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The United Nations and the Cold War from 1945 to 1973: crises and cooperation

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We will seek to analyse the role of the UN in the Cold War and try to assess the effectiveness of the UN in this period.

The UN and the beginning of the Cold War[edit | edit source]

The situation after the Second World War[edit | edit source]

In 1945, the consequences of the Second World War became evident, with human and material losses surpassing what had been known until then. The most affected was the USSR with 25 million deaths, China, Germany, Poland and also Japan. The events of war and atrocities should be dealt with morally and legally. As after the First World War, isolated battles continued uninterruptedly and took place in the context of the Cold War. Technical and scientific discoveries during the war opened up new opportunities for civilians. These are mainly in the fields of aircraft, spacecraft, computer technology, drugs and medical processes. Atomic energy has given civil society a new form of energy that raises issues. The Second World War sparked democratization movements with groups in women's suffrage, attempts to suppress social classes in order to find a more stable social balance on both the liberal and communist sides. It is also necessary to situate the observation of Romani.

The first tensions[edit | edit source]

The global constellation of powers had also evolved, the coalition of allies had remained surprisingly strong. After Germany's defeat, the coalition of winners quickly disintegrated. Already during the Second World War, tensions were felt, particularly regarding the opening of a second front and the organisation of the post-war period through war conferences. Both sides have made great concessions. Western allies opposed Stalin, particularly on territorial issues. The Baltic and Eastern countries had already been on the agenda since the Tehran conference. In January 1944, the Allies decided to divide Germany into zones of occupation. In 1944, Stalin and Churchill established zones of influence in Moscow in Eastern and Southern Eastern Europe. These zones of influence were defined with a percentage of control by the Soviet Union. For example, Romania was to be a 90% zone and Bulgaria 80% under communist control. This went against what Roosevelt wanted and his concept of "one world" while Stalin and Churchill remained in their way of thinking in the old imperialist style. We can see that Stalin who in August 1939 between the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact which had divided Europe into two camps, with the Western allies, even received more than he had negotiated with Hitler. Stalin opposed the Western allies on the issue of the right of peoples and post-war order based on democratic principles. For Stalin, democracies meant coups d'état with the support of the Red Army.

Tensions between the war allies have been felt ever more strongly since the Potsdam conference when Germany is already defeated, but there is still the war with Japan. At this conference, the personalities are no longer the same, Truman replaces Roosevelt and Attlee replaces Churchill who had not been re-elected. On the contrary, Stalin is still there. Truman does not hide from Stalin that he is quite irritated about the Soviet intervention in Eastern Europe. Open issues could not be resolved in Potsdam, mainly the German issue of prime importance for the Cold War and the issue of compensation for destruction during the war. There is no peace treaty with Germany, but there is one with Italy. Both atomic bombs exploded in Japan during this conference. There is a whole debate as to whether the Democratic administration has not given Stalin too many concessions, given that for Stalin's entry into the war against Japan, the United States will make many concessions and the war will end with the engagement of the bomb and not with the Soviet engagement.

The fire has been set between communism and capitalism. This duality will immediately change the logic that existed in the aftermath of the Second World War, already with the question of denazification, which will be stopped by the beginning of the Cold War, it is a question of integrating the Nazi elites to fight against the communist danger. The fascists will be reintegrated into the political system in order to have an elite against the fear of a coup d'état or a communist takeover. There is a great continuity of elites in fascist countries and this is especially the case in the field of justice.

The end of the Second World War is inextricably linked to the beginning of the Cold War. The Cold War is a consequence of the National Socialist Conquest War, the German question is at the centre of the Cold War. It is important to remember that 1945 marked a major change from the interwar period. While in the interwar period most of the world's major powers had only partially joined the world system, namely the United States, the USSR and Germany until 1926, this changed fundamentally after the Second World War. And the United States and the Soviet Union participated in the post-World War II order. The creation of the United Nations with the discourse of discontinuities with the League of Nations is primarily with the United States and the Soviet Union to maintain their position and enter this organization on the basis that it is not a continuation of a system that has not worked. The political weight of the traditional European powers has declined massively, even if in 1945, in London and Paris, it is not clear and difficult to accept. On the other hand, for Japan and Germany this is clear. This has facilitated the integration of countries that lost the Second World War into the community of democratic states, although the integration of the two Germanies into the United Nations will take a long time.

The first tensions that occurred during the beginning of the Cold War had an immediate impact within the UN. At the beginning, objections already appeared and therefore there are objections in the United Nations system through the use of the veto right. In 1946, the USSR delayed its withdrawal of troops to Northern Iran, the British had troops in Greece, Palestine, Arabs as well as Jews were trying to gain independence in Palestine. The coup in Czechoslovakia was a challenge for democratic states, while the Berlin blockade marked an important turning point in the history of the allies and ensured a definitive break.

Decolonization[edit | edit source]

The creation of the United Nations (1946) - atlas-historique.net

Decolonization is probably the most significant development in the post-World War II period. The year 1960 is known as the "Year of Africa". This is the year of decolonization, the "magic" year for Africa, the year in which most African states gained their independence. The beginnings of decolonization are difficult to determine. It was above all at the Paris conference that the right to self-determination of peoples and the mandate system marked an important step forward in the independence of the colonies, even if independence did not prevail. The idea was that these territories could one day become independent.

Decolonization - atlas-historique.net

During the inter-war period, the supremacy of the whites remained uncontested even though the protest became ever greater. The indigenous elite of these colonies, often formed in Europe, were beginning to claim participation for economic and political gain in their countries. From the 1920s onwards, dissatisfied indigenous intellectuals joined the Communist Party, sharing a common struggle for colonial peoples. The establishment of the elite and the attractiveness of the Soviet system, which claims to be anti-colonialist, mean that the elites will meet partly behind communism. The colonies have lost the economic importance they had achieved in the 1920s. In the 1930s, with the economic and political crisis, there was a decline in the colonies that would change during the Second World War to provide raw materials and fighters. There is a deterioration in the perception of the role of white metropolises since the promises made are not kept. In 1945, the colonial powers faced the difficult question of how to deliver on the promises made. The state coffers were empty, the households were in debt. The idea of granting independence to the colonies was not at the forefront. The French, Belgians and Dutch did not want to separate from their possessions, at least not immediately. This situation worsened further at the beginning of the Cold War. Roosevelt had made no secret of his rejection of colonialism and put his allies under pressure.

The role of the United States puts the United States in the forefront in a global way, namely its predominant role in the Western field and also an attractiveness for those countries that wanted to achieve independence. This anti-colonialist orientation of Washington towards the old European countries and their colonies was manifested, for example, with the granting of independence to the Philippines in 1946. At the same time, there is the fact that the USSR actively conceives itself in its discourse as anti-imperialist. There is a form of competition between the United States and the Soviet Union that puts the former European powers and their colonial systems in crisis. The UN has made a prescription for racism by almost completely removing the legitimacy of the colonial system. All these factors made it possible to start negotiations.

In the States, there was an indirect administration, namely the British colonies, there were fewer problems than in the model where there was a direct administration model. States that decolonized from the British indirect system had fewer problems. It was above all the existence of large white immigrant communities that made decolonization complicated. These populations could not be abandoned or repatriated. Often, independence movements based on the fight against European colonialism have very quickly disintegrated, leading to civil wars in several countries. This situation was particularly devastating because, in the context of the Cold War, it very quickly provided an opportunity for world powers in turmoil to seek to regain control also and especially for the former colonial countries. Even in the absence of a civil war, Moscow and Washington tried to bring some states back into their camp, but also because by doing so, the two superpowers wanted to strengthen their influence in the UN General Assembly.

The enlargement of the United Nations to include the New Independent States (1946-1989) - atlas-historique.net

These new states tried to withdraw from the Cold War, launching the non-aligned movement in Bandung in 1955. This movement must be seen in the context of an attempt by these countries with great potential to seek and find a place alongside the bipolar system of the superpowers. This non-aligned movement was led by India, Yugoslavia, but also by Egypt. This movement was almost an illusion to think of escaping the Cold War. These countries also had a role to play, their development being strongly marked by the Cold War. On the other hand, non-aligned countries have played an important role in decolonization and development policy, especially in the United Nations.

The United Nations has dealt with decolonization in a variety of ways. The territories under the UN have replaced the League of Nations mandate system with a guardianship status. The idea was to redefine what "dependent territories" were. The UN had to clarify what it meant by dependent territory. The United Nations has played an important role in trying to define the status of these two countries.

The peaceful settlement of disputes[edit | edit source]

The United Nations aims to resolve disputes peacefully. Article 33 states « The parties to any dispute the extension of which is likely to threaten the maintenance of international peace and security shall seek a solution, first and foremost, by negotiation, inquiry, mediation, conciliation, arbitration, judicial settlement, recourse to regional bodies or arrangements, or by other peaceful means of their choice. The Security Council, if it deems it necessary, invites the parties to settle their dispute by such means ». The instruments that are being put in place fall under the jurisdiction of the Hague Conference of 1892, which was partly contained in the Covenant of the League of Nations. Article 36 states that « The Security Council may, at any time during the evolution of a dispute of the nature referred to in Article 33 or a similar situation, recommend appropriate adjustment procedures or methods », underlining the important role of the Security Council. Article 39 regulates the powers of the Security Council: « The Security Council shall determine the existence of a threat to the peace, a breach of the peace or an act of aggression and shall make recommendations or decide what measures shall be taken in accordance with Articles 41 and 42 to maintain or restore international peace and security ». Article 40 states that the Security Council may take interim measures: « In order to prevent the situation from worsening, the Security Council, before making recommendations or deciding on measures to be taken in accordance with Article 39, may invite the parties concerned to comply with any interim measures it considers necessary or desirable. These provisional measures are without prejudice to the rights, claims or positions of the interested parties. In the event of failure to comply with these provisional measures, the Security Council shall take due account of such failure ». Article 41 regulates the measures that are taken before military measures are taken « The Security Council may decide which measures not involving the use of armed force shall be taken to give effect to its decisions, and may invite Members of the United Nations to apply such measures. These may include the complete or partial interruption of economic relations and communications by rail, sea, air, air, post, telegraph, radio and other means of communication, as well as the termination of diplomatic relations ». These measures, which were already planned by the League of Nations, if we are in a system that is not very universal, it does not have much effect. If we are in a universal system, this means that these measures can have a certain weight since a State subject to these measures becomes a party. Article 42 states: « If the Security Council considers that the measures provided for in Article 41 would be inadequate or have proved inadequate, it may take any action by air, sea or land forces that it considers necessary for the maintenance or restoration of international peace and security. This action may include demonstrations, blockade measures and other operations by air, sea or land forces of United Nations Members. ». Article 43 stipulates that « 1. All Members of the United Nations, in order to contribute to the maintenance of international peace and security, undertake to make available to the Security Council, at its invitation and in accordance with a special agreement or agreements, the armed forces, assistance and facilities, including the right of passage, necessary for the maintenance of international peace and security. ». There is a new element in international relations, namely an international organization with its own armed force, which was not the case in the League of Nations.

The Berlin issue and the Berlin Blockade[edit | edit source]

After the defeat of Germany, Germany was divided into victorious powers shared between the United States, Great Britain, the USSR and France. Germany is no longer considered an autonomous state. The allies, with the Potsdam Declaration in 1945, went against international law that had been valid until now. International law is something dynamic and always reflects the real development of the political situation. Switzerland will never accept the supreme authority of the allies over Germany, Switzerland does not want to liquidate German assets as the allies wanted to do.

Dmoi blocus de berlin.png

The Berlin Blockade was the first crisis of the Cold War in the sense that it pitted the two great superpowers against each other. Truman will define the containment and the Marshall Plan for the reconstruction of Europe. The Marshall Plan was also to apply to the communist countries with an insidious attempt to introduce capitalism into them. Soviet Minister of Foreign Affairs Molotov leaves the Foreign Ministers' Conference on the Marshall Plan issue in Paris signing a first major breakthrough on July 12, 1947. In the eyes of the West, the unrest in Czechoslovakia in 1948 symbolized Moscow's hostile attitude. In response, Great Britain, France and the Benelux countries signed the Brussels Pact giving birth to NATO in 1949 outside the United Nations system. This development is considered as the Soviet Union as a great provocation. The USSR will react to this provocation by the blockade of the German capital, which was also divided into four parts.

Historical interpretations have often interpreted this Soviet blockade of the capital as a major mistake on the part of the Soviet Union because this measure primarily affected a civilian population, triggering a major international wave of solidarity towards the western camp. This resulted in the establishment of an air bridge to bring in supplies and bring back requisitioned documents. Article 33 of the UN Charter should have been applied, but this was not possible since four of the five powers that had veto power were directly involved in this case, which did not make things any easier. The Soviet Union was of the view that matters related to Germany concerned only the Allies and not the UN, so a meeting of the Allied Foreign Ministers should be organised. Opposing the will of the Soviet Union, the Security Council decided to deal with the Berlin issue. Finally, it is in the background that the United States and the Soviet Union had to reach an agreement, being a success of UN diplomacy.

IEG-MAPS, Institute of European History, Mainz / © A. Kunz, 2004 - German History in Documents and Images (GHDI)

The question of how decisive the role of the United Nations has been is a question that is still controversial in the interpretation of historians. This story has strengthened the image of the United Nations because it has shown that the United Nations has capable bodies and varied means. This blockade took place until May 1949, when the Federal Republic of Germany was created. It was always the western part that took the first step before there was a reaction from the communist side.

The Berlin question was to be the scene of strong opposition a second time during the Cold War. In 1961, when the communist regime of the German communist republic built the Berlin Wall. In particular, this wall was to prevent the escape of young East Germans. This border posed a serious threat to the economic development and very existence of the German Democratic Republic. In the summer of 1961, thousands of young Germans left communist Germany to arrive in federal Germany. Already in the 1950s, the communists of democratic Germany had begun to build a fairly strong border system. The important thing to remember is that in 1961, the general secretary of the Communist Party, Khrushchev, tried to intimidate the new President of the United States Kennedy. It did not work and we must see that, beyond American propaganda, it was a relief for the United States to have this wall in order to calm a situation that could turn dangerous.

The classic conflicts of the Cold War[edit | edit source]

Kashmir Conflict[edit | edit source]

Independence and partition of India (1947-1948) - atlas-historique.net

The Kashmir conflict is a very good example that allows us to observe all kinds of issues such as pre-colonial structures, how the British exercised power, issues related to religion. Some of it was Islamic and some of it was Hindu. This leads to all kinds of development and the British who control these territories accept the theory of two nations and allow the creation of different states. The example of Kashmir clearly shows that the decolonization process has been able to revive old and new conflicts that for some, as in the case of Kashmir, are still going on today.

Kashmir: a war at an altitude of more than 4,000 m - atlas-historique.net

The problem of decolonization has opened up old conflicts that continue today. Pakistan, was integrated into the Western bloc during the Cold War and one can even see the close relationship between India and the Soviet Union even though India was a non-aligned country signing a friendship treaty with Moscow. There is an ambiguity in the role of the superpowers in the context of decolonization wars.

Korean War[edit | edit source]

The Korean War, July-September 1950 - atlas-historique.net

The two occupation zones were set up around the 38th parallel after the Second World War. There has been an interesting role within the United Nations. When the South Korean government turned to the United Nations because there was this war situation, the USSR was absent from this commission because it had been boycotting this commission since the early 1950s as a reaction as a non-recognition of the People's Republic of China and it was Taiwan's China representing China at the United Nations. In this context, the Security Council decided by 9 votes to 0 to punish North Korea without mentioning any economic sanctions.

The Korean War, January 1951-July 1953 - atlas-historique.net

The United States intervened with troops. Following this American intervention, the Security Council decided to give its full support to South Korea. The Soviet Union stated that this resolution was illegal because it had not participated in the meeting. 16 states took part in UN-led military operations even though most of the troops were American. In July, the Security Council decided that troops in Korea under the UN flag could act, placing the United States at the head of the coalition with MacArthur at its head. The United Nations no longer played any role in the subsequent armistice negotiations that continued until 1953.

The Korean War has long been forgotten because it was lost in the wake of the Vietnam War. The Korean War was no less brutal than the Vietnam War. In the case of Korea, the UN has assumed the role as a forum for collective peacekeeping, which in any case was a unique affair that will not be repeated throughout the Cold War except for this UN intervention because of the Soviet Union's boycotting of the UN's work. The next one will take place after the fall of the Berlin Wall and Iraq's occupation of Kuwait.

Vietnam War[edit | edit source]

The Indochina War (1946-1954) - atlas-historique.net

It was a conflict that took place under French colonization. It must be said that in the context of the Cold War, the Security Council and the Assembly did not deal with the conflict at all. Although there was no formal UN engagement, Secretary General U Thant played an important role in speaking to the warring parties and his efforts were crowned with success at the 1973 Paris conference. It was these talks that finally led to a ceasefire between the two countries in 1972.

From 1883 to 1954, Vietnam was part of the French colony of Indochina with Cambodia and Laos. In 1930, the Vietnamese Communist Party was created by Ho Chi Minh. In 1941, Indochina became part of Japan's military sphere of influence. It was during this same year that Vietminh, the League for the Independence of Vietnam, was founded. In March 1945, Japan ended the French colonial administration. In September, the Democratic Republic of Vietnam is proclaimed. In 1968, U Thant succeeded in conducting negotiations leading to a ceasefire. Although the United Nations did not play a direct role, the function of the Secretary-General played a fairly important role.

From 1941 to 1945 the Vietminh war against Japan took place. From 1946 to 1954 the Indochina War between France and Vietminh took place. A transition period took place from 1954 to 1964 - 1965. From 1965 to 1973 took place the Vietnam War between South Vietnam allied with the United States against North Vietnam and Vietcong supported by the USSR and China. From 1973 to 1975 there was a civil war between North Vietnam and South Vietnam. In 1978, Vietnam invaded Cambodia and in 1979 there was a war against China.

The Palestinian question[edit | edit source]

The end of the British protectorate in Palestine and the creation of the State of Israel (1948) - atlas-historique.net

In 1947, Great Britain handed over its mandate to the UN. In November 1947, the UN General Assembly voted in favour of a separation of Palestine between a Jewish and an Arab state. Jerusalem must be under international administration. There was a complex situation that continues to this day. This conflict is a complicated conflict with several phases. There are very stratified ethnic and religious conditions that make it difficult to build homogeneous geographical territories.

In 1948, Ben Gurion declared the proclamation of the State of Israel leading to the First Judeo-Arab War, which lasted until 1949. The Security Council has met to find a solution to this situation. There is no unanimity found within the Security Council.

The Cold War and the political constellation will determine the policy of UN policy in a decisive way. Before the Cold War broke out completely, the two superpowers, the United States and the USSR, had the same policy and managed to create sufficient power to ensure that there was unanimity in the Security Council leading to an armistice allowing Israel to expand its territory. And the Security Council and the General Assembly have continued to address this issue.

The Suez crisis[edit | edit source]

In 1956, Nasser would nationalize the Suez Canal, which for Paris and London was an abuse leading to an organized military action with the State of Israel that began with the landing of an Israeli paratrooper in the Sinai. It is in this context that the United Nations will launch for the first time in the history of the UN a decision taken jointly by the United States and the USSR condemns the attack on Egypt, but leading to the veto of Britain and France. This shows very clearly that the United States was committed to further decolonization. Following the armistice, the UN Secretary General will impose a troop of armistices. This is one of the most important projects in the evolution of the history of the United Nations. This troop is the Blue Helmets, which is the most effective instrument available to the world community for peacekeeping.

The Six Day War, the Kippur War and the Camp David Agreement[edit | edit source]

This war led to a crushing war against Arabs that Israel will use to decisively expand its territory on the Golan Heights, the West Bank, the takeover of the Gaza Strip, Sinai and Jerusalem. In 1973 the Kippur War took place, in which the Arabs were defeated by the Israelis. In 1978, the Camp David Accords took place, laying the foundation for peace between Israel and Egypt, restoring the Sinai Peninsula to Egypt.

The cuba missile crisis[edit | edit source]

The Cuban missile crisis is one of the greatest challenges facing the United Nations. In 1959, Castro entered the Cuban capital in a victorious manner and took possession of the power driving out the dictator Batista. In this first phase, from 1959 onwards, there are quite relaxed relations between the United States and Cuba. The situation will deteriorate when the Cuban communists begin to state American property. There is an escalation of the crisis. Cuba was afraid of an American invasion demanding a reduction in the staff of the United States Embassy. Switzerland will take over American interests in Cuba. In January 1961, an American note asked Switzerland to take over and defend American interests in Cuba[6].

As a result of this crisis, there is an attempt supported by the American government to invade Cuba in the Bay of Pigs. The situation worsened around October 1962, when US President Kennedy announced on the radio that the United States had proof that the Soviets were installing missile ramps in Cuba that could reach the United States.

The United States will create a quarantine zone by a naval blockade. In the UN Charter is written the freedom of movement on the seas, the United States will talk about "quarantine" to exceed this limit. There will be a concession on both sides, with Khrushchev agreeing to remove the missiles from Cuba and the United States agreeing to remove the missiles stationed in Turkey. The United Nations had a major role to play in resolving this crisis and U Thann's efforts helped to reduce tension and find solutions. It is thanks to the United Nations that talks and discussions have been initiated even though the crisis has been resolved between the two superpowers.

Use of the veto right[edit | edit source]

There is a clear and clear transition from 1946 to 1965. In these first 20 years, almost only vetos are placed by the Soviet Union. From 1966, there was a radical transformation and it was the United States that increasingly used the right of veto. The increase in the number of States at the United Nations from 1960 onwards led to a loss of support from the West and therefore, in the long term, there was compensation through an increasingly frequent use of the veto.

Utilisation du droit de véto depuis la fin de la seconde guerre mondiale.jpg

The Blue Helmets[edit | edit source]

This map is from before the events of September 11th. This map shows the UN contingents with significant financial impacts, including nearly $3 billion for Africa. The issue of peacekeepers was important to the history of international relations from the mid-1950s onwards.

In November 1960, the UN General Assembly adopted an evolution defining self-determination as a right. It is a form of definitive and radical adoption of the principle that Lenin and Wilson proclaimed at the end of the First World War.

The issue of decolonization[edit | edit source]

Decolonized countries appeared before 1960. It is not only decolonization that is affecting Africa. The Dutch colony in the Pacific is occupied by Japanese troops. On the one hand, the submission of the local population was worse than that of the colonial powers, on the other hand, the Japanese had taken measures to strengthen the local indigenous movement, such as prohibiting the use of settler language in favour of the local language, but also promoting the creation of a nationalized army. In August 1945, Soekarno proclaimed Indonesia's independence, leading to complications with the Dutch government. The Dutch believed that as a European ally, it would have obtained the support of the United States to ensure its presence as a state.

The Cold War shows that decolonization issues were intertwined between the Cold War and decolonization and it was no longer the time of the traditional colonial powers. The United States realized and demonstrated that the aid the United States had paid to the Netherlands under the Marshal Plan was similar to the amount spent by the Dutch in the war in Indonesia. It was in this context that Truman finally recalled the Dutch allies telling them to end their colonial power. On July 1, 1950, under American mediation, the Dutch accepted full independence from the United States of Indonesia.

Annexes[edit | edit source]

  • Monde-diplomatique.fr,. (2015). Bandung ou la fin de l’ère coloniale, par Jean Lacouture (Le Monde diplomatique, avril 2005). Retrieved 17 July 2015, from http://www.monde-diplomatique.fr/2005/04/LACOUTURE/12062 (Archive copy)
  • Foreign Policy,. (2015). The Untold Story of the U.S. and Cuba’s Middleman. Retrieved 4 August 2015, from http://foreignpolicy.com/2015/08/03/the-untold-story-of-the-u-s-and-cubas-middleman/?utm_content=bufferebc5d&utm_medium= (Archive copy)
  • W.P. Deac. ‘Duel for the Suez Canal.’ Military History, Vol. 18 Issue 1. Apr2001, pp. 58- 64.
  • P.H.J. Davies. 2012. Intelligence and Government in Britain and the United States, Vol. 2. ‘Ch 7: The Great Centralization, 1957-66’, pp. 163-177.
  • R.J. Aldrich. 2001. The Hidden Hand. ‘Ch 21: Defeat in the Middle East: Iran and Suez’, pp. 464-494.
  • W.S. Lucas. ‘The missing link? Patrick Dean, Chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee.’ Contemporary British History. Vol.13 No. 2. 1999, pp. 117-125.
  • P. Cradock. 2002. Know Your Enemy: How the JIC Saw the World. ‘Ch 18. Intelligence and Policy.
  • “Security Council.” International Organization, vol. 1, no. 1, 1947, pp. 74–98. JSTOR, https://www.jstor.org/stable/2703520.

References[edit | edit source]