The United Nations—How Strong a World Force?
BORN in 1945, the United Nations Organization is now almost twenty-nine years old. Where does it stand today as a world force? After years of apparent decline, is it now in a time of growing strength?
The evidence points that way. Recent developments indicate that this global organization is due to play a highly significant role in future world affairs. Bible prophecy points in the same direction.
High hopes were held when the U.N. was brought forth through the San Francisco Conference in 1945. “The most important human gathering since the Last Supper,” exclaimed the New York Post in describing the conference.
The world had then just emerged from the greatest military holocaust in human history, its finale brilliantly lit by the devastating blasts of atomic bombs. The promise that this newborn organization would be the agency whereby all nations could unite in the interests of international peace and security sounded good to war-weary people. It inspired visions of a new era of progress and prosperity through an international cooperation unparalleled in the past.
During the early years, the U.N. captured world attention. The setting up of the Republic of Israel, the Kashmir border dispute between India and Pakistan, the outbreak of war in Korea, the Suez Canal incident and similar events kept the U.N. on the front page of newspapers around the world. It scored some successes—‘keeping the lid on’ in several potentially explosive situations, serving as the means for bringing about truces in some cases and an early settlement of conflict in others. Its gleaming headquarters on the East River in Manhattan became a major tourist attraction.
Then, during the 1960’s, the U.N. began a slide into relative obscurity, fading from public attention. By 1970 it was with sarcasm being referred to by some as the “East River Debating Society,” a “propaganda platform,” and an “international psychiatrist’s couch” where nations went to voice their complaints. Its visitors’ galleries were largely empty. Press coverage dwindled. For a time the U.N. was even in danger of financial bankruptcy because of lack of support from member nations.
True, U.N. agencies, such as the World Health Organization, the World Bank, the Food and Agriculture Organization and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, were all achieving notable advances in far-flung areas of the earth. But the U.N. was designed to be primarily a political instrument. And it was in the field of world politics that its greatest weakness seemed evident.
The organization, of course, had built-in limitations and weaknesses from its very formation. As the 1970 World Book Encyclopedia states: “The UN is not a world government. Normally, it can only make studies and recommendations.” This is particularly true of the General Assembly, the main body of the organization, which can draw up and pass resolutions—but resolutions which are not binding on the organization’s membership.
The fifteen-member Security Council has greater initiative and can make decisions that are binding. However, each of its five permanent members (the United States, the Soviet Union, Great Britain, France and China) holds the power of veto.
The present U.N. secretary-general, Kurt Waldheim, summed up the problem in saying:
“You must not expect the United Nations to accomplish miracles. We are made up of sovereign nations. We can only accomplish what our member nations allow us to accomplish.”
Unity has been the critical factor for any decisive action by the giant organization. And within one year of its formation, the unity of the United Nations was largely in name only. The “cold war” pitted the Communist nations against the Western powers.
We need to remember that the U.N.’s composition back in 1945 was vastly different from what it has become today. The original charter members then numbered fifty-one. Of these, twenty-two were in the western hemisphere (including the United States and Canada), about a dozen others were from western Europe and the British Commonwealth of Nations. Among the remainder, there was only a handful of Communist countries and neutrals.
Thus, most of the U.N.’s members were allies of the United States, and for many years the way the United States voted was the way the majority voted. This preponderance of power for the Western nations placed the Communist bloc and its leader, the Soviet Union, in a disagreeable position. That was a major reason why the Soviet Union used its power to veto Security Council measures more than a hundred times in the first two decades of the U.N.’s existence. By the 1960’s the picture had undergone a dramatic change. The bright hopes were flickering, weakening.
A KEY FACTOR IN THE DECLINE
During the first five years of the organization’s life, only nine new members were admitted, bringing the membership total up to 60. But by 1960 there were 99 members. Today there are 135. The vast majority of new members have come from Asia and Africa (where onetime imperial colonies have steadily been gaining independence, often with the U.N.’s help). This change in composition proved a key factor in the U.N.’s decline from world prominence. Why?
On the one hand, this expansion made the organization truly global. At the same time, however, Western influence underwent steady erosion. Zeal and enthusiasm for the organization waned, notably in the United States.
A major cause of disenchantment involved the voting in the General Assembly. There any of the now abundant small countries, some of which have a population of less than a million inhabitants, had a voting power equal to that of nations the size of England, Brazil, the United States or the Soviet Union. The “superpowers” often found this frustrating.
The past decade has brought the ascendancy of the Afro-Asian states to a majority status in the U.N. (more than 70 out of the 135 members). This undoubtedly was a strong factor in the success of the twenty-year-long movement to admit Communist China as a member, with its enormous population of some 800,000,000 persons. Its entrance in 1971 to a permanent position on the Security Council in the place of Nationalist China also contributed to the U.N.’s radically changed aspect. Clearly, things would never return to the way they were during the global organization’s infancy.
Despite expansion, to the world’s view there was no notable sign of renewed strength of the U.N. The so-called “Third World,” made up of the poorer, “developing” nations, had come into the extraordinary position of being able to put resolutions through the General Assembly in the face of opposition from the “superpowers.” But the “Third World” nations did not have the means to give “muscle” to these resolutions. The general state of frustration continued and the giant organization twitched, groaned and shouted, but generally could not coordinate its strength for decisive action.
Thus, as a Life magazine editorial in 1970 expressed it: “National self-interest is still the common denominator of international politics, and real power resides where it always has—with the governments and military forces of great powers.”
Why, then, is there reason to believe that the United Nations is now experiencing a resurgence of power? What factors contribute to this? What part will this global organization yet play in the future of all mankind?
[Map on page 549]
(For fully formatted text, see publication)
The area of the earth in color represents U.N. members or territories and trust territories of U.N. members. The few areas in white represent nonmember nations
WHEN THE U.N. EXPANDED TO 135 MEMBER NATIONS, IT MADE THE ORGANIZATION TRULY GLOBAL. THIS HAS GREATLY CHANGED THE U.N. FROM AN ORGANIZATION MADE UP MOSTLY OF WESTERN NATIONS TO ONE IN WHICH THE AFRO-ASIAN STATES ARE IN THE MAJORITY