Still the Best Hope for Peace. the U.N. Charter

By Raskin, Marcus | The Nation, September 21, 1985 | Go to article overview
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Still the Best Hope for Peace. the U.N. Charter


Raskin, Marcus, The Nation


Still the Best Hope for Peace

Nowhere is it more obvious that the United Nations is a creature of nation-states--primarily the superpowers--than in the area of security and disarmament. The United Nations cannot effect disarmament unless the great powers agree; however, the U.N. process can create an important political momentum in behalf of disarmament and the work of peace movements. The United Nations is the place where governments feel they must speak out against apartheid and for disarmament and economic development. It is a place where, more often than not, nations prove La Rochefoucauld's maxim that hypocrisy is the homage that vice pays to virtue.

This exercise can have positive political results. Statements, pronouncements and resolutions can (and have) become legitimizing instruments for peace and human rights movements across the world. That political fact should be understood in the dialectics of debate over disarmament and secuirty. Peace activists, scholars and statesmen should not fall into the trap of thinking that the United Nations is by nature irrelevant to security and disarmament. After all, the framers of the U.N. Charter sought to assert the organization's centrality rather than its marginality in international affairs.

The United Nations grew out of the grand military alliance of World War II, and it was generally assumed that the United States would be the senior partner in rebuilding the international system. Forty years ago empires were falling from one end of the earth to the other. Some 50 million people had been killed; America had dropped atomic bombs on Japan in a prologue to the cold war. It was little wonder that the first article of the Charter states that the united Nations' fundamental purpose is "to maintain international peace and security.' That objective was to be attained with "the least diversion for armaments of the world's human and economic resources.' A permanent U.N. police force coupled with general disarmament was to achieve world peace. Under Article 47 of the Charter, the Security Council's Military Staff Committee was given the responsibility of formulating international security plans, which would be implemented through the United Nations by the great powers with the consultation and assent of the small nations. The committee has ritually met since 1948 to discuss a permanent armed force, but nothing has come of its deliberations.

Indeed, the concept of a U.N. police force has not been taken seriously by member nations since the early 1960s. In 1964, Brian Urquhart, now Under Secretary General for Special Political Affairs, championed the idea of an international peacekeeping system but argued against such a force: "The institutional addition at this time of a permanent international police force would in all probability worsen the state of international politics, and it might, by is very existence or through precipitate and inappropriate use, complicate the very situation it was designed to solve.' The formation of such a force would, in any case, make little sense unless a comprehensive disarmament was also achieved.

The drafters of the Charter granted to the Security Council the powers to decide whether to use force, and the General Assembly had only an advisory role. However, the idea that all the member natons could authorize collective measures was pressed by the United states in 1950, when North Korean forces invaded South Korea. Unable to obtain the Security Council's approval for sending in U.N. troops, America introduced the Uniting for Peace resolution in the General Assembly, authorizing an international force in Korea. That action seemd to signal a new role for the General Assembly, but Washington would find that it had created a monster. By 1958, the Third World countries had achieved a majority in the General Assembly, at which point official U.S. disenchantment with the United Nations began.

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