Making of the U.N.

This book by an eminent practitioner of multilateral diplomacy is not only for students of international relations and serving diplomats but also for the layperson in view of its lucid presentation of complicated issues.

Published : Jul 17, 2019 07:30 IST

Ambassador Dilip Sinha is eminently qualified to write on the Permanent Five (P5) in the Security Council. He was chief of the division in the Ministry of External Affairs dealing with the United Nations when India was in the Security Council in 2011-12 and, later, Permanent Representative to the U.N. in Geneva. His style is lucid, the research meticulous, and the jargon-free narration impeccable.

There are 16 chapters in all, apart from the conclusion. The author promises a “study of international security cooperation and its moorings in international law from the perspective of the countries in the South( emphasis added.) He gives a historically sound account of the genesis of territorial states in Europe following the end of the Thirty Years’ War (1618-48).

The account of the origins of international law shows analytic rigour. The Dutch jurist Hugo Grotius published The Law of War and Peace in 1625 when the Thirty Years’ War was still raging. With the rise of the territorial states, the need arose for a law of nations “binding upon civilised states in their relations with one another”. This called for a fundamental change in the concept of law, as law was commonly understood as a body of commands given and enforced by a sovereign. Who was the sovereign to enforce the laws among the states? As Immanuel Kant pointed out, Grotius and others like him were “sorry comforters” because such laws “do not and cannot have the slightest legal force since states as such are not subject to a common external constraint”.

The concept of God-given “natural laws” is a partial answer to Kant. It is partial as we do not see the enforcer.

The author draws attention to the difference between collective security and collective defence. The latter has been “the primary incentive for international cooperation”. It means collective action by members against an external threat. Collective security deals with threats “emanating from an internal source against which all members accept the obligation to take joint action”.

The U.N. was formed as a “collective defence organisation against the enemy states of the Second World War”. The U.N. “created an international order in which member states agreed to restrict their sovereign right to wage war and to repose their faith in a small body of members of the Security Council”.

We all have an idea about why and how the United States, the United Kingdom and the Soviet Union became permanent members of the Security Council. The author gives an insightful account of how China became a permanent member. But for President F.D. Roosevelt’s determined insistence, China would not have been in. He fantasised about the immense market of 500 million in a China industrialised and “Christianised” after the war and the benefits for the U.S. from exporting to such a huge market. T.V. Soong, brother-in-law of Chiang Kai-shek, ambassador in Washington, enjoyed easy access to Roosevelt. Chiang Kai-sheik, married to the daughter of a rich publisher of Christian missionary books, was a Southern Methodist Christian. Winston Churchill was scandalised to see China in. He pointed out repeatedly to Roosevelt that it was a big mistake to overestimate China’s contribution to victory in the war.

To Churchill’s chagrin, he found that some in Washington accorded equal weight to the British Empire and to China under Chiang Kai-sheik. Roosevelt’s trusted envoy, Averell Harriman, did not agree with him on according such an important place to China.

The reader will note the impact of individual judgment or prejudice on foreign policy decisions. She might also wonder whether Chiang Kei-sheik was the only Chinese leader fighting the Japanese invader. How about Mao Zedong? Roosevelt was keen to include Brazil. Churchill was adamant on getting France in, though it was yet to be liberated, and Roosevelt had to agree. However, the Russian leader Joseph Stalin formally agreed to including France only at the Yalta Conference in February 1945, five months after the liberation of France in August 1944. If Brazil is in, there will be six permanent members, and in order to give notional majority to the non-permanent, there will have to be seven of them, giving a total of 13, a number that Roosevelt disliked.

It was Roosevelt’s idea to give permanent membership to the “four policemen” (the U.S., the Soviet Union, the U.K. and China) who would keep peace in the world. (We are talking of a time before Roosevelt had accepted France.) Roosevelt shared this idea with Soviet Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov in 1942. The latter added one more thought: the four “policemen” alone should hold weapons. Roosevelt, agreed as can be seen from Anthony Eden’s book The Reckoning where Roosevelt is quoted as saying that the smaller powers “should have nothing more dangerous than rifles”.

The first outline of a new organisation was prepared by Boris Stein, a Soviet diplomat, after the 1943 Tehran Conference attended by Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin, known as the Big Three.

The first U.S. draft followed the Stein draft. There was disagreement about the name of the post-war organisation. Roosevelt wanted to retain the name “The United Nations”, representing the Allies. Stalin opposed using a wartime name. He proposed “World Union” or “International Security Organisation”. Churchill supported Roosevelt, and Stalin yielded. The U.N. was not conceived as a universal organisation. Nor did decolonisation figure among its goals. The U.N. Charter has three articles (53, 77 and 107) that refer to possible action against “enemy states” despite the World Summit of December 2005 deciding to “work towards deleting the references”, as the author puts it. The first two words, “work towards”, are typical U.N. language.

The “veto” power held by the P5 came in for much discussion. The Big Three were agreed on the need for the veto but worried about criticism from other member states. Confident of their ability to have majority support, Washington and London were prepared to show some flexibility. Stalin objected. Finally, Roosevelt’s formula, under which none of the P5 could prevent discussion of any issue but could veto enforcement action, was agreed to by Stalin.

This in brief is the account of the Dumbarton Oaks Conference held in 1944. The author gives an equally thorough account of the San Francisco Conference of 1945, where the Charter was finalised.

Chapter 5 is appropriately titled “Beginner’s Luck: The Early Successes”. The successes included the location of the U.N. headquarters in New York, the selection of a Secretary-General, accelerating the emergence of Indonesia as an independent state, and the U.N.-brokered ceasefire in Jammu and Kashmir.

Chapter 14, “Impermanence of the Permanent Five”, makes important points. Except for a while between 1970 and 1990, the U.S. has dominated the Security Council. All Security Council resolutions authorising the use of force were either moved by the U.S. or had its support, with Russia and China either blocking or grudgingly supporting. These two seldom use the Security Council to promote their global interests as the West does.

Chapter 15, “Wars that Escaped Security Council Action”, and the last one, “Security Council Reform”, round up this exhaustive study. Let us look at the conclusions. The author starts by asking pertinent questions:

How has the Security Council fared in performing its Charter responsibilities?

Has it fulfilled the expectations of those who drafted the Charter?

How do the current members of the U.N. evaluate it?

The author has pointed out, inter alia , that:

In the absence of compulsory adjudication of disputes and a machinery to enforce verdicts, the Security Council’s actions to maintain international peace and security become a reactionary preservation of the status quo.

An increase in the permanent seats will make the Council more undemocratic. The debates will be longer and decision-making will be slower.

All countries are not equal. Weighted voting can be introduced.

The author promised us a study from the perspective of the countries in the South. Therefore, the reader might have expected a mention of India’s important role in the Security Council on the Korean War. Sir Benegal Narsing Rao was India’s Permanent Representative when India was on the Security Council in 1950-52. He played a crucial role in shaping the Security Council’s decisions. Similarly, V.K. Krishna Menon helped to bring about a ceasefire by working out a formula on repatriation of the prisoners of war. India’s resolution drafted by him was adopted by the U.N. General Assembly on December 3, 1952.

This reviewer mentions this matter because he has come across ignorance of India’s role in the Korean War context on the part of the political science faculty in more than one university. The reader interested in knowing more on India’s crucial diplomatic role might look up the book Between the Blocs: India, the United Nations and Ending the Korean War by Robert Barnes, one of the rare books dealing with India’s role. One can read it free on the Internet.

The book under review could do with more editing. For example, on page 39 we read: The United Nations was formed as a military alliance during the Second World War. After the war, its three main allies—the United States, the Soviet Union and Britain converted it into an international organisation for continued collective defence against the enemy states, Germany and Japan.

The reader might wonder about the need to seek collective defence against Japan and Germany, both under occupation.

These days one comes across concocted stories about Nehru’s having rejected twice the offer of a permanent seat on the Security Council. The reader would have appreciated a paragraph or two on this, especially in the context of the rewriting of history gathering momentum these days. The author has made rather laconic references to the so-called offers.

The author has conclusively proved the illegitimacy of the P5 and hence the title is rather intriguing. All told, this well-researched book by an eminent practitioner of the art of multilateral diplomacy will be read not only by students of international relations and serving diplomats but also by the general public in view of its lucid presentation of complicated issues.

K.P. Fabian is the author of Diplomacy: Indian Style.

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