Today the United Nations are a problem and not a solution. As is well-known, they were created as a factor of international stability with Roosevelt and Truman, in 1945 – at the conference of Dunbarton Oaks in June 1944 and in San Francisco the following year, where the Charter of the United Nations was signed.
Very few countries participated in the first conference: the United States, which wanted to avoid the failure of the League of Nations – at first conceived and supported by Theodore Roosevelt and then rejected by a vote of the US Senate – Great Britain, which was still a colonial power, China and the Soviet Union.
It was already obvious, even at that time, that the United Nations were created as a sort of strategic clearing house of the equilibria achieved after World War II and that they implied both the cold war and the principle of equality between the two blocs.
As early as that time Truman called the powers of Dunbarton Oaks “the four policemen” who had to prevent new geopolitical crises from breaking out in the peripheries of their respective areas of influence – as had already happened in the two previous world wars.
Germany was divided into zones controlled by the victors and Europe, the centre of gravity of the two global conflicts of the twentieth century, had turned from the greatest economic and geopolitical pole of attraction into mere “spoils of war”, equally divided between the Soviet and the Atlantic blocs.
Today, Europe is still a political and military dwarf, but the reunited Germany is a hegemonic power in the Old Continent.
The United States are no longer a global superpower, although they are still crucial in all world strategic regions. The Russian Federation has taken off the Soviet “emperor’s clothes”, but it is still a global military power and, unlike what happened in its Bolshevik phase, it is growing economically thanks to the use of oil and natural gas as geoeconomic weapons vis-à-vis Europe – a use theorized by Putin in his dissertation of 1991.
Hence the scenario has completely changed – not to mention China, which has shifted from the disasters of the Great Leap Forward of the 1950s and the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution which began in the following decade, to its role of “world factory” and international economic and financial superpower.
Another factor which did not confirm the assumption of an America prima inter pares (first among equals) among the “four policemen” of Dunbarton Oaks.
In 1956 the United States blocked Israel’s, France’s and Great Britain’s action in the Suez Canal, without using the United Nations. They initially supported and then abandoned South Vietnam from 1960 to 1975; they organized the action in the “Bay of Pigs” against Castro’s Cuba in 1961, again without the UN support. Again in 1956, Hungary’s invasion by the forces of the Warsaw Pact occurred without the United Nations even knowing it or having the possibility of doing something.
Instead of being a projection of the American century, the United Nations were both a way for the USSR and China to manipulate the strategic decision-making in their favour and the tool not to prevent but only to freeze indefinitely the wars breaking out at the edges of the empires and in the marginal areas of the globe.
In 1945 the problem for the United States was to prevent the resurgence of the great hegemonic Germany in Europe, which was the prize for the war won.
And their problem was also to prevent the recurrence of a world war which no one could stand.
Hence a Europe to be monitored and kept under control both at economic and technological levels and at political and military levels.
A Europe which delegated to the United States its own security and power projection, which they used to their benefit, but not always to support their European allies.
Today the tensions between the United States and the European Union are mainly monetary and economic, with the former which have never tolerated the creation of the euro, seen as a dangerous rival to the dollar, and the latter, which is still cherishing the illusion of being a superpower, without a foreign policy, without armies, without a strategic threat and without a Mediterranean and Asian prospect in the medium and long term.
If now the United States are a faded photocopy of strategic equilibria which do not exist any longer, the EU appears to be a band of competing countries which, in foreign policy and in its strategic thinking, reiterates Disney’s myth of perpetual peace to be imposed without credible tools – as is clear from the way in which the Libyan disaster has been managed until the epochal crisis of biblical migrations precisely from the lands which saw the events described in the Bible.
Briefly a European Union which is acting as the United Nations, with all talk and no action – as was the case with the proclamations and bans in Manzoni’s Promessi Sposi (The Betrothed), which did not prevent masses from throwing stones and using picks against the foreign governor.
Therefore, the United Nations were organized on the basis of a subordinate role played by Europe – so important that the United States, unlike what Churchill wanted, had accepted the establishment of “satellites” around the USSR.
Exactly in the years in which the United Nations were created, the British Prime Minister even designed a plan, named “Unthinkable”, to wage war against the Soviet Union to overthrow its regime.
Hence everything has changed since the conference of Dunbarton Oaks. The United States are no longer hegemonic as they were in the period after World War II. Russia is no longer surrounded by vassal states, but rather by some new enemies, and stands as a global power – something which, on the one hand, the Communist myth prescribed but, on the other, the heavily damaged Soviet economy did not allow. China is now the primary pole of economic and financial development; Europe is united, but without any strategic idea about its future.
Nothing is as it was in the past, but the United Nations keep on considering themselves the centre for settling any dispute, war, tension, while in the past the cold war conflicts were resolved within the direct and confidential relationship between the USA and the USSR.
Furthermore, it is worth recalling that – since the very beginning – the permanent members of the Security Council have been countries possessing nuclear weapons.
As the United Nations, the Non-Proliferation Treaty is the legacy of an old-fashioned strategic way of thinking, which we hope will be soon put to an end.
What would happen to Israel today if, even without declaring so, it had not its nuclear power? It is very easy to imagine what would happen.
Moreover, all the Gulf countries and many Middle East countries are already nuclear States (and we have often discussed the Iranian case) or about to go nuclear. Hence, why must Europe tie its hands in the Mediterranean region, waiting for the nuclear escalation to turn from the threat into the ban of conventional countermeasures?
The EU which acts as the United Nations, in a situation in which both the United Nations and Europe believe in the seductions of universal humanitarianism and Kant-style perpetual peace, similar to the enchantments of sorceress Alcina in Ariosto’s Frenzy of Orlando, as Benedetto Croce defined them.
In a context of multipolarity and basic equivalence between new and old strategic actors, foreign policy is not implemented with abstract principles, but with the hardness of force used “all in one shot” – to put it in Machiavelli’s words – while benefits shall materialize “slowly, so that they can better come to the fore”.
Now the equilibrium points and the poles of strategic attraction are manifold and reflect the progressive multipolarity of future world, ranging from the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, with China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, to the Collective Security Treaty – not to mention the BRICS which have recently decided to establish a new financial organisation independent from the IMF, the New Development Bank – up to the Arab League, which should organize its own independent military force in the short term, and the many stable regional organizations which operate in Southeast Asia, within the relationship between India and its neighbouring countries, not to mention OPEC and the new treaties binding Iran to the countries having a majority or strong presence of Shiites.
If the United Nations still had their political foundation, they would be the natural point of reference for all the organizations which, on the contrary, want to do everything by themselves, thus fleeing what Amitav Acharia called The End of American World Order in a book he published last year.
It is also worth recalling all the UN peacekeeping and peace-enforcing missions, two “Alcina’s enchantments” which, besides being expensive, do not solve anything.
None of the sixteen missions currently underway has changed the primary strategic data in the areas in which it operates: neither the MINUSTAH in Haiti, which has never prevented clashes between factions, nor UNIFIL I and II in the Lebanon which, started in March 1978 to monitor Israel’s withdrawal from the Lebanon, are now to be regarded as a real occupation of the Lebanese territory.
Obviously UNIFIL did not prevent the outbreak of the 2006 “August war”, the harsh 34-day conflict between the pro-Iranian Hezbollah and the Jewish State’s forces, nor UNDOF in Syria prevented the outbreak of the regional crisis and the establishment of the territorial jihad of Al Baghdadi’s Caliphate.
Hence the new multipolar world will have many centres of balance between the various strategic poles, and the United Nations can do two things: either mediate between the various centres – without pacifist Alcina’s enchantments, but favouring more natural and stable equilibria – or, as the Futurists said, “find another place where to die slowly.”
Giancarlo Elia Valori (@GEliaValori)
Honorable of the Académie des Sciences of the Institut de France.