United Nations (UN), international organization established immediately after World War II. It replaced the League of Nations. In 1945, when the UN was founded, there were 51 members; 193 nations are now members of the organization (see table entitled United Nations Members).
Organization and Principles
The Charter of the United Nations comprises a preamble and 19 chapters divided into 111 articles. The charter sets forth the purposes of the UN as: the maintenance of international peace and security; the development of friendly relations among states; and the achievement of cooperation in solving international economic, social, cultural, and humanitarian problems. It expresses a strong hope for the equality of all people and the expansion of basic freedoms.
The principal organs of the UN, as specified in the charter, are the General Assembly, the Security Council, the Economic and Social Council, the Trusteeship Council (see trusteeship, territorial), the International Court of Justice, and the Secretariat. Other bodies that function as specialized agencies of the UN but are not specifically provided for in the charter are the Food and Agriculture Organization, the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development and the associated International Finance Corporation and International Development Association, the International Civil Aviation Organization, the International Labor Organization, the International Maritime Organization, the International Monetary Fund, the International Telecommunication Union, the United Nations Children's Fund, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, the Universal Postal Union, the World Health Organization, the World Intellectual Property Organization, and the World Meteorological Organization. Temporary agencies have included the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration, the International Refugee Organization (whose responsibilities were later assumed by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees), and the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, which is still in existence.
The official languages of the UN are Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian, and Spanish. The working languages of the General Assembly are English, French, and Spanish (in the Security Council only English and French are working languages).
The Secretariat and the Secretary-General
All UN administrative functions are handled by the Secretariat, with the secretary-general at its head. The charter does not prescribe a term for the secretary-general, but a five-year term has become standard. Trygve Lie, the first secretary-general, was succeeded by Dag Hammarskjöld (1953–61), who served until his death. U Thant, acting secretary-general, was elected secretary-general (1962), was reelected in 1966, and served through 1971. Succeeding secretaries-general were: Kurt Waldheim (1972–81); Javier Pérez de Cuéllar (1982–91), Boutros Boutros-Ghali (1992–96), Kofi Annan (1997–2006), and Ban Ki-Moon (2007–). (See also the table entitled United Nations Secretaries-General.) The secretary-general transcends a merely administrative role by his authority to bring situations to the attention of various UN organs, by his position as an impartial party in effecting conciliation, and especially by his power to "perform such … functions as are entrusted to him" by other UN organs. Also strengthening the office of secretary-general is the large Secretariat staff, which is recruited on a wide geographic basis and is required to work exclusively in the interests of the organization.
The General Assembly
The only UN body provided by the charter in which all member states are represented is the General Assembly. The General Assembly was designed to be a deliberative body dealing chiefly with general questions of a political, social, or economic character. It meets in a regular annual session beginning the third Tuesday in September; special sessions are sometimes held. It has seven main committees set up to deal with specific matters designated as (1) political and security, (2) economic and financial, (3) social, humanitarian, and cultural, (4) trusteeship, (5) administrative and budgetary, (6) legal, and (7) special political. It also has procedural, standing, and many ad hoc committees. The assembly passes on the budget and sets the assessments of the member countries. It may conduct studies and make recommendations but may not advise on matters under Security Council consideration, unless by Security Council request. In the assembly, decisions on routine matters are taken by a simple majority of members voting; a two-thirds majority is required for matters of importance, such as the admission of new members, the revision of the charter, and budgetary and trusteeship questions.
The Security Council
The Security Council was constructed as an organ with primary responsibility for preserving peace. Unlike the General Assembly, it was given power to enforce measures and was organized as a compact executive organ. Also unlike the assembly, the Security Council in theory functions continuously at the seat of the UN.
The council has 15 members. Five—China (until 1971 the Republic of China [Taiwan]; since then the People's Republic of China), France, Great Britain, the United States, and Russia (until 1991 the USSR)—are permanent. The 10 (originally six) nonpermanent members are elected for two-year terms by the General Assembly; equitable geographic distribution is required. Customarily there are five nonpermanent members from African and Asian states, one from Eastern Europe, two from Latin America, and two from Western Europe and elsewhere. In the council the presidency is occupied for one-month terms in the alphabetical order of the members' names in English.
In 1997 a UN commission proposed changes to the council, including adding five new permanent members without veto powers, adding four additional nonpermanent members, and placing restrictions on the use of the veto. The proposed changes were regarded by many nations as a groundwork for negotiations on the eventual restructuring of the council. Brazil, Germany, India, Japan, and South Africa have sought permanent seats on the council, and in July, 2005, the first four nations submitted a General Assembly resolution calling for the expansion of the council (but not for veto-power for new permanent members). The African Union, however, has called for new permanent members to have the veto and for Africa to receive two permanent seats. There has been no significant progress on the issue, but in Sept., 2008, the General Assembly unanimously called for intergovernmental negotiations on the enlargement of the council, which began in Feb., 2009.
There are two systems of voting in the Security Council. On procedural matters the affirmative vote of any nine members is necessary, but on substantive matters the nine affirmative votes required must include those of the five permanent members. This requirement of Big Five unanimity embodies the so-called veto. In practice the council has, on most substantive matters, not treated an abstention by a permanent member as a veto. In two situations, however, those of recommending applicants for UN membership and of approving proposed amendments to the charter, the actual concurrence of all permanent members has been required. The veto has prevented much substantive action by the UN, but it embodies the reality that resolution of major crises requires agreement of the major powers.
Under the charter the council may take measures on any danger to world peace. It may act upon complaint of a member or of a nonmember, on notification by the secretary-general or by the General Assembly, or of its own volition. In general the council considers matters of two sorts. The first is "disputes" (or situations that may give rise to them) that might endanger peace. Here the council is limited to making recommendations to the parties after it has exhausted other methods of reaching a solution. In the case of more serious matters, such as "threats to the peace," "breaches of the peace," and "acts of aggression," the council may take enforcement measures. These may range from full or partial rupture of economic or diplomatic relations to military operations of any scope deemed necessary. By the terms of the charter, the UN was forbidden to intervene in matters "which are essentially … domestic," but this limitation was not intended to hinder Security Council measures to prevent threats to peace. The charter was intentionally ambiguous regarding domestic issues that could also be construed as threats to peace and left a potential opening for intervention in domestic issues that threaten to have dangerous international repercussions.
The earliest concrete plan for the formation of a new world organization was begun under the aegis of the U.S. State Department late in 1939. The name United Nations was coined by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1941 to describe the countries fighting against the Axis. It was first used officially on Jan. 1, 1942, when 26 states joined in the Declaration by the United Nations, pledging themselves to continue their joint war effort and not to make peace separately. The need for an international organization to replace the League of Nations was first stated officially on Oct. 30, 1943, in the Moscow Declaration, issued by China, Great Britain, the United States, and the USSR.
At the Dumbarton Oaks Conference (Aug.–Oct., 1944), those four countries drafted specific proposals for a charter for the new organization, and at the Yalta Conference (Feb., 1945) further agreement was reached. All the states that had ultimately adhered to the 1942 declaration and had declared war on Germany or Japan by Mar. 1, 1945, were called to the founding conference held in San Francisco (Apr. 25–June 26, 1945). Drafted at San Francisco, the UN charter was signed on June 26 and ratified by the required number of states on Oct. 24 (officially United Nations Day). The General Assembly first met in London on Jan. 10, 1946.
It was decided to locate the UN headquarters in the E United States. In Dec., 1946, the General Assembly accepted the $8.5 million gift of John D. Rockefeller, Jr., to buy a tract of land along the East River, New York City, for its headquarters. The principal buildings there, the Secretariat, the General Assembly, and the Conference Building, were completed in 1952. The Dag Hammarskjöld Memorial Library was dedicated in 1961.
Original Vision and Cold War Realities
In practice the UN has not evolved as was first envisaged. Originally it was composed largely of the Allies of World War II, mainly European countries, Commonwealth countries, and nations of the Americas. It was conceived as an organization of "peace-loving" nations, who were combining to prevent future aggression and for other humanitarian purposes. Close cooperation among members was expected; the Security Council especially was expected to work in relative unanimity. Hopes for essential accord were soon dashed by the frictions of the cold war, which affected the functioning of the Security Council and other UN organs.
The charter had envisaged a regular military force available to the Security Council and directed the creation of the Military Staff Committee to make appropriate plans. The committee—consisting of the chiefs of staff (or their deputies) of the Big Five—was unable to reach agreement, with the USSR and the other four states on opposing sides; thus no regular forces were established. The same split frustrated the activities of two special Security Council bodies, the Atomic Energy Commission and the Commission on Conventional Armaments. Hence no arrangements were concluded for regulating the production of atomic bombs or reducing other types of armaments (see disarmament, nuclear). The charter anticipated that regional security agreements would supplement the overall UN system, but in fact such comprehensive alliances as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the Organization of American States, the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization, and the Warsaw Treaty Organization to an extent bypassed the UN system.
There were some early instances of Soviet cooperation with the United States and other powers that allowed for UN successes in restoring or preserving peace. These included the settlement (1946) of the complaint of Syria and Lebanon that France and Great Britain were illegally occupying their territory; the partitioning of Palestine (see Israel); the fighting over Kashmir between India and Pakistan (see India-Pakistan Wars); and the withdrawal of the Dutch from Indonesia. However, in many other issues of more direct importance to the great powers, conflict between the USSR and the remaining members of the Big Five prevented resolution. The Security Council was crippled by the veto, which by the end of 1955 had been used 78 times, 75 of them by the Soviet Union.
Growing Activity of the Assembly
In reaction to the limitations that the cold war imposed on the Security Council, the United States, Britain, France, and other nations tried to develop the General Assembly beyond its original scope. In the assembly the United States and Great Britain had strong support from among the Commonwealth and Latin American countries and generally commanded a majority. The Soviet Union could muster only a smaller bloc, sufficient to create debate between East and West but less effective in voting.
Of more importance were procedures evolved in the Korean crisis in 1950. At that time the Soviet Union was boycotting the Security Council because of the UN refusal to admit the People's Republic of China as a member. Since the USSR was not present to cast a veto, the Security Council was enabled to establish armed forces to repel the North Korean attack on South Korea (see Korean War). Thus, at a time when the young organization had begun to seem politically sterile, it gave birth to the first UN army and to the widest "collective security" action in history up to that time, although the United States provided the bulk of both fighting personnel and matériel. In addition, firmer UN action in future crises was prepared for when, in Nov., 1950, the assembly adopted the "Uniting for Peace" resolution, which permitted it to take its own measures when use of the veto paralyzed the council. Although the assembly has been convened a few times under this resolution, its authority to require action by members has remained vague, and it has never developed workable enforcement machinery.
Some areas were opened for UN intervention, however, where world opinion and great power responsiveness favored it. In the struggle for independence in Morocco, Algeria, and elsewhere, the ruling colonial powers claimed these conflicts to be domestic; with their seats on the Security Council they were in a position to veto assembly resolutions, and with the official governments of rebellious territories under their control they were enabled to forestall UN intervention. In the Hungarian revolt (1956), requests that the USSR withdraw its troops from Hungary and that UN observers be admitted to the country were rejected by the Soviet Union. In the Suez crisis (1956), however, the General Assembly resolution for an immediate cease-fire and for withdrawal of invading forces was heeded by Great Britain, France, and Israel (see Arab-Israeli Wars).
Expanding Role of the Secretary-General
Parallel to the growing activity of the assembly was the expanding role of the secretary-general. Trygve Lie, as secretary-general, made vigorous efforts to muster world opinion in such difficulties as the Korean crisis, but his labeling of North Korea as the aggressor earned him Soviet enmity and thus limited his effectiveness. Under the "quiet diplomacy" of Dag Hammarskjöld the secretary-generalship gained greater scope. The secretary-general, not the deadlocked Security Council, was entrusted with organizing and establishing UN forces in the Suez crisis. He worked closely with the General Assembly on other issues. In 1958, when an assembly resolution asking for a strong force of UN observers in Lebanon had been vetoed by the council, the secretary-general nevertheless followed the assembly's recommendation.
Beyond such missions Hammarskjöld interpreted his office as responsible for preserving peace even when the assembly itself was deadlocked and could issue no definite instructions. In practice he operated largely under a General Assembly mandate but frequently took executive steps that could not be completely detailed by instructions. Thus the office of secretary-general was evolving as the UN's de facto executive authority in matters of international conflict, and the Security Council began to meet much less frequently.
Effects of a Growing Membership
By the late 1950s the UN was being revolutionized by a change in membership. Since the inception of the UN there had been a steady growth of feeling that the organization should comprise all the nations of the world. But new membership was long blocked by East-West rivalry; each side was antagonistic to admission of new members unfavorable to its views, and as non-Communist countries outnumbered Communist ones the USSR was especially intransigent. From 1947 to 1955 only Yemen (1947), Pakistan (1947), Myanmar (1948), Israel (1949), and Indonesia (1950) gained admission. The way to a compromise was led by Canada in 1955; 16 new members were admitted in that year, and thereafter expansion was rapid.
Accompanying expansion came voting realignment. The clear majority of the United States and its allies disappeared as the Afro-Asian group of nations (see Third World) obtained over half of the assembly seats. New voting blocs formed, including the NATO nations, the Arab nations, the Commonwealth nations, and, increasingly, a general Afro-Asian bloc. Latin America shifted away from its pro-U.S. position. Other themes began to equal that of the cold war in assembly debates, and more militant stands were taken against remnants of colonialism.
The changed nature of the UN was revealed in UN Africa policy in the early 1960s. The UN acted strongly in the crisis in the Congo, and during its involvement there the secretary-general developed his office to an unprecedented extent. When the UN was invited (1960) by the Congo government to send troops there, a UN force was quickly organized by Hammarskjöld from among neutral European and African states. The UN troops, confronted by social and political chaos, engaged in direct military action to force Katanga province to reintegrate with the Congo, which it finally did in 1963.
UN action in the Congo and later in sending peacekeeping forces to Cyprus (1964) demonstrated a willingness to intervene in basically internal situations, both to restore order and to prevent the spread of disorder to neighboring states. This willingness was especially evident in the attention paid to the remaining colonial areas, mainly in Africa. The UN repeatedly condemned the colonial policies of Portugal (until that country began to free its colonies after the 1974 coup) and the racial policies of South Africa and Rhodesia, against which severe economic sanctions were applied.
Diminished UN Influence and Its Uncertain Revival
Having lost its automatic majority in the assembly, the United States joined the Soviet Union in limiting UN power and authority, mainly by keeping major issues within the purview of the Security Council and the veto, with inaction the usual result. There was a corresponding decline in the freedom of movement allowed the secretary-general. In the wake of Hammarskjöld's Congo operation and accidental death, the Soviet Union's "troika" plan for a three-person secretary-generalship—an Eastern, a Western, and a neutralist member, each with a veto—was a sign that the USSR would not tolerate another activist secretary-general. Although its plan was defeated, the USSR's goal was largely achieved, since succeeding secretaries-general avoided actions that might be controversial.
Severe financial pressures have also served to restrict UN action. A number of countries, including the USSR, have refused to pay for UN actions, such as the Congo operation, not directly approved by the Security Council. The United States successfully pushed for a reduction of its assessment to 25% of the UN budget in 1977, instead of one third or more, but has still been in substantial arrears. (By the late 1990s the problem of U.S. arrears had grown so great that the United States was in danger of losing its vote in the General Assembly.)
Finally, the major powers have tended to deal with each other outside the framework of the UN. While certain agreements in peripheral areas of disarmament and international cooperation have been worked out within the UN—e.g., the peaceful use of atomic energy (see Atomic Energy Agency, International), cooperation in outer space, and arms limitation on the international seabed—most major negotiations and agreements have been on a bilateral basis.
As a result, until 1991 the UN played a relatively secondary role in most world crises, including the Arab-Israeli Wars of 1967 and 1973; the India-Pakistan War of 1971; the Vietnam War; and the Afghanistan War. However, with Soviet cooperation, the UN played a major role approving action in the Persian Gulf in 1991 to drive Iraq from Kuwait, and it actively supervised the subsequent cease-fire, embargo, and removal of strategic weapons from Iraq (see Persian Gulf War).
Since the early 1970s, the UN expanded its activity in the development of less developed countries. The UN and its related agencies have had a significant impact in disease control, aid to refugees, and technological cooperation. It has provided a mechanism through which developed countries can jointly contribute with a minimum of national antagonism and from which less developed countries can receive aid with a minimum of suspicion and resentment. The UN has also been active in setting standards of human dignity and freedom, such as in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the establishment of international labor standards, and has been a forum for discussion on some environmental issues, such as at the "Earth Summit" in 1992.
The current UN is an all but universal global institution. Its peacekeeping forces were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1988, and in 2001 the UN itself, along with Secretary-General Annan, was awarded the prize. Beginning in the 1990s, the UN was increasingly involved in peacekeeping efforts throughout the world. Although the UN played a subsidiary role in the Persian Gulf War, its potential to gain a more prominent peacekeeping role was enhanced with the end of the cold war. In recent years the UN has supervised the 1993 elections in Cambodia (as part of its largest peacekeeping effort ever) and the 1999 referendum in East Timor (although it could not prevent the violence the followed), and it has mounted peacekeeping operations in Angola, Bosnia, Congo (Kinshasa), Eritrea and Ethiopia, Haiti, Kosovo, Mozambique, Sierra Leone, Somalia, and Sudan and Chad among others. In addition, the UN has provided police forces in regions, such as Kosovo, Bosnia, and East Timor, where the local government could not.
The Security Council's assertiveness in enforcing the Gulf War cease-fire resolutions in the early 1990s seemed indicative of a new vigor. Later divisions on the council over that issue, however, and limited success with respect to peacekeeping in Somalia, Bosnia, Haiti, Sierra Leone, and Côte d'Ivore indicate that, unless the parties overseen by such forces are desirous of peace, perhaps the council can assert itself successfully only when the great powers are convinced that their interests are at stake. The fact was made all-too-obvious by the divisions that emerged between the United States and Britain, on one side, and France, Russia, and China over whether to approve military action against Iraq in 2003. Other divisions hampered the UN's ability to develop (2007) a fully workable peacekeeping mission in Sudan and Chad, where rebellion in Sudan's Darfur region and bordering parts of Chad created large numbers of refugees beginning in 2003. On the other hand, the UN peacekeeping mission along the Eritrea-Ethiopia border (2000–2008) was ended after the two benefiting nations undermined it.
In an effort to ensure that UN peacekeeping missions that are mounted are effective, Annan pushed for forces that were large enough to be able to enforce the peace, though that was not always possible. UN peacekeeping forces have also become more assertive about using force to protect themselves and civilians and more active in enforcing the peace. In 2011, in response to fighting in Libya, the Security Council authorized a no-fly zone in Libya to protect civilians and imposed sanctions on the government, but the NATO-Arab mission enforcing the zone also acted at times in apparent support of the rebels, who ultimately overthrew the government. A peace mission to Syria in 2012, which only involved UN observers, was not successful in stemming the Arab Spring conflict there. A UN peacekeeping force was deployed in the Central African Republic in 2014, in response to fighting between Christian and Muslim militias following the overthrow of the government; the force superseded and absorbed an African Union contingent that had been deployed in the country in 2013.
A related and pressing problem has been the financial crisis created by the arrears owed by the United States and other nations, a crisis exacerbated by the expense of increased peacekeeping operations. Even as the nations of the world have been expanding the UN's role as peacekeeper, its ability to fund such operations has been hampered by nonpayment of UN dues. American dissatisfaction with the UN has led to opposition within Congress to payment of UN dues and resulted in unyielding U.S. opposition to the reelection of Boutros-Ghali as secretary-general. Kofi Annan, who succeeded Boutros-Ghali in 1997, worked to streamline UN operations and reduce costs, in part to restore American confidence and interest in the organization. In 1999 the U.S. Congress passed legislation that would pay some of the nation's back dues, but it also called for a further reduction in the assessment that the United States is expected to pay. An agreement in Dec., 2000, called for a reduction in U.S. dues to 22% of the UN's budget. In 2000, U.S. arrears had reached $1.3 billion, according to UN calculations, but by the end of 2004 that had been reduced by more than 80%.
In 2004 the UN's reputation was tarnished by revelations about corruption in the oil-for-food program that allowed Iraq, beginning in 1996 and ending after the U.S.-led invasion, to export oil to generate income that was to be used to purchase food and other humanitarian relief. Saddam Hussein's government received sizable kickbacks through the program (although the money Iraq earned through smuggling oil abroad was much greater), and many outside Iraq illicitly profited as well. A detailed UN investigation into the program, led by Paul Volcker, began in 2004, and it released its final report in 2005. The investigation accused the UN official who had headed the program of personally benefiting from it, and faulted the conduct of others, including two of Annan's close advisers. The integrity of Annan's son, who benefited from employment and payments from a company involved in the program, was questioned, although Annan himself was not accused of benefiting or of manipulating the program to benefit anyone. However, Annan was criticized for having exercised inadequate oversight (as was the Security Council) and for having failed to make a thorough inquiry into the affair when questions first arose about it.
Also in 2005 Annan attempted to win international support for a group of comprehensive reforms within the United Nations, but agreement proved difficult to secure. UN members did approve the establishment of a Peacebuilding Commission, intended to aid war-torn nations in reestablishing political stability and economic growth. In Dec., 2005, under pressure from the United States and other wealthy nations, UN members approved a two-year budget with a spending cap for 2006 that was expected to be reached in June of that year. The intention was to link the approval of further spending to passage of management reforms by the General Assembly.
The General Assembly approved (Mar., 2006) the replacement of the UN Human Rights Commission with a Human Rights Council. The move was designed to restore credibility to the UN's human rights body, which was criticized for having included among its member nations many countries that had been denounced for violations of human rights, but the new body soon faced similar criticisms. In May the Assembly refused to approve the centerpiece of Annan's ambitious administrative reform plans for the United Nations; some modest reforms were approved in July. The budget cap, meanwhile, had been removed in June by the General Assembly. Annan was succeeded as secretary-general by South Korean diplomat Ban Ki-Moon in 2007.
The United Nations publishes a series of comprehensive yearbooks (1947–). See also M. Waters, The United Nations (1967); L. M. Goodrich, E. I. Hambro, and A. P. Simons, Charter of the United Nations: Commentary and Documents (3d ed. 1969); D. W. Wainhouse, International Peacekeeping at the Crossroads (1973); L. M. Goodrich, The United Nations in a Changing World (1974); D. P. Moynihan, A Dangerous Place (1978); Conference on United Nations Procedures, Global Negotiations and Economic Development (1980); E. Luard, A History of the United Nations (2 vol., 1982–89); J. P. Humphrey, Human Rights and the United Nations (1983); P. R. Baehr and L. Gordenker, The United Nations: Reality and Ideal (1984); Department of Public Information, The United Nations and Human Rights (1984); R. Riggs and J. Plano, The United Nations: International Organization and World Politics (1987); P. J. Fromuth, ed., A Successor Vision: The United Nations of Tomorrow (1988); A. Roberts, United Nations, Divided World: The UN's Role in International Relations (1988); R. Berridge, Return to the United Nations: UN Diplomacy in Regional Conflicts (1991); S. Meisler, United Nations: The First Fifty Years (1995); T. Hoopes and D. Brinkley, FDR and the Creation of the U.N. (1997); S. C. Schlesinger, Act of Creation: The Founding of the United Nations (2003); M. Mazower, No Enchanted Palace: The End of Empire and the Ideological Origins of the United Nations (2009); R. Jolly et al., UN Ideas That Changed the World (2009).
"United Nations." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. 2016. Encyclopedia.com. (June 29, 2016). http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1E1-UN.html
"United Nations." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. 2016. Retrieved June 29, 2016 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1E1-UN.html
UNITED NATIONS. The United States was a key force behind the establishment of the United Nations (UN) at the end of World War II. The term, the "United Nations," was first used on 1 January 1942 in an agreement that pledged that none of the Allied governments would make a separate peace with the Axis Powers. The actual Charter of the United Nations that was finalized in 1945 was very much a U.S. document, in contrast to the Covenant of the League of Nations that had been based primarily on both U.S. and British drafts. The UN Charter flowed from discussions at Dumbarton Oaks (outside Washington, D.C.) in 1944 between the United States, Britain, the Soviet Union, and later China. Fifty governments signed the Charter in June 1945. UN membership exceeded 120 by the early 1970s, was over 150 by 1980, and reached 185 nation-states by the 1990s. Despite the central role of the United States in the establishment of the UN, and in many of its subsequent operations, Washington's relationship with the organization has not been without friction over the years.
The Origins and Establishment of the United Nations
There is considerable debate about the United States' motives for the establishment of the UN. From the point of view of some commentators, the administration of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1933–1945) viewed the UN as a potential pillar of a wider effort to construct an international order in which U.S. manufacturers and investors would be able to continue to benefit economically following the end of World War II. Other observers emphasize the role of liberal (or Wilsonian) idealism in the foundation of the UN and its importance as an effort to move beyond the Great Power rivalry of the pre-1945 era. Related to this perception is the view that Roosevelt envisioned the UN as a vehicle by which the Soviet Union could be brought into a more cooperative and less confrontational international order. From this perspective, the UN was a way of maintaining and broadening the alliance after 1945 between the victorious powers in World War II.
At the same time, even if the establishment of the UN represented an immediate response to World War II, it built on rather than displaced the ideas about, and the practices of, international relations that had emerged prior to the 1940s. For example, the UN was clearly a successor organization to the League of Nations. But, given the discredited reputation of the League, the UN could not be established directly on its foundations. Many observers regard the UN as an improvement on the overall structure of the League of Nations. From the perspective of the United States and its wartime allies, one of the most significant improvements was to be the way in which the UN was even more explicitly grounded in the principle of the concert (or concerted action) of the Great Powers. The notion that the Great Powers had unique rights and obligations in international relations was already a major element behind the establishment of the League of Nations, particularly its main decision-making body, the Council. In the UN, however, the major allied powers were given permanent seats on the Security Council, which came with the right of veto on any UN security initiative. The main framers of the UN also sought to enlarge the organization's role in social and economic affairs (in contrast to the League). This flowed from the knowledge that a broad international effort would be required to deal with a range of problems related to reconstruction following the end of World War II. There was also a sense that mechanisms for countering the kind of wholesale violation of human rights that had characterized the Nazi regime needed to be set up. Furthermore, in light of both the Great Depression and World War II there was a growing concern that economic inequality and poverty facilitated crisis and war.
The Operation and Growth of the United Nations
The Security Council, as already suggested, is the most important body of the UN. It is in permanent session and is responsible for the maintenance of international peace and security. It has the power to call on the armed forces of member governments to provide peacekeeping forces and to intervene in conflicts and disputes around the world. The Security Council was established with five permanent members and ten rotating members. The permanent members are the major allied powers that won World War II: the United States, the Soviet Union (now Russia), Great Britain, France, and China (Taiwan held the Chinese seat until 1971). The five permanent members all have an absolute veto on any resolution of the Security Council. After 1945 international power politics, as played out at the UN, were directly linked to the (sometimes dubious) proposition that these five states were the most politically and militarily significant in world affairs. The veto also meant that although these five powers were prevented, in theory, from using force in a fashion that went against the UN Charter, their veto in the Security Council protected them from sanction or censure if they
did engage in unilateral action. The Security Council thus represented a major arena for Cold War politics at the same time as the Cold War, which pitted its members against each other, ensured that the ability of the Security Council to act was often profoundly constrained.
While the Security Council's focus was on issues of peace and war, the General Assembly was given particular responsibility for social and economic issues. Over the years, as this brief has grown, a range of specialized, often semiautonomous, agencies have emerged. For example, the International Labor Organization, which had been set up by the League of Nations, was revitalized. The UN also established the World Health Organization, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, and the Food and Agriculture Organization, not to mention the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development and the United Nations Development Programme. By the 1990s there were nineteen separate UN agencies. Some of the most significant UN organizations that emerged after 1945 now operate almost entirely independently. This is particularly true of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (the World Bank).
The Cold War, Decolonization, and the United Nations in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s
The UN, as already emphasized, was profoundly shaped by the emerging Cold War. In this context the United States increasingly perceived it as an important element in its policy toward Moscow. For example, a U.S. Department of State memorandum in April 1946 observed, "[t]he Charter of the United Nations affords the best and most unassailable means through which the U.S. can implement its opposition to Soviet physical expansion." Meanwhile, Moscow's early resistance to Washington's preferred candidates for the presidency of the General Assembly and the post of the UN's first Secretary-General ensured that the UN would be an important forum for the wider Cold War. The UN was also directly involved in and shaped by the rising nationalist sentiment against colonialism and the move toward decolonization, as well as the question of racial discrimination that was directly or indirectly connected to the colonial question. For example, the UN passed a resolution on 29 November 1947 that called for the end of the British mandate in Palestine and the creation of a Jewish state and an Arab state, with Jerusalem being put under international administration. The Arab delegates at the UN were unhappy with these proposed arrangements and responded by walking out of the General Assembly. On 14 May 1948 the state of Israel was officially proclaimed, followed by the start of open warfare between the new state of Israel and neighboring Arab states. A cease-fire was eventually agreed to under the mediation of Ralph Bunche (a U.S. citizen and senior UN official), who subsequently received the Nobel Peace Prize. Israel was formally admitted to the UN in May 1949. The conflict between the Dutch colonial government in the Netherlands East Indies and the de facto government of the Republic of Indonesia was also brought before the UN in the late 1940s. The United States exerted its influence inside and outside the UN, and in March 1949 the Dutch government agreed to move quickly to decolonize and recognize Indonesian independence. The Cold War backdrop was important in this trend. The United States was concerned that Moscow's support for national liberation movements, such as that in Indonesia, might enhance the influence of the Soviet Union, and it realized at the same time that U.S. support for decolonization would advance U.S. influence.
The Korean War (1950–1953) was a turning point for the UN, and for U.S. Cold War policy. In September 1947 the United States placed the Korean question before the General Assembly. This was done in an effort to wind back the United States' commitment to the Korean peninsula. Subsequently the General Assembly formally called for the unification of what was at that point a Korea divided between a northern government allied to the Soviet Union (and later the Peoples' Republic of China, or PRC) and a southern government allied to the United States. Following the outbreak of war between the north and the south on 25 June 1950, the Security Council quickly began organizing a UN military force, under U.S. leadership, to intervene in Korea. This was made possible by the fact that Moscow had been boycotting the Security Council since the start of 1950. The Soviet Union was protesting the fact that China's permanent seat on the Security Council continued to be held by the Kuomintang (KMT) government that had been confined to Taiwan since the Chinese Communist Party's triumph on the mainland at the end of 1949. In Korea it quickly became clear that the United States (and its UN allies) were entering a major war. The resolutions of the General Assembly on Korean unification were soon being used to justify a full-scale military effort against the North Korean regime. The initial aim of U.S.-UN intervention to achieve the limited goal of ending northern aggression was quickly transformed into a wider set of aims, centered on the reunification of the peninsula under a pro-U.S.–UN government. The ensuing conflict eventually brought the PRC directly into the war.
It was initially thought that U.S.-UN intervention in Korea indicated that the UN had overcome the paralysis that had afflicted the League of Nations in any conflict where the rival interests of Great Powers were involved. But, once the Soviet Union resumed its seat on the Security Council in August 1950, Moscow challenged the validity of the resolutions of the Security Council that underpinned UN operations in Korea. Meanwhile, the Soviet Union was also highly critical of Secretary-General Trygve Lie's keen prosecution of UN actions in Korea. Moscow opposed his reelection in 1951, but the United States managed to ensure that he remained in the post until the end of 1952. At the same time, Moscow's delegation at the UN avoided having anything to do with the Secretary-General, dramatically weakening his position. In the wake of the signing of an armistice agreement in Korea on 27 July 1953, U.S. influence at the UN went into relative decline. Another result of the Korean War was two decades of Sino-U.S. hostility. Until 1971 Washington successfully prevented all attempts at the UN to have the PRC replace the KMT in China's permanent seat in the Security Council.
The decline of U.S. influence in the 1950s was primarily a result of the way in which the process of decolonization increasingly altered the balance of power in the General Assembly. A key event in the history of decolonization and the growth of the UN was the Suez Crisis that followed the seizure of the Suez Canal on 26 July 1956 by the Egyptian government of Gamal Abdel Nasser (1954–1970). The canal was of considerable commercial and strategic importance to Great Britain and France. Despite the objections of the Security Council, London and Paris, with the support of the Israeli government, attacked Egypt. The UN responded, with U.S. and Soviet support, by setting up and dispatching a 6,000-strong United Nations Emergency Force (UNEF) to manage a cease-fire and the withdrawal of Anglo-French troops from the Canal Zone. The UNEF, which continued to operate as a buffer between Egypt and Israel from 1956 to 1967, was important for the history of future peacekeeping efforts. It flowed from a resolution of the General Assembly and clearly set the precedent (not always followed) that UN peacekeeping forces should work to prevent conflict between opposing sides rather than engage in the conflict.
The growing significance of decolonization for the UN became clear when, following Congo's independence from Belgium in 1960, a UN force (Opération des Nations Unies au Congo, or ONUC) was asked to intervene. The UN operation in the Congo, from July 1960 to June 1964, was the biggest UN action since the war in Korea in the early 1950s. The Congo crisis started with a mutiny in the former Belgian colonial military establishment (Force Publique) that had become the Armée Nationale Congolaise following independence. When troops attacked and killed a number of European officers, the Belgian administrators, and other Europeans who had remained behind after independence, fled the country, opening the way for Congolese to replace the European military and administrative elite. Shortly after this, Moise Tshombe led a successful secessionist effort to take the wealthy Katanga province out of the new nation. At the end of 1960 President Kasa Vubu dismissed the new prime minister, Patrice Lumumba, and a week later Colonel Joseph Mobutu seized power, holding it until February 1961, by which time Lumumba had been killed. Meanwhile, Belgian troops intervened to protect Belgian nationals as civil war spread in the former Belgian colony. The assassination of Lumumba precipitated a Security Council resolution on 21 February 1961 that conferred on ONUC the ability to use force to stop the descent into civil war. Prior to this point ONUC had only been allowed to use force in self-defense. During operations in the Congo, Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld was killed in a plane crash and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize posthumously. Even with upwards of 20,000 UN-sponsored troops in the Congo, however, a cease-fire was not agreed to and Katanga was not brought back into the Congo until 1963. All ONUC troops were withdrawn by the end of June 1964, in part because the UN itself was on the brink of bankruptcy (a result of the French and Soviet government's refusal to contribute to the costs of ONUC). It was not until the UN operation in Somalia in 1992, almost thirty years later, that the UN again intervened militarily on the scale of its operation in the Congo in the early 1960s.
The UN and the Third World in the 1970s and 1980s
By the 1970s the emergence of a growing number of new nation-states in Africa and Asia over the preceding decades had clearly altered the balance in the UN in favor of the so-called "Third World." This shift was readily apparent when the Sixth Special Session of the General Assembly of the United Nations in April 1974 passed the Declaration and Programme of Action for the Establishment of a New Economic Order. This represented a formal call for a New International Economic Order in an effort to improve the terms on which the countries of the Third World participated in the global economy. In the late 1970s the UN also established the Independent Commission on International Development (the Brandt Commission), presided over by former West German Chancellor Willy Brandt. However, by the start of the 1980s, calls at the UN and elsewhere to address the North-South question were increasingly rebuffed, particularly with the Debt Crisis and the subsequent spread of neoliberal economic policies and practices. With the support of Margaret Thatcher's government in Britain (1979–1990) and the administration of Ronald Reagan (1981–1989) in the United States, the IMF and the World Bank increasingly encouraged the governments of the Third World to liberalize trade, privatize their public sectors, and deregulate their economies. This trend was strengthened by the end of the Cold War, by which time virtually all branches of the UN had become sites for the promotion of economic liberalism and what has come to be known as globalization.
The United Nations after the Cold War
The Cold War had undermined the expectation, prevalent in the late 1940s and early 1950s, that the UN would provide the overall framework for international security after 1945. With the end of the Cold War, however, the UN was presented with an opportunity to revive the major peacekeeping and security activities that many of its early proponents had anticipated. For example, while the UN dispatched a total of 10,000 peacekeepers to five operations (with an annual budget of about $233 million) in 1987, the total number of troops acting as peacekeepers under UN auspices by 1995 was 72,000. They were operating in eighteen different countries and the total cost of these operations was over $3 billion. Early post–Cold War initiatives were thought to augur well for the UN's new role. The major civil war in El Salvador, which had been fueled by the Cold War, came to a negotiated end in 1992 under the auspices of the UN. Apart from El Salvador, the countries in which the UN has provided peacekeepers and election monitors include Angola, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Cambodia, Croatia, East Timor, Macedonia, Mozambique, Rwanda, Somalia, and the Western Sahara. While Cambodia and East Timor, for example, are seen as UN success stories, the failure of the UN in Angola and Somalia highlights the constraints on the UN's role in the post–Cold War era.
The UN's new post–Cold War initiative in relation to peacekeeping was linked to the appointment of Boutros Boutros-Ghali as Secretary-General at the beginning of 1992. Shortly after taking up the new post, Boutros-Ghali presented the Security Council with his "Agenda for Peace." This document laid out a range of major reforms to facilitate a greatly expanded peacekeeping role. Boutros-Ghali wanted member states to provide permanently designated military units that could be deployed quickly and overcome the UN's well-known inability to act quickly in a time of crisis. A number of states expressed an interest in such an arrangement at the same time as changes were made at UN headquarters in New York. The UN military advisory staff was expanded with a focus on intelligence activities and long-range planning, and efforts were made to enhance communications between officers on the ground and UN headquarters. There was even some talk of forming a multinational military establishment, made up of volunteers that would be under the direct control of the UN. These initiatives made little progress, however, in the context of an organization comprised of nation-states that were very wary of providing soldiers and equipment in ways that might diminish their sovereignty. Furthermore, there was little or no possibility of a more effective and united intervention by the UN in situations where the national interests of the major powers were thought to be at stake. At the same time, the fact that a number of countries, including the United States and Russia, fell behind in their payment of dues to the UN suggested the prospects for a more activist and revamped UN were still limited. As a result of concerted U.S. opposition, Boutros-Ghali was not reappointed as Secretary-General for a second term, further dampening the momentum toward a more assertive UN. His replacement, Kofi Annan, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2001, has emerged as a much more cautious and conciliatory Secretary-General.
Armstrong, David. The Rise of the International Organisation: A Short History. London: Macmillan, 1982.
Hilderbrand, Robert C. Dumbarton Oaks: The Origins of the United Nations and the Search for Postwar Security. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1990.
Meisler, Stanley. United Nations: The First Fifty Years. New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 1995.
Wesley, Michael. Casualties of the New World Order: The Causes of Failure of UN Missions to Civil Wars. Basingstoke, U.K.: Macmillan, 1997.
"United Nations." Dictionary of American History. 2003. Encyclopedia.com. (June 29, 2016). http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3401804337.html
"United Nations." Dictionary of American History. 2003. Retrieved June 29, 2016 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3401804337.html
The United Nations (UN) is a global organization of states that aims to find cooperative solutions for international security, economic, and social problems. The first formal use of the term United Nations appeared in the Declaration by the United Nations (January 1, 1942), in which twenty-six Allied countries pledged to defeat the Axis Powers and subscribed to the principles of the Atlantic Charter (August 14, 1941) during World War II (1939–1945). These principles included “the establishment of a wider and permanent system of general security.”
From August to October 1944, delegates from the United States, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, and the Republic of China met at the Dumbarton Oaks estate in Washington, D.C., to negotiate the formation of a new organization to replace the League of Nations. Most of the outstanding issues were settled at the Yalta Conference (February 4–11, 1945) among the leaders of the “Big Three” nations: U.S. president Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882–1945), British prime minister Winston Churchill (1874–1965), and Soviet general secretary Joseph Stalin (1879–1953). Shortly thereafter, delegates of fifty nations met in San Francisco to finalize the negotiations, culminating in the signing of the UN Charter on June 26, 1945. On August 8, 1945, the United States became the first country to ratify the Charter. The United Nations Organization came into being on October 24 (celebrated since 1948 as United Nations Day) when the majority of original signers, including the great powers (the four Dumbarton Oaks conveners and France), had ratified the Charter.
Although the UN Charter opens with the famous phrase “We the peoples of the United Nations,” the United Nations is primarily an organization of sovereign states. Membership is open to all “peace-loving states” (Article 4), but disputes over the admission of new members fell victim after World War II to the cold war conflict. In 1955 the United States and the Soviet Union reached a compromise that allowed for the admission of sixteen new members. Still, controversy persisted over the membership status of the partitioned states of Germany, Korea, Vietnam, and China. Both German states were admitted in 1973 and both Korean states in 1991. Vietnam entered as a single state in 1977. Nationalist China (Taiwan) represented China until November 1971, when the United States ended its objection to the membership of the People’s Republic of China. In 2006 the United Nations had 191 member states.
The UN Charter also established the six “principal organs” of the United Nations: the General Assembly, the Security Council, the Economic and Social Council, the Trusteeship Council, the International Court of Justice, and the Secretariat. The General Assembly is the United Nations’ plenary body. Aside from occasional special sessions, it meets in annual sessions that usually start in September and last for three months. The General Assembly oversees subsidiary bodies, calls international conferences, approves the budget, and adopts nonbinding resolutions on a wide variety of issues. General Assembly decisions are taken by majority vote based on a one-state–one-vote principle. Since 1987, after lobbying by the United States, critical votes on the budget are taken by unanimity rule (instead of the historical two-thirds majority) in an effort to curtail large annual budget increases. Budget assessments are made on a capacity-to-pay basis. As of 2005, the United States was responsible for 24 percent of the UN budget, followed by Japan (19 percent) and Germany (8 percent). Countries do not always meet their budget obligations in a timely manner: In September 2005 member states owed the United Nations $3 billion in outstanding peacekeeping and regular budget payments ($1.2 billion from the United States alone).
The Security Council has primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security. Under chapter VII of the UN Charter, the Security Council can adopt coercive measures, including economic sanctions and the use of force, which are binding on individual member states. The Security Council has five permanent members (China, France, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom, and the United States) and ten nonpermanent members that are elected for two-year, nonrenewable terms by the General Assembly. (Until 1965, the Security Council only had six nonpermanent members.) Security Council resolutions require an affirmative vote of nine members, including the five permanent members. By 2005 the permanent members had exercised their veto right 244 times, but on only twenty occasions since 1990. The veto threat is, however, still a powerful tool to block unwanted resolutions.
The Economic and Social Council coordinates and supervises the work of numerous commissions and expert bodies on economic and social matters, including human rights. Members are elected for three-year terms by the General Assembly. The Economic and Social Council’s membership has gradually expanded from eighteen to fifty-four. The Economic and Social Council has limited powers other than its ability to submit recommendations to the General Assembly (by majority vote). Formally, the Economic and Social Council coordinates the activities of various specialized agencies, including the World Bank Group and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Developing countries have long, and unsuccessfully, pushed for a greater role for the Economic and Social Council vis-à-vis these organizations. Other specialized UN agencies, each with its own budget, membership, and charter, include the International Labor Organization (ILO), the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), and the World Health Organization (WHO).
The Trusteeship Council was set up to monitor UN trust territories that were not designated as strategic by their administrating powers (strategic trust areas were the Security Council’s responsibility). The Trusteeship Council ceased its operations on November 1, 1994, when the last remaining trust territory (Palau) became independent.
The International Court of Justice, located in The Hague, Netherlands, issues advisory opinions on legal questions brought to it by other UN organs and settles legal disputes submitted to it by member states. Its fifteen judges are elected for nine-year terms by the General Assembly and Security Council. By 2005 the International Court of Justice had delivered twenty-five advisory opinions and eighty-seven judgments on contentious cases, primarily on border and maritime disputes. The binding nature of International Court of Justice opinions depends on whether state parties have previously agreed to its compulsory jurisdiction.
The Secretariat is the United Nations’ bureaucracy. In 2005 it employed around nine thousand international civil servants who answer to the United Nations alone for their activities. While most civil servants are stationed at the UN headquarters in New York, the United Nations also maintains staffed offices elsewhere. The Secretariat is headed by the secretary-general, a prestigious post that has been occupied by Trygve Lie (Norway, 1946–1952), Dag Hammarskjöld (Sweden, 1953–1961), U Thant (Burma [Myanmar], 1961–1971), Kurt Waldheim (Austria, 1972–1981), Javier Pérez de Cuéllar (Peru, 1982–1991), Boutros Boutros-Ghali (Egypt, 1992–1996), Kofi Annan (Ghana, 1997–2006), and Ban Ki-moon (South Korea) who was sworn in on December 14, 2006, and began serving on January 1, 2007. Critics have charged that the demands of being the world’s primary diplomat sometimes undermine the secretary-general’s ability to also be an effective manager of a large bureaucracy.
When states sign the UN Charter, they agree not to use or threaten force “against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations” (Article 2). There are two circumstances under which force is consistent with the United Nations’ purposes: when it is exercised in self-defense (Article 51) and when the Security Council approves a collective action under chapter VII. The first important authorization of a collective action occurred in 1950 (July 7), when the Security Council authorized the United States to install a central command under the UN flag to restore peace and security following the armed attack by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) against the Republic of Korea (South Korea).
UN action in Korea was possible only because the Soviet Union had temporarily vacated its Security Council seat in protest against nationalist China’s representation. After the Soviet delegate returned, the General Assembly adopted the “Uniting for Peace” resolution, which allowed the General Assembly to circumvent a deadlocked Security Council through special emergency sessions. This procedure has been invoked ten times, most notably in 1956 to order the French and British to end their military intervention in the Suez Canal and to create the UN Emergency Force (UNEF I) to provide a buffer between Egyptian and Israeli forces.
UNEF I was the first large-scale example of peacekeeping, an activity not mentioned in the Charter. During the cold war, peacekeeping missions were generally limited to providing a buffer between warring parties at the invitation of those parties, prime examples being the longstanding UN forces in Cyprus and Lebanon. An exception was the more ambitious 20,000-person force employed in the Congo between 1960 and 1964. This operation failed to achieve its main objectives, led to a protracted conflict about peacekeeping financing, and cost respected Secretary-General Hammarskjöld his life when his plane crashed in the Congo on September 18, 1961.
UN activity in international security was reinvigorated with the end of the cold war. In 1988 and 1989, for the first time in a decade, the Security Council authorized new peacekeeping missions that were sent to cold war hotspots such as Afghanistan, Angola, Namibia, and Nicaragua. A transformation in UN collective security occurred with the adoption of Security Council Resolution 678 on November 29, 1990, which authorized the use of “all necessary means” if Iraq would not vacate Kuwait by January 15, 1991. The resolution conferred legitimacy on the use of force against Iraq by a U.S.-led coalition. Since then, the Security Council has granted similar authorizations to (groups of) states in eleven cases, including East Timor (with Australia as the leading state) and Haiti (with the United States as leader).
A second significant shift occurred in 1992, when the Security Council authorized the deployment of large peacekeeping forces to end civil wars in Cambodia and Yugoslavia. This was merely the prelude to increased UN involvement in domestic conflicts across the globe. Between 1991 and 2005, the Security Council authorized forty-eight peacekeeping and other multinational uses of force, almost all concerning civil conflicts rather than interstate wars. These efforts were not without risk: more than two thousand UN peacekeepers have lost their lives, most since 1991. The United Nations has also become actively involved in postwar reconstruction and has even run transitional administrations, most notably in East Timor and Kosovo. Moreover, it has created international tribunals to try war crimes in Rwanda, Sierra Leone, and the former Yugoslavia.
Despite its active record since the cold war’s end, the United Nations’ contribution to the preservation of peace and security has come under serious scrutiny. First, the United Nations has been unable to prevent genocides in Rwanda (1994) and the Sudan (2005). Second, the Security Council has been deadlocked on important cases and has not been able to prevent states or coalitions of states from going it alone in the absence of UN authorization, as illustrated by the intervention of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in Kosovo in 1999 and the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. Third, weak and understaffed UN missions have occasionally done more harm than good, as illustrated by the United Nations’ failure to maintain the promised safe haven of Srebrenica (1995). Fourth, UN-imposed sanctions on Iraq caused much suffering among the Iraqi population while failing to resolve the conflict. Moreover, the UN “Oil for Food” office allowed massive fraud to occur in the administration of the sanctions.
Some critics justifiably lament UN bureaucratic and peacekeeping practices, as acknowledged by the United Nations’ remarkable Brahimi Report (2000). Yet, the United Nations ultimately remains an organization of states. The United Nations can be a useful vehicle for cooperation on those issues where states are committed, but it has few means beyond persuasion to compel states to make committed efforts. In all, most analysts believe that the United Nations has had a modest but significant positive impact, especially on the resolution of civil wars.
The United Nations has played an active role on a large range of other issues. The United Nations was an important arena for the transformation of former colonies into sovereign states. To many new states, UN membership served as the affirmation of their sovereignty. Moreover, General Assembly Resolution 1514 (December 14, 1960) became the most influential political declaration of the existence of a right to self-determination and the illegitimacy of colonial rule.
The 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights provides the foundation for the treatment of human rights in the United Nations. The United Nations administers other global human-rights instruments, such as the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (1987), and organizes global conferences, such as the Beijing Women’s Conference (1995), that set the normative debate on human rights. It has, however, few enforcement mechanisms other than public shaming through the Human Rights Commission, which critics charge is political and selective.
The United Nations has also provided a forum for arms control negotiations and administers important disarmament treaties. An independent agency, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), monitors observance of nuclear treaties and can refer violators to the Security Council, which can then decide on coercive measures.
The United Nations also plays an important role in economic development and humanitarian relief, primarily through special programs and funds, such as the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the UN Development program (UNDP), and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). UNHCR provides a crucial coordinating role in providing relief to the world’s refugees (around twenty million in 2005). UNDP is most active in the development and monitoring of the UN Millennium Development goals: an ambitious set of development targets to be achieved by 2015.
The most difficult issue for the United Nations continues to be the Middle East. The United Nations was instrumental in creating the state of Israel and in resolving the 1956 Suez crisis. Yet, its ability to play a constructive role has been compromised by increased politicization. Israel and its defenders charge that the United Nations regularly adopts inflammatory resolutions that unfairly target Israel. For example, between 1975 and 1991, the General Assembly annually adopted a resolution that equated Zionism with racism, a charge that resurfaced at the World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia, and Related Intolerance, held in Durban, South Africa, in 2001. Defenders of Palestine contend that Israel has repeatedly ignored General Assembly and Security Council resolutions, as well as International Court of Justice rulings.
Reform is also perennially on the United Nations’ agenda. Reform attempts generally involve the creation of a blue-ribbon committee, including the High-Level Panel on Threats, Challenges, and Change, established in 2003. The recommendations of these committees rarely lead to fundamental changes. Instead, the United Nations regularly reinvents itself in response to major events and the ensuing new demands on the organization.
SEE ALSO League of Nations; Multilateralism; Peace; Peace Process; World War II
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"United Nations." International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. 2008. Encyclopedia.com. (June 29, 2016). http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3045302849.html
"United Nations." International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. 2008. Retrieved June 29, 2016 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3045302849.html
As of 2003, The United Nations (UN) is an organization of 191 states that strives to attain international peace and security, promotes fundamental human rights and equal rights for men and women, and encourages social progress. The successor to the league of nations, the United Nations stems from the 1941 Inter-Allied Declaration signed by representatives of 14 countries (not including the United States) and the Atlantic Charter signed by President franklin d. roosevelt and Prime Minister Winston Churchill of the United Kingdom. In 1942, 26 countries met in Washington, D.C., and signed the Declaration by United Nations in a cooperative effort to triumph over German dictator adolf hitler during world war ii. In addition, wartime conferences in Moscow, Tehran, Yalta, and Washington, D.C. (at the Dumbarton Oaks estate in Georgetown), laid the foundation of the future organization. On June 25, 1945, delegates from 50 nations met in San Francisco and unanimously adopted the Charter of the United Nations. By October 24, 1945, China, France, the United States, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, and a majority of the charter's other signatories had ratified it, and the United Nations was officially established. Shortly thereafter the U.S. Congress unanimously invited the United Nations to set up headquarters in the United States, and the organization chose New York City as its permanent home.
The United Nations is open to all "peaceloving" states, a requirement construed liberally over the years. The United Nations consists of six major organs: the General Assembly, the Security Council, the Economic and Social Council, the Secretariat, the international court of justice (World Court), and the Trusteeship Council. The Trusteeship Council, which was established to encourage governments to prepare trust territories for self-government or independence, has largely completed its original task of supervising 11 non-self-governing territories. In 1994 the Security Council terminated the Trusteeship Agreement of Belau, a trust territory in the western Pacific that had been administered by the United States. As all other trust territories had previously obtained independence or self-government, the Trustee-ship Council amended its rules and as of 2003 meets only as situations requiring action arise.
The main deliberative body of the United Nations, the General Assembly, somewhat resembles a parliament; each nation has one vote. The General Assembly has no power to compel any action by a member state, however. It only has the right to discuss and make recommendations on matters within the scope of the UN Charter. Headed by a president elected at each session, the assembly ordinarily meets from mid-September to mid-December; other sessions are held as necessary. Ordinary matters require only a majority vote, but important matters, such as recommendations on peace and security, election of members to the Security Council or the Economic and Social Council, or admission of member states, require a two-thirds majority. The assembly also approves the UN budget (including peacekeeping operations), sets policies, determines programs for the UN Secretariat, and, in conjunction with the Security Council's recommendation, appoints the UN secretary-general, the chief administrative officer of the United Nations.
The Security Council has the primary responsibility for maintaining peace and security. Five permanent members—the United States, China, France, the Russian Federation (replacing the Soviet Union), and the United Kingdom—join ten other members elected by the General Assembly for two-year terms. A representative of each member of the Security Council must always be present at UN headquarters so that the council can convene any time peace is threatened. Unlike the other UN organs, member states are obligated under the charter to carry out economic and diplomatic decisions by the council. All decisions require nine votes, but on all questions except procedural matters, the permanent members must vote unanimously or abstain. This veto power has been exercised many times and can seriously
undermine the Security Council's ability to take bold steps in tenuous situations.
The Security Council usually seeks peaceful means such as mediation or settlement when international peace is threatened. Peacekeepers may be sent to prevent the outbreak of a conflict, or the council may issue a cease-fire directive once fighting has begun. The Security Council may impose economic sanctions and order collective military action.
The United Nations was involved in 56 peacekeeping operations between 1948 and 2003; military personnel are drawn from member states; more than 750,000 persons have served. Almost 1,800 peacekeepers have lost their lives. In 2003, 14 UN operations deployed approximately 37,000 personnel, including troops, civilian police, and military observers, from 89 countries.
The reality of UN peacekeeping efforts often falls short of the organization's ideals. For example, in the early 1990s UN troops attempted to restore order and provide humanitarian relief during the civil war in Somalia. Warring Somali factions greatly impeded the troops' efforts, however, and in 1995 the UN forces withdrew without succeeding in their mission. In addition, UN members sometimes pledge support for a mission but fail to deliver tangible evidence of that support. In 1994 the secretary-general determined that 35,000 troops would be needed to deter attacks on so-called safe areas in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Member states authorized fewer than 8,000 troops and took a year to provide them. Nevertheless, the United Nations has had some successes: its operations in Kashmir, Cyprus, Lebanon, Suez, Cambodia, and Mozambique have been highly praised. The UN established six new missions in 1998–2000 in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Central African Republic, East Timor, Kosovo, Sierra Leone, and Ethiopia-Eritrea to deal with conflicts and crisis. The United Nations also monitored or observed elections in El Salvador, Nicaragua, Haiti, and South Africa.
The Economic and Social Council, which has 54 members, coordinates the economic and social work of the United Nations and its specialized agencies and institutions. Among other tasks, the council recommends and directs activities to promote economic growth in developing countries, promotes the observance of human rights, and attempts to foster cooperation in creating housing, controlling population growth, and preventing crime.
Fourteen specialized agencies are separate, autonomous organizations connected to the United Nations by specific agreements, mainly through the Economic and Social Council. Specialized agencies include the World Health Organization (WHO), the world bank, the international monetary fund (IMF), and the U.N. Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
UNICEF, the United Nations Children's Fund (originally the United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund), is a semi-autonomous organization reporting to the General Assembly and the Economic and Social Council. UNICEF has programs in 144 countries that address children's needs, including immunization, nutrition, primary health care, and education. A joint UNICEF-WHO program claims to have immunized 80 percent of the world's children against polio, tetanus, measles, whooping cough, diphtheria, and tuberculosis.
The United Nations also provides humanitarian aid for countries stricken by war, natural disaster, or famine through UNICEF, the World Food Programme, and other UN programs. In addition, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, part of the Secretariat, helps assist and protect many millions displaced by strife.
With a staff numbering in the thousands, the Secretariat carries out the United Nations dayto-day functions in New York and throughout the world. Headed by the secretary-general, the Secretariat's staff represents nearly every member country. The Security Council recommends a candidate for secretary-general to the General Assembly, which appoints the secretary-general for a five-year term. In addition to administrative duties, the secretary-general plays an active role in worldwide peacemaking through diplomacy, by employing mediators, or by sending representatives to negotiate settlements or otherwise assist in resolving conflicts.
The International Court of Justice, also known as the World Court, is the judicial branch of the United Nations and meets in The Hague, Netherlands. The General Assembly and the Security Council elect its 15 judges for nine-year terms. Jurisdiction applies only to countries, not individuals. Unless required by a treaty, a country is not obligated to submit to the court's jurisdiction. However, a country agreeing to have a matter determined by the World Court is obligated to comply with the court's decision.
Competing needs, shifting alliances, problems of managing a huge worldwide bureaucracy, and the inevitable politics of the organization make it difficult for the United Nations to attain the goals set forth in its charter. Financial difficulties present further challenges. The United Nations is funded by dues from member states and is prohibited from borrowing from financial institutions. By the late 1990s the United States was responsible for a substantial part of the debt by failing to pay its dues. However, after the september 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, President george w. bush moved quickly to pay off the debt. By December 2001 the UN had received $1.67 billion from the United States, which amounted to payment of two-thirds of the debt. These payments, coupled with the payment of almost $5 billion of annual dues by members placed the UN in better financial shape that it had been in many years. It established a $150 million reserve fund for peacekeeping missions because of its improved financial condition.
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The UN Charter set up a military staff committee—consisting of the chiefs of staff or their representatives from the five permanent members—to take over the strategic direction of any military operation of the Security Council. Although this committee has met regularly for more than a half century, it has never directed any UN military operation. During the Cold War, the United States and the Soviet Union could never agree sufficiently on military issues to share a joint command. Even after the Cold War, this kind of cooperation proved impractical. Yet, despite an inert military staff committee, the United Nations has been heavily involved in military action.
In one instance, the North Korean invasion of South Korea in June 1950, the Security Council did act like a team of Roosevelt‐inspired policemen. The Council condemned North Korean aggression, called on the world to aid South Korea, and authorized a UN command under U.S. Gen. Douglas A. MacArthur. But the United Nations managed to do all this only because the Soviet Union was boycotting sessions of the Security Council to protest the denial of a Council seat to Communist China. Although fifteen other countries dispatched troops or air support to Korea under a UN flag, the Americans commanded and dominated the UN force and fought the three‐year Korean War as if it were their own.
Aside from the accident of the Soviet boycott during the initial Korean crisis, the United Nations had no significant role in dealing with the Cold War. During the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, for example, the United Nations served as no more than a theater as U.S. ambassador Adlai Stevenson displayed photographic evidence of the Soviet Union installing missiles and launchers in Cuba. And Secretary General U Thant earned only contempt from President Lyndon B. Johnson during the late 1960s for trying to mediate an end to the Vietnam War.
The United Nations dealt instead with crises on the periphery of the Cold War. A major innovation in UN work arose from the Suez Canal crisis of 1956. Looking for a way to ease the British, French, and Israeli troops out of Egypt after their ill‐fated intervention, Dag Hammarskjold, the urbane Swedish bureaucrat who headed the United Nations as secretary general, persuaded all sides to accept UN troops in their place. That had never been done before. In a remarkable feat of management and energy, Hammarskjold and his chief aide, the African American Nobel Peace Prize laureate Ralph Bunche, put together in one week the United Nations' first peacekeeping force—6,000 troops from 9 countries. The United States offered surplus helmets, which were quickly painted blue and passed to the troops, the first “Blue Helmets,” as UN peacekeepers would come to be known.
In 1960, the United Nations dispatched Blue Helmets to the former Belgian Congo (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo) to restore law and order out of bloody chaos and replace the Belgian troops, who no longer had any place in an independent African country. Hammarskjold, who would die in a plane crash while on a Congo mission, interpreted Security Council resolutions as broadly as possible and directed his troops to put down the secession of Katanga. The suppression was so controversial and bloody, however, that UN peacekeepers would not engage in military offensives for another thirty years. Quiet patrolling of cease‐fire lines in trouble spots like Cyprus (between Greek and Turkish Cypriots), the Sinai (between Egyptians and Israelis), and the Golan Heights (between Syrians and Israelis) would become the hallmark of UN peacekeepers, earning them the Nobel Peace Prize in 1988.
The character of UN peacekeeping was transformed by the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the end of the Cold War. Euphoria over the Persian Gulf War of 1991 contributed to the change. Although this war was not officially declared a UN war as the Korean War had been, the Security Council played a key role with resolutions authorizing the United States and its Coalition partners to drive Iraq out of Kuwait. The war persuaded UN diplomats and bureaucrats that the Security Council, as long as the United States and Russia agreed, could now literally attempt anything. Some analysts felt that Franklin Roosevelt's dream would be realized at last.
The United Nations found itself dealing with a host of crises in different ways: monitoring human rights violations, supervising elections, creating democratic institutions, feeding the hungry, as well as policing the peace in such flashpoints as El Salvador, Cambodia, Angola, Haiti, and Rwanda. But its new confidence was swiftly shattered by ill‐fated missions to Somalia and Bosnia.
When eighteen U.S. Army Rangers died in Mogadishu in October 1993 during their abortive manhunt for a Somali warlord, President Bill Clinton decided to withdraw all U.S. troops, crippling the mission. Although the fallen rangers had operated outside UN command, aides of Clinton unjustly put the blame on Secretary General Boutros Boutros‐Ghali, despoiling the image of the United Nations in American eyes. That image worsened in the Bosnian crisis (1992–95). The United Nations proved incapable of halting Serb aggression and protecting Muslim civilian populations from massacre in towns that had been designated “safe areas” by the Security Council. This impotence stemmed from the failure of the United States and its European allies to agree on a strategy for dealing with Serb aggression. UN peacekeepers found themselves patrolling Bosnia under the authority of scores of contradictory toothless resolutions from the Security Council. When the United States brokered a peace agreement at Dayton, Ohio, in 1995, NATO troops supplanted the UN peacekeepers and enforced the agreement.
The animosity toward the United Nations so intensified in the United States that Congress refused to pay all the assessments that Washington owed, precipitating a financial crisis. UN diplomats and officials commemorated the fiftieth anniversary in October 1995 in a depressed mood, convinced that the United Nations no longer would have the funds or public support to mount many peacekeeping missions.
[See also Berlin Crises; Internationalism; Somalia, U.S. Military Involvement in.]
Brian Urquhart , Hammarskjold, 1972.
John Bartlow Martin , Adlai Stevenson and the World, 1977.
Robert J. Donovan , Tumultuous Years: The Presidency of Harry S Truman, 1982.
Brian Urquhart , A Life in Peace and War, 1991.
Brian Urquhart , Ralph Bunche: An American Life, 1993.
Stanley Meisler , United Nations: The First Fifty Years, 1995.
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John Whiteclay Chambers II. "United Nations." The Oxford Companion to American Military History. 2000. Retrieved June 29, 2016 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1O126-UnitedNations.html
The United Nations, successor to the League of Nations, was conceived and created by the allies during World War II. In 1944 the USSR and the United States, with other major nations, met at Dumbarton Oaks in Washington, D.C., to plan a postwar organization that would provide a forum for the settlement of disputes. Stalin, Roosevelt, and Churchill solidified plans for the United Nations at Yalta (1945), compromising on substantive issues regarding voting procedures, territorial trusteeships, and the admission of various countries. In April 1945 the allies met in San Francisco and wrote the charter of the new organization, and the United Nations officially came into existence on October 24, 1945, following the charter's ratification by the major powers. All member nations received one vote in the General Assembly, but the five major powers enjoyed the right of veto in the Security Council.
Disputes in the United Nations between the Soviet Union and the United States paralleled the growing bitterness of the Cold War. In 1946 the Soviet Union and the United States clashed over the issues of Soviet troops in Iran and the control of atomic weapons. In both cases American victories led to increasing Soviet disaffection from the international body. The United States scored another success in 1950, when a boycott of the Security Council by Soviet ambassador Yakov Malik over the seating of China allowed the United States to win United Nations support for military assistance for South Korea.
The United Nations remained largely impotent in the face of a determined superpower. When Soviet troops moved to crush the Hungarian uprising in 1956, appeals for assistance from the freedom fighters to the United Nations were ignored. Nevertheless the USSR and the United States agreed that same year to allow United Nations monitors into the Middle East to help end the Suez Crisis. In the fall of 1960 Khrushchev attended the opening session of the General Assembly and delivered a speech attacking the Western powers. During a reply to the Soviet leader, members of his delegation hit their fists on the desk in protest; Khrushchev proceeded to bang the table with his shoe, creating one of the more memorable images of the Cold War. In October 1962, when the USSR denied that it had placed offensive missiles in Cuba, the United States presented photographic evidence of the missile sites at the United Nations and convinced world opinion of its position.
The Soviet view of the United Nations slowly changed over the next two decades, as the emergence of new nations in Africa and Asia shifted the balance of power in the General Assembly away from the United States. After seeing the United Nations as an unfriendly body for its first twenty years of existence, and thereby exercising its right to veto many United Nations resolutions, the Soviet Union began to perceive the General Assembly as a more sympathetic body. Both the USSR and the United States continued to use the United Nations as a forum for influencing other nations. Fierce arguments continued over the Middle East, surrogate wars in Africa, Korean Airline 007, and other issues.
During the Gorbachev era the USSR sought better relations with the West and became more cooperative at the United Nations. The first major test of this new policy occurred when Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990, and Gorbachev brought Soviet policy into line with that of the Western powers. Since that time, Russia has attempted to maintain cordial relations with the United Nations.
See also: cold war; league of nations; united states, relations with
United States. (1945). United States Statutes at Large (79th Congress, 1st Session, 1945), 59(2):1033–1064, 1125–1156.
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Harold J. Goldberg
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The institutions of the UN bore some similarity to those of the league, though the General Assembly was empowered to act on majority votes, rather than the principle of unanimity. But the five main powers, UK, USA, USSR, France, and China, gave themselves a power of veto in the Security Council, which Britain retains, though her right to do so has been questioned.
The effectiveness of the UN in maintaining global security has rested to a large extent on the superpowers being in agreement. UN peacekeeping activities proliferated at times of relaxation during the Cold War, and after 1989, but were rarer when the two main powers were trading vetoes with each other in the 1950s or the 1980s. The UN was able to intervene in the Korean War because the USSR at the time was boycotting the Security Council.
In the League of Nations, the absence of the USA and Russia allowed Britain and France to play leading roles, which have not been repeated in the UN. Britain's reliance on her understanding with the USA has limited her scope for independent initiatives. In addition, the ‘clubby’ traditional style of British diplomacy has fitted uneasily at times into the rhetorical style which became common in both the General Assembly and the Security Council at the height of the Cold War.
The United Nations has occasionally proved useful to Britain—for example, in relieving her of her burdensome commitments in Palestine in 1947. Although the General Assembly condemned Britain's action over Suez in 1956, the dispatch of peacekeepers to the canal enabled Britain to extricate herself with some dignity. British soldiers have also played a part in UN peacekeeping activities, notably in Cyprus and in Bosnia. But strong disagreements over policy towards Iraq in 2003 weakened UN authority.
Christopher N. Lanigan
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U·nit·ed Na·tions (abbr.: UN) an international organization of countries set up in 1945, in succession to the League of Nations, to promote international peace, security, and cooperation.
"United Nations." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. 2009. Encyclopedia.com. (June 29, 2016). http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1O999-unitednations.html
"United Nations." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. 2009. Retrieved June 29, 2016 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1O999-unitednations.html
At the end of World War I (1914–1918), President Woodrow Wilson (1913–1921) advocated the League of Nations to the American public. An international organization devised to foster international cooperation and the peaceful resolution of conflict, the League of Nations was a centrally weak but well-meaning organization. Its successor, the United Nations (UN), is substantially stronger. Created in 1945 after World War II (1939–1945), the UN began with 50 members. Among them were the United States, the Soviet Union, Great Britain, France, and China.
With a purpose to promote international harmony, peace, and cooperation between the world's nations, the United Nations is involved in many issues, including economic, social, cultural, health, and human rights matters. Its actions are divided between six main bodies: the General Assembly, a deliberative group to which all UN members belong; the Security Council, which attempts to maintain peace through economic sanctions or military action; the International Court of Justice, established to issue advice and settle disputes within its jurisdiction; the Economic and Social Council, to advise on economic and social issues; the Trusteeship Council, which administers non-self-governing territories; and the Secretariat.
The Secretariat is the UN's main administrative body and is headed by a secretary-general. It settles disputes, carries out peace-keeping activities, gathers information regarding political and economic trends, and oversees the activities of the organization's specialized agencies. The Secretariat is in charge of directing all bodies of the UN in fulfilling its goals.
There are many agencies within the organization that carry out specific tasks. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) is among them. It stabilizes the exchange rates between countries and may also play a role in lending money to nations. The World Bank lends funds for infrastructure projects. To deal with health problems on both an international and a local scale, the UN operates the World Health Organization. To specifically administer to the health and welfare of children worldwide, the UN directs projects through the United Nations' Children's Fund (UNICEF), one of its most well-known agencies.
While UNICEF may be the organization's most popular agency, the Security Council is one of the UN's most controversial. Through the Security Council, the UN deploys peacekeeping forces and administers economic sanctions. Since it was created in 1945, the UN has sent peacekeeping forces to India and Pakistan (1948, 1965), Korea (1950), Cyprus (1964), Israel and Syria (1974), Lebanon (1978), Angola (1988), Iraq and Kuwait (1991), Western Sahara (1991), and the former Yugoslavia (1993). Not all of these ventures were successful in keeping the peace. Support for actions like these is not always unanimous within the organization.
The United Nations is funded by member fees, which are based on per capita income, national income, and ability to meet obligations. Fifty years after its founding in 1945, the United Nations has grown to be a larger organization (184 members as of 1994), stronger than its predecessor, the League of Nations, and a prominent participant in world affairs.
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