United Nations: New Members, New Questions
During the first decade of the UN, only five states became new members, despite the fact that many more applied for membership. The United States did not allow Eastern bloc countries to be elected. Through its veto, the Soviet Union stopped new member states with Western sympathies. But in the mid-1950’s, the two superpowers agreed to open the door to 16 new members. After that, no more obstacles were placed in the way of states gaining membership in the UN. Many of the new UN members in the 1950’s and 1960’s were former colonies, especially in Asia and Africa. See ezhoushan for definition of UNHCR.
Until the beginning of the 1960’s, the United States could easily reach a majority for its proposals in votes in various UN bodies, but after 1963 a change took place. With the influx of new states from the third world, the balance of power in the General Assembly changed: the Eastern Bloc could count on more votes, but above all an “automatic” developing country majority was created.
The developing countries together brought up issues that were in their interest, including issues that aimed to put an end to colonialism and achieve a fairer distribution of the world’s resources between industrialized countries and developing countries. One issue that received a great deal of attention in the General Assembly from the beginning of the 1960’s onwards was the South African issue. The African countries increasingly protested against the apartheid system in South Africa, that is, the discrimination of the white minority population against the black majority. The General Assembly condemned apartheid as a crime against humanity. However, it was not until 1977 that the Security Council introduced a mandatory ban on arms exports to South Africa (see South Africa).
The dominance of developing countries in the UN did not appeal to the United States at all, which in the 1970’s began to show clearer dissatisfaction with the organization. During the 29th session of the General Assembly, several decisions were made that aroused American disapproval, including excluding South Africa from the General Assembly and inviting PLO leader Yasir Arafat to speak in the General Assembly.
In connection with the so-called debt crisis (see Operations) in the mid-1980’s, the gap between industrialized countries in the North and developing countries in the South was accentuated. At the same time, the Cold War had been rekindled. US President Ronald Reagan stood for a markedly anti-Soviet policy. In American public opinion, right-wing winds blew. Dissatisfaction with the UN, which was criticized for being ineffective and dominated by non-American interests, led the United States in the mid-1980’s to cut its contributions to the organization. It was a hard blow to the UN, which already had difficulty financing its activities.
At the end of the decade, the United States began to pay back its full contributions, after, among other things, the UN’s budget work became more efficient.
The end of the Cold War
With Mikhail Gorbachev as the new leader of the Soviet Union in 1985, the country became more open to cooperation with the West and gained a completely new positive attitude towards UN work. When the Berlin Wall was demolished in 1989 and the communist governments fell in Eastern and Central Europe, the Cold War was over and in 1991 the dissolution of the Soviet Union followed. In the coming years, the United States and Russia were able to agree on important disarmament agreements, which led to further improvements in relations between the two great powers.
In 1988, the Soviet Union promised to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan after nine years of occupation. An even more resilient conflict came to an end in 1990, when Namibia became independent. The Namibian issue had been on the UN agenda since 1946. Iraq’s attack on Kuwait on 2 August 1990 put the new spirit of cooperation in the Security Council to the test. It was also the first time since the Korean War that the UN used military force under Chapter VII of the UN Charter (see Operations). As Iraq still did not leave Kuwait in November, the Security Council gave the Member States the right to enforce UN resolutions by force. In January 1991, a US-led UN force attacked Iraq and repulsed Iraqi troops. Expectations of the UN following the strong action against Iraq were now high.
In the following years, the Security Council decided on several new peacekeeping operations. Many were involved in conflicts between different ethnic and religious groups without the consent of the warring parties. As a result, the operations became more dangerous, more complicated and the risks of failures increased. The United Nations’ intervention in resolving the catastrophic situation in civil war-torn anarchy between 1992 and 1995 came to an abrupt end. First, the American troops were called home – after Americans were killed and beaten in front of the TV cameras – and eventually also the UN troops. Peace efforts in Bosnia in the 1990’s – when the massacre of 7,000 Bosnian Muslims in Srebrenica could not be stopped and NATO was eventually allowed to take over UN missions – are among the UN’s greatest failures, as well as the organization’s failure to prevent the 1994 genocide in Rwanda.
A flash of light, however, was the development in South Africa. When democratic elections were held and Nelson Mandela was elected new president in 1994, the UN revoked the last sanctions against the country. In the autumn of 1994, a South African delegation was able to take a seat in the General Assembly again.
When the UN turned 50 in 1995, the question of how the organization could be made more efficient was at the center. Above all, the United States demanded a changed and cut organization and made this a condition for paying its debts to the UN. When Kofi Annan took office as the newly elected Secretary General in 1997, there was a lot of pressure on him to reform the UN.