19 April 1952: Leonard Woolf asks, is the UN still-born?

From our correspondence.

19 April 1952

SIR,-Mr Pollak's letter about my review and Uno shows me that I cannot make myself intelligible about anything to anyone. The whole point of what I wrote was that the machinery of the League and of Uno was adequate for maintaining peace and preventing war, but that unless Governments were willing to use the machinery for that purpose the machinery would fail.

The League failed because Mussolini and Hitler were not prepared to keep the peace, and the French and British Governments were not prepared to use the machinery of the League to prevent war. Uno from the start has been used by the Soviet Union as a weapon in the cold war, not as an intrument of peace. This is why I was accurate in saying that, as an intrument of peace, Uno was born dead.

I have spent a good deal of my life writing books which tried to explain why international government through organisations like the League or Uno is necessary. Mr Pollak personifies Uno and accuses me of "contempt" for this personification. I have no contempt for Uno, which is a piece of political machinery - I have contempt only for those who will not use the machinery for its purpose, namely the prevention of war - and perhaps just a shade for those who deify or personify Leagues, Unos, and other bits of political machinery and think it treason to do anything but sing hallelujah before their decayed or decaying altars.

Leonard Woolf,
Lewes, Sussex.

The first Security Council of the United Nations Organisation in New York, March 1946. Image: Hulton Archive/Getty.

Leonard Woolf (1880-1969) was a political theorist, author and civil servant. He was involved with the New Statesman from its earliest days, and advised Kingsley Martin regularly during his editorship.

Photo: Getty
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Donald Trump's inauguration signals the start of a new and more unstable era

A century in which the world's hegemonic power was a rational actor is about to give way to a more terrifying reality. 

For close to a century, the United States of America has been the world’s paramount superpower, one motivated by, for good and for bad, a rational and predictable series of motivations around its interests and a commitment to a rules-based global order, albeit one caveated by an awareness of the limits of enforcing that against other world powers.

We are now entering a period in which the world’s paramount superpower is neither led by a rational or predictable actor, has no commitment to a rules-based order, and to an extent it has any guiding principle, they are those set forward in Donald Trump’s inaugural: “we will follow two simple rules: hire American and buy American”, “from this day forth, it’s going to be America first, only America first”.

That means that the jousting between Trump and China will only intensify now that he is in office.  The possibility not only of a trade war, but of a hot war, between the two should not be ruled out.

We also have another signal – if it were needed – that he intends to turn a blind eye to the actions of autocrats around the world.

What does that mean for Brexit? It confirms that those who greeted the news that an US-UK trade deal is a “priority” for the incoming administration, including Theresa May, who described Britain as “front of the queue” for a deal with Trump’s America, should prepare themselves for disappointment.

For Europe in general, it confirms what should already been apparent: the nations of Europe are going to have be much, much more self-reliant in terms of their own security. That increases Britain’s leverage as far as the Brexit talks are concerned, in that Britain’s outsized defence spending will allow it acquire goodwill and trade favours in exchange for its role protecting the European Union’s Eastern border.

That might allow May a better deal out of Brexit than she might have got under Hillary Clinton. But there’s a reason why Trump has increased Britain’s heft as far as security and defence are concerned: it’s because his presidency ushers in an era in which we are all much, much less secure. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.