In the backdrop of a recovering world after the first World War, the Paris Peace Conference created the League of Nations – which helped clarify territories in many cases, and helped with international designation for mail or some import/export control. However, notable absent for this League were colonial British territories (representing half of the world’s population then), U.S., U.S.S.R., Japan, and Germany. When World War II began, with aggression from Germany and Japan, it became clear that the League of Nations was inadequate in inclusion of key member countries.
In 1941, U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and Harry Hopkins drafted the “Declaration by United Nations”; Soviet input was also taken. With China, these countries were referred to as the “Four Policemen”; thereafter, the Allied countries were called the United Nations.
The agreement by 1945 of the U.N. was signed by 26 governments – U.S., U.K., U.S.S.R., China, Australia, Belgium, Canada, Costa Rica, Cuba, Czechoslovakia, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Greece, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, India, Luxembourg, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Norway, Panama, Poland, South Africa, and Yugoslavia. The chief purpose was to dedicate resources for the war against the Axis (or Tripartite Pact as spelled out by the agreement). The U.N. became the official term for the Allies.
On October 24, 1945, the U.N. came into being, with five permanent members of the Security Council – France, China, U.S.S.R., U.K., and U.S. (and it was ratified by a majority of the other 46 signatories). The first meeting of the General Assembly then occurred in London on January 6, 2946, with 51 nations represented; it was here that the U.N. chose headquarters to be in New York, with the facility there completed in 1952 (designated as “international territory” – with the Norwegian foreign minister Trygve Lie elected as first UN Secretary-General.
Key issues dealth with by the U.N. included the Cold War distancing U.S. and U.S.S.R., the approval to split Palestine into Israel in 1947, bringing a peace-keeping force to the Suez Crisis, restoring the Democratic Republic of Congo in 1964,
Utilized mostly in post-Cold War times to resolve conflicts (such as in Somalia, Serbia, and Rwanda, as examples), some controversies included questionable results in such conflicts, as well as separately the mismanagement of funds for UNESCO causing U.S. President Reagan to withdraw U.S. funding for related ventures.
Present Structure of the U.N.
Five sections comprise the U.N.:
- General Assembly (decides upon new member admission, adopts budget, elects non-permanent members of UNSC, all members of ECOSOC, the UN Secretary General upon proposal by UNSC, and 15 judges of ICJ with each country having only one vote);
- Security Council (strives to maintain international peace, adopts compulsory resolutions as needed, with 5 permanent members with veto power and 10 elected members);
- Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC, for cooperation between states for economic and social matters, with 54 members elected by GA to serve staggered 3-year terms);
- Secretariat (supports UN bodies administratively, and its Chair the UN Secretary General is elected by GA for a 5-year mandate), and
- International Court of Justice (ICJ) – among these, the first four listed are in the New York U.N. headquarters, whereas the last is in The Hague. Official languages of the U.N. are English, Russian, French, Spanish, Chinese, and Arabic. Participants in the U.N. are given immunity and privileges independent of the country hosting the U.N.; also, the Noblemaire principle under which the U.N. operates allows for attracting citizens from high-salary countries, with equal pay for equal value independent of nationality.
Based upon this structure, the U.N. has taken on several key objectives: peacekeeping, human rights, economic development, humanitarian assistance, and others.
In terms of funding, the U.S. provided 22% of its 2013 budget, followed by Japan (11%), Germany (7%0, France, U.K., and China (each at 5%), with multiple countries contributing smaller amounts. A ceiling rate of 22% is imposed, so that one nation cannot give undue amount to suggest undue influence.
The United Nations’ Future
Now a key organization with around 200 members, the United Nations has the potential to exert significant force in areas of need in the world (as it has in many cases thus far). Specifically, looking forward, the U.N. has designated as its “millennium development goals” the following:
- eradicating extreme poverty and hunger;
- universal primary education;
- gender equality with women empowerment;
- child mortality reduction;
- maternal health improvement;
- disease combat (such as HIV/AIDS, malaria, etc.);
- environmental sustainability;
- global development partnership development.
While each of the above is difficult to disagree with, there are critiques of the U.N., who note the following:
- only 75 of 184 member states as of 2004 were democracies – hence the input of non-democratic countries was viewed as potentially hypocritical;
- opposition of the one-world government suggestion that U.N. is or will become;
- support of governments who may otherwise engage in negative activities such as forced sterilizations or forced abortions (with which many in U.N. as members may not agree);
- Unchecked nuclear power of the five “elite” permanent member nations (China, France, Russia, U.K., U.S.);
- Need to expand permanent members (i.e. why should only those countries who are permanent now forever remain permanent, and why cannot this be expanded?);
- Veto power of fiver permanent nations (and not others in the same manner);
- Democracy in the U.N. not necessarily to sensitive of the most needing members;
These issues will likely be concerns which continue, and in the meantime the U.N. continues to balance its significant missions with the criticisms noted from others, while striving against missteps and maintaining accountability. To those critical of the U.N., perhaps the proposition of reasonable alternatives and subsequent consideration of these in the context of a fair and balanced United Nations may provide the best solution. That will be understandably difficult, which is why the topic of the United Nations applies under the domain “Politics.”