As we approach the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Versailles next year, it is worth taking a look at the paradigm it established and the international order a century on. International organizations, from NATO to the European Union, and from the Shanghai Cooperation Organization to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, play an increasingly significant role in the development and maintenance of international relations as our movement, environment, economy, and culture are ever more globalized.

One of the more important aspects of the Treaty of Versailles was the Covenant of the League of Nations, which created an organization that could arbitrate international disputes. A significant roadblock of any multinational agreement is the absence of key stakeholders. For example, it is often cited that the United States’ refusal to join the League of Nations was a “gap in the bridge” of the organization and may have played a part in its ultimate failure to maintain worldwide peace. The enduring and continuing role of the United Nations may be at least partly due to the fact that nearly every sovereign country is now a member state. For much of the U.N.’s history, however, there were multiple “gaps in the bridge.” The following list explores several nations’ long-term absence from the list of U.N. member states.

While Switzerland was a founding member of the League of Nations, the historically neutral European country did not join the U.N. until 2002, after a majority of its citizens voted to apply for membership. A previous referendum, in 1986, failed to achieve the same outcome. The Guardian reported in 2002, when Switzerland’s membership application was accepted, that “supporters hailed the vote as a decision to accept the responsibilities of international engagement and to end the myth of an Alpine nirvana aloof from the world and its problems,” while opponents “feared that joining the UN would cost money, compromise sovereignty and make neutrality the plaything of the security council’s five permanent members, especially the United States.”

Island States of Oceania
Despite becoming independent of their colonizing powers decades before, the Micronesian island states of Kiribati and Nauru joined the U.N. in 1999. They were joined that year by Tonga, in Polynesia, whose status as a British protected state had ended in 1970. Additionally, Tuvalu became the U.N.’s 189th member in 2000, nearly 22 years after its independence from the United Kingdom.

Microstates of Europe
Liechtenstein, a principality situated between Switzerland and Austria, joined the U.N. in 1990. San Marino, a sovereign enclave in Italy, followed in 1992, while Monaco and Andorra, with a combined population approximately equal to that of Independence, Missouri, became U.N. member states in 1993. The Vatican City State, however, shows no signs of applying for full membership anytime soon. It has held permanent observer status at the U.N. since 1964.

Cold War-Era Splits
Three countries split by Cold War tensions did not join the United Nations for several decades after the organization’s establishment. South Korea and North Korea both joined in 1991 and West Germany and East Germany became members in 1973. In Vietnam, however, the country joined in 1977, a year following the reunification of North and South Vietnam.

Except for those states above that were generally thought of as being independent at the time, most of the sovereign countries of the world were members of the U.N. by 1955. Mongolia, considered a “Soviet satellite” almost from its inception as a sovereign state, did not join until 1961. The United States abstained from voting on Mongolia’s membership application and did not recognize the world’s most sparsely populated sovereign state until 1987.

In addition to the notable absences of these states from United Nations membership, several other countries remain on the outside looking in when it comes to the most influential of international organizations. Controversy surrounds nearly all of these states, however, and significant diplomatic negotiations are necessary for any of them to become U.N. members. These countries include Kosovo, Taiwan, and Palestine, all of which are embroiled in significant disputes with current U.N. members regarding status, borders, and even political legitimacy. Nearly a century after the Treaty of Versailles laid out one vision of a “league of nations,” the international community continues its attempt to bring all countries to the table of diplomacy. Sometimes the biggest issue is just who has the right to (or interest in) pulling up a chair.

About the Author
Kit Dawson is the business intelligence analyst at the PKD Foundation.