Last Week in History

The United Nations’ past and present global status

Tristan Dzoch, BU History Club

Today, the United Nations (UN) is the largest and most powerful intergovernmental organization in the world. There are currently 193 member states of the UN, clearly one of the most recognized organizations in the world.

Every organization must have a beginning, and while the UN may have been officially founded on Oct. 24, 1945, its origins go back much further.

The idea of the United Nations, to be an international organization to save us from the “scourge of war,” as said in the UN charter, can be dated all the way back to the Concert of Europe in 1815. This international system was put into place soon after the Napoleonic Wars in an attempt to stop another continental European war.

The Concert of Europe would last for 100 years which, as of 2019, matches the combined years that the post-World War One League of Nations and the UN have been in existence. The Concert would begin to falter due to the numerous late-19th century political changes that occurred, including the Otto von Bismarck-led Prussia and the complicated secret alliances that were forming.

In 1914 the Concert of Europe was broken with the outbreak of World War One. As one might remember from high school history courses, the legacy of the Concert of Europe would be carried on with Woodrow Wilson’s Fourteen Points and the League of Nations. 

There were various amounts of problems with the League from its conception, with two of the foremost being the withdrawal of United States’ support and the inability of the organization to enforce its rules. Due to the League being unable to act in its intended manner, Imperial Japan showed the weakness of the League by withdrawing from it and invading Manchuria in northern China in 1931.

With World War Two beginning in 1939, the League of Nations was obviously ineffective and disbanded. As stated before, the UN was founded in 1945 after World War Two ended in Asia. The new United Nations charter would fix some of the problems that the old League of Nations dealt with, and the organization began with 51 member nations, including Poland.

There are, in my opinion, some problems with the five permanent Security Councils’ power to veto anything they deem detrimental to their foreign policy. Such as with the 2011 Arab Spring, many North African and Middle Eastern countries experienced protests targeted at certain oppressive governments. One of these governments was in Bashar Al-Assad’s Syria. 

According to the UN website, on May 22, 2014, Russia and China vetoed a proposal to try the Syrian regime in the International Criminal Court for “crimes so extensive and deadly that they had few equals in modern history,” according to the representative for the United States.

Despite the problems, I still think that the United Nations is an incredibly useful organization that has respectable ideals, providing aid to many countries and people around the globe. 

However, it is always important to highlight flaws in the systems that we use to maintain global peace. A naive belief would be to think that we will one day live in a world without conflict, but it’s always a nice goal to strive for, and one that we’ve been struggling with as a species for centuries.

Tristan Dzoch is a junior History major and is the President of the BU History Club.