Monday, October 24, 2005

Sixty Years

Today marks the sixtieth anniversary of the entry into force of the Charter of the United Nations. At a time when considerable attention is being devoted to the future of the U.N. (Ambassador Bolton floated the idea before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last week of shifting from a system of mandatory assessments--dues--to a system of voluntary contributions to finance the Organization), I want to offer a few observations about the history of the Charter.

The majority of the work of drafting the Charter occurred prior to the conclusion of World War II. In fact, most of the preparatory work was done at Dumbarton Oaks in Washington, D.C. during the fall of 1944. The Covenant of the League of Nations, on the contrary, was drafted entirely after the armistice ending World War I had been signed. More importantly, work on the Charter was almost completely dissociated from the diplomatic process of concluding World War II. In contrast, at Versailles in 1919, peace negotiations and negotiations for the creation of the League proceeded hand in hand and the League Covenant, in the end, was embedded in the three treaties of peace proffered to the Central Powers.

One reason work on the Charter was begun rather early was the tenuous nature of the war-time alliance. Significant differences of opinion among the American, British, and Soviet governments were apparent well before Germany's surrender. As Inis Claude noted in Swords Into Plowshares: The Problems and Progress of International Organization (4th ed., p. 65), "If the grand alliance for war was to be preserved as a grand alliance for peace, it seemed that there was no time to be lost."

Having secured agreement from the Allies on the basic outlines of the new United Nations Organization by mid-October 1944, the U.S. State Department was in a position to make an early push to gain public support for the Charter that would be signed at San Francisco on June 26, 1945. Almost two million copies of the Dumbarton Oaks proposals were distributed in the United States by the State Department. Speakers were sent all over the country to address civic groups and radio audiences in an effort to explain the proposed U.N. Again, the contrast with the League experience is instructive. As Woodrow Wilson lingered for months in Paris after World War I directing the negotiations that would produce the League Covenant, public support in the U.S. for any form of internationalism evaporated. Wilson's inattention to public opinion was a mistake that Franklin Roosevelt would not repeat.

In the end, the attention to public opinion paid off. On July 28, 1945, the United States Senate gave its consent to the ratification of the Charter by an 89-2 vote. President Truman communicated U.S. ratification on August 8 and, as we note today, the Charter entered into force on October 24.