UN Collective Security and the Transitional Period: A Myth over the Founding and Aims of the United Nations

AuthorKlaus Schlichtmann
PositionLecturer in Peace Studies, Japan Women's University, Tokyo. Ph.D.(Kiel)

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1. Introduction

I want to write of the ... history ... of a world that is treated virtually as a forbidden subject in an increasingly parochial culture that celebrates the virtues of ignorance, promotes a cult of stupidity and extols the present as a process without an alternative ... A world in which disappointment breeds apathy and, for that reason, escapist fantasies of every sort are encouraged from above.1 - Tariq Ali -

Certain subjects are so holy that it becomes an act of virtue to lie.2 -V.S. Naipaul -

This article aims to clarify some of the portentous issues related to the history, the purpose and the underlying principles upon which the United Nations was founded. It will be argued that the dynamics inherent in the idea of the organization of the world for perpetual peace, since the first union of the Hague Peace Conference in 1899, has propelled peoples and nations towards progressive international cooperative union, aimed first and foremost at outlawing war as an institution, and ensure peoples’ freedom, prosperity and progress. As a historian, I am disturbed and dumbfounded when I find that relevant literatures, including history school books, fail to mention issues pertinent to international peace and security. One such example are the Hague Peace Conferences in 1899 and 1907, which constituted the “International Union of The Hague,” 3 as the German jurist and neo-Kantian Walther Schücking (1875-1935) called it, and which were the first “truly international assemblies meeting in time of peace for the purpose of preserving peace.” 4 Remarkably, the Hague Conferences already aimed at disarmament and abolishing war by making resort to an international court with adequate binding powers for the resolution of conflicts obligatory. Among the Great Powers in favour of “obligatory arbitration,”as it was then called, were the United States, Great Britain, France, Russia, Persia and China. In fact, the great majority of nations participating in the conferences concurred. The International Union or Hague Page 101“Confederation of States,”dubbed the assemblies, was the forerunner of the United Nations, and the League of Nations (1919-1946). A Third Peace Conference was planned for The Hague in 1914 (subsequently rescheduled for 1915), where in addition to the question of obligatory arbitration, an international executive, conceived as an “international police of the seas,”as the Dutch jurist and diplomat Cornelis van Vollenhoven and others proposed,5 was also to be discussed.6 The question of obligatory arbitration that had previously required a consensus would, it was expected, be agreed upon by a majority vote. These ideas, however, were something that those opposed to The Hague were preparing to prevent by all means.

The First World War put an end to the dream of disarmament and realizing the idea of an international executive in 1914. With the founding of the League of Nations in 1919 a system of Collective Security was created, meant to replace the precarious balance-of-power system7 that Woodrow Wilson had denounced: “[T]here must be,” Wilson said, “not a balance of power, but a community of power; not organized rivalries, but an organized common peace.” 8 That was significant. However, an issue that needed to be addressed was the question of sovereignty.9 Collective security, as the experience of the interwar period eventually would show, could only function if nations agreed to limitations of their national sovereignty in favor of an “organized common peace.”However, this was not something the powers could or wanted to impose.10 Yet it would eventually, after the Second World War and the failure of the League, becomePage 102part of many nations’ democratic constitutions, especially those promulgated in liberal Europe. Furthermore, collective security required a consensus among the Great Powers, who were to be given the task of guarding the democratic process of the evolution of a supranational authority, required, it was believed, to achieve a permanent and positive peace.11 Given that the Great Powers of the Hague Union had already agreed amongst each other concerning the most pressing questions of the organization of peace, this did not seem to be an insurmountable problem. The UN Charter after the Second World War was designed to adequately address these problems.

2. War Aims 1942-1945

To demonstrate the purpose that inspired the Allies during the Second World War with regard to their ambition to create an effective post-war world organization a few examples are in place. Since this was already the third attempt, the ideas expressed by both official and academic opinion were informed by pragmatism and realism.12 US Secretary of State Cordell Hull (1871-1955) also emphasized that the era of pacts, military alliances and the traditional balance-of-power system was over.13 To ensure the new paradigm’ s success, as political scientist and pacifist Quincy Wright (1890-1970) asserted in an article to the Commission to Study the Organization of Peace in 1942, itPage 103would be necessary to envision a “transitional period”for the time after the war.14

Already in 1924 the Fifth League Assembly had adopted the Geneva Protocol which endorsed certain measures that were later included in the UN Charter, i.e. a general, comprehensive scheme of arbitration, comprising “three distinct sets of policies: the regulation of armaments, the pacific settlement of disputes, and collective action.”These were henceforth considered the “three essentials of security.” 15 The Geneva Protocol was to give the League teeth.16 Although it was not ratified, the trend was clearly toward a supranational, universal system. To achieve this, an initial impetus was required, an input by national lawmakers in the democratic countries committing to delegate powers to the world organization-an act of sacrifice in a process of relinquishing the right to prepare for and make war. Although this principle also found expression in the Japanese Constitution, this was to be a task especially for the Europeans, who were more unequivocal in this regard.17

Positions taken by prominent leaders of the United Nations in and after 1942 were regularly published by the United Nations Information Office in New York under the heading “War and Peace Aims.”In accordance with what Quincy Wright had stated earlier, the engulfing understanding was “to start a new conception of world organization.” 18 Paul Henri Spaak (1899-1972), the Belgian Foreign Minister expressed this view on February 26, 1943 as follows:

The absolute sovereignty of states, economic isolation [and the like] ... are outworn conceptions today. If the world of tomorrow were to cling to them we should soon be witnessing another breakdown, with another war as the ultimate consequence.19

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On April 15, 1943, Britain’ s Viscount Cranborne (1893-1972), a member of the House of Lords, pinpointing the basic problem the future society of nations would have to tackle, asserted:

The League was an association of sovereign States. How far can an association of sovereign States achieve the objects which we all have in view ... This question of sovereignty in my view ... is probably the hardest one the nations will have to face after the war.20

Quincy Wright had similarly declared after the war national governments would have to subject themselves to the “limitations of sovereignty necessary,”to ensure that the new world organization, including Europe, would “function successfully.” 21 According to the plan, a “unified directorate of the transitional period should have the primary responsibility”and power, to guarantee that “all national military air forces”were eliminated22 and sea power would be transferred “to a world authority.” 23

The Netherlands Foreign Minister-in-exile Dr. John Loudon (1866-1955), during an address in Cincinnati, U.S., on April 17, 1943, stressed the global dimension of international security:

Any solution of the European problem with Great Britain and Russia is no longer a European solution, Britain and Russia being not only European, but world powers. A solution of the European problem without Russia would inevitably result in German hegemony over all the other European countries. A strictly continental European solution is decidedly not possible.24

In addition, the Czech President, Edvard Bene (1884-1948), addressed himself in Chicago to the “principles of collective security in Europe”with these words:

The organization and tasks of the future system of collective security is likely to be a practical, political structure, built up in course of time, step by step in accordance Page 105 with practical requirements, not from the top down but, proceeding from practice.25 [Emphasis added]

This was close to what the British historian E. H. Carr had in mind, when he postulated that the postwar “agreements, definitions and rules”were to be “determined, not theoretically according to some a priori conception of a league, alliance or federation, but empirically as the outcome and expression of a practical working arrangement.” 26 The Danish Foreign Minister Henrik Kaufmann (1888-1963) was speaking in the same vein when he said,

it will be necessary ... to curtail what is called the ‘sovereign rights’ of the individual nations. This will be comparatively easy for the small nations. Denmark ... had already gone far in this respect, and had agreed to submit any question without exception to international arbitration ... The Danes, you may say, have gradually changed, out of sheer necessity, from Vikings into more peaceful souls, otherwise they would not exist today...27

These voices were echoed in the United States:

This does not mean...

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