From 1945 to the 1970’s, the United Nations looked to be a strong successor to the failed League of Nations. Success of sorts in Korea and the Congo had boosted its international image. However, many of the problems from the Cold War it could not stem. The effective occupation of Eastern Europe by Russiamade a mockery of the promises made at Yalta and other war meetings. The treatment of Hungary in 1956 could not be stopped by the United Nations. Likewise, America’s involvement in Vietnam could not be stopped.
By the end of the 1970’s the United Nations had lost some of its prestige. It was clear that the two superpowers, America and Russia, would follow the foreign policy that they wanted to regardless of what the UN wanted.
The whole issue of the relationship between America and the UN weakened the UN. Since 1945, America had been the dominant force in the UN. America provided the UN with 25% of its annual budget and expected to have a big say in final UN decisions – an influence that matched the hundred of millions of dollars America has paid into the UN’s budget. Likewise, some major international problems were dealt with by America flexing her diplomatic muscles (such as in Suez and especially in the Middle East) rather than the UN solving them.
As more and more Asian and African nations gained their independence and joined the UN, power blocs within the General Assembly have developed. These have challenged the belief that the old order of western nations should dominate the UN simply by using their financial clout and their historic connections. Seven blocs have been identified:
the Developing Nations which consists of 125 states
the Non-Aligned Movement which consists of 99 states (mostly Asian and African who avoid joining military alliances)
the Islamic Conference which consists of 41 states
the African group of 50 states
the Latin American group of 33 states
the Western European group of 22 states
the Arab group of 21 states
Within the General Assembly, all nations regardless of wealth, military power etc., have one vote. The same is true in the specialist agencies – one nation one vote. However, much of the important UN work is done in the Security Council and the five nations of Russia, America, Britain, France and China still have the right to veto a decision of the Security Council. This system has been challenged by the newer members of the UN who want one nation one vote in the Security Council as well. The five permanent members of the Security Council have fought to keep the system as it is claiming that as the five permanent members invest far more money into the UN’s budget and, as a result, should have more sway than nations that pay far less into the UN’s budget.
In 1985, this theme was even taken up by America’s Congress which declared that:
In 1985, America provided the UN with 25% of its budget; the USSR provided 10.5%; Angola 0.01% and Saudi Arabia 0.86%. America claimed that such an investment should have its rewards. If the ‘Big Five’ withdrew their financial support or reduced it to the level of other nations in the UN, then the UN itself would face near bankruptcy. There was little the UN could do if members failed to pay their contribution. After the Congo crisis from 1960 to 1964, Russia, France and Belgium refused to contribute to the $400 million it had cost the UN to bring peace to the Congo.
Throughout the 1960’s, 1970’s and 1980’s, the UN run up debts nearly totalling $1 billion. In 1986, America refused to pay 50% of its annual contribution in protest at the influence newly emerging nations had or were attempting to get. America pointed out that 85% of the UN’s budget was paid by just 20 nations yet many smaller nations were trying to reform the way the UN was run (especially its voting system) without making the same financial commitment to the UN.
Towards the end of the 1980’s the UN appeared to have split in two: the richer old established nations that essentially funded the UN on one side and the newly established but poorer nations on the other side. These nations claimed that they were only poor because so much of their annual wealth was taken up in paying off debts to the world’s richest nations. The world’s richest nations have responded to this charge. They claim that internal corruption within these newer nations is responsible for their poverty – not the debts they owe for money borrowed.
Within just 45 years of its birth, the UN stood at a crossroads. If it divides into rich and poor nations, where does this leave the whole concept of all nations working for one common goal?