At least something: The UN special committee on the Problem of Hungary, 1957-1958

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In late 1956, the United Nations (UN) faced a remarkable test, as the Soviet Union invaded and crushed a burgeoning rebellion in Hungary, then a Soviet satellite. After the Soviet Union disregarded repeated UN calls to withdraw, the UN General Assembly established, in January 1957, a Commission of Inquiry (COI) to investigate the crisis. This article explores the forgotten story of the Special Committee on Hungary as a case study for the effects of COIs. This commission is of special interest for several reasons. Namely, it was one of the first mandated by a UN body to investigate a specific conflict, not least a Cold War struggle, in which a superpower was directly involved. Furthermore, it was clear from the beginning that the Committee was not likely to compel, in itself, the Soviet Union to change its behaviour. Moreover, 1956 was a time of global political transformation, as the non-aligned movement emerged as a key player in UN politics and, accordingly, became a target in the Cold War battle for influence. Under such circumstances, the effects of COIs are complex and difficult to gauge. While the Committee did not lead to the Soviet Union's withdrawal from Hungary, it had many unforeseen and conflicting effects. These are grouped into two categories - effects relating mainly to times of ideological conflict and political transformation and effects that relate to parallel multilateral efforts and institutional dynamics. Among other effects, the article demonstrates how, under such political circumstances, COIs can create new points of contention and cause backlash precisely from those that they seek to influence. Having cascading and conflicting effects, the central conclusion is that COIs do not lend themselves easily to clean and linear theories. Recognition of the field's inherent complexity is therefore needed in any attempt to study this international phenomenon.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)843-876
Number of pages34
JournalEuropean Journal of International Law
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1 Aug 2019


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