The United Nations is a global institution that was formed just after World War II. When it was founded the chief aim was to prevent War and ensure Peace but since then Economic progress, the Environment, international security, International law and justice, Human security, Human rights, Public health and others were added to its aims. These challenges don’t respect international boundaries and the United Nations hopes to cooperate with other international organisations from the public and private sectors for the common good.
"Every day we are reminded of the need for a strengthened United Nations, as we face a growing array of new challenges, including humanitarian crises, human rights violations, armed conflicts and important health and environmental concerns. Seldom has the United Nations been called upon to do so much for so many. I am determined to breathe new life and inject renewed confidence into a strengthened United Nations firmly anchored in the twenty-first century, and which is effective, efficient, coherent and accountable."  Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon
After WW1 the League of Nations was set up to try and prevent the world accidentally blundering into silly and pointless wars again. The League came off to a poor start as the USA decided not to join, and pretty much collapsed in the 1930s when the Axis powers were gearing up for world war II, a war that was far from an accident and as a result was neither silly nor pointless. During the war the Allies decided to replace the League with something with a bit more teeth.
The first meeting of the General Council of the United Nations was on January 10th 1946 in London. That was less than six months after the end of the war with Japan. People hoped the United Nations would prevent future wars. Have the United Nations succeeded? Perhaps it has part of the time.
The General Assembly of the United Nations decides policy. Frequently that means the delegates argue, don’t convince each other and pass resolutions. Nations that disagree with a resolution against them ignore the United Nations resolution and their opponents blame them for ignoring it.
Most key decisions of the United Nations are made by the Security Council, a subcommittee with five permanent members plus a number of members chosen by the rest of the UN.
The five permanent members are the main victors of World War II, the USA, France the UK, Russia and China. As well as a permanent seat at the Security Council the permanent members each have a veto power on decisions. So the USA can protect Israel, China can protect North Korea and for much of the Cold war at least, not a lot could be done by the UN.
USA v UN
American Conservatives are notorious for their disdain for the UN. It was notable during the run up to the Iraq war that Tony Blair needed some sort of argument that the war had a UN mandate, whilst Dubya simply didn't care. This is a natural result of realpolitik in a World with only one Superpower, that superpower inevitably would rather run the world as it wishes rather than have to discuss things collectively with the rest of the world. If China succeeds in its bid to resume after a gap of several centuries, its normal role as the worlds most powerful nation, then in a generation or so, we can anticipate tension between China and the UN, with American Conservatives criticising China for "showing disrespect to the United Nations, its Secretary General and the institutions upon which Global diplomacy are founded." Senator George Palin Bush jnr (Rep Washington DC) United Nations day 2063
In Popular Culture
- Welcome to the United Nations
- Reform at the United Nations
- First UN General Assembly opens This site has a replay of the historic broadcast.
- United Nations
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