations, bloc politics, Western Europe, foreign policy, identity

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Familiarity with the European Union makes it easy to forget that the concept of Europe is highly contingent and that it takes different shapes in different settings. A striking, albeit little-known example lends itself well to illustrate this premise: On the world floor of the United Nations, the existence of the two separate groups--the so-called Group of Eastern European States (EES) and the Western European and Others Group (WEOG)--continues to have significance for regional representation in United Nations organs two decades after the end of the Cold War.

While the division at macro level is clearly obsolete, not least in view of the development of close collaboration of the countries belonging to the European Union in all matters concerning the United Nations, (1) enthusiasm for a revision is lacking. The reason for maintaining this seemingly blatant contradiction lies in a more complex underbelly: Any change in the key of representation would certainly diminish the political representation of the European states in United Nations organs. (2) Thus, former Soviet republics wishing to join the Western electoral group have been rejected. After a maverick spell and hope for admission to the Western European and Others Group, even Estonia has now joined the Eastern European Group. This step was taken as late as May 2004, parallel to the country's accession to the European Union. The ongoing participation of Cyprus in the Asian Group is worth noting among other political anomalies of regional politics in the United Nations.

This article examines the emergence and early development of the WEOG as well as that of the caucus of European Communities (EC). Based on a study of documents from Nordic foreign ministries, it challenges a pioneer study from 1960 on bloc politics in the United Nations that claims, "The states in the Western European geographical distribution group have been 'lumped' together, so to speak, in a strange collection of members which it would not be very productive to examine."

This grouping is in contrast to the potentially more rewarding study on the consultation of members of the European Communities. (3) This article assumes the very opposite; namely, that the hesitant and reactive evolution of this group, the arbitrariness of its geographical scope, and the alienation of its members provide a key to understanding European identity in the second half of the twentieth century. While it demonstrates the potential for a globalizing Europe as a community of values that eventually transforms most of the countries within its scope and transcends imagined geographical borders, this understanding also shows that a European core was necessary for facilitating common political action. Thus, the history of Western European cooperation in the United Nations facilitates a better understanding of the contingency of the construction of Europe, which frequently leads to European communities not conforming to geographical definitions.

The following survey starts by sketching the legal parameters of Western European representation in the United Nations. …