UNITED NATIONS (UN)
The United Nations (UN) is an international organization that is headquartered in New York City, United States. It is one of the most important international organizations in the world today, as it deals with major issues facing humanity. For instance, the United Nations (UN) is tasked with promoting and maintaining peace between nations. This is achieved by creating a process and structure by which representatives of each country can talk to each other regularly and peacefully in hopes of avoiding major conflicts. The United Nations (UN) is also used as a way of dealing with other global issues, such as: human rights, climate change, economic development, humanitarian crises, and more. Currently, there are 193 different member nations in the United Nations, meaning most of the world’s countries are represented.
BEFORE THE UNITED NATIONS
The United Nations (UN) was the not the first international organization aimed at promoting and maintaining world peace. In fact, the League of Nations was created in 1920 following the death and destruction of World War I. The First World War saw the major Powers in Europe carry out a devastating conflict from 1914 until 1918, which led to the death of millions. Because of the deadly war, several countries pushed for the creation of an international organization to help prevent another similar conflict. For example, American President Woodrow Wilson was one of the main architects of the League of Nations. This is evident in Wilson’s famous fourteen Points, in which he laid out a framework for European peace after World War I. However, the League of Nations did not achieve its goals and ultimately failed due to events that occurred in the timeframe between World War I and World War II. For instance, the League of Nations failed to handle the growing aggression of fascist regimes in Europe, which resulted in the outbreak of World War II. For instance, Benito Mussolini of Italy and Adolf Hitler of Germany rose to power during the interwar years and pushed Europe towards another major conflict. Due to the failure of the League of Nations, the world sought to create a new international organization following the end of World War II, which led to the creation of the United Nations (UN).
HISTORY OF THE UNITED NATIONS
The UN had its beginnings in the early 1940s based on discussions by American President Franklin D. Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill. In fact, Roosevelt first used the term ‘United Nations’ in reference to the Allied Powers from World War II. The first official use of the term ‘United Nations’ was on January 1st, 1942 when 26 countries signed the ‘United Nations Declarations’. Participating countries included: the United States, United Kingdom, Soviet Union, China, Australia, Canada, India and New Zealand. This declaration centered on the Allied countries of World War II, working together to defeat Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy and Imperial Japan.
The basic structure and operation of the UN was formalized at the Dumbarton Oaks Conference from September 21st to October 7th, 1944. The major decisions at the conference were made by the primary Allied nations of World War II and included: United States, United Kingdom, Soviet Union and China. A year later, the UN was officially established on October 24th, 1945. The five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council included: France, United States, United Kingdom, Soviet Union and China. The first General Assembly of the UN was held on January 10th, 146 and included representatives from over 50 different countries.
Soon after, the member nations of the UN decided to establish their headquarters in New York City. The headquarters was completed in 1952 and the land that it sits on is officially considered international territory. The first UN Secretary-General was Norwegian Foreign Minister, Trygve Lie.
One of the first issues the UN dealt with following its creation was the crisis facing the country of Palestine in the 1940s. As such, on November 29th, 1947, the United Nations General Assembly approved the splitting of Palestine, which resulted in the creation of the state of Israel.
Since its creation in 1946, the UN has carried out many different missions, conferences and meetings aimed at avoiding or ending conflicts through peaceful negotiation. Throughout the 20th century, many nations joined the UN, adding to its member list. Below is a list of the major events in the history of the United Nations. (This list is not comprehensive, but rather a general sample of the many different missions and initiatives of the United Nations throughout the 20th and 21st centuries.)
- 1947 – United Nations General Assembly approved the splitting of Palestine, which resulted in the creation of the state of Israel.
- 1948 – The United Nations enacted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It created a set of basic human rights that member nations agree to respect and support.
- 1948 – United Nations Truce Supervision Organization. It was the first United Nations peacekeeping mission. Sent to Israel to prevent conflict between Israel and the neighboring Arab states during a ceasefire.
- 1950 – United Nations Security Council (minus the Soviet Union) approved the use of force to protect South Korea from North Korea in relation to the Korean War from the Cold War. It was a major event in the Korean War from the Cold War.
- 1956 – United Nations carried out major peacekeeping mission. Launched to end the Suez Crisis.
- 1972 – United Nations Conference on the Human Environment held in Stockholm, Sweden. It was the first UN conference focused on the environment.
- 1981 – United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea held in Jamaica. It defined basic laws of the sea, including boundaries and rights and responsibilities.
- 1991 – United Nations Security Council authorized the use of force against Iraq, following its invasion of Kuwait. It was a major event in the Gulf War.
- 1993 – United Nations oversaw democratic elections in Cambodia. It was an important step towards democracy following the events of the Cambodian Genocide in the 1970s and the downfall of the Khmer Rouge.
- 1992 to 1995 – United Nations Protection Force. Peacekeeping mission in Croatia and in Bosnia and Herzegovina during the events of the Bosnian Genocide.
- 1993 to 1996 – United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda. Peacekeeping mission in Rwanda that aimed at ending the conflict but ultimately failed. The major events of the Rwandan Genocide resulted.
- 2000 – Millennium Summit of the United Nations. United Nations member states agreed to help achieve the Millennium Development Goals.
In the middle and late parts of the 20th century, the UN was primarily focused with ending conflicts and promoting peaceful negotiation. This can best be viewed in the many different peacekeeping missions that the UN undertook. While the UN still fulfills this function, it has also shifted its focus to issues that are affecting more and more people in the 21st century, such as: poverty, education, human rights violations, environmental sustainability and climate change.
HOW DOES THE UNITED NATIONS OPERATE?
The United Nations has five main sections to its structure, which are referred to as ‘organs’. First, is the General Assembly, which is the main decision-making body of the UN. It is made up of all member nations to the UN. The member nations hold general assemblies on a yearly basis and is led by a president that is elected. Second, is the Security Council, which is the part of the UN that holds the most direct power. It is made up fifteen member nations, five of which are permanent members. The other ten member nations hold their position for two-year terms. The main function of the Security Council is to maintain world peace. Third, is the UN Secretariat, which is made up of the secretary-general and a team of civil servants who see to the operation of the United Nations. The current and ninth ever secretary-general of the UN is António Guterres. The position of the secretary-general is most often viewed as the ‘spokesperson’ of the UN. Fourth, is the International Court of Justice, which is responsible with settling justice claims between member nations. It is located in The Hague, Netherlands and the only section of the UN that is not located in the New York City headquarters. Fifth, is the Economic and Social Council, which is a collection of 54 member nations that serve on the council for periods of three years. The Economic and Social Council works to promote economic and social development between the member nations of the UN.
Due to its size of its operation and the complexities involved with its related missions and objectives, the United Nations requires an ongoing source of funds. As such, funding for the UN is based on member nations making voluntary contributions. The General Assembly of the UN produces a financial report that gives recommendations for what each country should contribute based on several factors, such as: gross national income (GNI), the indebtedness of the country and the ability of the country to pay. The current (as of 2019) financial contributors to the UN include: the United States, China, Japan, Germany, United Kingdom, France, Italy, Brazil and Canada.
UNITED NATIONS PRAISE AND CRITICISM
The United Nations (UN) has received both praise and criticisms for its efforts. In terms of praise, it has played a major role in maintaining world security over the last several decades. For instance, the UN has been responsible for establishing peacekeeping missions, which help to prevent a conflict between two groups from escalating and becoming a larger war that would cause mass death and destruction. As well, in more recent times, the UN has been responsible for leading initiatives related to combat modern global issues related to: hunger, climate change, human rights and more. For its efforts, individual members and organizations of the UN have received prestigious awards. For example, two different secretary-general’s of the UN (Dag Hammarskjöld in 1961 & Kofi Anan in 2001) have received the Nobel Peace Prize. Also, the United Nations Children's Emergency Fund (UNICEF) received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1965. Despite all of this praise, the UN has also been widely criticized by individuals, organizations and countries.
In terms of criticisms, the UN has faced several. First, the UN has faced complaints that it is run primarily by developed western countries who seek to maintain their own control over the poorer developing countries. Secondly, some have criticized the UN for how it operates and the structure of the Security Council. The Security Council is made up fifteen member nations, five of which are permanent members. The other ten member nations hold their position for two-year terms. The five permanent members of the Security Council are China, France, Russia (formerly the Soviet Union), the United Kingdom and the United States. Some have been critical of the permanent members of the Security Council because they each have the ability to veto a decision. This gives the five permanent members of the Security Council great power, which some have argued, they use for their own national interest. Third, other have argued that the UN has failed to live up to its mandate of preventing conflicts between nations. For example, the UN was created in 1946 just after the major events of World War II and the Holocaust. As such, when it was created, the goal of the UN was to protect basic human rights, prevent war and prevent or stop genocides. However, over the course of the 20th century, the UN has failed to contain conflicts several times. For instance, the 1993 United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR). It was a peacekeeping mission in Rwanda that aimed at ending the conflict and genocide but ultimately failed. The major events of the Rwandan Genocide resulted. Many have looked at this event (along with others) and argued that the UN is ineffective at preventing conflicts.
CITE THIS ARTICLE