NEW YORK – Sixty years ago, on December 14, 1955, Italy was admitted to the United Nations after a ten-year waiting period. Thanks to an agreement that marked the beginning of a new political atmosphere between East and West following the death of Joseph Stalin, the Soviet Union withdrew its veto and Italy, gained a seat at the UN, along with a group of 15 countries that included the Balkan satellites of Moscow. The compromise reached that day did not include Mongolia, whose entry was opposed by the Western bloc, while the Soviet Union was firm in its refusal to let Japan in.
The agreement was the last event in a tumultuous year marked by the signing of the treaty between Austria and the victorious powers of World War II that established the neutrality of Austria as the Allied occupation ended. Another important moment in the easing of tensions came in July at the Geneva Conference of the Big Four (USA-USSR-France-Great Britain).
Francesco Perfetti’s essay on the website of the Italian Society for International Organization (SIOI) uses diaries, official documents and diplomatic letters to tell the story of Italy’s admission. He thinks that in March 1955 the visit to Washington of Prime Minister Mario Scelba and his Minister of Foreign Affairs Gaetano Martino was a crucial moment that facilitated the outcome months later. Things were changing inside Italy as well: a more accommodating and less extremist Partito Comunista Italiano (PCI) sidelined its uncompromising leader, Pietro Secchia, passing the leadership to a more moderate politician, Giorgio Amendola. The PCI also contributed to the election of Giovanni Gronchi as the next President of the Republic in a vote that put together Christian Democrats (DC), Socialists (PSI), former Fascists (MSI) and the right wing of the Monarchic Party.
On December 14, 1955 Italy was admitted with the unanimous vote, first of the Security Council and then of the General Assembly. It was the positive conclusion of a decade during which the Italian request to be part of the United Nation was denied over and over again. In 1945 an Italian delegation had asked to participate as an observer at the Conference of San Francisco (April 24-June 26) that laid the foundation of the UN Charter. When the request was rejected, Alcide De Gasperi, then Prime Minister, expressed to his Cabinet the “deep sense of disappointment” he felt regarding a decision that dismissed the role of the Royal Italian Army after September 1943, when it fought on the side of the Allies until the end of World War Two, a collaboration known as the “co-belligerence”.
“The Big Powers that won the war did not take in to account the period between 1943-45, when Italy, after the Armistice of Cassibile, fought on the Allied side”, explains Francesco Paolo Fulci, permanent representative of Italy to the UN between 1993 and 1999: “They preferred to forget that Italy had occupied a position of prime importance in the League of Nations I since its very beginning, as a ‘permanent member’ of the Council alongside the winners of World War”. According to Fulci, “even worse, was the humiliation of the new Italian democracy at a time when the country wanted to get from the international community the recognition of the fact that Italy had put Fascism fully in its past”.
The Potsdam Conference on July 17, 1945 offered Italy the first real opportunity to submit the first formal request for admission to the UN. The Italian government obtained only a broad statement of principles from the Soviet Union, the United States and Great Britain to the effect that the signing of the peace treaty would be a precondition to obtaining a seat in the United Nations.” Nevertheless, not even the signing of the treaty in 1947, or the fact that in 1946 Italy had opened its doors to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the first UN agency headquartered in Rome, helped fulfill the Italian ambition for admission to the UN. On May 7, 1947, Carlo Sforza, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, submitted a new request, but the application was first delayed, and then ultimately dismissed with a Soviet veto on October 1, despite the unconditional support of Latin-Americans countries, at the time the strongest regional group in the General Assembly.
Moscow had two goals: on the one hand, not to strengthen the Western bloc, on the other to bring on board some of its satellite nations. Another Soviet veto was cast in 1948, on the eve of the national elections of April 18, which were won by a landslide by the Christian Democrats. The Italian candidacy had been sponsored by the United States, and the outcome of the vote came to symbolize the confrontation between East and West in the early years of the Cold War. As historian Enrico Serra explains, “Italy became a pawn in the battle between the two blocks. The chance for success was controlled by factors that had to do with the conflict itself and all attempts to bring the process back on track failed miserably, foreshadowing the current controversies on the functionality of the United Nations.”
In accordance with a UN mandate, on April 1, 1950 Italy took over the administration of the Trust Territory of Somalia,. The doors of the United Nations, however, remained closed, thanks to Soviet opposition, to which the Italian government replied by sending notes of protest. The history of those years is told by hundreds of diplomatic documents, from which it becomes clear that the result was uncertain until the very end. As late as November 25, 1955, just a few weeks before the actual vote, Egidio Ortona, the Italian ambassador to the United States, wrote in his diary that the issue of Italy’s admission into the United Nations was progressing “with an optimism that is not fully justified, perhaps only traceable to the impression that Americans were making some progress in their contacts in New York.”
Ultimately, on the recommendation of the Security Council, resolution 995 (X) was approved on the spot by the delegates to the General Assembly, without consulting their governments. Reporting to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Rome, the Italian observer to the UN Alberico Casardi observed that the issue “reached a turning point when the Americans agreed not to oppose the entrance of the satellite nations of the USSR”. On that day, December 14, the United Nations roster of 60 members rose to 76, with Italy “approved” by all 56 countries in attendance. Joining the General Assembly along with Italy were Albania, Austria, Bulgaria, Cambodia, Finlandia, Ireland, Jordan, Laos, Libya, Nepal, Portugal, Romania, Spain, Sri Lanka (then Ceylon), and Hungary. Ortona, who had been very pessimistic regarding the outcome of the vote, noted with satisfaction in his diary that, “we wrote a telegram that oozed gratification for the joyful end to so many problems and so much trouble.” (11 January, 2015)