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Definition: United Nations (UN) from Philip's Encyclopedia

International organization set up to enable countries to work together for peace and mutual development. It was established (June 1945) by a charter signed in San Francisco by 50 countries. By 2000, the UN had 188 members, essentially all the world's sovereign states except for North and South Korea and Switzerland.

Summary Article: United Nations
from World History Encyclopedia

The United Nations (UN) emerged from World War II when the victorious Grand Alliance established it as the successor organization to the League of Nations because they were determined to prevent another world war and to eliminate the scourge of war around the world if possible.

The founders of the UN carefully studied why the League of Nations had failed. They sought ways to make the new institution a permanent player in global affairs. President Franklin D. Roosevelt first used the term "United Nations" on January 1, 1942, in the "Declaration by United Nations." The declaration was a pledge by 26 nations to battle the Axis powers until they were defeated.

The UN was designed to ensure global security and to be a forum among nations on issues of peace, justice, development, and economics. The latter issue was addressed at Bretton Woods, New Hampshire, in 1944 with the Bretton Woods Agreement, which created several economic institutions, including the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Justice in resolving disputes among nations was centered in the International Court of Justice, which is also known as the World Court and which has its seat in The Hague.

Seeking to avoid problems that had arisen with the creation of the League of Nations, the UN was developed separately from the peace treaties that ended World War II. The UN's fram-ers created two major institutions: the Security Council and the General Assembly. Every member state became a participant of the General Assembly with one vote regardless of population or wealth. The Security Council was created with five permanent members. These were the major victorious warring powers against the Axis: China, France, Britain, the Soviet Union, and the United States. Each of the five has a veto that can nullify any action being sought by the other members of the Security Council. In addition, there were originally six nonpermanent member states. This number was eventually expanded to ten nonpermanent members that serve staggered terms in which five rotate off after two years.

With the onset of the Cold War, each UN secretary general has had to negotiate the ideological struggle between the United States and the (former) Soviet Union and their spheres of influence. In addition, as decolonization accelerated in the postwar period, many developing countries that were former colonies joined the UN. These countries entered the politics of the UN less with an interest in the ideological struggle than with economic development.

Major issues faced by the UN include peacekeeping missions, which have included operations such as the Korean War (1950–1953), and interventions in the Congo, the Balkans, and other world regions. In addition, the UN, often through the offices of the secretary general, has been a player in enacting a cessation of hostilities between countries such as the end of two regional wars between India and Pakistan. Since the end of the Cold War, numerous threats to regional and global peace have occurred, such as ethnic cleansing in the former Yugoslavia, the war in Iraq, and other issues of global security. The UN has been involved in more than 50 peacekeeping operations in its entire history. However, these operations have in some cases neither preserved peace nor saved the lives of innocent victims of conflicts. In some cases, such as the genocide in Rwanda or the launching of rocket attacks on Israel by Hizbullah from its bases in southern Lebanon, UN peacekeepers merely observed the slaughter. Of major concern by 2008 were the issues of nuclear weapons proliferation, especially by Iran, and the advent of global terrorist activities.

Due to the enormous growth in the world's population and the billions of people who still live in poverty, many UN programs have been instituted to reduce poverty. Along with poverty has been a growth in initiatives intended to address global warming and other major environmental problems.

Despite opposition, UN supporters note that there has not been another world war since the creation of the UN. In addition, despite internal criticism of the UN in the United States, the U.S. State Department has found it to be a relatively inexpensive and useful tool for the conduct of diplomacy.

  • Gareis, Sven Bernhard, and Johannes, Varwick. The United Nations: An Introduction. New York: Macmillan, 2005.
  • Krasno, Jean E., ed. The United Nations: Confronting the Challenge of a Global Society. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner, 2004.
  • O'Sullivan, Christopher. The United Nations: A Concise History. Malabar, FL: Krieger, 2005.
Jack Waskey
Copyright 2011 by ABC-CLIO,LLC

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