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International Socialism, Spring 1964

Editorial 2

The Grand Illusion

From International Socialism, No.16, Spring 1964, pp.1-2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.

The $100 million a year spent by the United Nations on all its activities are roughly one five-hundredth of the American arms budget. It is the equivalent of a few minutes’ expenditure on war preparations throughout the world. It is a measure of the United Nation’s impotence as a peace-keeping force. This poverty is one aspect of the organisation’s inability to override the ‘national interests’ of its major member states. ‘If it is given any authority,’ commented The Times early this February, ‘it will reasonably expect to provide political and financial control over the troops acting in its name. The implications of this made Britain and America reject such a United Nations umbrella at the outset.’ This was early during the Cyprus dispute. But it was not the first or most outstanding example of the UN’s ‘by your leave’ posture. Older readers might remember South Africa swallowing up South West Africa in the teeth of UN resolutions and recommendations early in the fifties; or France’s boycott of the General Assembly after an Afro-Asian-sponsored resolution on Algeria in 1955 and again in 1957; or the invasion of Egypt by Britain, France and Israel in 1956 after she had accepted the Security Council’s ‘six requirements’ for a settlement of the Suez Canal dispute; or the parallel denial to UN observers of entry into Hungary during and after the Russian invasion. Lebanon, Jordan, Yemen, Cuba, Viet-Nam – the geography of aggression in more recent years shows little evidence of the UN having deflected any major ruling class from pursuing its ‘national’ interests.

True, there are contrary instances. Weak ruling classes and cliques have been shored up when their collapse threatened the intricate system of mutual checks and balances created by the Great Powers. Congo was one occasion – the UN presence muffled the effect of that wretched country’s political collapse and economic disaggregation. Cyprus, now, is another, with the Great Powers agreeing to contain and police a Small Power conflict that might otherwise strain their own precarious accords.

The major contours of international relations remain however. The manic competition in arms goes on; international wealth, power and influence flout the voting pattern at the General Assembly more and more openly as more of the world’s slums gain representation; the rich countries grow richer, the poor poorer and the United Nations, too poor itself to bridge the gap between them, busily perfects the tools for measuring it. And so it will be so long as ruling classes the world over measure their weight and power by the size of the national productive structures they command, so long, that is, as ruling classes exist.

To pretend otherwise, that the United Nations are a power in its own right, or might become one – as the Left in this country do, from Transport House to Tribune, Canon Collins to Peace News – is to confuse piety with politics. It is to confuse the Great Powers’ thieves’ kitchen in New York with their soup kitchen annexe; and to suppose that internationalism is measured by the size of the queue.

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