The United Nations (UN)

In November 2012, Palestine was promoted to the status of “non-member observer state” the United Nations (UN). The request is addressed by the President of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, to the UN Secretary General, Ban-Ki-Moon.

On the other hand, the fall of 2011 was also marked by the intervention in Libya of the UN, voted by the UN Security Council, which led to the fall of a regime and the death of Colonel Gaddafi.

These major events of 2011 and 2012 demonstrate the essential and global importance of the United Nations.

This organization, born on June 25, 1945 on the west coast of the United States in San Francisco with the aim of establishing peace and security in the world, currently has more than 175 member states. Originally, the victors of the Second World War wanted to perpetuate the solidarity between the forces that had fought the Axis powers and to avoid possible conflicts throughout the world. Since then, the role of the UN has grown and the actions of its member countries have led to numerous successes.

But what are the elements that have allowed the UN, inherited from the failure of the League of Nations, to succeed in implementing such ambitious objectives?


The origins of the United Nations

A. The League of Nations and its failures

B. The construction of the UN during the Second World War

C. The ideological principles

The functioning of the United Nations

A. The General Assembly

B. The important institutions

The United Nations in the field

A. The failures

B. The successes

I. The origins of the United Nations.

A. The League of Nations and its failures

It was at the end of the First World War, following the failure of the international conferences of The Hague in 1899 and 1907, that the League of Nations was founded. The idea of a peaceful community of nations was initiated by the British Foreign Secretary Eward Grey and taken up by the President of the United States Woodrow Wilson. Introduced by the Treaty of Versailles in 1919, the project was completed on April 28, 1919, and the city of Geneva was chosen as the headquarters of the organization. The choice was made for neutrality purposes.

Forty-four states signed the charter at the beginning, but the United States, already the largest economic power at the time, never signed it. Later on, the number of countries increased to 60.

The objectives of the League were disarmament, the prevention of wars with the principle of collective security and the global improvement of the quality of life. To these objectives were added two fundamental goals:

—The maintenance of peace where the signatories of the charter could be sanctioned economically and militarily if they did not respect this principle.

—To promote international cooperation in the economic and social fields.

The outbreak of World War II called into question the usefulness of the League of Nations, which was unable to prevent the war from starting, and the League of Nations disappeared at the same time, marking its failure.

Nevertheless, the outbreak of the Second World War was not the only factor that caused the dissolution of the League.

First of all, the League did not have its own armed force, so it was not able to intervene uniformly and its interventions were limited to the goodwill of the great powers that made it up. Its great powers decided whether or not to apply the resolutions.

Then the League claimed to represent the totality of the nations but most of them only served their own interests but did not commit themselves to the League and its goals. Moreover, many never joined, or their participation was short-lived.

The Society was further weakened when some of the major powers left it in the 1930s, such as Japan, Italy and Germany, after Adolf Hitler came to power.

Achieving an effective conclusion or action was complicated because the League required a unanimous vote of the council to pass a resolution.

Finally, Italy’s declaration of war against the Ethiopian Empire on June 23, 1936, symbolized the failure of collective security (Italy and the Ethiopian Empire were both members of the League).

This failure could only be the only possible outcome because the countries of the League did not take any effective military sanctions during its years of operation and there was no joint action, which should have been the characteristic of the League.

From then on, the League stood idly by and watched the crises that multiplied until the outbreak of the Second World War, from the Spanish War to the German invasion of Poland. The last initiative of the League was to expel the USSR after its invasion of Finland on November 30, 1939.

In April 1945, the League officially disappeared and was replaced by the United Nations (UN). Nevertheless, an organization created by the League still exists: the Permanent Court of International Justice, today known as the International Court of Justice.

Although the main thing that is remembered about the League is its failure and inefficiency, it introduced the idea of a great world organization with an egalitarian character.

It was in San Francisco on April 25, 1945, one month before the surrender of the Third Reich and four months before the surrender of the Japanese Empire, that the United Nations Organization was conceived, the result of a meeting of 50 countries that drew up the charter of a brand new institution.

B. Construction of the United Nations during World War II

From February 4 to 11, 1945, a conference was held secretly in the Lividia Palace on the Black Sea coast near the seaside resort of Yalta. Winston Churchill, then Prime Minister of England, Franklin Roosevelt, President of the United States, and Joseph Stalin, head of the USSR government, met there. This conference symbolized the beginnings of the United Nations organization. The goals of this meeting were the following:

  • To adopt a common strategy to end the war.
  • To bring aid to Europe after the defeat of Adolf Hitler.
  • To keep the world stable after this war.

Then, during this conference, the three powers agreed to reorganize Europe in view of the end of the war; on the one hand, by establishing free elections in the liberated European states, some of which had been freed from the dictatorships that had caused their economic shortcomings, and by putting the will of the people first. On the other hand, by reorganizing Europe geographically: it was decided that Poland would gain territory in the west (in Germany) and that it would give territories to the USSR in exchange for German regions.

Finally, some modalities were established for the functioning of the UN as the right of veto of the permanent members of the security council, the conference of San Francisco which would take place in April 1945 was also planned during this conference (the UN was then only evoked because not having been created yet).

The San Francisco conference started on April 25, 1945, and ended on June 26, when representatives of 51 countries founded the United Nations. This conference was organized after the United States, England and the USSR (known at the time as the “Big Three”) disagreed on the voting system of the future UN assembly, as well as on obtaining the right of veto. They also did not decide which states would be able to join this organization. It was therefore agreed that the nations that had declared war on Germany before March 1, 1945, would be invited to the San Francisco conference and could thus become part of the UN.

From July 17 to August 2, two months after the German surrender and in the face of the predictable Japanese surrender, which had just suffered heavy territorial and military losses, the Potsdam Conference took place, a city west of Berlin. Joseph Stalin, Churchill and Truman, the new president of the United States, were present at this conference. The United States, which conducted the first nuclear test in the world, was in a strong position to negotiate.

The Potsdam Agreement was signed by the United States, the United Kingdom and the Soviet Union on July 26, 1945. At the end of this agreement, Germany was dismantled and the separation of Germany and Austria was demanded. Each of these two territories was divided into four occupation zones. The “4 D’s” (disarmament, decartelization of the large cartels merged under Nazi tutelage, denazification and democratization) were put in place.

Finally, on October 24, 1945, the United Nations Charter came into force, the official date of the creation of the UN.

C. Ideological principles

As with the League of Nations, the main objective was the preservation of peace and its basic principle was the sovereign equality of all members.

It has four objectives:

  1. To maintain peace and security in the world
  2. To develop friendly relations between nations
  3. To practice international cooperation and develop human rights
  4. To be a center where the efforts of nations are harmonized in common objectives

International cooperation is necessary to solve economic, social, intellectual and humanitarian problems. The raising of living standards, full employment, conditions of progress and development are among the objectives of the Organization.

The key word to achieve these objectives is the strengthening of solidarity between states.

Finally, the UN is dedicated to a large number of fundamental issues, such as sustainable development, environmental protection and refugees, disaster relief, the fight against terrorism, disarmament and non-proliferation, the expansion of democracy, gender equality, public health, demeaning and increasing food production.

Thus, by committing to these goals, the UN is coordinating the efforts of nations to create a safer world for present and future generations.

II. The functioning of the United Nations

A. The General Assembly

The General Assembly is the chief deliberative, policy-making and representative body of the United Nations. Composed of representatives of the 193 Member States of the Organization, it provides a unique multilateral forum for discussion of the full range of international issues addressed in the Charter. The Assembly holds an intensive regular session each year from September to December, which may be extended beyond that period if necessary.

The subsidiary bodies of the Federal Assembly are divided into several categories: working groups, commissions, committees, councils, and expert groups. After discussing agenda items, these bodies submit their draft resolutions and decisions for consideration at an Assembly meeting.

B. Important Institutions

– UN Secretariat

The role of the UN Secretariat is purely administrative, with tasks such as administering peacekeeping operations, monitoring economic and social trends and conducting studies on human rights and sustainable development.

It is also responsible for producing studies that are transmitted to the appropriate UN bodies, so as to bring to their attention issues that the Secretariat considers important. Communication with the media is also part of its responsibilities.

The staff of this organization is recruited internationally. The Secretary General of the United Nations is the highest-ranking official of the UN. Appointed by the General Assembly for a renewable 5-year term.

The secretary’s staff informs the international media about the activities of the UN, organizes international conferences on international issues, and provides information on the UN’s activities.

The UN has its headquarters in New York, but also maintains a significant presence in Addis Ababa, Bangkok, Beirut, Geneva, Nairobi, Santiago and Vienna, and has offices around the world.

—Trusteeship Council

The Trusteeship Council consists of the permanent members of the Security Council, namely China, France, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom and the United States. It was established in 1945 by the UN Charter to ensure that appropriate measures were taken for eleven trust territories. Its activities ceased in 1994, by which time all of these territories had achieved self-government.

The Council now meets only to consider a complaint about a threat to the peace, seeking first to resolve the dispute amicably. When the dispute leads to an armed conflict, the Council aims to put an end to it as quickly as possible, by appointing special representatives and by requesting the Secretary-General. It also has the possibility of sending soldiers in the service of the United Nations to maintain peace in conflict zones.

If a member state opposes the principles of the Charter, a sanction of exclusion is considered on the recommendation of the Council.

—Security Council

The “Security Council” of the United Nations is composed of the fifteen-member states of the organization.

The five permanent members of the Council are the People’s Republic of China, the United States of America, the French Republic, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and Russia.

The Security Council holds the executive power of the UN. It meets at the UN headquarters in New York. Its members are present at all times because the council can be convened at any time.

According to the principle of the rotating presidency, the presidency of the Security Council is held for one month by each of its members.

All decisions of the council must be promulgated by a vote. Each member of the Security Council has one vote.

D. Important Institutions

—The Food and Agriculture Organization

The FAO is an intergovernmental organization with 191 member states, two associate members and one member organization, the European Union.

The FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization) was created in October 1945 with the aim of improving nutritional status, living standards, and agricultural productivity.

—The International Monetary Fund

In 1944, during the Bretton Woods Conference, the IMF was created. Following the crisis of the 1930s, this conference was held in New Hampshire, USA, with the aim of avoiding a repetition of the successive devaluations that had led to this crisis. Forty-four governments were represented at this conference.

The IMF’s objective is to ensure the stability of the international payments and exchange system that allows countries to trade with each other.

In order to maintain stability and prevent crises in the international monetary system, the IMF examines countries’ economic policies, as well as economic and financial developments at the national, regional and global levels, as part of its formal surveillance mandate.

In the wake of the recent global crisis, the IMF has undertaken to clarify and renew its mandate to cover the full range of macroeconomic and financial issues affecting global stability.

—The International Labor Organization

The mission of the International Labour Organization is to work for social peace as an essential condition for prosperity. One of the current priorities of the ILO is to ensure or at least foster the creation of employment. These objectives also include ensuring working conditions that enable workers and entrepreneurs to participate in efforts to achieve lasting peace, prosperity and social progress.


Unesco works to create the conditions for dialogue among civilizations, cultures and peoples, based on respect for values shared by all. It is through this dialogue that the world can achieve global visions of sustainable development that integrate respect for human rights, mutual respect and poverty reduction, all of which are at the heart of UNESCO’s mission and action.

UNESCO’s mission is to contribute to the building of peace, the eradication of poverty, sustainable development and intercultural dialogue through education, the sciences, culture, communication and information.

—The World Health Organization (WHO)

Health is increasingly seen as a fundamental aspect of human security and is prominent in discussions of development priorities. Life expectancy has increased significantly over the past 20 years, but health inequalities are widening. Health trends are very mixed around the world, with declines in some places due to factors such as infectious diseases, particularly HIV/AIDS, the collapse of health services, and deteriorating economic and social conditions.

III. The United Nations on the ground

A. The failures

The UN remained paralyzed between the two superpowers until the fall of communism. These two permanent members of the Security Council often paralyzed the UN by the “game” of their veto power. However, the UN has played a role in the decolonization process and is beginning to assert its role in peacekeeping, even if it has sometimes failed.

—UN intervention in Palestine

Previously, Palestine was administered by Great Britain. In 1947, this power was entrusted to the UN. The Organization then voted on a partition outline for Palestine, which delimited two states, one Jewish, the other Arab, and placed Jerusalem under international control. However, this attempt ended in failure, still present in 2012, despite the UN issuing nearly a hundred resolutions to find a solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict.

—The UN intervention in Rwanda

The United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR) was a UN mission in Rwanda created in October 1993

Between April and July 1994, approximately 800,000 Tutsis were massacred in Rwanda, that is to say 1/5 of the Rwandan population. Its objective was to prevent this “genocide”.

From August 1992 to July 12, 1993, peace negotiations were set up and these discussions led to the Arusha Agreement (which provided for the political and military integration of the Rwandan government as well as the departure of French troops). Thus, despite the intervention of the United Nations, the Rwandan genocide could not be prevented and the UN delegation left the country. This intervention ended in failure.

—The intervention of the UN in the Middle East

In 1948, Israel was attacked by its neighbors. At the end of the war, UN observers were sent to monitor the truce. After the Suez Canal incident, the region was controlled by UN forces, while Nasser demanded the withdrawal of his troops. On June 6, 1967, Israel launched a preventive attack against Egypt. This was the Six Day War. The Security Council finally adopted resolution 242, by which it ordered the withdrawal of Israeli forces, but Israel did not implement this resolution. Similarly, in Lebanon, the UN forces were unable to bring about peace.

—UN intervention in Kashmir

Kashmir was at the heart of a dispute between the three nuclear powers in the region. The political issue in Kashmir was water, while Kashmir’s resources helped fuel the rivalry between India and Pakistan.

India requested the intervention of the UN, which set up a negotiation leading to a ceasefire and in 1965 UN observers were sent to the border between India and Pakistan. Both India and Pakistan then set up their armies on either side of a line dividing Kashmir into two parts.

The population being mainly Muslim, Pakistan considered its sovereignty over Kashmir natural. China has a part of its border common with India and Pakistan. China is concerned in this conflict insofar as it controls two territories of Kashmir. For India, the integration of the Muslims of Kashmir symbolizes the principle of universality embodied by the Indian Union. The two countries went to war in 1965 and again in 1971. Currently, this region of the world is very closely watched because these three powers possess a nuclear weapon. However, India refuses to internationalize the conflict, believing that the balance of power is in its favor in Kashmir. Pakistan lives in fear of an Indian will to dominate it.

—The intervention of the UN in Somalia

In April 1992 and March 1993, a peacekeeping force was sent by the UN to Somalia in order to stem the famine that was affecting the country.

Under the name of UNOSUM, the name given to the two UN operations in Somalia, the UN sent a peacekeeping force in April 1992 and March 1993 to protect the convoys of humanitarian aid, transported by sea and air, in order to bring food to the Somali population.

These operations cost the lives of men mandated by the UN to oppose the local militia in permanent conflict. Following these deaths, the UN decided to leave the country, symbolizing the failure of these operations.

In Somalia, soldiers empty an ammunition cache – United Nations News Service

B. Success stories

The UN contributed to the policy of containment of communism decided by the United States. From 1950 to 1953, American troops intervened in Korea in agreement with the UN. However, little by little, the UN withdrew from major conflicts, such as the Vietnam War or Afghanistan. The UN thus asserted itself as a third power, particularly when it admitted the People’s Republic of China into its assembly in 1971.

-In Europe with the division of Yugoslavia

Yugoslavia, established by General Tito in 1946, was made up of five states: Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, the Federative Republic of Yugoslavia (or Serbia-Montenegro) and Macedonia. National demands broke out and caused the breakup of Yugoslavia. From 1992 to 1995, the UN set up UNPROFOR (United Nations Protection Force) to try to create conditions of peace and security in order to negotiate a comprehensive settlement of the Yugoslav crisis.

-In the Middle East with the invasion of Kuwait by Iraq in 1990

In 1990, Iraq invaded its neighbor Kuwait, a small country in the Persian Gulf, but at the end of the Cold War deprived Iraq of the support of its Soviet ally. Immediately, the UN condemned this invasion and published resolution 678, which authorized the use of force if the country did not leave Kuwait by January 15, international coalition under a UN mandate expelled the Iraqi army from Kuwait, notably with the “Desert Storm” mission. It was then discovered that Iraq was pursuing a clandestine military nuclear program.

Following this defeat, Iraq was placed under an embargo, a measure corresponding to UN Resolution 661.

-In Asia with Afghanistan

The Soviet army intervened in Afghanistan in 1979 after a coup d’état. This war led to the loss of the Soviet Union, which became bogged down in this conflict. Gorbachev, aware that this war which cannot be won is a burden for the USSR, decides to put an end to it. The USSR withdrew from Afghanistan in 1988. From 1994, the Taliban extended their influence and took power in 1996. On September 9, 2001, Commander Massoud was assassinated, and on September 11, the World Trade Center attacks occurred. The Taliban refused to hand over bin Laden, the United States went to war with Afghanistan and overthrew the Taliban regime.

However, as time went on, the Taliban regained their strength. An international security assistance force was established on December 20, 2001, by a UN Security Council mandate. Peacekeeping in Afghanistan is less effective, despite the ceasefires. Violent clashes still occur.

—East Timor’s accession to independence

In 1974, Portugal tried to set up a provisional government and a people’s assembly to determine the status of East Timor. However, a civil war broke out between supporters of independence and supporters of integration with Indonesia. Portugal was unable to control the situation and decided to withdraw. Subsequently, Indonesia intervened militarily in East Timor and annexed it, East Timor became a province of Indonesia. The UN did not recognize this annexation and the Security Council demanded Indonesia’s withdrawal. A peace mission was established in Timor, which later became an independent nation and a member of the UN.

Since the end of the Cold War, the UN is more and more in the forefront to prevent or settle the different conflicts, thanks to the Blue Helmets.

—The contribution of the UN to decolonization

Gorbachev is aware that this war which cannot be won is a burden for the UN General Assembly which becomes the tribune of the new independent countries or countries wishing to become so. In 1958, it indicted France because of its Algerian policy. Moreover, it helped justify the management of conflicts resulting from decolonization, such as in the Congo in 1961. The UN favored the emergence of the Third World.


Finally, the UN, heir to a failed League of Nations, was progressively built after the Second World War on the basis of strong ideological principles. Its studied organization allows the integration of each nation in the decision-making process, thanks to efficient and branched institutions. This acquired organizational solidity allows it to intervene with efficiency directly on the field, with more or less success, according to its failures and successes.

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6 thoughts on “The United Nations (UN)

  1. there is again an illegible passage in the 4th paragraph on the UN Secretariat. Cordially.

  2. Thank you, the article has been updated for more readability and comfort. Good reviews

  3. In fact, G. is in history a little earlier even if it is true that he was secretary of the PC only in 1985. Indeed, he was elected to the Central Committee in 1971 at the age of 40, secretary of the Central Committee on November 23, 1978 and in the Politburo in 1980 at age 49 (thanks to the head of the KGB). By the way, of the decolo’, I think that one can consider the withdrawal from Afghanistan in 1988 as a form of its forms. The same goes for the end of people’s democracies even if this is due to economic problems.

  4. The problem is, I see Gorby there. However, he entered history very late (from 1985). What is more special for decolonization? I would have liked to have an answer if it is not asking too much.

  5. Kira here is the text: (Sorry I don’t have the start) are bogged down in this conflict. Gorbachev is aware that this unwinnable war is a burden for the UN General Assembly, which is becoming the forum for new independent countries or countries wishing to become so. In 1958, it impeached France because of its Algerian policy. Moreover, it contributes to justify the management of the conflicts resulting from decolonization such as in Congo in 1961. The UN favors the emergence of the Third World.

  6. Hello Int. Sciences Po, In wanting to read this course, my reading is amputated in front of the illegible characters of the paragraph concerning The contribution of the UN to decolonization. I would like for that on your part to make sure to rewrite this passage so that we can appreciate the elements that are there. See you soon Kira

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