Regrettably but by necessity, the United Nations was, at first, a military alliance and the term "United Nations" referred to the members of that alliance also known as the Axis Powers. To many isolated states that from time to time wish to do whatever they want on their own territory - brutally repress civil protest - build nuclear facilities - the UN is taken to be precisely that: a military alliance of much larger states.
History of the UN
The official history of the UN Charter provided by the UN itself (the text of the Charter is available online as of 3-DEC-2013 at [http://www.un.org/en/documents/charter/], on their website as of Dec. 3, 2013 is sparse:
"The name United Nations (was) coined by United States President Franklin D. Roosevelt (and)first used in (a document known as) the Declaration by United Nations of January 1, 1942, during the Second World War, (in which) representatives of 26 nations pledged their Governments to continue fighting together against the Axis Powers....
"The forerunner of the United Nations was the League of Nations... The League of Nations ceased its activities after failing to prevent the Second World War.
"In 1945, representatives of 50 countries met in San Francisco at the United Nations Conference on International Organization to draw up the United Nations Charter. Those delegates deliberated on the basis of proposals worked out by the representatives of China, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom and the United States at Dumbarton Oaks, United States in August-October 1944.
"The United Nations officially came into existence on 24 October 1945, when the Charter had been ratified by China, France, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, the United States and by a majority of other signatories."
This dry, bureacratic summary tells nothing of the true story behind the greatest legal initiative ever successfully undertaken by man, now comprised of 193 states (as of December 2013), with 100,000 peace-keepers mobilized around the world in peace-keeping operations.
The people and events that came together as they did to forge in the bitter but omnipresent odor of world war then still ongoing. Even in the war, at the great peril of German submarines in the North Atlantic in 1941, the then-President of the United States FRanklin Roosevelt, and the prime minister of the United Kingdom, WInston Churchill struck a military alliance, the Atlantic Charter, that still smacked at least as a first draft of democratic and peace-loving principles in a post-war world.
That war ended in August 1945 when, finally, the Japanese surrendered and quickly, the initiators of the UN struck for signatures and formation of the UN. The future of the UN at that time looked uncertain as the League of Nations was completely unable to control the years of political aggression, especially by Japan and Germany, that eventually erupted into full-blown World War Two. There was a large amount of blind faith in the 1945 signature of the UN Charter, but a Charter that at least had the advantage of learning from the failings of the League of Nations.
In 1947, the agency adopted a flag described as "a map of the world representing an azimuthal equidistant projection centred on the North Pole, inscribed in a wreath consisting of crossed conventionalized branches of the olive tree, in gold on a field of smoke-blue with all water areas in white".
Today at the UN
As of 2013, there were 193 members states in the United Nations. They meet as a world parliament, a public assembly called the U.N. General Assembly. The UN is often chided as a paper tiger since although there is an even playing field of one vote per member state, the UN vote of any state does not bind it to any course of action or decision.
The teeth of the UN, better described as "dentures" as there is no standing UN army, navy or air force, is the Security Council (SC) with a permanent eye on global peace and security. On these issues, the SC can make binding resolutions (all UN member states are required to comply with Security Council resolutions) but on which any of the six permanent members can exercise a veto, no questions asked.
If a resolution passes, and a member state does not comply:
"The Security Council can resort to imposing sanctions or even authorize the use of force to maintain or restore international peace and security."1
The SC membership:
"The Security Council shall consist of fifteen Members of the United Nations. The Republic of China, France, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and the United States of America shall be permanent members of the Security Council. The General Assembly shall elect ten other Members of the United Nations to be non-permanent members of the Security Council...."2
To Save the World From the Scourge of War
And there sits still, by the grace of God, the United Nations Headquarters, surrounded by New York City but UN land and buildings on distinct international territory. The UN has its own flag and six official languages: - Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish.
In any language, the success of the United Nations must be measured in its stated objective in 1944 and 1945, "... to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind."
By that measure, the United Nations has been an unmitigated success. Because of the founders of the UN, all now deceased, the legacy of the agency is nothing less than the greatest single largest legal institution and still the single most promising law and justice instrument in the history of mankind.
Unfortunately, as generations that lived through either or both of the great wars pass on, so too are the personal memories of those "sorrowful" days which everywhere motivated support and sacrifices to sovereignty made for the United Nations. The insanity, death and carnage of sudden civilian death by falling bombs or hand-to-hand combat to the death between two citizens of the world who knew each other not at all. It will be the challenge of the present and next generations to protect or improve upon the model of the United Nations to, in any event but always, save succeeding generations from the scourge of war and the untold sorrow war brings to mankind and that force of arms never be used, save in the utmost need of common interests.
- NOTE 1: The United Nations, The Security Council [retrieved from the Internet on 3-DEC-2013 at http://www.un.org/en/sc/].
- NOTE 2: Charter of the United Nations, §23.