All Commentary
Wednesday, January 1, 1964

The UN Threat to the US

Mr. Chamberlin is a skilled observer and re­porter of economic and political conditions at home and abroad. In addition to writing a number of books (his latest, The German Phoenix: Duell, Sloan, & Pearce) he has lectured widely and is a contributor to the Wall Street Journal and numerous magazines.

A vociferous band of propagan­dists, official and unofficial, has been presenting the United Na­tions to the American people as a shield against war, an impartial tribunal for the just and peace­ful settlement of disputes between nations, a large installment on the realization of Tennyson’s vision of “a parliament of man.” Un­fortunately, a candid look at the UN record shows that it has been and is nothing of the sort. Far from being a help in the effort to insure peace with freedom and justice, the UN has become the home of a double standard of morals, of a crooked view of world relations. And, especially in recent years, this organization has been a distinctly bad influence on American foreign policy, induc­ing the American government again and again to let down allies and to quarrel unnecessarily with friendly countries.

It is perhaps not generally real­ized that during recent years the prevailing trend of opinion in the UN has changed, in line with its expansion in membership from about 50 original members to the present figure of 111. Most of the new members are African and Asiatic states with little experi­ence in self-government and still less in the conduct of interna­tional affairs.

During the first years after the end of the Second World War the United States could count on an almost automatic majority in the world organization, because the countries of Western Europe and Latin America regularly sup­ported United States’ positions. Practically, this was of no great visible benefit. The Soviet Union could, and did, use its veto in the Security Council to block any ac­tion to which it was opposed. There is not one recorded case when Soviet policy seems to have been swayed by an adverse vote in the UN Assembly, with its rule of one nation, one vote.

A New Balance of Power

But the United States, in the first years of the existence of the UN, could at least register moral victories in the shape of numer­ous votes in the Assembly sup­porting its position and condemn­ing that of the Soviet Union. Now, this situation has entirely changed. The UN has been swamped with new member states, many of them ridiculously minus­cule in size, all poor and economi­cally and educationally retarded. It strains the principle of one nation-one-vote pretty far to have the votes of such African states as Niger, Chad, and Upper Volta count, in Assembly voting, as the equals of the United States, Great Britain, and France.

These new states have displayed complete moral and political in­difference to the vital issue of hu­man freedom that divides free countries from communist dicta­torships. Their sole obsession is to destroy what they call the rem­nants of colonialism and in this obsession they try to draw the United States into vendettas and one-sided positions which conform neither with principles of ele­mentary justice nor with America’s own interests, as ra­tionally conceived. This double standard of morals was clearly re­vealed when the representatives of the Afro-Asian bloc in the UN urged the strongest sanctions against the British and French vindication of the rights of their nationals when Egypt’s dictator Nasser seized the Suez Canal and displayed monumental indifference to a far graver outrage against human rights: the Soviet armed crushing of the fight for freedom of the Hungarian people.

The United Nations and the United States have sometimes been pushed into positions of re­pulsive hypocrisy by the moral myopia of many of the Afro-Asian governments, by their refusal to admit that one of their own num­ber could be wrong in adopting policies of aggression. So the UN was eloquently silent when the sanctimonious Nehru of India overran the Portuguese enclave of Goa by force after failing to touch off subversion from within. There was no chance for the people of Goa—mostly Christians with cen­turies of association with Por­tugal—to express their will freely on absorption into India; Goa was simply taken over by force, in clear defiance of the following clauses in the UN Charter:

“All members shall settle their international disputes by peaceful means in such a manner that in­ternational peace and security, and justice, are not endangered.

“All members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or polit­ical independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the purposes of the United Nations.”

Indian troops shooting their way into Goa did not harmonize with these injunctions of the UN Charter. But there was no official peep from the UN about the affair. The American chief dele­gate, Adlai Stevenson, made a strong verbal protest on his own account, but did not even try to get action from the international body because such an effort was foredoomed to failure in advance.

It was the same story when the fun-loving dictator of Indonesia, Sukarno, went on the warpath against West New Guinea, which had remained under Dutch ad­ministration. The Netherlands was far better able to provide for the educational and social needs of the primitive natives of this area than could chronically bankrupt Indonesia, and the Dutch made every effort to reach a concilia­tory settlement. However, the In­donesians used both threat of force and force without any re­buke from the UN; and an Ameri­can retired diplomat worked out a Munich formula under which West New Guinea, without any consultation of the will of its peo­ple, was handed over to Sukarno’s burgeoning empire.

More recently, Indonesia again has played the role of a blatant international troublemaker with­out incurring any UN censure. A new state, Malaysia, came into existence in the form of a federa­tion of Malaya, the big commer­cial port of Singapore, and some former British colonial territories on the island of Borneo. Without waiting for the report of a UN commission which was supposed to investigate the state of public opinion in the Borneo territories, Sukarno started guerrilla harass­ment operations in Borneo; a mob in the Indonesian capital, Jakarta, burned down the British Embassy without the slightest opposition from the police; and extremist labor organizations grabbed all British-owned enterprises in In­donesia—a repetition of a method formerly used against the Dutch. All this scarcely suggested a spirit of settling international disputes by peaceful means.

Selective Intervention

Something might be said, in the name of idealism, for a UN policy of protesting impartially against all offenses against hu­man rights, regardless of where and by whom these offenses are committed. Something might also be said, in the name of realism, for having the UN keep its col­lective mouth shut about condi­tions which it is powerless to change. But nothing whatever can be said for a policy of selective UN intervention or, more specifi­cally, for taking every opportunity to denounce Portugal and South Africa and maintaining eloquent silence when the Soviet Union, In­dia, or Indonesia is the offender.

What is of special concern to the United States is that this kind of special pressure from an arti­ficial UN majority that does not represent either power or respon­sibility in world affairs is con­stantly diverting the United States delegation away from the proper purpose of American for­eign policy: the pursuit and de­fense of the interests of the United States. For example, Por­tugal is a NATO ally of the United States and its willingness to grant to the United States the use of air bases in the Azores Islands is a considerable strategic benefit to this country. Yet, the United States is constantly being pressed by the Afro-Asian bloc in the UN to associate itself with hostile public criticism of some­thing that is really none of its business, Portugal’s administra­tive methods in its African pos­sessions, Angola and Mozambique. More than that, Portugal’s NATO allies, including the United States, are urged to commit unfriendly acts against the little country, such as refusing to sell arms which might be used against sub­versive elements who have been waging a savage cutthroat war against Portuguese settlers on the northern fringes of Angola.

The same issue arises, perhaps even more sharply, in connection with South Africa. In a country where the population is about 20 per cent European (mainly Dutch and British) and about 80 per cent native African, mixed race, and Indian in composition, the gov­ernment is committed to a policy of apartheid or complete separa­tion between the white and black races. In terms of humanity and long-range feasibility, this policy is open to criticism. But it is easier to denounce apartheid than to suggest a practicable alterna­tive. To establish a one-man-one‑vote system would mean an ignor­ant and mostly illiterate native majority swamping the Europeans who have brought to South Africa all its cultural and material achievements, which have made it the leading industrial nation on the African continent, and have provided living conditions for the natives which—however unsatis­factory in Western terms—still attract a voluntary inflow of na­tive Africans from adjacent areas.

One may hope that South Africa ultimately will find a middle way between the rigors of apartheid and the horrors and futilities of premature “liberation” in the Congo. But this result is not likely to be achieved by the continuous threats of other African states to stir up bloody racial strife or by giving a UN sanction to boycotts of trade and investment in the flourishing South African econ­omy. Indeed, the effect of this campaign, according to reports from South Africa, has been to bridge the political and social gulf between Boers and Britons and to win more general support for the government’s policy of main­taining South Africa as a bastion of white civilization.

Whatever individual Americans may think of apartheid, the United States as a nation has no quarrel with South Africa. In­deed, the use of a naval base at Simonstown, on the South African coast, might well be highly impor­tant in any international showdown with communism. Yet, the United States is allowing itself to be dragged along in the inad­missible attempt of the Afro-Asian bloc to misuse the United Nations for promoting a vendetta against a regime which they dis­like.

Last summer the UN commis­sion on South African apartheid—the very existence of which is contrary to the provisions of the UN Charter which forbade inter­ference in the internal affairs of member states—brought in a mil­itant resolution calling for an em­bargo on the sale of arms and oil and a virtual blockade of South Africa. All this on the farfetched and downright absurd pretext that South African apartheid is a threat to peace. South Africa does not propose to attack anyone. Its decisions on racial issues within its own frontiers are its own con­cern.

Time To Check Credentials

To call the roll of the commis­sion that brought in the resolu­tion in favor of hostile actions against South Africa is to get an impression of revolting hypocrisy. What are the credentials as a crusader for civil rights and lib­erties of Hungary, where the present administration is only in power because Soviet tanks in 1956 rolled roughshod over the freedom movement of the Hun­garian people? Or Algeria, where a revolutionary government came into power by murder and terror, stamped out all semblance of legal opposition, and becomes more and more involved in internal and ex­ternal strife? Or—heaven save the mark—Haiti, by all odds the worst governed and physically most miserable country in Latin America, despite the fact (or be­cause of the fact?) that there has been no “imperialist” foreign rule there since the French settlers were massacred and driven out at the end of the eighteenth cen­tury?

The reek of hypocrisy from the council halls of the UN becomes even stronger if one considers the many challenges to elementary justice and humanity to which that organization has remained completely indifferent. For ex­ample, has there ever been a UN resolution on the infamous Berlin Wall, which divided thousands of families, which has been a scene of death for scores of fugitives from communist tyranny? Did the UN ever take up the moral issues posed by communist slave labor camps in the Soviet Union and in China or by the forcible incor­poration into the Soviet Union of Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, and other substantial areas of Eastern Europe? It did not.

Yet, quite recently, the United States associated itself with a nearly unanimous UN vote attack­ing apartheid and demanding the release of persons accused of sub­versions—a case before a South African court. The United States representatives in the UN may be piling up serious retribution by thus participating in resolutions which clearly violate the UN Charter and set a precedent for UN intervention in the internal concerns of member states.

Suppose, for example, that a majority in the UN should pass a resolution censuring the state of race relations in the United States and demanding that per­sons who had been arrested and placed on trial in connection with some outbreak of racial violence should be freed. Or, take another quite conceivable possibility. Sup­pose a leftwing Castroite govern­ment should take control of Pan­ama and appeal to the UN for the transfer of the Panama Canal to Panamanian sovereignty. In either case, we should be more or less hoist by our own petard, by our unwillingness to take a firm prin­cipled stand against exploiting UN machinery for crusades de­sired by some of its less responsi­ble members.

The UN Obstacle to Peace on Five Counts

There should be more critical examination of the widespread complacent belief that, if the UN cannot do much good, it can also do little harm. On five counts the United Nations has been a handi­cap and an obstacle to the conduct of a foreign policy conceived in the interest of the American peo­ple.

First, the very nature of the UN setup has almost forced the United States to express judg­ments and take sides on issues where silence would have been the preferable course.

Second, the United States in the UN is in a minority of “haves” surrounded by an envi­ous majority of “have nots.” The Economic and Social Council has been a prolific hatching ground of schemes designed, in one way or another, to transfer American wealth to “underprivileged” na­tions. On one occasion the United States was in a minority of one in standing for the principle that private property should not be confiscated without adequate com­pensation.

Third, there is a basic differ­ence between the UN view that basic human liberties, such as freedom of religion, speech, and press, are gifts from governments and the traditional American view that such liberties are natural rights of men under God which no government may lawfully with­hold. The distinction is important.

Fourth, the UN arouses hopes that cannot be realized, creates an illusion of security, and pro­vides an excuse for dodging or postponing hard but necessary in­dependent decisions in foreign policy.

Fifth, the very expression, United Nations, is a misnomer, be­cause of the deep divisions of ideology and national interest by which the world is divided. To expect the United Nations, given these differences and given its archaic and unrealistic Charter, to point a clear united lead in time of crisis is to expect swift united action from a Tower of Babel.

It probably is not politically feasible to advocate United States dissociation from the United Na­tions. Too many myths have been successfully implanted in the pub­lic mind. But at the very least, the United States government could and should refuse to lend Ameri­can prestige to votes against friendly governments taken at the urging of the members of the swarm of new Lilliput states which possess neither political and economic power nor the respon­sibility such power calls for. 

  • William Henry Chamberlin (1897-1969) was an American historian and journalist. He was the author of several books about the Cold War, Communism, and US foreign policy, including The Russian Revolution 1917-1921 (1935) which was written in Russia between 1922-34 when he was the Moscow correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor.