British policy towards the United Nations, 1970

Foreign Secretary Alec Douglas-Home, ‘British policy towards the United Nations in the 1970s’, 11 September 1970

“Our position as a permanent member of the Security Council gives us special opportunities for using the United Nations as a forum to exert our influence. Indirectly the United Nations development assistance activities may help to preserve Western influence in the third world”.

Paper considers three options for UK policy: “Full commitment to the United Nations both in principle and in practice as a, if not the, major element in our foreign policy; a policy if [sic] minimum contribution to and involvement in the organisation’s affairs; adaptation of the scale of our participation in the United Nations’ activities to a realistic appraisal both of the practical limitations of the organisation and of its importance to the achievement of our foreign policy goals… There is no indication that if we were to surrender more of our freedom of action to pursue our national interests for the sake of our commitment to the United Nations that other countries would follow suit”.

Paper plumps for the third option, the “middle course”: “It would mean recognition that it is not an organisation which we can hope to use across the board to promote our interests, but that only occasionally and in certain fields when the interests or inclinations of the majority of states happen to coincide more or less with our own can we profitably try to do so. And it would reflect the view that we should adapt the scale of our effort at the United Nations to a realistic appraisal of its importance to the achievement of the primary objectives of our foreign policy and not to the long-term hope that it will develop into a more effective world force”.

“Where we believe our essential national interests are affected by issues before the Security Council we should – subject to tactical considerations such as the possibility of obtaining sufficient abstentions to block action by concealing whether we shall veto or not – make clear in advance the limits of any concessions which we are prepared to make and the stage at which we shall be ready to use our veto”.

National Archives, FCO 49/288

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