Skip to content

UN undertakes formidable duty

Organization works to manage global peace, security

In 1920, following the First World War, the League of Nations was formed with 42 signatory nations supporting it. There were four permanent member nations; however, one significant nation was not a member, the United States. The League had mixed results in ensuring regional and global peace. It folded in 1939 with the start of the Second World War.

During that war, Allied leadership worked on a revamped international peace organization, with 50 nations signing a charter in June 1945, with ratification in October that year by five permanent members of a new Security Council (U.S., U.K., France, U.S.S.R. and China) and most of the then 46 other member nations. The inaugural meetings of the General Assembly and Security Council were held in London in January 1946 (there are now 193 countries that are members of the United Nations (UN), out of 195 countries worldwide; Taiwan, deemed part of China, and the Cook Islands, deemed part of New Zealand, are not members).

Has the United Nations performed better than the League of Nations? Yes, because member states seem committed to preventing international and regional conflict or at least limiting the impact of conflicts that arise.  And it has lasted 60 years longer than the League. Diplomacy and dialogue play a significant role in the mitigation of disputes and conflicts, and the UN is a reasonably effective forum for this. It has grown into a big international bureaucracy with six main divisions of operation. If the General Assembly, one division, is the heart of the UN and the main forum for diplomacy and dialogue, the Security Council, another division, with its five permanent members and 10 non-permanent, rotating members representing five regions around the world, is the muscle. The limits of the latter became apparent during the Cold War between two permanent council members, the U.S. and U.S.S.R., which inhibited UN effectiveness toward world peace and cooperation. However, the U.N. and its Security Council prevailed; even old enemies were able to eventually contribute to better relations, temporary as they always may be.

Having a significant responsibility for managing global peace and security, the UN undertakes a formidable duty. With funding and support from member states, with the U.S. the leading funder at 28 per cent (Canada is ninth at 2.7 per cent, just below Russia), the UN operates on approximately US$3.5 billion a year, roughly five per cent of the cost of operating the Alberta government. It operates several service organizations to deliver programs of support where deemed needed, such as UNICEF and UNESCO. The UN strives to remain apolitical in its administration and services, a difficult but necessary requirement to be effective. A recent exposure of some employees of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees allegedly having participated with Hamas in the Oct. 7 brutal attack on Israeli civilians may bring UN objectivity into question, although the actions of some workers in one agency should not smear the entire organization.

Currently, as we witness wars in the Ukraine, the Middle East, threats of war between China and Taiwan, the menace of North Korea, to name some bigger threats, we may wonder if the UN can be lastingly effective, able to prevent a Third World War. If the unthinkable happens, the concept and overall operation of the UN should not be blamed. That responsibility must fall on member states and humankind’s perpetual propensity for not loving thy neighbour.


push icon
Be the first to read breaking stories. Enable push notifications on your device. Disable anytime.
No thanks