Peace Is Still Possible

"If the UN is not strengthened in time to avert war, a long night of ignorance and brutality will descend upon our ingenious species. Neither we nor our children's children will live to see the faint light of a new dawn"  


Now that the United Nations has been in operation for some time, the optimism which it originally inspired has been dispelled by events as unhappy as they were predictable. The United States and Russia have displayed their lack of confidence in the organization by engaging in preparations for a war which they evidently believe the UN is incapable of preventing. The meetings of the Security Council have been used as a sounding board for the dissemination of propaganda or as the means of mustering a majority bloc of votes to defeat proposals without regard to the merits of the case. Far from seeking agreement within the organization, the diplomatic representatives of the member nations appear more interested in employing it to prove the malevolence of each other's intentions. As crisis succeeds crisis, there is a growing danger that faith will be lost not only in the UN as it now stands but also in the possibility of any successful international order.

The UN's limitations are evident in the rules governing the operation of the Security Council, which bears the whole responsibility for detecting threats to the peace and for punishing aggression. Under the unanimity rule, the permanent members, the Big Five, reserve the right to veto any attempt by the Council to determine whether an act of aggression has actually occurred, what nation is the aggressor, and whether collective economic or military sanctions should be employed.

Under what conditions is it conceivable that enforcement action could be taken by the UN against an aggressor? It would be possible only in the event that the parties to the dispute were small nations without the support of any of the five permanent members. When it is understood that all decisions to apply economic or military sanctions are subject to the great-power veto, the provisions for enforcement action appear to be an elaborate fraud, rather than evidence of the Charter's strength.

Even if a case can be imagined where the UN was permitted by all the permanent members to enforce a settlement on a small country, such action would hardly demonstrate the organization's ability to preserve world peace. Border disputes between Peru and Ecuador are not the occasion for major wars. The ponderous enforcement machinery of the Charter can operate only in the one situation where there is no real danger of world conflict. The air forces and armies that the members have agreed to make available can be flung only against the weakest and most remote states. It is as if a special police force had been organized with much publicity to fight a crime wave and had then been ordered to restrict itself to preventing fist-fights between ten-year-old children, while murder, arson, and rape flourished.

The Charter creates a double standard of international morality. The weak country without an ally among the permanent members is to be swiftly punished for its transgressions. The strong are to enjoy unfettered license. Despite its solemn expressions of high purpose, the Charter actually confirms the anarchic right of the powerful states to rule by force. In pretentious legal terminology, it formally ratifies the law of the jungle that the strong shall take what they can and the weak grant what they must.

These consequences of the unanimity rule have been revealed in a long series of bitter disputes, in which the permanent members have used the veto or the threat of a veto to obstruct and prevent decision whenever it was to their advantage to do so. As a result, a widespread demand has arisen for an elimination of the veto power. This raises the whole question of the efficiency of the collective security system as a means of preventing war.

Let us suppose that the Charter is modified by abolishing the veto. The Security Council would then be theoretically capable of employing military measures against a great power that had committed aggression. The result, however, would be a world war. The only way in which aggression can be dealt with under the collective security system is by a war waged by other nations against the aggressor. The system rests on the joint action of heavily armed national governments each of which retains, through its own military establishment, the means of resisting any coercion with major warfare.

Every nation would be forced to continue adding to its armed strength, even if the veto were removed. If one state remained heavily armed, while the others disarmed in their reliance on collective action for protection, the strong nation could not be checked if it attacked. So, in fear that one government might establish sufficient force to challenge successfully the collective power of the rest, all the members of the system would have no choice but to build up their respective armies, and the arms race would continue.

The present division of the world into two opposing blocs destroys whatever significance a majority vote in the Security Council might have. Just as the successful practice of the balance-of-power theory depended on the existence of many states of comparatively equal strength, so collective security presumes for its operation that there is no one nation capable of opposing the joint forces of the others, Now that only the United States and Russia appear to have a chance of victory in another war, neither of them could be persuaded that it was protected against the possibility of attack by the other merely because the Council could vote for military measures against the aggressor. They are both so powerful that the support of such lesser nations as are not already their satellites would offer little additional protection. A mere change in the voting rules of the Council could not remove their mutual fears or check their rivalry.

Atomic and biological weapons have made nonsense of any agreement by separate armed states to act together to protect a nation that has been attacked. Since a country may lose a large part of its industry and urban population in the first moments of attack, the Council would be faced with its completed conquest by the time it had met to consider the case. A system that cannot prevent the use of modern weapons, but can only deal with aggression after it occurs, promises as little protection as would a fire department that could not be called until after one's house had burned down. The defenders of the veto are correct when they point out that any failure of the militarily powerful to cooperate voluntarily means world war.

However, when the unanimity rule was inserted in the Charter, the defects of the collective security system were not remedied. Rather the experiment begun with the League of Nations was abandoned and a return was made to total anarchy. The great-power veto may have been a master stroke of political realism in one sense, but it was unbelievably naive in another. For collective security, the framers of the Charter substituted the veto and the hope of voluntary cooperation between armed and sovereign states. One unworkable system was replaced by another which is, if anything, even more impractical.

Those who believe in the possibility of friendly cooperation between independent nations forget that each must strive for military supremacy to assure its own safety. Do we not see the result in the desperate struggle for arms and bases in which the United States and Russia are already engaged?


The discovery and use of the atomic bomb emphasized the structural weakness of the UN. The pretense of cooperative unanimity between nations competing in the production of such weapons was a farce that could not be maintained for long; and yet to give the bomb to a United Nations that was obviously incapable of controlling it would merely hasten the development of atomic explosives by potentially hostile governments. To meet this dilemma, our government, after ten critical months of delay, finally proposed what has become known as the Baruch Plan. It is widely believed that in offering this scheme we have done all within our power to end the arms race. Whether this is true or not can only be shown by a critical analysis of the Plan.

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