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The UN in the Cold War

Guest Author - Rebecca Graf

Analyze the role the UN played in the Cold War between the United States and the U.S.S.R.

Summing up the cold could be done simply by saying that it was a faceoff between the United States and the U.S.S.R. (referred to as Russia here going forward). There was no direct bloodshed. Instead, the two danced around each other using other countries and the United Nations as chess pieces in their strategic game. From the beginning, the UN was used by both sides to achieve their personal goals. When the first UN call to peace came with the Korean crisis, the US took advantage of Russia’s boycott to push through the resolution to put forces under the UN in Korea. (1) That was a move on the Cold War board against Russia and its communist stance. The Suez Canal was another phases of the Cold War play and use of the UN as behind the action the US and Russia were major factors in how it all played out. The Russian were selling arms to the Egyptians while the US was trying to limit the number of arms. (2) To the world, it was a battle of Britain, France, Israel, and Egypt. It was a chess move of the Russians to supply the arms and create a situation that called for the UN to step in which also led to more direct involvement by Russia and the US. The creation of UNEF for the Egyptian-Israeli conflict in the 1960s was used as a protest by Russia on the grounds that the General Assembly had “no authority to establish UNEF” which was huge in preventing UNEF from its full potential. (3) The fact that the two Cold War players were on opposite sides of most UN decisions caused much conflict as each one tried to pull the UN to their side. Basically, the Council was often unable to act due to “the United States and the Soviet Union firmly on opposing sides.” (4) It even moved into Africa with the Congo crisis where Russia “had been looking for a foothold in Africa” leading that country to supply Lumumba. (5) The US saw that as a chess move and “put its support behind President Kasavubu.” (6) Once again, the UN was part of the big chess game that directed the Cold War. The Congo crisis had Russia refusing “to pay their assessments for UNEF on the grounds that the force was not authorized by the Security Council.” (7) The US pushed until they realized they were setting a precedent that could boomerang on them. (8) From there the game included Yemen and the Dominican Republic. As the US moved in on the Dominican Republic under the guise to rescue Americans, the Russians pointed how they got too involved in the fighting. Russia “called for an urgent meeting of the SC to discuss if the U.S had militarily intervened in the internal affairs of” that country. (9) The UN was once again a play of the Cold War chess game. It was through the UN that much of the Cold War was played out. Each country took its side and took UN action to make their move.


(1) Harvey J. Langholtz, editor, The History of the United Nations Peacekeeping Operations During the Cold War: 1945 to 1987 (Williamsburg: Peace Operations Training Institute, 2008), 6.
(2) Ibid, 33.
(3) Ibid, 42.
(4) Ibid, 43.
(5) Ibid, 52.
(6) Ibid, 52.
(7) Ibid, 67.
(8) Ibid, 68.
(9) Ibid, 85.

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Content copyright © 2015 by Rebecca Graf. All rights reserved.
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