World War II and Numerous Post-War Challenges for United Nations

  September 22, 2021   Read time 3 min
World War II and Numerous Post-War Challenges for United Nations
In retaliation for the Iranian complaint against herself, the Soviet Union raised a complaint about the presence of British forces in Greece. British troops had been sent to free Greece from German forces in 1944.

They had almost immediately become involved in a bitter civil conflict in Greece between right-wing forces supporting the Greek king (who was also supported by the British) and left-wing forces, especially the EAM and ELAS, which were anti-monarchist and anti-British. The monarchist forces had finally prevailed and had welcomed the continued presence of British forces in helping them to maintain their position in the country as a whole.

The Soviet Union had never liked this situation. She had protested about the continued presence of British forces in Greece at the Potsdam Conference in June 1945, at the London meeting of foreign ministers in September, and at the Moscow meeting of foreign ministers in December of the same year. But she was relatively restrained in her protests as a result of the agreement which she had reached with Churchill during the war, under which Greece was regarded as primarily a British sphere of influence. The Iranian complaint against herself gave her the opportunity to raise the matter once again in the newly established Security Council.

Her complaint was heard at a meeting of the Security Councilon 1 February. The continued presence of British forces in Greece, she claimed, represented an interference in Greek internal affairs, and a threat to peace and security in the area. British troops were being used to influence the internal political situation in Greece and to support reactionary elements in the country. They should therefore be immediately withdrawn. In reply, Ernest Bevin, the British Foreign Secretary, denied that British troops were being used to influence the political situation in Greece. He pointed out that British forces went to Greece during the war at the request of representatives of almost all elements in Greek political life, and had remained at the request of the Greek Government. Britain had been in a position to instal a government of her own choosing if she had so wished. She had not done so and wanted to see free elections to decide what government should rule. British troops would be withdrawn immediately if the Greek Government so decided. The Greek delegate confirmed that British forces were present in Greece at the request of his government.

The US representative then proposed that no action be taken. He was supported by other Western delegates. Poland, however, proposed that the Council should formally take note of the statements made, and of the assurance by Britain that she would withdraw as soon as possible. This, like the similar action taken over Azerbaijan, might have represented gentle pressure on Britain for the future. The proposal was not carried. And the proceedings were concluded by the first known use of the 'consensus' procedure - the use of an impartial statement by the president to sum up the sense of the meeting. The president said on 6 February that he thought the Council should take note of the declarations made 'by the Soviet Union, Britain and Greece and of other views put forward and would consider the matter closed'. This was accepted, and concluded discussion of the question for the time being.

During the next six months the political conflict in Greece intensified. In March a right-wing government came to power in elections which, though supervised by the United States, Britain and France (the Soviet Union had refused to take part), were widely challenged. The left-wing parties had withdrawn in protest at the way the elections were conducted. Even of those registered only 49 per cent had voted. After the election there had been continuing political conflict, including arrests of the Government's political opponents.

This provoked antagonism with Greece's neighbours. Greece's borders, which had been disputed for over a century, became subject to claim and counter-claim. Yugoslav journals demanded self-determination for 'Aegean Macedonia', including much of northern Greece, where there lived 250,000 Slavs. Bulgaria voiced longstanding historical claims to Thrace and Macedonia. The new Greek government in turn made public claims to 'northern Epirus' - that is, southern Albania; and at the Paris Peace Conference she demanded an adjustment of Greek borders with Yugoslavia and Bulgaria. These historical conflicts were of course strongly exacerbated by cold-war rivalries. Tension in the area mounted. In August the Ukraine demanded a further meeting of the Security Council to discuss Greece.