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Editorial Plus

24 September, 2020

8 Min Read

GS-II :
The birth of the United Nations, and its growth in the last 75 years

The birth of the United Nations, and its growth in the last 75 years

Context:

  • The United Nations completed 75 years this year. In order to commemorate the historic moment, world leaders come together, at a one-day high-level meeting of the UN General Assembly.
  • The meeting, themed as ‘’The Future We Want, the UN We Need: Reaffirming our Collective Commitment to Multilateralism’, is a landmark event, as for the first time in 75 years, the 193-member body would be holding the session virtually on account of the Covid-19 outbreak.

Background:

  • The UN was born out of the ashes of yet another international organisation (League of Nations) created with the intention of keeping war away.
  • The League of Nations was created in June 1919, after World War I, as part of the Treaty of Versailles.
  • However, when the Second World War broke out in 1939, the League closed down and its headquarters in Geneva remained empty throughout the war.
  • Consequently, in August 1941, American president Franklin D. Roosevelt and British prime minister Winston Churchill held a secret meeting aboard naval ships in Placenta Bay, located in the southeast coast of Newfoundland, Canada.
  • The heads of the two countries discussed the possibility of creating a body for international peace effort and a range of issues related to the war.
  • Together they issued a statement that came to be called the Atlantic Charter. It was not a treaty, but only an affirmation that paved the way for the creation of the UN.
  • It declared the realisation of “certain common principles in the national policies of their respective countries on which they based their hopes for a better future for the world.”
  • The United States joined the war in December 1941, and for the first time the term ‘United Nations’ was coined by president Roosevelt to identify those countries which were allied against the axis powers.

Goals of UN:

  • The United Nations finally came into existence on October 24, 1945 after being ratified by 51 nations, which included five permanent members (France, the Republic of China, the Soviet Union, the UK and the US) and 46 other signatories. The first meeting of the General Assembly took place on January 10, 1946.

4 goals:

  • Maintaining international peace and security,
  • Developing friendly relations among nations,
  • Achieving international cooperation in solving international problems and
  • Being at the center for harmonising the actions of nations in the attainment of these common ends.

Achievements and failures of the UN in the last 75 years:

  • While at the time of its formation, the UN consisted of only 51 member states, independence movements and de-colonisation in the subsequent years led to an expansion of its membership. At present, 193 countries are members of the UN.
  • The UN boasts of several significant achievements in the last 75 years.
  • It has also expanded its scope to resolve over a large number of global issues such as health, environment, women empowerment among others.
  • Soon after its formation, it passed a resolution to commit to the elimination of nuclear weapons in 1946.
  • In 1948, it created the World Health Organisation (WHO) to deal with communicable diseases like smallpox, malaria, HIV.
  • At present the WHO is the apex organisation dealing with the coronavirus pandemic.
  • In 1950, the UN created the High Commissioner for Refugees to take care of the millions who had been displaced due to World War II.
  • It continues to be on the frontlines of crises faced by refugees from countries across the world. In 1972, the UN environment programme was created.
  • More recently in 2002, the UN established the UN criminal court to try those who have committed war crimes, genocide, and other atrocities.

Criticisms in UN performance:

  • The UN has also met with its share of criticisms. In 1994, for instance, the organisation failed to stop the Rwandan genocide.
  • In 2005, UN peacekeeping missions were accused of sexual misconduct in the Republic of Congo, and similar allegations have also come from Cambodia and Haiti.
  • In 2011, the UN peacekeeping mission in South Sudan was unsuccessful in eliminating the bloodshed caused in the civil war that broke out in 2013.

Need for UNSC Reforms:

  • UN represents a larger world and the irony is that it has only 5 permanent members in its such an important body.
  • Current composition of the Security Council represents the post World War II realities and thus is not in pace with the changing balance of power in the world.
  • The power of veto is frequently cited as a major problem as the P5 members often influence the resolutions making those countries to suffer, which rather need a platform to grow.
  • Member states that have demonstrated credibility and capacity to shoulder the responsibilities of the principal UN organ should have a presence to ensure the legitimacy of the council.
  • Thus, a new category of “semi-permanent” seats is intriguing as, if properly structured, could ensure legitimacy without preventing flexibility for a changing world.
  • At the time of the formation of UNSC, big powers were given privileges to make them part of the council. This was necessary for its proper functioning as well as to avoid the failure like that of the organization ‘League of Nations’.
  • The regions like far East Asia, South America, Africa have no representation in the permanent membership of the council.
  • Rise of fora like G4 (India, Brazil, Germany, and Japan) as important economies and emerging world powers are pushing after quick UN Security Council reforms.

Way forward:

  • The United Nations was born out of the horrors of World War II. At the time of its foundation, it was primarily tasked with the goal of maintaining world peace and saving future generations from the evils of war.
  • The next 10 years, which have been designated as the decade of action and delivery for sustainable development, will be the most critical of our generation. It is even more important as we build back better from the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • The goals listed out for the next ten years include protection of the planet and environment, promoting peace, gender equality and women empowerment, digital cooperation, and sustainable financing.
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