Today is United Nations day. 1945 brought about the close of WWII and the dawn of the United Nations. They hoped that such an alliance would prevent a war like that from ever happening again.

After WWI, a group called the League of Nations was born.  Like the United Nations, its purpose was to stop wars on a global scale from starting in the first place. It would act as a sort of mediator, as nations would inevitably have disputes among one another. As time went on, it took responsibility toward condemning some things internal to a country as well–human trafficking, genocide, slavery–to name a few.

The League of Nations was still coming out of colonial rule, and so it did not effectively represent those who were under that kind of government.  Half of the earth’s population was under colonial rule; for example, if you were an Algerian in 1931, you could forget about the attention of the League of Nations, you were still just a subject of the French government.

Another thing severely lacked by the League of Nations was the significant membership and participation from some major powers.  These included the major players of WWII: Japan and Germany, and the USSR and the United States.  And when the second world war did break out, it was determined that the League of Nations had failed in its purpose, as it wasn’t like the war just sprang out of nowhere.  Invasions and strategic moves went right past them and they failed to act, which would mark the end of the League of Nations.

The war ended in September 1945, and the next month the United Nations (UN) was born.  An idea cultivated from the U.S. State Department years earlier, the major powers of the world came together and founded the UN.

President Bush addresses the UN – image courtesy of the White House

Since then, they have been involved in peacekeeping missions around the world, to include Sierra Leone, the conflict in Darfur, Sudan, and they would send weapons inspectors to Syria.  They have conducted relief work in places like Haiti, where they lost over a hundred of their own in a devastating earthquake.  The World Health Organization (WHO) has fought relentlessly against and all but eradicated polio, river blindness and leprosy. UNICEF has made strides in helping children and their mothers in the far reaches of the world.

On the other hand, they are often the topic of some controversy. Just as often as they affect legitimate change, they seem to have a somewhat useless presence in just as many places.  For example, they have been criticized for their handling of genocide over the years.  While claiming that, “genocide is one of the most heinous of crimes against which all of humanity must unite to prevent its recurrence and punish those responsible,” they have often conveniently defined many such conflicts as anything but genocide.  It’s like if they don’t say the word, they don’t have to intervene–at least not with the necessary force to stop that kind of conflict.  Such wordplay would be seen again in multiple crises regarding multiple means of devastation.

The UN is divided into six main organs:

  • UN General Assembly: this is where the meetings are had, budgets are made and new members sign up.
  • UN Secretariat: this is the administrative side of things–they handle the money across the UN.
  • International Court of Justice: they resolve legal issues here, and handle disputes.  With 15 judges, they are the arm of the law within the UN.
  • UN Security Council: they are responsible for keeping the violence off the streets, so to speak.  They handle all security considerations of the UN.
  • UN Economic and Social Council: instead of security, these guys are handling the social and economic issues facing the world.  There are a lot of specialized agencies throughout the UN, and they coordinate with them to resolve these more delicate issues.
  • UN Trusteeship Council: this isn’t really a thing anymore–it was used to handle and manage colonial rule, but hasn’t done much of anything since 1994.
President Obama addresses the UN – image courtesy of the White House

Featured image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

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