A/MS files, lot 54 D 291 (V), “UNA/P master file”

Paper Prepared by the United Nations Planning Staff, Bureau of United Nations Affairs


Bloc Politics in the United Nations

prefatory note

Bloc voting in the UN is above all a problem of organized factions in the GA, a body where each nation has one vote and where parliamentary power therefore does not necessarily represent the realities of the international power and responsibility. The analysis of this problem in the following paper is confined to the Arab-Asian bloc and the Latin American bloc, which are the chief GA factions organized to use the UN for the promotion of their common interests. The Soviet bloc is ignored because it represents a centrally controlled system with five votes rather than a voluntary grouping of nations, and because factors other than those of parliamentary strategy in the GA are holding this system together. Bloc voting among other European countries is also left out because it has not developed to any degree of consistency (the reason being that, particularly with the development of regional institutions, the European countries by and large do not seek to use the UN as a principal mechanism for their conduct of foreign policy or as a means of influencing others to particular courses of action. They, broadly speaking, are the beneficiaries of the status quo and, outside of such broad issues of world order as disarmament, have no program of change for which the UN could serve as an instrument. Neither do they desire to see the UN become an anti-Soviet weapon. In short, they have little motive to develop a dynamic bloc [Page 119]comparable to the motives of the Arab, Asian, or Latin American states.).

the arab-asian-african bloc in the united nations

The so-called Arab-Asian group of states in the UN have, since December 1950, frequently operated as a bloc, in pursuit of certain common interests. In view of the wide geographic distribution of the countries in question* these common interests are not so much “regional” as they are in the nature of general ideas concerning the position and interest of Arabs, Asians, and Africans in a world led by nations of Western civilization. These common ideas can be characterized as:

opposition to colonial rule and the Western economic domination;
insistence on the rights and dignity of “native” vis-à-vis white people;
demands for economic and technical assistance for underdeveloped countries;
resistance to involvement of Arab-Asians in the East-West conflict.

The UN, offering opportunities for propaganda and parliamentary pressure on behalf of these ideas, has been for the Arab-Asian above all the forum which brings them together in a setting that makes bloc operations possible and effective. In the UN the degree of solidarity of this bloc has been influenced not only by the above named common viewpoints as such, but also by the attitudes and policies of the Western world, and by the ruses and enticements of the Soviets.

Unlike the Arab League (six of whose members are also UN Members and participants in the Arab-Asian group), the Arab-Asian bloc does not have a formal organization. It has, however, held increasingly frequent meetings since 1950, under orderly rules of procedure and with rotating chairmanship. The meetings have considered not only the Korean problem, but questions such as those of Palestine, Tunis, and Morocco, racial discrimination in South Africa, trusteeship and non-self-governing territories, and the so-called East-West issues. Occasionally, extraneous matters like personnel have also been made a matter of bloc policies. On matters of importance to them, the bloc could generally muster 13 to 15 votes. The bloc has used its voting strength to obtain UN action reflecting the broad principles favored by the bloc, or, if that was not possible, to express its displeasure by [Page 120]withholding support from positions favored by the Western countries. On occasion, it has also supported Soviet positions in exchange for what was believed to be Soviet friendliness to Arabs and Asians.

In particular, the interests of Arab-Asian bloc countries can be analyzed as follows:

Colonial Questions—All states of the Arab-Asian-African group have professed a universal and abiding interest in colonial questions. This interest has a deep emotional basis, for the obvious reasons that most of these countries have only recently emerged from the status of colonial peoples or of peoples treated as inferiors by white aliens. They desire: (a) to help peoples who are still in a colonial status or experiencing unequal treatment to achieve independence and improved conditions of life, and (b) to identify their own national aspirations for a larger share of world influence and prestige with the cause of peoples which are thus being ruled or kept in an inferior status by white foreigners. The colonial problem tends accordingly in many—but not necessarily all—cases to merge with racial problems and problems of human rights. Frequently, however, the policy of these states on colonial questions is dictated by domestic political considerations. The Arab-Asians have preferred the General Assembly to the Trusteeship Council for discussion of colonial questions, because their more numerous representation in the former gives them a better chance to make their voice felt, and because they believe that their point of view is not sufficiently represented on the TC.

Human Rights and Related Questions—In this field, Arab-Asian votes have not been uniformly cast en bloc. On certain questions (e.g. the status of women) their interests turned out to be sharply divided because of domestic and religious considerations. Nevertheless, on the whole the delegates from this area have inclined to press for a far-reaching program of human rights, a program that reflects not so much measures which their governments are prepared to realize in their respective nations as it formulates ideal conditions which these countries aspire to attain, presumably with the financial help of the West. The votes of Arab-Asian delegates in these matters also represent abstract, ethical principles (sometimes embodied in their respective religions) which they uphold in speeches in the UN often without any relationships whatsoever to realities in their own countries. Moreover, delegates from these countries frequently cast their votes on matters of [Page 121]this kind without the benefit of instructions from their home governments. In this connection, it is important to note that most of these free-wheeling delegates have been educated in the liberal philosophy of the West.

In such matters as Self-Determination and Definition of Aggression the countries of the area find an additional opportunity to pursue their common anti-colonial interests, although other considerations may occasionally enter (as, e.g., when India objected to language in the resolution on self-determination that might be interpreted as applying to such areas as Kashmir, the Princely States, or the French Enclaves in India).

Economic Questions—The Arab-Asian bloc has shown interest, particularly during the last three sessions of the GA, in issues centering in the economic development of underdeveloped countries through the UN, a matter which they have generally stressed as one of vital and urgent importance. This attitude springs directly from the desire of these countries to advance the economic status of their peoples. At the same time, while they accept, in most cases, bilateral economic assistance, many of them prefer UN sponsorship in order to avoid the possible embarrassment of direct obligation or political commitment to another state in return for economic aid. While the countries of the group do not always vote solidly as a bloc (India and Pakistan frequently have individual views, and Thailand and the Philippines at one stage abstained even on economic development) they, by and large, have the same interests in UN economic questions and can be expected to vote in about the same way on most of them.

Political and Security Questions—Political and security questions, as far as the Arab-Asian states are concerned, can be divided into matters of the East-West conflict, and those that have specific interest to these states. On East-West questions, Arab-Asian votes indicate a certain neutralist attitude (particularly on the part of India, Indonesia, Burma, Egypt, and Syria). In the case of the Arab States, there can be no doubt that their resentment of US policies on Palestine has definitely colored their attitudes on matters of concern to us.§ Still, the voting record demonstrates that on major East-West issues the US has enjoyed general support from the Arab-African-Asian group of states. Nevertheless, the US was disappointed when at the Sixth Session 8 of the 11, and at the Seventh Session 11 of the 14, abstentions on the Soviet propaganda resolutions condemning the United States Mutual [Page 122]Security Act came from the Arab-Asian bloc (Iraq and Lebanon, China, Thailand, and the Philippines voting at the Sixth Session in the negative with the US), the votes as a whole being 5–42–11, and 5–40–14. Similarly, in the case of the Soviet propaganda proposal as to “alleged mass murder of Korean and Chinese prisoners of war”, by the US Armed Forces in Korea, at the Seventh Session, 8 of the 10 abstentions came from the Arab-Asian world, the vote being 5–45–10. (It is noteworthy in this latter instance that Ethiopia, Iraq, Lebanon, and Liberia, as well as China, Thailand, and the Philippines voted with the US). On the other hand, most Arab-Asians supported the US on the BW charges, with only India, Indonesia and Burma abstaining. On matters of collective security, the Arab-Asian-African states, with the general exception of India and the occasional exception of states like Saudi Arabia, Syria and Egypt, have gone along with the US. The question of the definition of aggression has not raised political issues to any significant extent, since at least the Arab States have favored such a definition from the period of the San Francisco Conference to the present. India, on the other hand, has not favored such a definition.

Other questions of particular interest, in which the Arab-Asian-African bloc voted solidly are those pertaining to the treatment of peoples of Indian origin in South Africa, the South African apartheid laws, and the questions of Tunis and Morocco, involving at once the demand for racial equality and the emerging nationalism in this area.

Organization Problems of the United Nations—All the Arab-Asian-African states take a “broad” view on the question of competence, particularly when questions of racial discrimination and self-determination in non-self-governing or trust territories are involved. They, therefore, raise no question of jurisdiction, although they do so if problems involving their own domestic jurisdiction come up, as in the case of the Anglo-Iranian oil dispute in 1951–53, in the case of Hyderabad and in that of Moluccas. Moreover, when efforts are made to make those concepts universally applicable in Member states as well as territories, the Arab-Asians tend to take a restrictive view of UN competence. It may be noted in passing that the Arab-Asian-African states generally have favored universality of membership, since the San Francisco Conference, almost without exception. No particular political significance attaches to their attitude on this question, so far as the East-West conflict is concerned. In the matter of candidacies for membership on various UN Councils and other bodies, the Arab-Asian-African bloc, at times, and the states of the Arab League in particular, have been able to work with the Latin-American bloc in order to achieve their political desiderata.

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latin american bloc politics

I. General

With the strong similarities of language, cultural background, political history, and general outlook on life, it is only natural that there should be considerable amount of like thinking among the members of the Latin American group in the UN, considerable cooperation on issues, and a considerable amount of voting on the same side of an issue, either spontaneously or by previous understanding.

The Latin American countries have had a regional organization with the US for over sixty years. It is, however, rather important to distinguish between the Pan American relationship and the Latin American relationship, which is the essence of the Latin American bloc in the UN, the participation of the US being the differentiating factor.

Latin American group action may take various forms: (1) several Latin Americans spontaneously voting on the same side of the question; (2) group consideration of an issue, tending toward a unified Latin American position by the members of the group without a commitment to vote on either side, and (3) discussion by the group of an issue with agreement, or at least a tacit understanding, that the group will support the decision of the majority of the group.

The Latin Americans have held caucuses at all of the sessions of the GA, by custom under the chairmanship of the Latin-American Vice-President of the GA. At the outset, several of the Latins felt that their meetings should be completely informal and that any semblance of an organized or semi-organized bloc should be avoided. Inhibitions of this kind were soon lost and the caucus has operated at a number of sessions of the GA. as a rather open, although not officially organized, institution.

Bloc action of the type described in No. 3 above, has in the past been almost completely limited to the matter of naming Latin American candidates for UN positions. On substantive issues, the caucus has generally followed the plan described in No. 2 above, discussing the issue without coming to any understanding that the members will vote as a unit. Such discussions do, however, sometimes have the effect of inclining uncertain members towards the majority or predominant viewpoint.

II. Economic Questions

Aside from problems arising from UN candidacies, Latin American bloc action has probably been most pronounced in the consideration of [Page 124]economic questions involving the typical interests common to all underdeveloped countries. This was demonstrated at the last session of the GA where Latin American-Arab nationalistic aspirations and emotions were channeled into the passage of the resolution relating to “nationalization” of foreign investments over strenuous US opposition. This one example of Latin American-Arab collaboration demonstrates the almost unlimited possibilities of the combined voting power of the two blocs when their members believe that they have something to gain by collaboration.

III. Social Questions

Although most Latin Americans are sympathetic to the international action in promotion of human rights and have similar ideas regarding freedom of information, they have not shown a great tendency toward joint action on these matters. Even when agreeing on substance they have often tended to go off in all directions on fine points of interpretation. As described below, differences over the question of intervention and competence represent another factor preventing unity of action.

IV. Colonial Questions

Traditionally, Latin Americans take a definitely anti-colonial line (with some of them, like Guatemala, Mexico, and Haiti sometimes in the vanguard of the anti-colonial Members), although their anti-colonial sympathies are tempered to an important extent by emphasis on the concept of non-intervention and by their traditional sympathy for France and Italy when interests of these nations are involved. This is illustrated by voting records showing that “strongly” led countries such as Venezuela, Colombia, Peru, Dominican Republic, and the Argentine tend, chiefly for this reason, to diverge from the views of their colleagues. Their attitude on non-intervention is not altogether consistent however, as they object to intervention in their own affairs, but not in territories under the sovereignty of Administering Members.

V. Political and Security Questions

On political and security questions where the interests of the free world are engaged, the Latin American bloc can generally be depended upon to be almost unanimously on the side of the free world. When there are deviations on any given questions, it can usually be explained by the fact that some domestic issues appear to the particular member to outweigh the importance of going along with the rest of the free world on the particular issue. They voted as a unit at the last session on the question of Korea and cooperated very closely, virtually as a bloc (although assisted by strong outside pressure), in checking Arab aspirations for strong resolutions of condemnation against France in the cases of Tunisia and Morocco.

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VI. Organization

As might be expected from small, relatively powerless countries, and Latin Americans look upon the UN as an institution of great importance in world affairs. They are generally agreed on the iniquities of the misuse of the veto and many of them, including Peru, Argentina, Cuba, and the Central American countries, are strong advocates of restricting its scope. It is, however, unlikely that there is sufficient unanimity among the Latin Americans to anticipate bloc action on the matter.

As indicated above, Latin Americans are divided on the question of UN competence, when implications of intervention are involved.

The matter of candidacies for UN positions is an extremely important matter of prestige for the Latin Americans. The Latin Americans place great emphasis on equitable geographic distribution of UN posts; more particularly, they are concerned that there shall be no reduction in the number of positions that Latin America now has. When we ignore this deep-seated feeling, we are likely to be faced with a, situation such as took place at the Sixth GA when the failure of the US to support a Latin American candidate for a seat on the International Court of Justice previously held by a Latin American aroused considerable resentment and discussion at caucus meetings and severely weakened Latin American support for the US-sponsored election of Greece to a seat on the Security Council.

At the time when caucuses first started, the question was raised whether the US should be a member of the caucus. The US took the position that we would be glad to consult with the countries on a day-to-day basis, thus discouraging invitations to meet with the group. At that time there was a distinct feeling that we should not exclude ourselves completely from the caucus, except on purely Latin American affairs. In succeeding GAs, however, the US trend seemed to grow stronger to avoid contact with the Caucus. In recent GAs, this trend has abated and several meetings were held, specifically for the purpose of meeting with some top delegate in the US Delegation to discuss one of the more pressing and important items on the agenda. Such meetings have proved very beneficial.

coordination between the two major blocs

The definitely regional motives binding the Arab League together are often represented by the more general causes or grievances which the Arabs have in common with other nations recently emerged from Western dominance. Thus Middle Eastern regional politics, although not inherently anti-Western, tend to merge with a largely ideological movement of criticism, and emancipation from the tutelage, of the West. Racial segregation in South Africa may be selected as a vehicle for promoting some Middle Eastern state’s immediate interests or, [Page 126]by contrast, opposition to Israel may serve as a way of registering a, general protest against the West. General ideological causes also have served as a common ground on which Latin American states have often found it profitable and possible to cooperate with the Arab-Asians. When not inhibited by specific considerations (e.g. regard for France, or interest in the principle of non-intervention), the Latin Americans, have frequently entered into a mutually supporting relationship with the Arab-Asian bloc for the pursuit of respective interests, in the general framework of broad ideological objectives. This intermingling of practical national interests and widely held ideas of change and progress is characteristic of the UNGA, where the same set of delegates deal with economic, social, and humanitarian as well as political problems, in the same forum.

Countries which would otherwise have neither grounds nor opportunities to meet and plan for concerted action find here a setting in which their various and diverse interests can be reduced to a common denominator. They also find that group elaboration of GA resolutions allow them to articulate this common denominator in a particularly effective form.

Specifically, Arab-Asians and Latin Americans have discovered common ground in the field of economic development or general anti-colonial attitudes. More broadly speaking, however, their common cause can be described as a quest for improvement of their conditions together with recognition of their dignity and their problems on a footing of equality with the leading nations of the West, in consequence of which recognition they expect certain things to be done. This quest often appears to take the form of an assault on the hitherto dominant position of the foremost Western nations in their relations with all kinds of non-Western peoples, whether black, brown, or yellow, Moslem, Hindu, primitive or civilized, dependent or self-governing. The simultaneous consideration of political, economic, social, and humanitarian issues in one forum allows and encourages all nations advocating changes in this sense to enter into a loose parliamentary coalition to the end of marshalling majorities for all kinds of resolutions (often supported by the USSR) reflecting their common cause. The coalition of the two major blocs is neither solid nor continuous and certainly does not correspond to any political alignment effective beyond GA parliamentary strategy.

  1. The Arab-Asian bloc is composed of Afghanistan, Burma, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Pakistan, the Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Yemen. Turkey attended 2 or 3 meetings in December 1950 but cannot be considered a member of the group, nor can Thailand which sometimes votes with it. This a [is] likewise true of Liberia and Ethiopia which more frequently vote with the Arab-Asian group on matters of common interest. [Footnote in the source text.]
  2. Accordingly, they generally favored the combination of economic and social rights together with political rights into one single Human Rights Covenant. [Footnote in the source text.]
  3. (E.g., it has voted for the Soviet demand for the presence of North Korean and Chinese Communist representatives at the UN discussions on Korea as a quid pro quo for Soviet support of the Arab position on Morocco.) [Footnote in the source text.]
  4. E.g., in connection with the Czech charge of US interference in internal affairs, etc., at the Seventh Session, on which 12 members of the Arab-Asian bloc abstained, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia explained their abstaining votes by saying that they were motivated by anti-Zionism, an attitude which at that time happened to be also the official policy in Czechoslovakia. [Footnote in the source text.]
  5. The bloc consisting of the 20 Spanish, Portuguese or French-speaking Republics South of the Rio Grande. [Footnote in the source text.]
  6. E.g., on the “nationalization” issue, 4 or 5 countries definitely opposed to the resolution who had orders to vote negatively did not dare to express their opinion and, at the time of the vote, either left the room or abstained. [Footnote in the source text.]