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The United Nations

Wartime Sense of Purpose | The UN Charter and the Security Council Veto

Wartime Sense of Purpose

The United Nations began with the London Declaration of 12 June 1941. The various nationalities involved had a sense of purpose struggling against a common enemy: Hitler's Germany. They declared that "the only true basis of enduring peace is the willing cooperation of free peoples in a world in which, relieved of the menace of aggression, all may enjoy economic and social security." Signing the London Declaration were Britain, Canada, New Zealand, the Union of South Africa and the exiled governments of Belgium, Czechoslovakia, Greece, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland and Yugoslavia. Charles de Gaulle, in exile from France, also signed.

The Soviet Union joined the United Nations after it was invaded by Germany, and the United States joined after it entered the war. This was with what was called the "Declaration by United Nations," signed in Washington on 1 January 1942. Each member nation pledged "to employ its full resources, military or economic" to defeat Germany, Japan and Italy. They agreed not to make a separate peace with the enemy. British Commonwealth nations including India were now members as was China. Central American and Caribbean nations were members. Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Brazil and Mexico also joined in 1942.

At their Teheran conference in late 1943, Stalin, Churchill and Roosevelt discussed the possibility of a United Nations trusteeship for France's Indochina colony.  People there, including the Vietnamese, were to be among the "free peoples" described by the 1941 London Declaration but after a wait of twenty or thirty years. In deference to Churchill a UN trusteeship for India was not discussed.  

During his campaign for re-election, on 21 October 1944, Roosevelt argued that the United Nations had to be able to commit people to military action "to keep the peace by force if necessary," as he believed the Allies were doing in the war against Germany and Japan. He spoke of this as opposed to waiting for consultations, discussions and debates, which he compared to a local police force calling a town meeting before stopping a burglary. "It is clear," he said, "that if the world organization is to have any reality at all, our American representative must be endowed in advance by the people themselves, by constitutional means through their representatives in the Congress, with authority to act."

Beginning in September 1944, at the Dumbarton Oaks mansion in Washington D.C., representatives of the Soviet Union, Britain, the US and China had agreed on the structure of the UN. The purpose of the United Nations, it was declared, would be:

1. To maintain international peace and security; and to that end to take effective collective measures for the prevention and removal of threats to the peace and the suppression of acts of aggression or other breaches of the peace, and to bring about by peaceful means adjustment or settlement of international disputes which may lead to a breach of the peace;

2. To develop friendly relations among nations and to take other appropriate measures to strengthen universal peace;

3. To achieve international cooperation in the solution of international economic, social and other humanitarian problems; and

4. To afford a center for harmonizing the actions of nations in the achievement of these common ends.

The principles by which this was to be realized were:

1. The Organization is based on the principle of the sovereign equality of all peace-loving states.

2. All members of the Organization undertake, in order to ensure to all of them the rights and benefits resulting from membership in the Organization, to fulfill the obligations assumed by them in accordance with the Charter.

3. All members of the Organization shall settle their disputes by peaceful means in such a manner that international peace and security are not endangered.

At the Yalta conference in February 1945, Roosevelt, Churchill, and Stalin – the Big Three – declared their resolve regarding the United Nations. Roosevelt and Churchill both agreed with Stalin that the Ukraine and Byelorussia (republics within the Soviet Union) would be separate member states with their own vote. The Big Three agreed that the UN would be led by the five major allied powers as permanent members of a Security Council: the United States, the Soviet Union, Britain (United Kingdom), China, and France. The question arose about some Latin American nations joining. Stalin asked how the Soviet Union could build world security with nations that had been hostile to the Soviet Union. Churchill commented about nations that had been waiting "to see who would win," and Roosevelt apologized to Stalin for having prematurely promised these nations UN membership. He added that he was doing what he could to encourage them to declare war on Germany and that they could help write the UN Charter and become initial members when they signed the UN Declaration. Stalin agreed.

The question arose of a conference to discuss "territorial trusteeship and dependent areas" – in other words, colonialism. Churchill became enraged, stating that as long as he was Prime Minister he would "not yield one scrap" of Britain's heritage. He was placated when the US Secretary of State, Edward Stettinius, showed him a report stating that the United States opposed putting any colony into an arrangement without the consent of the colonial power involved.

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