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The permanent members of the UN Security Council have, through the organization’s history, used the virtually powerless General Assembly to push through resolutions when one or more of the veto-wielding member states have blocked them in the Security Council.
In 1950, the United States and its Cold War allies used the passage of the Uniting for Peace resolution in the General Assembly to circumvent a Soviet veto in the Security Council that prevented UN action in Korea to repel the North Korean invasion of South Korea. The General Assembly, by a two-thirds majority, voted in November 1950 to authorize UN action in Korea and, thus supported, two previous UN Security Council resolutions adopted in June and July 1950, that mandated a UN force for Korea to repel the North’s invasion force.
The Security Council was able to adopt the two resolutions because the USSR was boycotting the Council over its refusal to seat the People’s Republic of China as a member. In order to put an official UN imprimatur on the allied forces fighting in South Korea, the U.S. pushed through the General Assembly the Uniting for Peace resolution, which authorized military action under the earlier Security Council resolutions, even after the USSR had resumed its seat in the Security Council.
When the General Assembly took up the Korea military authorization, it was too late for the Soviets. The USSR, along with the Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic and Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic – two Soviet republics that had their own UN membership -- as well as Czechoslovakia and Poland, voted against the Uniting for Peace resolution in the Assembly. India and Argentina abstained in the lopsided 52-5-2 vote.
The Soviet Union and its Third World allies learned a valuable lesson from the Uniting for Peace tactic by the West. On several occasions, mostly on issues dealing with the Middle East, the Soviet/Third World bloc was able to pass General Assembly resolutions when faced with certain vetoes in the Security Council by the United States and the United Kingdom. These resolutions included the November 10, 1975 resolution that equated Zionism with racism (originally sponsored by the Soviet Union but revoked in 1991) and resolutions affirming the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people, opposition to South African apartheid, and condemning continued Western colonialism.
The USSR and the communist countries could count on a solid bloc of Third World nations to support such resolutions to the chagrin of the United States, Britain, and other NATO nations. For example, on the resolution equating Zionism with racism, which pointed out the “unholy alliance between South African racism and Zionism,” the nations voting for the resolution included Afghanistan, Brazil, Cyprus, Dahomey, Gambia, Grenada, Guyana, India, Indonesia, Iran, Jordan, Malaysia, Malta, Mexico, Morocco, Niger, Nigeria, Portugal, Senegal, Sri Lanka, Tunisia, Turkey, and Yugoslavia. Two NATO members, Portugal and Turkey, voted for the Soviet-sponsored resolution. The United States, Britain, and Israel could only marshal 35 “no” votes. Such U.S. allies as Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Greece, Guatemala, Japan, Philippines, Thailand, Venezuela, and Zaire abstained. The resolution was carried with an overwhelming 72 vote majority.
It was the anti-Zionism resolution that galvanized anti-UN fervor in the heavily-Israeli influenced U.S. Congress and media. However, with the end of the Cold War and the USSR/Warsaw Pact bloc, the UN General Assembly was eclipsed by a Security Council that found it easier to pass veto-free resolutions on such matters as peacekeeping and nation building.
However, when Palestine began to argue for full UN membership and UN-recognized statehood, assured U.S., British, and French vetoes in the Security Council saw Palestine’s supporters looking once again at the Uniting for Peace concept. With Palestine’s application for membership blocked by Washington in the Security Council, there were initiatives by the Arab League to have the General Assembly adopt a resolution recommending Palestine for UN membership to the Security Council. Although the recommendation would be blocked by the United States and Britain, a vote for Palestine in the General Assembly would be seen as a symbolic victory and an opening for the General Assembly to grant Palestine non-member observer status as a recognized independent state.
Israeli and American diplomats began fanning out across the globe, from the smallest member states in the South Pacific, Caribbean, Africa, and Western Europe to major nations in Latin America, Asia, and Africa, urging General Assembly members to not only vote against Palestine in the UN but refrain from unilaterally recognizing its independence. Poor developing nations were threatened by the Israel-friendly World Bank and International Monetary Fund with denial of assistance loans and grants. The message was clear: support for Palestine by any nation dependent on Western aid would come at a great cost. Many nations decided not to risk their own assistance money for the sake of the beleaguered Palestinians.
The result of the U.S. and Israeli action was the creation of the same sort of lopsided voting bloc in the General Assembly that the Soviet bloc/Third World enjoyed when the body voted to condemn Zionism as a form of racism in the 1970s.
Almost as if to send a message to Palestine, earlier this August the General Assembly not only voted to support the Syrian rebels against the government of President Bashar al-Assad – the rebels included veterans of Al Qaeda terror campaigns in Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, Libya, and Somalia -- but also criticized Russia and China for blocking pro-Syrian rebel resolutions in the Security Council. The anti-NATO bloc in the General Assembly consisted of nations that would be referred to as international “rogues” by the Western corporate media: Belarus, Bolivia, China, Cuba, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Iran, Myanmar, Nicaragua, Russian Federation, Syria, Venezuela, and Zimbabwe.
Fear of Western pressure saw abstentions from Algeria, Angola, Antigua and Barbuda, Armenia, Burundi, Ecuador, Eritrea, Fiji, Ghana, Guyana, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Lebanon, Lesotho, Madagascar, Mali, Namibia, Nepal, Pakistan, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Samoa, Sierra Leone, Solomon Islands, Sri Lanka, Suriname, Uganda, United Republic of Tanzania, and Viet Nam. Another group of countries, also fearful of Western power recriminations, simply absented themselves from the General Assembly vote: Cambodia, Congo, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Dominica, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Gambia, Kiribati, Malawi, Philippines, South Sudan, Swaziland, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Tuvalu, Uzbekistan, and Yemen.
The U.S. and NATO, with Israel working in the background, were able to ensure a vote of 133 for the anti-Damascus Security Council resolution. If these nations could be corralled into voting against Syria, Russia, and China, surely they could be vulnerable enough to cast a similar vote against Palestine. Washington, London, and Tel Aviv now had a new and overwhelming super-majority in the General Assembly, one that could conceivably bypass Russian and Chinese vetoes in the Security Council, just as the West was able to bypass the Soviet veto during the Korean War.
In the recent past, on resolutions opposed by the United States and Israel, such as those dealing with Palestine, Washington and Tel Aviv could only count on three pocket “no” votes in the General Assembly: the Pacific U.S. “free association” states of Palau, Micronesia, and the Marshall Islands, three American versions of the USSR’s Ukrainian and Byelorussian SSR pocket votes.
However, the Syria vote is evidence that the miniscule five-nation voting alliance of the U.S., Israel, and the three Pacific mini-states has now been supplemented by all the members of NATO and the European Union, NATO candidate members Georgia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, and Macedonia, four European mini-states, Iceland and Switzerland, Australia and New Zealand, nations dependent on American military assistance – Iraq, Afghanistan, Kenya, Indonesia, Philippines, Thailand, and South Korea, the Arab monarchies of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, Oman, United Arab Emirates, and Jordan - poor African states, and small Caribbean, Indian Ocean, and South Pacific island nations.