Can Putin Survive?
The Lessons of the Soviet Collapse
THE United Nations is something which I have now lived with for about ten years, for it was in the early days in 1942-43 that, under the inspiring direction of Mr. Eden, we began thinking, in London, about what sort of world organization there might be at the end of the war. This is my justification for attempting a kind of summing up, or appraisal, of the present position of the United Nations in world politics, and an estimate, for what it is worth, of what the United Nations may legitimately be expected to accomplish in the difficult days ahead. I know all too well that in so short a space it is not possible to do full justice to so vast a subject. I am only too conscious that much of what I say may appear to experts to be unduly dogmatic and unsubstantiated by reasoned argument. But I have some reason to believe that, so far as the United Kingdom is concerned, the general line, as I shall now attempt to depict it, will be one which will be generally acceptable. I am not so sure that it will find such bipartisan approval here in the United States, though I hope so. If it does not, then at any rate my article may give rise to further fruitful discussion; for if we can agree on anything it is surely on the proposition that, unless the United States and the United Kingdom are substantially at one in their basic conception of the true function of a world organization, the future for all of us will be much more difficult.
I suggest, then, and here I am sure that none will disagree, that the central political issue of our time is the so-called cold war, which may be defined as the friction created by the resistance of the free world to Stalinist plans for world domination. This is not, of course, the only problem which faces us, but it is clearly the most pervading; and I propose, therefore, to examine first the general nature of the security rôle which the United Nations can be expected to play in the political conditions which the cold war produces.
Let us at the outset ask ourselves what exactly we now mean when we use the phrase "collective security." In the early days of the League of Nations, and indeed up till about 1935, this phrase had a very definite connotation. Basically, of course, it meant that all nations, or as many of them as possible, should undertake not to commit any act of aggression, and further that if any one of them did nevertheless commit any aggression all the others would join together in repressing it. By such means it was hoped to achieve a situation in which aggressions would never occur, for the simple reason that it would never be worth the while of any nation to indulge in them. It was recognized, too, that, if the status quo was guaranteed to this extent, some provision ought to be made for so-called "peaceful change," but how exactly this was to be accomplished was never, I think, finally determined.
Now, in spite of the fact that the United States was never in the League of Nations and that the Russians, Germans and Japanese were in it for only part of the time, "collective security," as defined above, might quite conceivably have worked if it had been applied in the case of the Italian attack on Ethiopia and Hitler's occupation of the Rhineland. For in both these cases the states which committed, directly or indirectly, a pretty evident act or intended act of aggression did not have many friends and would almost certainly have been overcome if a general war had followed. Indeed, they would almost certainly have been deterred from making any move at all if the major Powers in the League, particularly England and France, had really been united. Once they had embarked on the aggression, the same lack of unity, due to a difference of view about the possible political consequences of an outbreak of hostilities, prevented France and the United Kingdom from agreeing to act firmly and promptly to repress the aggression--but that is another story. The fact is that the political conditions at that time were such as to make the application of the theory possible if the major Powers in the League of Nations had thought it desirable.
Now, however, the position is very different. We are confronted across an ideological gulf by the great mass of the Soviet Union and its allies. Should the Soviet Union or one of its allies commit aggression, we are not in the same happy position that the first world organization was in up till at any rate 1935. A war with the Soviet bloc, consisting of some 800,000,000 people, though it may be necessary in the event of aggression, is indeed something very different from a war with Mussolini, or even with Hitler before he could organize the German nation. (Incidentally, the Soviet bloc is now just about ten times as great numerically as the old Gross-deutsches Reich.) So long as this enormous mass is dominated by men of the mentality of the Stalinist imperialists there can, in other words, really be no "security," collective or other, United Nations or no United Nations. For however much the non-Stalinist nations may organize themselves to resist the potential menace of Stalinism--and obviously the more they organize themselves the better--they cannot be certain that the Stalinists will not commit some action which will result in a major crisis. Moreover, they cannot be in the least certain that a summons to desist from aggression will be heeded, and that consequently World War III will not break out. What therefore we mean when we talk about "collective security" in such circumstances as these is presumably "collective resistance to aggression"--and notably Stalinist aggression. And I feel we shall think more clearly about the whole problem if we get this phrase into our minds from the start.
But at this point we must take note of another feature of the international landscape. Whether we like it or not, quite a number of states, chiefly situated in Asia, are not now willing to join wholeheartedly in preparing to resist a potential Stalinist aggression. These are what might perhaps be called the "middle" states which, though their sympathies may indeed lie more with the West than with the Soviet world, tend to regard the struggle as one between two colossi with which they had better have as little as possible to do. Not only, in fact, are they afraid that joining with other Powers to build up a military machine for defense against Stalinist aggression would invite the very thing which it is aimed at avoiding, but they profess to believe that too great a power in opposing camps is dangerous in itself. We may think the policy of the "middle" states is mistaken. We may say that the only hope for survival of small and less powerful nations is to band together now in advance. But we must at least recognize that their policy is based on firmly held convictions.
Numerically this bloc is very large, perhaps even as large as the Soviet bloc and the Western World which is now rearming to meet the Soviet menace. Even in votes in the General Assembly--which of course frequently do not represent the real numbers or importance of the states involved--the "middle" nations can control something like one-third of the total. We should not at all despair of their eventually siding with the Western World if another flagrant Stalinist aggression should actually occur. But at the moment we must, as a matter of practical politics, realize that these states are not prepared, over and above their existing obligations, to take on definite commitments to that end in advance, such as those to which the countries in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization have subscribed under Article 51 of the Charter. Pressure on our part to get them to do so and thus to create a world-wide organization under Article 51 might well shake their faith in the United Nations. For rightly or wrongly (quite wrongly, as we would think), the states of the middle bloc might then come to the conclusion that the Western Powers were more interested in organizing World War III than in preventing it, and this would produce the reaction of "a plague on both your houses."
But, it may be argued, why should we be affected by this kind of thinking? Why not frankly admit that the United Nations' main purpose is to deal with aggression; that if it doesn't do this it might as well shut up shop; that the Stalinists are incorrigible aggressors; that it would therefore be better to have them outside the United Nations rather than inside; and that if some of the "middle" states went with them, it just could not be helped? This kind of reasoning has a certain specious appeal but it is based on an essential fallacy. For the United Nations, if it is to have any real future, must necessarily be something other than and different from a merely defensive alliance, organized by some of its members only. If indeed the Russians were expelled (and of course this could not be done legally), or if they withdrew, or if, consequent on this or on other circumstances, some of the "middle" states became at best sleeping partners, then the United Nations would be reduced to something not much more extensive than the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the inter-American system as it resulted from the Treaty of Rio. Now these organizations happily both exist at the moment. There are one or two other organizations of a similar character, and more may well be formed in the future. They are all perfectly consonant with the Charter of the United Nations, but they are not the United Nations itself. Nevertheless they exist and it is on them and on the actual military strength which they represent that the defense of the Free World will have to be based if World War III ever breaks out. After all, it stands to reason that the United Nations itself cannot be used to prepare military plans against specified possible aggressions (and this is the only realistic form of military planning to meet aggression) because such plans would have to be directed against one or more Members.
What, therefore, should the rôle of the United Nations itself be as regards collective resistance to aggression? As I see it, this is still a very considerable and important rôle. Of course, if aggression should take place in the area covered by, e.g. the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, collective self-defense obligations would immediately come into play and war would result; but the question would at once be taken up in the Security Council, and if there was any obstruction by, for instance, the Soviet representative, it would within a very short period be referred to the General Assembly which, in accordance with the admirable "Uniting for Peace" resolution, can now be summoned within 24 hours. There we should hope that any victims of aggression would be able to secure a resolution recommending all good Members of the United Nations to give them such aid and support as they could. It is quite true that this would be only a recommendation but, more especially if it were passed by a large majority, it would have a real moral value and might well have the result that states other than those covered by the obligations of the Article 51 organization concerned would enter the struggle in a physical sense. Others might at least be induced, in accordance with the "collective measures" procedures already devised by the General Assembly, to assist in ways not involving the dispatch of armed forces to the spot. And more than this, it would be perfectly in order in such circumstances for a majority of the Assembly to indicate that in its view one or more member states, already involved no doubt, should organize the campaign against the aggressor; that the United Nations High Command so established should be authorized to make use of the United Nations flag; and that the United Nations would endeavor at the proper time to take in hand such reconstruction as might be necessary for countries from whose soil an aggressor had been evicted. All this, as I say, would be valuable provided we realize that it is not possible in the United Nations to go beyond general planning for defense against aggression from any quarter and with no definite aggressor named. For (I repeat) strategic planning against specific aggressions can be done only by regional or collective self-defense organizations.
However, as we all know, the United Nations has another quite distinct rôle, namely "pacific settlement." Had there been no cold war this would no doubt have been less important than the other function of organizing genuine "collective security." As things are, though one may admit that collective resistance to aggression remains a "primary" function, pacific settlement seems to me, at any rate, to have become the more important from a practical point of view. For, after all, if World War III actually does break out, nobody can pretend that what the United Nations does or says, however useful it may be, will be an element of the first importance in the winning of the war. Whereas if we are to avoid World War III there must be a long period of coexistence with the Soviet world during which the United Nations might be of the greatest value. Always supposing an absence of general hostilities, it will, as I see it, be in the United Nations that negotiated settlements between the West and the Stalinist world may eventually be reached. The record of the United Nations, disappointing though it has been in some respects, has not been bad when it comes to pacific settlement. Even as regards a matter on which the West and the East have definitely fallen out and failed to agree, namely the disposal of the Italian colonies, a solution was found by the United Nations Assembly, if not to the satisfaction of all, at any rate in a fairly reasonable way which disposed of the matter. It was also as a result of the Iranian appeal to the United Nations that Soviet troops eventually evacuated Persia. We should equally remember the rôle played by the U.N. in helping to resist Communist aggression on Greece; in actually stopping the war in Palestine and in imposing a provisional settlement there; in creating the independent state of Indonesia; and finally, as regards the long dispute between India and Pakistan on the subject of the accession of the state of Jammu and Kashmir. If such achievements as these are possible in the United Nations, is it too much to hope that over the next few years even more difficult problems may be capable of at any rate partial settlement?
At this point some people will probably say this is what we suspected. The "middle" states will, of course, exercise their influence in the Assembly in the direction of what would be the equivalent of "appeasement" and settlements may therefore be forced on the Western Powers which will not be in accordance with their principles. This is really (such critics would add) what is being aimed at by suggesting that we should do everything to preserve a universal organization in which both the Stalinists and the "middle" states would always be represented. I think this is a very fearful and disastrous way of regarding the future, and I am always suspicious of any criticism which introduces the tendentious word "appeasement." Of course, the Western World will not abandon its principles, at any rate I personally hope it will not. But if there is ever to be any negotiation about anything with the Stalinists, it must, I think, be on the basis of at least some give and take. Experience has taught us that in dealing with these people the great thing is to be very firm and very patient, and at the same time very strong, and that if you are all these things, the odds are on your getting what you want. But that does not mean that occasionally, in order to get what you want, you should not yield a point here or there, and incidentally the use of the United Nations machinery may make it more easy for, e.g., the Chinese Communists to make a concession which they would not make if they were simply confronted with one hostile Great Power.
Another fear which I have heard expressed as regards the general rôle of the United Nations which I have outlined above is that unless we set about organizing what in effect would be a generalized Article 51 convention under the aegis of the United Nations, members not covered by existing Article 51 conventions will feel that they are being left out in the cold and will be abandoned if they are attacked by the Stalinists. Personally I don't agree that there will be any such fears on the part of such states. Many of them, indeed, owing to their exposed position, would be rather horrified at the idea of being roped into an organization which their powerful neighbors would undoubtedly regard as aggressive in itself. Besides, it is not as if anybody is suggesting that they should not be physically assisted by other members of the United Nations if they ever were the victims of aggression. Apart from anything else, to indicate in advance that they would not be assisted would obviously be to provoke the aggression. Of course, some of them may one day of their own volition join some of the already existing Article 51 organizations, or new ones. If so, so much the better. But nothing would be gained by putting pressure on them to join any such organization, still less if it were a generalized one which could not really amount to anything tangible in advance of an actual aggression owing to the impossibility of planning defense in the United Nations against a member of the United Nations itself.
Still I believe the suspicion sometimes exists that my own country, for instance, does not always go along with the policy of "strengthening" the United Nations owing to its reluctance to assume any further commitments in the Far East or even to see them assumed by the United States of America. I cannot really see why such a suspicion should exist. We, and the British Commonwealth as a whole, have demonstrated, we think, our willingness and ability to contribute to the common cause in resisting aggression in Korea. Is not the presence of the British Commonwealth Division in Korea, and of considerable numbers of British aeroplanes and of ships sufficient proof of our devotion to the cause of collective resistance to aggression organized under the aegis of the United Nations? Is it disputed that practically the whole British people were enthusiastically behind the action which was taken at the end of June 1950? Surely it must be evident that we could not contemplate any further aggression in the Far East by the Chinese Communists or anybody else with anything approaching equanimity. Besides, we ourselves are conducting what amounts to a minor war in Malaya and, like the French in Indo-China, are resolutely resisting Communist aggression in that part of the world as best we can. All we question is the wisdom of trying to "strengthen" the United Nations by means which, in our own estimate, would not strengthen but rather weaken it by transforming it into some quite different kind of body.
A final argument which I know is adduced against the general conception of the rôle of the United Nations as outlined above is that if it cannot be shown to be something which is actually or potentially all-powerful and which intends within a measurable time to impose on the rest of the world settlements which the Western democracies regard as beneficent and desirable, public opinion in those democracies, and notably in the United States, may feel that it is not worth while any longer subscribing towards it, and that therefore lack of enthusiasm for its aims and objectives will result in its disruption or gradual decay. If there is anything in this fear it must rest on the assumption that unless the public is given the impression that the United Nations can do something which clearly it cannot do in the present condition of the world, the public are bound to lose heart and transfer their enthusiasm to, e.g. the North Atlantic Treaty Organization-- unless, indeed, they lapse into defeatism, apathy, isolationism and despair. I suggest this is underrating to a serious extent the intelligence of informed public opinion in the Western democracies. If such opinion had a better idea of the respective rôles of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the United Nations, for instance, there is no reason whatever why they should not have an equal enthusiasm for both. For as I see it, both are equally necessary; and though the United Nations is admittedly not fulfilling the high hopes of it which many people had in 1945, it is performing a very real and necessary rôle without which the future would certainly be much blacker even than it is.
Nobody would deny that the United Nations is a young and struggling organization, or that there are elements in it which, even apart from the cold war, may eventually result in its disruption. One of the reasons, for instance, why the so-called "middle" states in Asia are not wholeheartedly at one with the Western Powers in their resistance to the Stalinist menace is because, rightly or wrongly, many of them tend to regard so-called "Western imperialism" as a menace, if not equal to Stalinism, at any rate not far removed from it so far as they are concerned. The dominant position which the European nations enjoyed in the past resulted from their flying start in the technique of industrialization. We can hope and believe that suspicion of the Western World will gradually die down as the East itself becomes more industrialized; and indeed, coöperation in the United Nations should help to demonstrate that there is now no basic clash of interest between Asia and the West and that the old emotional conflicts are becoming out of date. Perhaps, indeed, the main object of the United Nations, both in the avoidance of war and in the achievement of peaceful settlements, lies in diverting the currents of extreme nationalism into constructive channels and to this end in organizing, by way of technical assistance or by any other means, methods of speedily helping forward the industrialization of its less industrialized members. We must continually remember that the United Nations, rightly or wrongly, is not composed of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization countries or the Treaty of Rio countries only; it is everybody, the Stalinists included. Consequently, many of its members, though of course they are all under an obligation to resist aggression, are not really pledged to support the policy of one side or another in advance of an aggression occurring. We cannot abolish this fact by abolishing the United Nations. For, after all, the United Nations is only a mirror of the world political situation, and although the reflection may be ugly there is singularly little sense in smashing the glass.
So, while acknowledging its due rôle in the organization of collective resistance to aggression, let us try to use the United Nations for its most useful purpose, namely a place where the thorniest of international problems may at least be debated and where, with infinite patience, a fairly satisfactory solution may sometimes be hammered out. A place, too, where, if progress is made on the really great political issues, an agreement, first on limitation and then on reduction of national armaments may eventually be achieved. A place where much can be done to promote a sounder world by encouraging better economic and social conditions in the less advanced countries. A place, finally, where the two main protagonists in the cold war may--who knows?--one day agree to a settlement which could avoid the fell arbitrament of war.
Why, indeed, lose heart in an organization which has these great possibilities? Why reproach some nations for not affording enough support in the struggle against Stalinism when the promise of it might well prejudice their internal political stability? Why not concentrate, so far as the physical anti-Stalinist struggle is concerned, on those states which are ready to give help now and not worry unduly if the others do not seem to offer all the assistance that they might? If they are given time and are not subjected to "strong-arm" methods of persuasion these others may well come to see for themselves where the real threat to world peace lies. In the meantime let us do what we can to strengthen their economies and show them that the West really means them well. This is not defeatism; this is the best way to be strong and to ensure peace. Let us above all try to think straight and shed all illusions. In the words of the old English poet: "The truth shall you deliver: it is no dread."
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