Attlee, Bevin and the role of the United Nations 1945-1949
This study examines the dilemma of the 1945-1951 Labour Government in placing
the United Nations within British foreign policy, and the United Nations' role in
international politics at the onset of the Cold War. In particular, it explores the
contrasting views over the issues raised by the creation of the United Nations from
1945 to 1949 of Labour's two most prominent political figures - Attlee and Bevin.
These issues include the international trusteeship scheme, the international control of
atomic energy, and the idea of a United Nations international force.
Attlee's foremost consideration in advocating internationalist ideas in the first two
years in office were Britain's economic constraints resulting from the Second World
War, and the new advancement in technological warfare, such as the invention of
atomic bomb and bomber aircraft. Attlee foresaw the presence of the United Nations
as the best way to manage the new world order, and eventuany, to end the balance of
power politics in the post-war world.
Bevin's traditionalist and imperialist political outlook was the antithesis to Attlee's
desire for internationalism. He was in favour of balance of power politics with the
United Nations second only to the British Empire in international politics. His
ultimate aim from the very beginning of his career as Britain's first post-war Foreign
Secretary was to re-establish Britain's power and prestige in international politics.
Bevin had no intention that Britain, as one of the world powers in the post-war world,
should subordinate itself, nor surrender its sovereignty to the United Nations. In fact,
the fate of the United Nations was in the hands of the United Kingdom, rather than
the reverse. To Bevin, Britain despite its financial difficulties, needed to reassert its
power and prestige if it was to playa significant role in world politics and ensure the
survival ofthe British Empire in the coming years.
Internationalist ideas, such as those that Attlee strongly advocated, were not practical
politically. The United Nations suffered from the unwillingness and hesitation of the
world powers to make it the centre of world affairs. Instead, the world powers,
committed to balance of power politics, were the key actors in international politics.