The ‘Five Policemen’ Revisited

The “Five Policemen” Revisited

by George W. Liebmann

“THE PRESIDENT then turned to the third organization which he termed “The Four Policemen,” namely the Soviet Union, United States, Great Britain and China. This organization would have the power to deal immediately with any threat to the peace and any sudden emergency which requires this action. He went on to say that in 1935 when Italy attacked Ethiopia the only machinery in existence was the League of Nations. He personally had had begged France to close the Suez Canal, but they instead referred it to the League which disputed the question and in the end did nothing. The result was that the Italian armies went through the Suez Canal and destroyed Ethiopia. THE PRESIDENT pointed out that had the machinery of the Four Policemen which he had in mind been in existence, it would have been possible to close the Suez Canal. He President then summarized briefly the idea that he had in mind. THE PRESIDENT added that he saw two methods of dealing with possible threats to the peace. In one case, if the threat was from a revolution or developments in a small country, it might be possible to apply the quarantine method, closing the frontiers of the countries in question and imposing embargoes. In the second case, if the threat was more serious, the four powers, acting as policemen, would send an ultimatum to the nation in question, and if refused [it] would result in the immediate bombardment and possible invasion of that country. He again expressed his agreement with Marshal Stalin that strategic positions in the world should be at the disposal of some world organization to prevent a revival of German and Japanese aggression.” FRUS, The Conferences at Cairo and Tehran, 1943 (G.P.O.: Washington, 1967), 530-32

“Events we have already witnessed in the cold war could easily have caused actual war in the nineteenth century or even in the earlier parts of the twentieth. . . If nations keep up contacts, keep discussing, then time will finally erode their hesitation and resistance. Impatience, especially as regards important problems between large groups of powers, is unnecessary and harmful. If the last fifteen years’ experience has saved us now from the deadlock created by the idea that face-to-face discussions are futile, then all these years have not passed in vain.” Ismet Inonu, “Negotiations and the National Interest,” in Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Perspectives on Peace, 1910-1960 (Westport, CT: Praeger, 1960), 135, 150.

It is now generally recognized that Franklin Roosevelt, despite the fact that his national political career began as Assistant Secretary of the Navy in the Wilson administration, was no Wilsonian. Nor were his colleagues at the great wartime conferences, Stalin and Churchill. They viewed the Great Powers as supplying the foundation of any post-war international order. At the Atlantic Conference, held prior to Hitler’s invasion of the Soviet Union, it was thought and hoped that the order-keepers would be the United States and Great Britain. By the time of Tehran, at least the Soviet Union had been added; Roosevelt presciently sought to include China, not because of its actual power but because of its potentialities. When the United Nations Charter was framed, after Potsdam, France, at the urging of Great Britain, was included as a Permanent Member, as it had previously been included as the possessor of occupation zones in Germany and Austria and as a member of the Control Commission for Germany. Roosevelt had planned or hoped to withdraw U.S. troops from Europe within two years after the end of the war, and the British did not want to be alone with Russia on the European Continent.

Roosevelt was never clearer then at Tehran as to what was meant by the Two, Three, Four, or Five Policemen. Were they to act in concert, under a rule of unanimity, or were they to divide responsibility for the world between them, into ‘spheres of interest’ ? Discussions at the wartime conferences suggested a bit of both; China and Russia were to be relied on to curb Japan; Russia to dominate Eastern Europe; Britain Western Europe, and the United States the Western Hemisphere. Some statements frowned on ‘spheres of interest’ as vestiges of an imperialist past; others pre-supposed them. The Stalin-Churchill ‘percentages agreement’ about the Balkans in October 1944 was a straightforward, if a bit shame-faced, definition of spheres of interest. So were suggestions that the United States look after its own hemisphere, that Russia look after Eastern Europe, and that the British and French take care of their own empires, though neither Roosevelt nor Stalin wished them well in this endeavour. The Declaration on Liberated Europe accompanying the Yalta Agreement, Professor David Reynolds has suggested, contemplated permeable spheres of influence in which there would be non-interference in internal politics and in economic and cultural relations with the rest of the world. In his Fulton, Missouri speech in 1948 Churchill called for “free intercourse, commercial and cultural.”

The U.N. Charter, when framed, gave each of the Permanent Members an absolute veto over forcible peace-keeping measures. Force was legitimate only 1) in self-defence 2) when authorized by the Security Council, where each of the Great Powers had a veto or 3) in self-defence as defined by a regional organization. The League of Nations Covenant, by contrast, disclaimed the use of force, and mandated a nine-month period of discussion of differences, followed by an economic blockade, in the application of which each state was the judge in its own cause. An abortive amendatory protocol would have allowed military as well as economic sanctions upon a two-thirds vote of the Council. The last category of permissible use of force was insisted on by the United States to protect the Monroe Doctrine and the Rio Pact. It had been preceded by a similar concession to “regional undertakings” in the League of Nations Covenant. It was assumed, or at least hoped, that ‘spheres of interest’ would be ‘open’ spheres of interest; that trade and cultural communication across their boundaries would be unimpaired. It was also generally agreed that the General Assembly was to be merely a ‘talking shop’ where, as Churchill put it, the small birds could sing. The Wilsonian notion of equality of states which informed the League of Nations was not part of the U.N. design. For this reason, even the smallest of states, Liechtenstein, Andorra and San Marino were admitted to the U.N. but never to the League nor, except for the five power vetoes, were there unanimity requirements in the U. N. Charter. The Five Policemen, it was thought, would cooperate within the U.N. Military Staff Committee to pre-commit forces to keep order, and would meet among themselves to this end. Finally, there was a prohibition in Article 2 (7) of the Charter of interference in the internal affairs of other states, drawn from the similar provisions of the Treaty of Westphalia of 1648 that ended the religious wars in Europe, in which, as Henry Kissinger once reminded us, “perhaps 40% of the population of Central Europe perished in the name of competing versions of universal truth,” and a similar prohibition in Article 15 of the League of Nations Covenant.

It is the thesis of this article that subsequent behaviour of both the U.N. and the Five Policemen has strayed far from the original design, and that the world would benefit from closer adherence to it.

The selection of the Five Powers was not, and is not, irrational. Suggestions that rising powers like Germany, Japan, India and Brazil be added as Permanent Members are simply mischievous. International acrimony and years of delay would accompany any such effort. Both because of past cultural and legal influence and because of present economic relationships and the vestiges of empire, Britain and France still have greater worldwide reach than other candidate nations. The present five permanent members also have more highly developed diplomatic traditions.

The careers of such men as Chicherin and Primakov attest to a Russian diplomatic tradition bridging the Tsarist and Communist and the Communist and Post-Communist governments. The foreign policy failings of Britain and France between the wars were not chargeable to Coulondre, Leger, Vansittart, or their permanent diplomatic establishments. Chou En Lai was not a diplomatic amateur and must be assumed to have left a legacy. The late American diplomat Lewis Einstein regarded Soviet diplomacy in the 50s and 60s as superior to that of the U.S., and the success of the French in blocking the second Iraq war resolution in the Security Council suggests that the Quai D’Orsay retains considerable potency, as does French dominance of the Common Market bureaucracy.

It is astonishing, and a great departure from what Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin envisaged, that on only one occasion since the creation of the United Nations has the Secretary General convened a meeting of the ambassadors of the five permanent members separately from a meeting of the Security Council, that being a meeting convened by Secretary General Kofi Annan following the failure of the second resolution seeking to legitimize the 2003 Iraq War. Moreover, except for specialized arms control negotiations, meetings of the five Great Powers since the Second World War have been few and sporadic. Both Secretaries Acheson and Dulles were hostile to summit meetings, in part because of an underlying disrespect for their Presidents and in part from fear that such meetings would undermine efforts to integrate the German economy into the Western alliance. The price for this reluctance in the ensuing forty years was borne by the peoples of Eastern Europe and to some extent by the American taxpayers supporting a Cold War economy. In an article in Foreign Affairs in the fall of 1985, Richard Nixon in his old age repudiated the Eisenhower administration’s attitude and called for annual summits of the super-powers. There are semi-annual summits between the French and the Germans, quarterly meetings of their foreign and defence ministers, and semi-annual meetings of the European Council since 1985. “To jaw-jaw is always better than to war-war” Churchill was quoted as saying.

Finally, there has been promiscuous disregard of any notion of spheres of influence, and of the prohibition against interference in the internal affairs of other states.

Notwithstanding the U.N. Charter, and its 1933 treaty resulting in diplomatic recognition by the United States, the Soviet Union established and maintained the Comintern and Cominform to create internal discontent in the Western Democracies. The United States and Britain for their part aided a rebellion in the Ukraine after the Second World War that cost the Soviet military thousands of lives (similar support of the ‘Forest people’ in Lithuania was less contestable, the sovereignty of the Soviet Union over that nation never having been recognized). The United States created Radio Free Europe and the National Endowment for Democracy to agitate for political change in Russia, and its Congress, behaving as though it was the Russian Duma, enacted the Jackson-Vanik amendment and today’s Magnitsky Act to contest internal Russian policies. As for ‘spheres of influence’, Russia sent missiles to Cuba and the United States sent them to the Black Sea coast of Turkey, nearly precipitating a nuclear exchange in 1962. More recently, American warships have been seen swanning about the Black Sea, so-called ‘colour revolutions’ have been aided in the Ukraine and Georgia, and America’s Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs has deemed it appropriate to be seen feeding cookies to demonstrators seeking to overthrow an elected Ukrainian government. The recent alleged Russian interference in the American presidential election can plausibly be viewed as an act of revenge against the Obama-Clinton administration or as a gentle reminder that internal interference is a game that any number can play.

The ’pactomania’ of Secretary of State John Foster Dulles was nothing so much as an effort to create new Western ‘spheres of influence’, lacking historical, or cultural justification, in areas around the Soviet Union, thus providing a foundation for regional defence activities under Article 51 of the U. N. Charter. Lacking an organic or historical basis, SEATO, METO and the Baghdad Pact soon collapsed. The Rio pact was a similar effort by the United States, legitimated by the pre-existing Monroe Doctrine; Felix Frankfurter in an article in the New Republic in 1920 remonstrating about intervention in Haiti had suggested that such a treaty and a requirement of approval by an Organization of American States would be a useful check on American interventions in Latin America. However, when the United States wanted to invade Granada it did not have recourse to the OAS, but to the hitherto almost unheard of Organization of Eastern Caribbean States.

It was not until the Helsinki agreement negotiated by the Carter administration that a serious effort was made to render ‘spheres of interest’ more permeable to trade and cultural communication; the results in Eastern Europe were wholly beneficial. Notwithstanding this, the United States and the Western powers, frequently without Security Council authorization, have been enthusiastic about the imposition of economic boycotts and sanctions, including those presently applied to Russia. While focused economic sanctions, particularly fuel boycotts, can be effective, or at least painful, as suggested by the abortive petroleum sanction against Italy in 1935 and those against Japan in 1941 and the current efforts to deny coal to North Korea, general sanctions create hermit kingdoms, greatly damage civilian populations and are, as Herbert Hoover once suggested, not ‘measures short of war’ but measures of total war. 60 or 70 years of such sanctions have left the Cuban and North Korean regimes in power; autarchic mobilization has allowed them to survive. Sanctions, like the British blockade after the Armistice, are fully effective only when a nation’s economy has already been drained by war.

What would restoration of the design of Roosevelt, Churchill, and Stalin now entail?

It would first require a restoration of knowledge of, and respect for, the diplomatic tradition successively represented by the Holy Alliance, the Conference System, and the Concert of Europe. This in turn would require a revived sense of responsibility for the maintenance of world peace that has been seriously eroded in recent years notwithstanding the spectre of the mushroom cloud, and regular conferences of the Permanent Members. The value of frequent meetings, illustrated by the wartime conferences, is that stated by Professor Jennifer Mitzen, in her Power in Concert (2013): “Once actors know they will see one another again, they will tend to talk in certain ways and their talk and the expectation of having to justify their actions makes it more likely that they will act in ways consistent with their commitment.” There is a considerable body of social science research, including the work of the Nobel prize-winner Elinor Ostrom supporting this insight.

Article 28 (2) of the United Nations Charter is founded on this insight. It contemplates and indeed appears to require ”periodic meetings” of “members of the government or. . . other specially designated representatives” of the Security Council powers. Secretary General Trygve Lie proposed semi-annual such meetings in 1950 as did Security Council President Max Jakobson of Finland in 1970, their theory being that regularly scheduled such meetings to review all outstanding world problems would not be held in a crisis atmosphere or one with unduly high expectations that would be dashed by failure. Rule 4 of the Security Council provides for such semi-annual ‘high level’ meetings, but during the twelve years 2004-15 only seven meetings have been attended by high level officials of all five permanent members, only two of them with an open-ended ‘international peace and security’ agenda, three of the others being on the Middle East, one on terrorism and one on non-proliferation.

There are in fact few reasons for direct conflict between or among the five Great Powers. Except for China and Russia, there are no contiguous borders between them, and there are no significant border disputes. Little has changed since the Duke of Wellington’s remark that “the Russians have neither wealth nor commerce nor anything that is desirable to anybody.” China and the United States are each other’s best customers; they have a common interest in the maintenance of freedom of navigation in the Straits of Malacca. Russia and the Western European countries centred on France have common interests based on energy supply and payment for it, and at least a vestigial interest in together maintaining a counterweight to the dominance of Germany on the Continent. The United States and China have a common interest in managing any possible collapse of the North Korean regime, and in coming to an understanding that the United States will not have military bases on the North China Sea nor will China have them on the Sea of Japan.

Conflicts among the Great Powers will arise, if at all, not from direct defence of themselves against attack, but from their links with and guarantees of lesser powers. It is in resolving and reducing conflicts among and with lesser powers that Great Power cooperation is needed. The commitments made to Austria-Hungary, Serbia and Poland were the direct cause of the two world wars. While Hitler’s ambitions in the Ukraine make it unlikely that another round of ‘appeasement’ would have been successful, the answer to that question is unknown and unknowable. Article 19 of the League of Nations Covenant, secured by Lloyd George after his subordinates remonstrated against the draconian provisions of the draft Treaty of Versailles, allowed revision of treaties with the consent of the League Council; Edward Hallett Carr in The Twenty Years’ Crisis lamented the absence of efforts to ameliorate the real grievances of the defeated powers.

The Congress of Vienna had been preceded in 1804 during the Napoleonic wars by Czar Alexander’s proposal of “the obligation of never beginning war until all the resources which the mediation of a third party could offer have been exhausted, until the grievances have by this means been brought to light, and an effort to remove them has been made.” Article VI of the Final Act of the Congress of Vienna in 1815 contained an agreement that the powers would renew their meetings at fixed periods to discuss “measures most salutary for the repose and prosperity of nations and for the maintenance of the peace of Europe.” Harold Nicolson observed that “all of the main provisions of the Vienna Final Act remained unaltered for a space of forty years and preserved Europe from any general conflagration for all but a century.” While the Holy Alliance with its purpose to repress revolutions did not survive the 1820 revolts and while its illiberal purposes were never fully joined by Castlereigh’s England, it was succeeded by the Conference System, which in turn, in the language of W. Alison Phillips, “did not survive the Crimean War and the death of the Emperor Nicholas, the last uncompromising champion of its principles. Thereafter it was but a memory, accursed in the eyes of the triumphant liberalism of the age.” The Concert of Europe, which followed it, had its apogee in the Congress of Berlin, described as “the only occasion in the 19th century when the Concert of the Powers has been strong enough to bring a victorious belligerent [Russia] to the bar of Europe and oblige him to submit the results of his victory to the judgment and revision of a Congress.” In the League of the Three Emperors in 1873, they had pledged that “disputes may not overshadow the considerations of a higher order which they have at heart.” Professor David Reynolds has observed that “Conference diplomacy is about resolving differences through an interlocking set of compromises and trade- offs in which no party gets everything but all gain something and concede something.” Although disputes over colonies were resolved at a Berlin Conference in 1884 and at the Algeciras Conference in 1907, these were exceptions: “Bismarck had made a deadlock and called it peace. . . his method of balanced antagonisms seemed to paralyse all capacity for constructive negotiation.”

In the wake of the first Gulf War, President George H.W. Bush and Brent Scowcroft observed; “if the attack on Kuwait marked the end of 40-odd years of such superpower confrontation, what vistas might open up? The Security Council could then perform the role envisioned for it by the U.N. framers. The U.S. and the Soviet Union could, in most cases, stand together against unprovoked interstate aggression.” This vision was destroyed by Secretary Albright’s NATO enlargement, against the advice of Ambassadors George Kennan and Jack Matlock; the intervention in Kosovo, unauthorized by the Security Council and Congress; the second Iraq war, unauthorized by the Security Council; regime change in Libya under a Security Council mandate limited to the protection of Benghazi and without Congressional authorization; and similar unauthorized intervention in Syria, the total producing massive refugee flows destabilizing the European order laboriously constructed over the preceding half century. The best comment on all this is that of Professor Mark Mazower in his Governing the World (2012): “A world in which violations of human rights trump the sanctity of borders may turn out to produce more wars, more massacres, and more instability. . . the bright line between war and peace enunciated in the U.N. Charter has been blurred. The boundaries between domestic and foreign, legal and illegal, civilian and combatant have become confused as never before. . . a vocabulary of permissions, a means of asserting power and control that normalizes the debatable and justifies the exception.”

It is hard to see how international machinery for the peaceful resolution of disputes can function if one of the Great Powers, Russia, is permanently placed in Coventry and made the subject of ineffective economic boycotts, unauthorized by the Security Council. The seizure of the Crimea was undoubtedly a transgression, though no larger than Western interference in the Ukraine and Georgia. The proceedings of the Ukrainian parliament for the last thirty years have resembled a rugby match more than normal deliberations. No conceivable Russian government of any complexion can be expected to relinquish the Crimea. The problem, like many in the world, was the product of perversely drawn provincial or colonial frontiers, endemic in the former Soviet Union, Yugoslavia, and Africa, designed to suppress particularism by dividing ethnic groups. Article 19 of the League of Nations Covenant was designed to address this problem, as is Articles 1 (1) and 14 of the United Nations Charter; it provides a means of revising the internationally recognized boundaries of the Ukraine.

Second, there should be renewed exploration of the Charter’s design for military cooperation among the Great Powers, which was still-born. Article 47 of the U.N. Charter provided for a Military Staff Committee composed of representatives of the Chiefs of Staff of the Permanent Members. It was established by the Security Council in London in January 1946. Article 45 of the Charter contemplated air force contingents “immediately available for combined international enforcement action.” Eleven meetings of the group took place in the summer of 1947. The USSR, fearful of a Pax Americana, pressed for national contributions of identical size, as a way of limiting both the over-all size of any force and American dominance within it; the Western powers sought “comparable” contingents. According to Donald Blaisdell, assigned as Coordinator of American Security Policy at the U.N. in an article in International Organization in 1950, the Committee foundered on this difference. The British Ambassador to the U.N., Sir Gladwyn Jebb related in his Memoirs that Molotov at the organizing meeting pronounced the meeting to be “premature”. The Russians were suspicious of Western policies on Germany and the atomic bomb, and “it was Russian suspicions well before Fulton which were chiefly responsible for its failure to function at all.” “Members who got increasingly less high-ranking simply agreeing to meet every so often to agree on the date of the next meeting, and then disperse.”

A sizable amount of work was done within the U.S. military establishment, including an extraordinary proposal for commitment of 20 divisions, 3800 aircraft, and 108 ships, summarized in an article by Jonathan Soffer in Diplomatic History for the Winter of 1997. The French, British and Chinese also proposed commitments of from 8 to 21 divisions each. Forces of this magnitude, contributed on an ad hoc basis, were in fact employed in the first Gulf War. The Russians sought commitments that no forces would be used against “liberation movements.” Both the Americans and British contemplated that their governments approve each commitment of force, and the Soviets sought review by the Security Council every three months and a ban on bases outside the territory of the contributing Permanent Member. As Gladwyn Jebb put it, “it could not be seriously considered that the Brigade of Guards would be ordered to engage in hostilities by a Russian GOC against the will of the British Government of the UK.” The total proposal foundered on the disconnect between the vague aspirations at the summit conferences and consideration of limited purposes “to enforce sanctions and minor operations to maintain order.”
The wartime conferees also appeared to share an exaggerated confidence in the efficacy of air power, belied by the U.S, experience in Korea and Vietnam. In major war, there is in the end no substitute for infantry, and the willingness of citizens to support large-scale foreign commitment of troops for purposes other than defence of their own country is questionable. But there have been numerous deployments of U.N. ‘peacekeepers’ contributed on an ad hoc basis by national governments, usually from their volunteer and not conscript forces. There might be utility in having a small number of troops pre-committed by the Permanent Members and training together, in the interests of more rapid deployment and higher competence, in addition to the cultivation of shared purposes, with the understanding that their deployment in any particular situation would require the approval of their national governments in accordance with their constitutional processes.

Secretary-General Trygve Lie attempted to enlist the MSC to provide a force to support the U.N. proposal for a Palestine trusteeship, and got nowhere. He then attempted to recruit a smaller force outside the Committee framework, with the same result. A similar suggestion was made by Soviet Premier Gorbachev at the time of the first Gulf War and by U.N. Secretary General Boutros Boutros Ghali in connection with U.N. activities in Somalia and Yugoslavia. In addition to the pro forma fortnightly regular meetings, there were five ad hoc meetings of the MSC prior to the first Gulf War, which were said to have been useful for the exchange of naval information. Post-communist Russia has been more enthusiastic about the MSC than the former Soviet Union, the late U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin calling for its greater use in 2011 and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov declaring in 2015 that “in the fight against ISIS, we could use the potential of the U. N. Military Staff Committee. The ad hoc peacekeeping operations carried out by the U.N. are said to have suffered from want of a permanent headquarters.

Third, there should be serious efforts to curb two new methods of warfare, cyber-warfare and drone warfare, which the United States has deployed in places like Yemen, Pakistan, and Iran without benefit of either a congressional declaration of war or authorization by the Security Council. When nuclear warfare was developed in the 1940s, strenuous efforts were made to produce some sort of international control, in the form of the Acheson-Lilienthal Plan, subsequently edited by Bernard Baruch, and the subsequent Eisenhower administration Open Skies proposal. These ultimately bore fruit, to the world’s advantage, in the atmospheric test ban treaty, various SALT agreements, and the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. The barriers to entry into both drone warfare and cyberwarfare are virtually non-existent; no nation needs a Manhattan Project to embark on them. Even in its domestic affairs, the United States failed to expeditiously punish the first episodes of virus dissemination and computer hacking, and still devotes highly limited resources to their punishment, as compared with vast investments in computer security. Any effort to regulate domestic drones is not very visible. A heavy price may be paid for this carelessness.

The idea that political terrorism, which has always existed and is a tactic, not an ideology, justifies disregarding territorial limitations on military action would not have been accepted by any of the members of the Big Three, and is apt to be destructive of both personal security and world peace. As Professor Mazower suggests, the legal doctrines trumped up on slender evidence by such as Anne-Marie Slaughter, Gary Bass and Samantha Power in their briefs on behalf of humanitarian intervention have destructive effects on more fundamental principles. The Treaty of Westphalia is not dead; it represented a great advance for humanity. So did the non-counterrevolutionary parts of the principles enunciated by Czar Alexander and by Foreign Minister Castlereigh. Those who would represent the United States in international affairs should pledge allegiance to Articles 2 (7) and 42 of the U. N. Charter, and the documents and practices from which they are descended.

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