A Short History of the UN

The international organization known as the United Nations was founded in 1945 after the already existent League of Nations failed to live up to its aims as it did not prevent the Second World War. In 1945 51 countries signed the UN’s charter to dedicate to maintain international peace and security. Today the United Nations have 192 members and many peacekeeping operations.

What is the UN?

An organisation that maintains international peace and security, developing friendly relations between nations (member states) and promoting social progress, better living standards and human rights. While the original charter proclaims the need for global peace the UN works on fundamental issues such as sustainable development, environment and refugees protection, disaster relief, terrorism, disarmament and non-proliferation to promoting democracy, human right, gender equality and the advancement of women, governance, economic and social development, health and more to ensure to its most extent in achieving its goals and co-ordinate efforts for a safer world for the present and future generations. The UN system made up of its agencies and organisations wish to have this under control.

Aims, roles and main functions:

Objectives of the main functions:

How has it developed?


For assisting in promoting international economic and social cooperation and development.

Assists General Assembly in promoting international economic and social co-operation and development. ECOSOC has 54 members which are elected for three year terms. ECOSOC meets every year around July for a month and since 1998 in April to discuss key committees of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund. ECOSOC functions include gathering information, advising member nations and making recommendations.

Security Council:

For deciding certain resolutions for peace and security. (maintaining peace an security)

Other organs can make recommendations however the Security Council has the power to make binding decisions.

The council is made up of 15 member states which consists of 5 permanent states: Russia, China, France, UK and the USA; these five states were seen as the allied countries of the second world war and then 10 non-permanent members who change every two years. The five permanent members hold a ‘veto power’ which means that they have the ability to reject a resolution if they disagree with it or do not believe it is the best solution.

Once the Security Council has approved the UN sends peacekeepers to regions where armed conflict has recently been caused. The UN does not have its own army troops are voluntarily provided by member states of the UN.

General Assembly:

The main deliberative assembly.

The General Assembly is composed of all the member states and it is the only time and place when all members of the UN have an equal vote and also when any nation may voice their opinion. All members have the opportunity to address the assembly however, traditionally; the Secretary-General makes the first statement, followed by the president of the assembly. When voting (each member state has one vote) in the General Assembly two/thirds majority of the present member states is necessary. Issues discussed here and voted upon range from recommendations on peace and security, election of members to organs, admin of members and funds matters.

Assembly can make recommendations on anything in range of the UN.

The Secretariat:

For providing studies, information and facilities needed by the UN

Who is involved?

Organisations: (UNICEF, WHO,WFP)

It is through the organizations that the UN does most of its humanitarian work examples are mass vaccinations through WHO and protection of vulnerable and displaced people thorugh UNHCR. UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) is a specialized agency of the United Nations established in 1946. Its stated purpose is to contribute to peace and security by promoting international cooperation through education, science, and culture in order to further universal respect for justice, the rule of law, and the human rights and fundamental freedoms proclaimed in the UN Charter. The World Health Organization (WHO) acts as a coordinating authority on international public health. Established on 7 April 1948, and headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland, the agency inherited the mandate and resources of its predecessor, the Health Organization, which had been an agency of the League of Nations.

Problem countries: ( Iraq, Rwanda, Korean and Gulf war)

The United Nations has failed to resolve civil wars which involve many groups or parties. In Somalia, despite the presence of a troop of a UN security force and a group of ceasefire observers, all over Somalia the ceasefire was ignored and instead fighting continued with increasing severity, putting the relief operations at great risk. Complex and troubled relations between Somalia warlords proved to pose insurmountable obstacles on the road of peace. Over the final quarter of 1992, factions in Somalia splintered into more and more smaller factions, which many of those even formally defy the UN Security Council, making the situation even harder to control. Meanwhile, hundreds of poverty stricken refugees were dying of starvation every day.  This failed mission in Somalia seemed to show the inability of the UN to control difficult situations which involve numerous parties. Given UN’s limited military strength and the impossibility to get the different warlords of Somalia to negotiate peacefully, UN attempts to maintain peace and security like that of the operation in Somalia was bound to fail.

Moreover, the United Nations is not successful at its peacekeeping attempts since it seems to even lose respect from several countries. The UN Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea attempted to monitor a ceasefire among these two countries and to help them solve the much disputed border issues. Peacekeepers had been driven from the border zone by Eritrea by February 2008, and Ethiopia had refused to accept a binding International Court of Justice ruling on the border issue. The mission was eventually abandoned on 31 July 2008. The very fact that peacekeepers were driven away suggests that the UN seems to have lost all power and control over its members. In future missions to restore peace and order, the UN would face immense pressure and difficulties since its prestige have already suffered

However, the United Nations has been successful in providing aid to ex-colonies that have just achieved independence in terms of protecting their sovereignty. An example would be the ex-Belgian-colony, the Democratic Republic of the Congo. After Congo gained independence from Belgium in 30 June 1960, Belgium’s refusal to remove all of its influence over Congo sparked off tensions between the two countries. First, disorder and mutinies broke out after a Belgian general made a speech to the African soldiers in Force Publique (FP), in which he stated that Independence would not bring any change in their status or role. This resulted in fears and anger against the Belgian commanders (who were still in total control of the FP) within the Congolese soldiers. Moreover, Belgium also advocated the independence of Katanga, which is a province of Congo, so as to protect the Belgium citizen living there. UN sent nearly 20,000 troops to Congo and it had an immediate calming effect. The troops remained until 1964, following the withdrawal of the Belgians, to help the government to maintain peace and consolidate the independence of Congo. In the end, Katanga also remained as a province. Hence, we can deduce that UN had been very successful in this peacekeeping operation.

An example of when the UN did something right was when they pulled over 100 000 iraqi soldiers from Kuwait in 1990 (when Iraq invaded Kuwait) thus achieving their aim of “keeping the peace"

An example of when the UN did something wrong was when they did not protect or try to stop the crisis in Darfur, numbers of deaths during that civil war is still not perfected but estimated to be over 450 000, the UN did not classify this as a genocide so did not only react after 3 years as stated by Mark Lattimer, "this level of crisis, the killings, rape and displacement could have been foreseen and avoided ... Darfur would just not be in this situation had the UN systems got its act together after Rwanda: their action was too little too late.

Fails and successes (where, how and handling of situations)

Positives and Negatives


Peacemakers, Encourages dialogue, Encourages cooperation, Protection of human democratic rights


Power depends on member states, No legitimacy, Representatives are not elected

South Africa as a member and its development and involvement:

Plans to reform:

Acknowledgement of shortcomings:


Accused of trying to make the world a one government world.

The founders of the UN had hoped that the organization would act to prevent conflicts between nations and make future wars impossible however the Cold Wat made peacekeeping agreements difficult because of the division of the world into hostile camps. Situations where the UN has not only acted to keep the peace but also occasionally intervened include the Korean war and Persian gulf war.

Member states have shown reluctance to achieve or enforce security council resolutions.

Concluding opinion:

The united nations is not the first international organization to be established to help in settling conflicts peacefully and preventing future conflicts. There was also the League of nations established in 1919 by Woodrow Wilson. However, these organizations proved to be ineffective due to a lack of credibility and legitimacy. The united nations has been engaged in a total of 53 peace keeping missions since its formation although obviously not all of them have been successful. The United Nations has been successful in its attempt to maintain peace and security in the world only to a small extent, although it has, nevertheless, succeeded in certain attempts. Its successes and failures can be seen in its various peacekeeping operations throughout the decades.

In conclusion, though the United Nations has been successful in resolving several conflicts throughout the years, it has shown its inability to exercise effective control over its members by several failed operations that were alarmingly recent. The main problem appears to be the lack of troops and until this problem is addressed, it would be a rocky path ahead for the UN’s peacekeeping operations. Hence, the United Nation’s success in its attempt to maintain peace and security in the world is very limited.

Stephen Schlesinger, "Can the United Nations Reform?" World Policy Journal, Vol. 14, no. 3 (Fall 1997)

The United Nations faces serious problems: it has a hide-bound organizational edifice in which, for example, there are overlapping agencies for development and humanitarian assistance; a patronage system that allows member states to appoint supporters and hence encourages incompetence and waste; inadequate financial discipline; and an often indistinct vision. Its record of past successes, such as ending apartheid in South Africa, moderating the nuclear arms race, instituting democracy in El Salvador and Haiti, and bringing peace to Guatemala and Angola, has been tarnished by such persistent bureaucratic and political defects. Indeed, the organization's vexing and long-running fiscal and political crises have for the first time raised questions about its ability to survive into the next millennium.

The Vital Veto

We come to the next misconception - namely, that the veto power held by the Big Five, which gives five capitals the ability to decide on U.N. intervention, determine who leads the organization, block U.N. Charter amendments, and so forth, is simply too potent a weapon to be wielded by so few and should be abolished. The truth is that the veto is as vital to the operation of the United Nations today as it was to the founding of the organization in 1945. Fifty years ago, the United States and its four allies made it clear that they would not participate in such a global organization unless they possessed that powe

And, realistically speaking, if efforts to maintain world peace are to be effective, the leading powers must cooperate, or at least refrain from opposition. There is no doubt that in situations where even one leading power is party to a conflict the United Nations is in no position to act. On the contrary, a show of authority in such circumstances would only lead to a breakup of the organization.

The Biggest Misconception

The final myth worth exploding is that the United Nations has never taken happily to internal reform, that it is an inflexible institution set in its ways and unwilling to change.

The U.N. Charter itself provided for a second constitutional convention after ten years, the founding fathers being well aware that an institution conceived on the ruins of war might require alteration a decade later. Although another convention was never held, the United Nations did change in many ways. For example, when the Cold War stalemate between the United States and the Soviet Union developed in the Security Council, the organization found inventive paths around the deadlock to achieve its broader goals: the secretary general took over the role as international mediator; the Trusteeship Council oversaw decolonization; the notion of peacekeeping, a concept never mentioned in the U.N. Charter, was authorized; and the General Assembly, despite its often heated rhetoric, became a genuine deliberative body and acquired increased moral authority. The application of this moral authority could be seen, for example, in the imposition of U.N. sanctions against South Africa, which contributed to the collapse of apartheid. And it has been applied generally to advance the cause of human rights around the world. Moreover, during the most dangerous years of the Cold War, the United Nations, by providing a place for the major powers to debate their differences, to negotiate deals, even to scapegoat the organization, helped prevent the outbreak of catastrophic nuclear war.

The United Nations has also acted in ways unanticipated in its charter - most recently by convening international conferences on women's rights, human rights, the protection of children, environmental degradation, and poverty, all of which have broadened the international consensus on civilized norms. By coordinating its activities with those of nongovernmental organizations, as it did, for example, in June 1996 when it invited nongovernmental organizations to participate in the Habitat II Conference on Cities in Istanbul, it has strengthened its constituent base. It has achieved notable successes through innovative responses to human suffering. The vaccines distributed through UNICEF have saved the lives of millions of children. The World Health Organization has eliminated smallpox and today is seeking to wipe out polio by the year 2000. The World Food Program feeds millions of hungry people annually (in 1994, for example, it fed some 57 million) - and continually enlarges its workload.

The Central Role of Power Politics

With the end of the Cold War, as more and more nations turn toward democratic systems of governance and as the number of prosperous states increases the United States should ostensibly have less control over the United Nations. In fact, the United States has begun to recognize some of these new realities by recommending the appointment of five new permanent members to the Security Council (Germany, Japan, and three developing nations to be chosen by rotation) - though without indicating whether these countries should have the veto - as well as an increase in the number of nonpermanent members.

But as the Gulf War and Bosnia proved, successful U.N. operations still require America's backing. Hence, while there may be considerable grumbling over Washington's high-handed dictates in this latest bill, there is likely to be an attempt to satisfy its demands.

Indeed, that is the nub of the problem: the practice of power politics still overwhelms the United Nations - to the detriment of a more rational mode of operation. Changing the United Nations may be necessary, but it is likely to be a good deal more difficult than one might suspect.


UN articles:


One of the great ironies of the UN, the supreme peacemaking body is that it has never had a dedicated conflict mediation function"


“The experts agreed that there was a sore need for dedicated, full-time, specialised , professional mediators at the UN to replace the often haphazard and amateurish results of what Gambari called “mediator shopping"


“often the selection of mediators is far from neutral, involving interested parties too close to the conflict , sometimes favoured by one or more of the warring parties.


-          African mediators meet to beef up UN capacity (Sunday independent 22/10/06)


“"renewing of the united nations" and a pressing issue was its (in)ability to intervene and stop widespread human suffering, best exemplified in Rwanda (1994) and Srebrenica (1995) where the organization failed to halt the horrific atrocities that unfolded"

(Such failure was largely attributed to Annan’s overly passive response as the then under-secretary-general for peacekeeping operations.)


“He has stressed the difficulties of humanitarian intervention when no standing army exists within the UN."


“In 2001, he and the UN received the Nobel Peace Prize for their action plans to assuage the symptoms of poverty, war, and human suffering, and improve education"


-          Annan leads UN into a new era (cape times 14/03/06)


“the last century provided plenty of evidence for the argument that sanctions didn’t work: that they are a way of acknowledging a problem without offering a serious solution"


- Khartoum sanctions ‘worth a try’ (thisday, Friday September 3 2004)