This Week in History: The foundation of the United Nations 24 October 1945

On 24 October 1945 the United Nations was established, replacing the League of Nations as the central organisation aiming for international cooperation.  The League of Nations had declined following failures through the 1930s, and officially closed down after World War Two broke out. 

During the war international organisation grew as President Roosevelt, Prime Minister Churchill, Maxim Litvinov of the Soviet Union, and T.V. Soong of the Republic of China signed the Declaration of United Nations. The organisation was formally established in 1945 after the end of the war, with the aim of preventing future wars from breaking out. 

The UN Charter was adopted on 25 June 1945, after delegations from the United States, United Kingdom, USSR and the Republic of China negotiated and agreed upon the aims, structure, and function of the organisation. The central objectives were to maintain international peace and security, deliver humanitarian aid, promote sustainable development, and uphold international law. 

Their primary mandate was peacekeeping, to avoid conflicts and protect the international community. 

Early complications arose with the Cold War as divisions between the US and the Soviet Union often restricted the UN from intervening in related conflicts, therefore restricting their early effectiveness. The first UN peacekeeping force was established in November 1956 to end the Suez crisis; however, following this, the UN was unable to intervene against the USSR’s simultaneous invasion of Hungary. 

After the Cold War the UN increasingly moved towards intervention to protect peoples’ rights within a nation in cases of internal struggle and human rights violations alongside external. 

The organisation further began to focus on peace enforcement alongside peacekeeping, and increased their humanitarian interventions to achieve these aims. The UN also experienced a post-Cold War expansion in peacekeeping missions, as they authorized more missions in ten years than they had in the previous four decades. Many missions saw success, however they also experienced failures in these mediations.

The Somalia intervention, led by the US in 1992-93 as part of wider humanitarian and peacekeeping efforts in Somalia, resulted in a conflict in which 18 US soldiers and at least three hundred Somali fighters and civilians were killed. The UN originally intervened following conflict between warlords which led to destruction of agriculture and consequent famine. US troops were sent to protect the aid workers. Consequently, a battle between the US troops and Somali militia fighters followed from a Somali attack on Pakistani soldiers, and resulted in many civilians caught in the crossfire. 

A further UN disaster came as they failed to respond to Serbia’s ethnic cleansings of Bosnia throughout the Bosnian War, as they intimidated and killed Bosnian Muslims . 8,000 Muslim men and boys were killed in Srebrenica in 1995 despite the area being declared a UN safe haven, highlighting the failure of the UN’s mediating presence during the war. Other attempts at peacekeeping were successful, although the UN’s mediation strategy was ultimately limited.

Peacekeeping missions increasingly relied on unarmed military observers accompanied by lightly armed troops, primarily aiming to monitor and report on situations, and to build confidence within the nation to enable the development of stability. 

Failures in mediations, in the Cold War era and beyond, led the UN to shift its attention to the secondary goals of building economic development within nations and social exchange between nations. 

By the 1970s the UN economic and social development programme budgets had outgrown the budget on peacekeeping, providing an increased economic and social role particularly among newly independent post-colonial nations. Alongside the increased significance of these roles, the UN has moved towards a focus on peacebuilding as well as peacekeeping, to establish enduring peace in previously unstable nations.

The UN, its officers, and its agencies have won a number of Nobel Peace Prizes since it was established in 1945. There have been mixed reactions around its workings: some view the organisation as an important force for peace and human development, while others see it as ineffective, biased, and even corrupt. 

It has seen mixed results through its workings, and has evolved since its beginnings to adapt to the changing world. How well this has truly been achieved has yet to be seen.

 

Image: Flag of the United Nations via wikimedia 

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