(The UNITED NATIONS – continued)

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The UN Charter and the Security Council Veto

The conference for founding the United Nations began in April 1945 in San Francisco. President Roosevelt died that month, and in May tensions arose between the Soviet Union and Roosevelt's successor, Harry Truman. Truman had lived through some failed idealisms and had his doubts about the United Nations, but he wanted to adhere to Roosevelt's legacy. He did not want a return to the isolationism that had followed World War I, and he was committed to maintaining the US as a player in the new internationalism. Truman announced that the United States would proceed with the conference in San Francisco and that if his criticism of the Soviet Union regarding Poland upset the Russians then they "could go to hell." On May 12, 1945, Truman stopped the aid called Lend Lease to the Soviet Union, but he claimed that he wanted to work with the Soviet Union within the United Nations for the sake of peace and order.

A survey in May indicated that 40 percent of the American people doubted the conference in San Francisco would succeed. Those believing that the UN could prevent war within the coming fifty years had dropped from 49 to 32 percent. And those who believed the US should join the UN was at 85 percent.

At the conference, delegates from fifty nations hammered out an agreement creating the UN Charter. Ceremonies for the signing of the charter took place on June 26. President Truman flew in and spoke to the gathering, saying that he would use the United Nations as a central instrument in foreign policy. He renounced great-power dominations. Strong nations, he said, should lead the way to international justice "by their own example." Let us not fail to grasp "this supreme chance," he said, "to establish a worldwide rule of reason."

The Charter declared against wars of aggression and against wars that violated international agreements. It declared against war crimes and crimes against humanity: genocide, enslavement, deportation and other inhumane acts. Articles 42 and 43 authorized the use of armed force to maintain international peace and security. Article 51 acknowledged the right of members to join together for self-defense – an issue in support of regionalism that had been advocated by Latin American countries that feared the spread of communism. Articles 55 and 56 required that "all members pledge themselves to take joint and separate action" to promote "universal respect for, and observance and protection of, all human rights and fundamental freedoms for all."

The Charter declared that members of the United Nations were required to pay dues, and it was agreed that the Charter could be amended by a two-thirds majority vote in the UN's General Assembly. The General Assembly was to be a place for discussion and the making of "recommendations," and responsibility for implementing policy was to be with the Security Council.

The UN was to be administered by a Secretary General, appointed by the General Assembly on recommendation of the Security Council, for a term of five years. He was to sit in on sessions of the General Assembly and to be able to bring to the attention of the Security Council any matter which in his opinion threatened international peace and security.

In their idealism, members of the United Nations were expecting a lot of collective agreement – Truman's "worldwide rule of reason." Members were supposed to be "peace-loving" nations. For the Security Council a requirement of unanimity was created – first agreed to at the Yalta Conference. Any one member of the Security Council was to be able to veto a decision made by other members of the council. This was a provision insisted upon by the Soviet Union, which wanted protection from the capitalist powers ganging up against it. The other Security Council members were concerned about their own sovereignty and accepted it as a worthy idea. That there would be nations supporting the most egregious violations of human rights and vetoing measures against those violations was not anticipated. The idea of expelling members was also not considered, and into the 21st century no UN member would be expelled or would quit. The UN charter has no provision for withdrawal. The creators of the United Nations were expecting unity, especially on the Security Council, and creation of the veto for Security Council members was supposed to serve that unity. It was seen by some as strengthening the UN rather than weakening it.

Ratification of the Charter by member nations was completed on October 24, 1945, and October 24 was designated as United Nations Day.

In November 1945 a UN General Conference in London created the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). Its constitution claimed that "...since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defenses of peace must be constructed." It described World War II as having been "made possible by the denial of the democratic principles of the dignity, equality and mutual respect of men, and by the propagation, in their place, through ignorance and prejudice, of the doctrine of the inequality of men and races." The solution, according to the document was education.

Meanwhile, creation of a regular armed force for the UN that Franklin Roosevelt had wanted had failed. The Charter had envisaged a regular military force available to the Security Council and had directed the creation of the Military Staff Committee to make appropriate plans. That committee, consisting of the staff members of the Security Council, had been unable to reach an agreement, a disagreement with the Soviet Union on one side against the others. What would come in place of the standing UN force that Roosevelt wanted would in the years to come be Cold War military alliances: the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the Organization of American States, the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization, and the Warsaw Treaty Organization.


The Parliament of Man: The Past, Present, and Future of the United Nations, by Paul Kennedy, 2006

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