The United Nations has of course no material power and therefore no capacity to prevent any powerful country from starting a war or continuing one. When the country which is waging war is the United States, the principal organs of the United Nations—the Security Council and the General Assembly—are at present not even able to formulate an opinion about the matter. So long as the United States is determined to persevere with its present policy, neither of these organs can reach any coherent decision or recommendation on this subject.
If, for example, a pro-American resolution were introduced in the Security Council, it would fail by reason of a negative vote of at least one permanent member, the Soviet Union—Article 27.3, the veto situation—even if it commanded an otherwise adequate majority, which is not certain. A Soviet, French, or other resolution running counter to American policy would also fail, against the negative votes of three permanent members—the United States, Britain, and China (Formosa).
In the General Assembly there is of course no veto, but a two-thirds majority of the members present and voting is required (Article 18.2). In the first years of the Organization’s life, during the Korean war and for some years thereafter, the United States commanded a safe majority of the necessary size for any proposition to which it attached importance. For the past ten years, however, the United States has not commanded a safe two-thirds of the expanded membership. Granted the unpopularity of the Vietnam war among Afro-Asian countries, it is highly unlikely that a two-thirds majority could be found in the Assembly for any resolution tending to legitimize the present policy of the United States on Vietnam. It is no doubt for this reason that the United States has not sought to obtain from the Assembly a formula of legitimation which, if obtainable, would no doubt be tranquilizing to domestic opinion.
At the same time, it is certain that no resolution to which the United States is opposed, on this or any other subject, can pass the Assembly. The United States, which still has enough influence in the Assembly to keep its Formosa satellite in China’s seat, can always mobilize enough support to block any proposal which it regards as running counter to its interests. It follows that the General Assembly could take no clearcut proposition on the war; the most it could do would be to agree unanimously on some perfectly anodyne proposition, on the lines of those carried for example in the early period of the Algerian war, hoping for a “peaceful, just and neighbourly solution.” As this would be a totally futile outcome, one can understand why the matter has never been inscribed on the agenda of the principal organs, although it has of course been the subject of comment by foreign ministers and others in the General debate, and the object of the personal diplomatic efforts of the Secretary-General. (See, however, the final paragraphs below.)
To say that the processes of the United…
This article is available to online subscribers only.
Please choose from one of the options below to access this article:
Purchase a print premium subscription (20 issues per year) and also receive online access to all all content on nybooks.com.
Purchase an Online Edition subscription and receive full access to all articles published by the Review since 1963.
Purchase a trial Online Edition subscription and receive unlimited access for one week to all the content on nybooks.com.