The United Nations emerged after World War II as an international peacekeeping organization.
- The United Nations (UN) was created at the end of World War II as an international peacekeeping organization and a forum for resolving conflicts between nations.
- The UN replaced the ineffective League of Nations, which had failed to prevent the outbreak of the Second World War.
- The UN was established on October 24, 1945, with headquarters in Manhattan, New York City, and reflected the rise of the United States to global leadership in the postwar period.
Negotiating a postwar world order
In 1944, delegations from the United States, the United Kingdom, the Soviet Union, and the Republic of China—four of the main Allied powers in World War II—met in Washington, DC to negotiate the parameters of the postwar world and to discuss the establishment of the international organization that would become known as the United Nations (UN).
The United Nations replaced the League of Nations, which had been created at the end of the First World War to provide states with an international forum for the peaceful resolution of disputes. Even though US President Woodrow Wilson was one of the key supporters of the League of Nations, the United States never officially joined the organization due to intense opposition from isolationist members of Congress. The League of Nations ultimately proved ineffective in preventing the outbreak of another world war and was formally dissolved in 1946.
The United States played an instrumental role in the founding of the United Nations. The UN Charter, with its emphasis on peace, security, international law, economic development, and human rights, reflected the influence of US President Franklin D. Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who shared a vision for the postwar world.
In 1941, the two leaders drafted the Atlantic Charter, which declared that there would be no territorial aggrandizement as a result of the war, that postwar international relations would be cooperative, and that disputes between states would be resolved through peaceful negotiation and not the use or threat of force. The Atlantic Charter eventually became the basis for the UN Charter.
The extent of US involvement in the creation of the United Nations, as well as the location of its main headquarters in New York City, demonstrates the rise of the United States to global leadership in the postwar period.
The structure and function of the United Nations
The United Nations has several main bodies that serve different purposes. The Secretariat is the main administrative organ of the UN. It commissions research and applies the findings of studies to making the UN a more effective and efficient organization.
The General Assembly is the main deliberative body of the UN. Every country that is a member of the UN is represented in the General Assembly. The UN General Assembly convenes annually to deliberate and vote on important issues affecting world peace and security. The General Assembly can only make recommendations to member-states; it cannot make binding decisions, nor can it enforce those decisions – only the Security Council has the authority to do that.
The Security Council is composed of five permanent members—the United States, Great Britain, France, Russia, and China— which were the five main Allied powers in the Second World War. There are also ten non-permanent seats on the Security Council that rotate between different countries every two years. The purpose of the Security Council is to peacefully resolve international conflicts and prevent the outbreak of war. UN Security Council resolutions are binding and are enforced by UN peacekeepers, which are military forces contributed by member-states.
The Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) was created to promote international economic and social cooperation and development, particularly in the developing world, or what was referred to during the Cold War as the “Third World.”
Finally, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) is the judicial organ of the UN. At its headquarters at the Hague, Netherlands, the court hears legal disputes between states and issues opinions on legal matters submitted by members of the General Assembly or other UN agencies.
The United Nations in the Cold War
Because the Soviet Union and the United States both held permanent seats on the UN Security Council, as the Cold War heated up, disunity between the two great powers interfered with the international organization’s basic peacekeeping mission. This was partly due to the dual nature of the UN as a forum for negotiating disputes among states and a platform for influencing international opinion. The Soviet Union and the United States both used the UN as a propaganda platform, to win hearts and minds in the Cold War. Many of the proposals submitted by US and Soviet officials were aimed primarily at criticizing each other, and since each superpower had a veto in the Security Council, disputes could not be resolved unless both Cold War rivals agreed, which was rare. This had the effect of stalling negotiations and prolonging conflict.
The evolution of the UN
In the 1950s and 1960s, decolonization, or the process by which former colonial territories became independent states, transformed the composition and functioning of the UN. During this time period, dozens of newly independent countries in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East joined the United Nations and sought to redirect the energies of the organization toward easing the transition to independence.
As a result of the activism of states referred to during the Cold War as the “Third World,” the UN took on additional responsibilities for economic, political, and social development, and the monitoring and enforcement of fundamental human rights.
What do you think?
Why was the United Nations founded? What does the UN Charter tell us about its main goals?
How did the Cold War affect the functioning and purpose of the United Nations?
How did the UN evolve over the course of the twentieth century?
Want to join the conversation?
- How is it fair to say, that for hundreds upon hundreds of years, the great Imperialist nations, (the USA, UK, Russia, etc.) all carved out territories and nations for themselves around the globe, and then say that no young nations could have their own annexations or sphere of influence? We are witnessing this today in the middle east and in Africa as nations wish to create new territories and build and change their borders, and we say "no, you aren't allowed to do that." That seems a bit hypocritical to me. I understand the grand high moral stance that this notion of peace is based on, but is it predicated on the notion that all of Earth's national borders were to be set in stone forever into infinity from the year 1946 onwards? How was and is this hypocrisy justified coming from the stance of the great powers to any number of small nations in their own growth stages today?
Additionally, how is seen as fair, and is it even wise, to have permanent members of the "Security Council"? Sure seems like that is bound to cause problems in the long run, and I mean long run i.e. 100, 200, even 500 or 1,000 years. These sorts of organizations cannot possibly account for all the change the Earth will go through in those longer periods of time.(36 votes)
- I think part of the reason that the UN has issues with Middle Eastern and African countries trying to build and change their borders isn't the concept of border changes itself (though maps and globes would need to change with each power shift). In my opinion, their reason behind such a strong opposition to border changes is the means by which the parties trying to acquire these additions are doing it. When you look to these border skirmishes, it isn't war, in most cases. It's just plain massacre. Not to mention that the Geneva Convention was just COMPLETELY thrown out the window when countries like Iran and whatnot aimed for these gains. Citizens are being executed, insurrections and rebellions are spreading like rabbits, and thousands of innocents are being killed, kidnapped, raped, and enslaved. That is why the UN is having issues with these budding Imperial nations, and particularly the US, who sees it as enough of an issue to send soldiers over there. A good example of this was the Gulf War, which I am going to assume many of you all know about, but if you don't know, or don't understand the connection, I will link you a Wikipedia page to read through:
I will sum up my example here: Iraq was trying to annex Kuwait for its oil, and they were doing it by force. This war is a classic(ish) example of the strong protecting the weak, as Kuwait's military is not as developed as that of the United States. The forceful annexation was the issue, rather than the annexation itself. If Kuwait decided to be annexed out of the people's popular vote, I don't think that there would have been an issue, although the popular vote wasn't the case as Iraq just came and stormed their country.(14 votes)
- How many countries are in the United Nations Right Now?(6 votes)
- There are 193/195 countries in the UN.
The 2 countries not involved in the UN are Vatican City and Palestine(1 vote)
- who designed the united nations emblem?(6 votes)
- Donal McLaughlin, a member of Oliver Lincoln Lundquist's design team at the United States Office of Strategic Services, designed the UN emblem in 1945 for a conference. In 1946, after some slight changes, it was approved by the UN as their official emblem.(8 votes)
- Why did the Soviet Union and the USA have permanent seats and not the other countries?(4 votes)
- It says that there are five permanent seats. The other three included France, Great Britain, and China. This was because they were the main Allied powers during WWII.(10 votes)
- What is the cod war?(3 votes)
- Nations that competed to catch the most codfish in the northern atlantic escalated their conflict to confrontation, but there was no shooting.(3 votes)
- where is the united nation know(3 votes)
- Israel was a new country created after WWII so that the Jewish people could have their own sense of a nation. Despite good intentions with creating Israel, explain why this decision by the United Nations is controversial.(3 votes)
- The creation of Israel is so controversial because the land that was granted to the Jewish was inhabited by Muslin. Jerusalem, a holy land for three religions, was suddenly under the control of a people that hadn't been there since the Jewish Diaspora. Arab people were concerned that they would lose control of the Holy Land, and controversy and conflict ensued.(4 votes)
- Why didn't the UN prevent the war in Ukraine? Is putin just to arrogant?(3 votes)
- Before I'll answer your question, I'll throw another at you: how? How would they stop Russian tanks and troops from moving into Ukraine? The reason they haven't is because a lot of people are questioning Putin's mental health (which I for one do not, but that's up to you), and if it were true that he were mentally unwell, they don't know what he would do if they were to retaliate militarily. The nuclear option has been thrown around a bunch, and, while it's a horrific prospect, not entirely off the table. It also has to do with the fact that NATO isn't involved (and hopefully will never be) and again, what would they do without provoking a war with Russia?(2 votes)
- How has the United Nations impacted economic decisions in countries that are a part of it? What are some of the key measures taken by the UN to promote economic development? Additionally, how do countries benefit from the UN?(2 votes)
- does anyone know about the problems faced by the UN during the 1940's ? like lack of finance or something ?(3 votes)
- The UN was established in 1945, and they did, in fact, face financial issues. Members were late to pay fees or did not pay them at all. In addition to that, in 1956 the United Nations Emergency Force had to protect Egypt from Israeli forces, who had attacked Egypt, occupying Sinai and the Gaza Strip. Following this, neither side wanted to pay the UN for their deeds, which caused the UN to delve deeper into their financial insecurity.
For more information visit https://www.globalpolicy.org/component/content/article/224-general/27260-background-a-history-.html
This is an article by the Global Policy Forum about the background and history of the UN(2 votes)