- Divided Together: The United States and the Soviet Union in the United Nations, 1945–1965 by Ilya V. Gaiduk
This book by the late Russian historian Ilya Gaiduk is truly a groundbreaking work in the study of the history of the United Nations (UN). Gaiduk was one of the very few pioneers among Russian historians who were able to take full advantage of the openness of the Russian archives in 1992 and early 1993. He was equally well-versed in the U.S. and British archives, making frequent research trips abroad. The result is a [End Page 279] first-of-its kind document-based “comparative study of U.S. and Soviet policy toward the organization during the first two decades of the Cold War” (p. 5). Although Gaiduk defines the scope of the book in this limited way, he covers much more than just U.S. and Soviet policies. Because U.S.-Soviet interactions created the crucial dynamic of the early years of the UN, the book can be read as a history of the UN written from a truly international perspective. In addition to discussing U.S. and Soviet policies, Gaiduk examines the superpowers’ relations with their respective allies regarding issues raised at the UN.
In contrast to the common perception of the UN as a forum of Soviet obstructionism, Gaiduk offers a more detailed analysis of the early interactions. He shows that although in the early stages of negotiations about establishing the UN the three main wartime allies—the United States, Great Britain, and the Soviet Union—pursued their own interests and goals, the general expectation in all three countries was that unity among the allies would be preserved. Although the U.S. and Soviet positions on the structure of the UN were initially similar, with each insisting on a powerful Security Council, the U.S. position changed to favor smaller countries and the General Assembly. Soviet leaders, however, believed they needed a strong Security Council and the right of veto in anticipation of being outnumbered in the voting in the General Assembly. Gaiduk traces the gradual drifting apart of the USSR and the United States as the Cold War intensified and shows how the surge of tensions affected the early debates in the UN.
Soon after the successful founding of the UN, the first major crisis of the Cold War—the issue of withdrawal of Soviet troops from Iran—“exacerbated tensions between the great powers in the United Nations and destroyed the last vestiges of their unity in the Security Council” (p. 65). The United States made the Iranian issue the subject of public debate in both the Security Council and the General Assembly rather than pursuing private conversations with the interested parties. The U.S. approach led to a decisive short-term victory for the West, but in the long run it “turned the international organization largely into an instrument with which the great powers fought their own political warfare against each other” (p. 70).
The Soviet Union did not shy away from using the UN as both a propaganda forum and an instrument in its own Cold War policies. Gaiduk gives a detailed account of the Soviet Union’s abuse of its veto at the Security Council and also Moscow’s manipulation of the issue of admission into the UN that was essentially obstructionist. Such obstructionism was self-defeating for the Soviet Union in at least one major crisis—the Korean War, which Gaiduk calls “the most controversial episode in the history of the United Nations” (p. 164). Soviet Politburo documents quoted by Gaiduk show that during the Korean War, Iosif Stalin intended to transform the Security Council into a propaganda forum (p. 170). Nonetheless, he finds that even at this critical moment, the UN was able to temper the superpowers’ behavior.
By the time of Stalin’s death, both sides were using the UN as a platform for heated Cold War rhetoric and propaganda, thus rapidly undermining the potential for any...