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(United Nations Organization, or UN)


After the failure of the League of Nations to prevent the crises of the 1930s which culminated in World War II, the major Allied countries (the USSR, China, the UK, and the USA) agreed in Moscow (October 1943) to create a new, improved international peacekeeping organization after the war. Following further negotiations at Dumbarton Oaks and Yalta, the charter of the UN was discussed and drafted in San Francisco in spring 1945, and signed by 51 nations on 26 June 1945. Its administration is headed by a Secretary‐General, a post which has been filled by Lie (1946–52), Hammarskjöld (1953–61), U Thant (1961–71), Waldheim (1972–81), Pérez de Cuéllar (1982–91), Boutros Ghali (1992–6), Annan (1997–2006), and Ban (since 2007). In contrast to the League, its membership included the major world powers (though the People's Republic of China was not admitted until 1971).

Security Council

The UN is guided by a strong executive, the Security Council, which consists of five permanent members (USSR/Russia, China (Taiwan until 1971, then the People's Republic), France, the UK, the USA), each of whom has a right to veto any decision which the Council may take. The Council also consists of ten temporary members which are elected for two years. As a result of the right of veto, the Council was relatively ineffective during the Cold War, when unanimity was difficult to establish between the USA and the USSR. For example, the UN could only intervene in the Korean War because of a temporary Soviet boycott of the Council which made it impossible for the USSR to exercise the veto. The Security Council has come under growing criticism because its composition of permanent members has failed to reflect the shifts in the global balance of power since 1945. The exclusion from the Council of India, Brazil or Japan was increasingly difficult to justify if the Council was to claim legitimacy. Reform proposals were made after 2001, but they failed owing to the reluctance of the existing permanent Security Council members to share their exclusive powers.

General Assembly

There ia also a General Assembly consisting of all 192 member states (2006), each of which has one vote. It can debate any issue which concerns the UN charter. Resolutions need a simple majority except for constitutional matters, which need a two‐thirds majority. Its resolutions on international security are binding, but not its ‘recommendations’ to individual states, for example its hostility against apartheid in South Africa. Owing to the process of decolonization, the Assembly's character has changed substantially not only in size but also in quality. A disproportionate number of the new states that have been admitted since 1945 are less developed countries in Africa and Asia, so that the relative influence of the industrialized countries in the Assembly has diminished. The diversity of the Assembly has been its greatest asset in terms of legitimacy, but its heterogeneity has also prevented effective and rapid action.

Other organizations

Other principal organs are the Economic and Social Council, which investigates issues such as population growth, human rights, drugs, and women's rights, and the International Court of Justice. There are also a host of specialized agencies (e.g. UNESCO, IMF, WHO) which are autonomous relative to the UN, but which have the same goal of international peace and justice.


Subjects: Contemporary History (Post 1945).

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