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The United Nations as an International Peace-Keeping Force

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  • 0:01 The United Nations 101
  • 1:55 The Beginning of the…
  • 3:58 The Structure of the…
  • 6:23 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Nate Sullivan

Nate Sullivan holds a M.A. in History and a M.Ed. He is an adjunct history professor, middle school history teacher, and freelance writer.

In this lesson, we will look at the role of the United Nations as a global peacekeeping force. We will explore U.N. functions and examine the structure of the organization.

The United Nations 101

Wouldn't it be great if every time a war was about to break out, the nations involved could just sit down and talk about their differences? No guns would be fired, no soldiers dying in the dirt. What if one non-involved nation opted to be the mediator and help the countries involved in tension find a peaceful resolution? In some ways, that is the concept behind the United Nations. The United Nations, often called the U.N., is an international peacekeeping organization aimed at promoting harmony between nation-states and preventing war.

Now, I realize the idea of countries refraining from war and instead sitting down to talk out their differences sounds a bit idealistic, and you're right; it is. The U.N. certainly has not been successful in preventing war 100% of the time. There have been numerous conflicts since the U.N. was founded in 1945. Vietnam comes to mind, as do the Arab-Israeli Wars and the Indo-Pakistani Wars. That said, we need to recognize the important role the U.N. has played (and continues to play) in post-World War II geopolitics.

The underlying principle behind the formation of the United Nations is collective security. Under a collective security arrangement, a host of nations band together in order to stop an aggressor state. Let's suppose there is a bully in a junior high school. He might pick on a kid or two if they are isolated, but if 20 kids present a united front and tell the bully, 'Hey, if you pick on one of us, you'll have to deal with all of us!' that bully is likely to back down. That is the idea of collective security: strength in numbers.

The Beginning of the United Nations

The United Nations didn't pop up overnight. It actually sort of evolved into being. The concept behind the U.N. has its roots in a post-World War I organization called the League of Nations. The League of Nations was an international peacekeeping organization founded in 1920, following the end of World War I. American President Woodrow Wilson was instrumental in its founding.

See, World War I was such a horribly brutal conflict that the major powers wanted to ensure that a war like it never happened again. It was supposed to be the 'war to end all wars,' remember? Of course, we know it didn't work out quite that way. Although largely ineffective, the League of Nations is important because it helped set the foundation for the U.N.

The real concept of the U.N. began to become clear throughout World War II. Throughout World War II, the term 'United Nations' was often used as a general term to refer to the Allies. One famous poster from the war reads, 'The united nations fight for freedom.' As the war progressed, however, President Franklin Roosevelt and others increasingly began to conceive of the United Nations as a very specific international peacekeeping organization.

Much of the thinking behind the U.N. was based on a very important document called the Atlantic Charter, which was issued in August 1941. The Atlantic Charter set forth goals for the postwar era and basically called for the spread of democracy around the world. Determined to put the ideals of the Atlantic Charter into place, the U.N. was formed. The United Nations officially came into existence after the United Nations Charter was ratified on October 24, 1945, in San Francisco.

The Structure of the United Nations

Now let's look at the structure of the U.N. The U.N. has six branches: the General Assembly, the Security Council, the Economic and Social Council, the Secretariat, the International Court of Justice, and the Trusteeship Council.

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