United Nations: Purpose, History and Founder Members

United Nations is a international organization that acts as a global platform for cooperation among world’s countries. It was established on 24 October 1945 in San Francisco, United States of America. After the devastating World War II, the world realized that it was extremely important to prevent such a future conflict. For prevention of wars, the world needed a global platform where nations could come together and resolve their conflicts through peaceful measures. Thus, the United Nations (UN) was created by a group of 51 countries. Later on, the UN was also entrusted with the global developmental goals.

Quick Facts about the United Nations

  • The UN was established on 24 October 1945 in San Francisco, USA.
  • 51 nations were the founding members of the UN.
  • Founder Members signed the Charter of the United Nations treaty to create the UN.
  • Chief of the UN is called the Secretary General.
  • Trygve Lie was the first elected Secretary-General of the United Nations.
  • Headquarters of the UN is located in the New York City, USA.
  • The UN system consists six principal organs:
    1. General Assembly,
    2. Security Council,
    3. Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC),
    4. International Court of Justice, and
    5. UN Secretariat
    6. Trusteeship Council (operations suspended in 1994)
  • Four principal organs of the UN are located at the UN Headquarters in New York City. The International Court of Justice is located in The Hague, Netherlands.
  • Five permanent members of the Security Council hold the veto power. These members are: France, the People’s Republic of China, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States.
  • Six official languages of the UN are: Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish.
  • At present the UN has 193 member states and 2 observer states.

Purpose and Role of the United Nations

The United Nations has the three main objectives:

Peacekeeping and Security

The primary objective of the United Nations was to act an intermediary in conflict resolution among world’s nations. The founder members envisioned the purpose of UN as a place where world’s problems are resolved through dialog and agreements. Also the UN Peacekeeping Forces have been instrumental in reducing the effects of military conflicts.

Ensuring Human Rights

One of the UN’s primary purposes is “promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion, and member states pledge to undertake “joint and separate action” to protect these rights. In 1993, The United Nations Commission on Human Rights was formed to oversee human rights issues for the United Nations.

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The UN has provided stages for signing and implementation of several treaties for human rights. For example:

  • International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966)
  • International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1966)
  • Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (1979)
  • Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989)
  • Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (2006)
  • Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (2008)

Economic development and humanitarian assistance

Another primary purpose of the UN is “to achieve international co-operation in solving international problems of an economic, social, cultural, or humanitarian character”.

In the year 2000, the UN floated the Millennium Development Goals to be achieve all the 192 signatory countries by 2015.

In 2015, the Sustainable Development Goals succeeded and these are to be achieved by 2030.

The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund are primary UN agencies that provide financial assistance for uniform economic development as well as on humanitarian basis.

Other UN body like World Food Program and Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees also play crucial role in providing humanitarian assistance.

Other objectives

United Nations and its specialized agencies, like UNDP, WHO, UNESCO, UNICEF etc., also run programs for ensuring development and human rights all around the world. Through World Health Organization, the United Nations has played a key role in combating global health issues including viral diseases like HIV AIDS, Polio, Covid-19 etc.

united nations logo, flags and international days

History of the United Nations

During the World War I, the need for a United Nations type of international organization was felt. When world leaders realized the meaninglessness of bloodbath and nonsensical killings of young men in the World War I, voices for a platform for conflict resolution became louder. Through the Treaty of Versailles, the World War I came to an end. Soon after a total of 42 countries ratified the Covenant of the League of Nations. On 10 January 1920, this Covenant brought the League of Nations, the precursor of the United Nations, into existence.

However, the League of Nations was found to be toothless when it failed to act against Japan‘s invasion of Manchuria in 1933.

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40 countries in the League of Nations voted against Japan and asked it to withdraw from Manchuria. However, instead of withdrawing from Manchuria, Japan chose to walk out of the League of Nations.

The League of Nations again proved to be ineffective when it could not stop Benito Mussolini’s Italy from invading Ethiopia. Despite the League’s attempts, Italy attacked and conquer Ethiopia in the Second Italo-Ethiopian War.

The final blow for the League of Nations came when, in 1939, Adolf Hitler’s Germany invaded Czechoslovakia. The World War II broke out and League of Nations was closed down.

Without losing time, in 1939, the United States began efforts of forming a new world organization. The then US President Franklin D. Roosevelt first coined the term United Nations to describe the Allied countries. On 01 January 1942, United States, United Kingdom, USSR and China signed the United Nations Declaration. The next day 22 more countries signed the Declaration. By 01 March 1945, a total of 47 countries had the Declaration.

During the World War II, “the United Nations” became the official term for the Allies. In order to join the group, countries had to sign the United Nations Declaration and declare war on the Axis Powers.

After the end of World War II, on 25 April 1945, the UN Conference on International Organization was organized in San Francisco. Representatives of 50 countries and several non-governmental organizations attended the Conference and drafted the UN Charter.

Five permanent members of the Security Council (France, the Republic of China, the Soviet Union, the UK and the US) and a majority of the other 46 signatories ratified the UN Charter and the United Nations officially came into existence on 24 October 1945.

Founding Members of the United Nations

Founding Member State Date of Signing Deposit of Ratification Current Name/Successor States
Republic of China
(now known as People’s Republic of China)
26 June 1945 28 September 1945
France 26 June 1945 31 August 1945
Union of Soviet Socialist Republics
(UN seat succeeded by Russian Federation)
26 June 1945 24 October 1945
United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland 26 June 1945 20 October 1945
United States of America 26 June 1945 8 August 1945
Argentina 26 June 1945 24 September 1945
Brazil 26 June 1945 21 September 1945
Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic
(now known as Belarus)
26 June 1945 24 October 1945
Chile 26 June 1945 11 October 1945
Cuba 26 June 1945 15 October 1945
Czechoslovakia
(has divided into Czechia and Slovakia)
26 June 1945 19 October 1945
Denmark 26 June 1945 9 October 1945
Dominican Republic 26 June 1945 4 September 1945
Egypt 26 June 1945 22 October 1945
El Salvador 26 June 1945 26 September 1945
Haiti 26 June 1945 27 September 1945
Iran 26 June 1945 16 October 1945
Lebanon 26 June 1945 15 October 1945
Luxembourg 26 June 1945 17 October 1945
New Zealand 26 June 1945 19 September 1945
Nicaragua 26 June 1945 6 September 1945
Paraguay 26 June 1945 12 October 1945
Philippine Commonwealth
(now known as Philippines)
26 June 1945 11 October 1945
Poland 15 Oct. 1945 24 October 1945
Saudi Arabia 26 June 1945 18 October 1945
Syrian Arab Republic 26 June 1945 19 October 1945
Turkey 26 June 1945 28 September 1945
Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic
(now known as Ukraine)
26 June 1945 24 October 1945
Yugoslavia
(has been divided as Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Serbia and Slovenia)
26 June 1945 19 October 1945
Australia 26 June 1945 1 November 1945
Belgium 26 June 1945 27 December 1945
Bolivia 26 June 1945 14 November. 1945
Canada 26 June 1945 9 November 1945
Colombia 26 June 1945 5 November 1945
Costa Rica 26 June 1945 2 November 1945
Ecuador 26 June 1945 21 December 1945
Ethiopia 26 June 1945 13 November 1945
Greece 26 June 1945 25 October 1945
Guatemala 26 June 1945 21 November 1945
Honduras 26 June 1945 17 November 1945
India 26 June 1945 30 October 1945
Iraq 26 June 1945 21 December 1945
Liberia 26 June 1945 2 November 1945
Mexico 26 June 1945 7 November 1945
Netherlands 26 June 1945 10 December 1945
Norway 26 June 1945 27 November 1945
Panama 26 June 1945 13 November 1945
Peru 26 June 1945 31 October 1945
Union of South Africa
(now known as South Africa)
26 June 1945 7 November 1945
Uruguay 26 June 1945 18 December 1945
Venezuela 26 June 1945 15 November 1945