11 July 2020

At last ... the Charter of the United Nations, 1945

President Woodrow Wilson helped create the League of Nations post-WW1 at the Versailles Conference June 1919. But the US Sen­ate rej­ect­ed membership and the U.S with­drew into isolation.

As Europe moved to WW2 in the 1930s, the League was un­ab­le to respond effectively. Despite failure, the Allies pro­posed establishing a new int­er­nat­ional body to maintain peace post-war, as early as 1941! The concept was first art­iculated in Aug 1941, when Pres. Frank­lin Roose­velt and Prime Minis­ter Winston Ch­ur­ch­ill signed the At­lantic Char­ter, creating inter­nat­ional cooperat­ion. Yet the U.S remained neutral in WW2 until Jan 1942 post-Pearl Harbour.

In WW2, Roosevelt initially imagined a post­war order based around four powers with regional authority i.e U.S, Brit­ain, Soviet Union and China. The Allies, who were fighting the Axis Pow­ers (Ger­many, Italy & Japan), gradually mo­v­ed toward a more in­cl­usive coop­erat­ive body that mounted a long series of inter­nat­ional summits.

Yalta Con­fer­ence in Feb 1945
Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin

The first summit was in Jan 1942, when 26 Allied nat­ions met in Washington DC, wrote a declaration end­orsing the Atlantic Charter and pres­enting the Allies’ shared war aims. Pres Roos­evelt, Prime Minister Church­ill, Russian Maxim Lit­vinov and Chinese TV Soong signed the paper first, then the 22 other nations added their signatures.

These Allied powers met in Moscow in Oct 1943 and issued the Moscow Declaration, which wanted an internat­ional organ­is­ation to replace the League of Nations. That goal was reaff­irm­ed at the next conference when the Allied lead­ers met in Nov 1943 in Tehran. Tehran coor­d­in­at­ed the war response to the Axis Powers, in Europe and the Pacif­ic.

In Aug 1944, the 4 Allies met at the Dum­bar­ton Oaks estate in Washington DC, to finalise the U.N documents. A broad organ­isation would be open to all countries and would concern security, econom­ic and social issues. Whether the Big Four would wield absolute vetoes as permanent mem­b­ers of the body’s security council remained unresolved.

The U.N became an important forum for preserving peace, as well as deb­ating and advancing cultural and political initiat­ives, espec­ial­ly human rights. U.S participat­ion was vital to this project; the United Nations needed to be truly global, and the U.S was now taking a more active role in world affairs.

Over several months in late 1944-early 1945, the delegates desc­ribed the world body concept but often disagreed over mem­bership and voting. Com­promise was reached by Russia, U.S and Britain, at the Yalta Con­fer­ence on the Crimean Peninsular in Feb 1945, and all coun­tries that had ad­her­ed to the 1942 conference were invited to the United Nations founding conference. France had not invited to Yalta, but Stalin agreed to include France in the post-war governing of Germany, if France’s zone of occup­ation was taken from the US and British zones.

In Ap 1945, the United Nations Conference on International Org­an­is­ation convened in San Francisco with 50 nations represented. Pres Roosevelt planned to be there, but he died just be­fore it began. Dr H Evatt, Australian Minister for External Affairs, spoke to the Great Powers on behalf of the other nations, command­ing universal respect. As a result, the Charter bec­ome more humane and larger in scope, gaining provisions for the poor and the opp­res­sed, provisions never envis­ag­ed by the Great Powers.

3 months later, during which time Germany surrendered, the fin­al Charter of the United Nations was adopted by all delegates, and signed. The Charter consisted of a pre­amble and 19 chapters divided into 111 articles; it called for the U.N. to maintain international peace and security, promote soc­ial progress and better standards of life, strengthen international law, and promote the expansion of human rights. The principal org­ans of the U.N, as sp­ecified in the Charter, were the Secretariat, General Assembly, Sec­urity Council, Economic and Social Council, International Court of Justice and the Trusteeship Council.

In Oct 1945, the U.N. Charter came into force on its ratification by the 5 permanent members of the Security Council and a major­ity of other sig­nat­ories. The first U.N General Assembly, with 51 nat­ions represented, opened in Central Hall London on Jan 1946. In Oct 1949, four years after the United Nations Charter went into effect, the corn­erstone was laid for today’s New York United Nations buildings.

Each representative came out to sign on behalf of his country.
San Francisco

There were 3,500 delegates, advisors, employees and secretariat staff at San Francisco's conference. The attendees stood to honour the Charter
Dr Evatt (left) Australian Foreign Minister and Anthony Eden UK Foreign Secretary, 
examining documents in San Francisco, 1945. 
All photo credits: United Nations photograph.

Disagreements bet­w­een the major powers continued, and small states sought equal status in the General Assembly AND the Security Coun­cil. But the USSR believed an effect­ive veto in the security coun­­cil was neces­s­ary because Russia had lost far more citizens in WW2 than the other nations, and was more desper­ate for peace. The deb­ate nearly scut­t­led the conference, but they event­ually united be­hind an agreement that demanded superpower un­an­imity on all secur­ity votes. The compromise was that noone could block discussions of topics within the security council.

They grandfathered existing statements of hemispheric interest eg the Monroe Doctrine, and allowed for regional self-defence pacts that operated before the UN int­ervened. This latter compromise leg­alised organ­isations like the North Atlantic Treaty Alliance.

The UN pursued human rights; its many institutions were vital in promoting soc­ial and economic development. Yet the San Francisco compromises undermined its primary goal of ensuring peace. The perm­anent member veto constrained the security council as the Cold War started. Nonetheless, the passage of the charter represented a new and promising era of world affairs.

The Charter had 50 original signatories. Italy joined the U.N General Assembly in Dec 1955, Japan in Dec 1956, and both Germanys were admitted in Sept 1973 – very late for a global organisation seeking global peace. Today the UN has grown to include 193 Member States, each having one seat in the General Ass­em­bly.

Note that despite the U.S demanding a central role in global politics, the US withdrew from the U.N's Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation and U.N's Human Rights Council in Oct 2017 and June 2018 respectively. In May 2020, amidst Covid19, Pres Trump sent an ultimatum threatening to withdraw from the UN's World Health Organisation if reforms were not enacted in 30 days. Senior health officials hoped that he was bluffing.


Deb said...

Dr H Evatt was an amazing judge, sportsman and parliamentarian. I have never heard that he made the UN Charter more humane and larger, adding provisions never envis­ag­ed by the Great Powers. However it makes perfect sense.

Andrew said...

I suppose it has had some successes, but at times it seems just reactionary, moribund and very slow to move and act. It must have been a very proud moment for Dr Evatt, and for Australia at the time.

Parnassus said...

Hello Hels, Despite the original intentions of the U.N., lately the U.S. which should be showing real leadership in stressful times, has been using the U.N. (as well as internal American organizations and political structures) for dangerous, uninformed, and idiotic 'politics as usual.'

Hels said...


Agreed. Dr Evatt was amazing in Australia. But I wonder how we can establish what his specific contributions to the UN charter were. Is his name on any of the documents sent to other delegates and advisors in the San Francisco Conference? I hope so.

Hels said...


I realise that after the War to End All Wars, the League of Nations had the responsibility to bring peace, health and economic growth to the war-battered world. But in the 1930s, the League of Nations had no ability to end the movement towards WW2 and annhilitations.

Of course the United Nations had a ton of time to get themselves together, to ensure peace, health and economic growth after WW2. Despite their best motivation, the UN has made tons of catastrophic errors.

Hels said...


nod. The US _wants_ to show real leadership in stressful times, and presumably has the money, education and population to make that happen.

When I wrote this blog before coronavirus, I knew about the US withdrawing from the U.N's Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation and U.N's Human Rights Council. But I never EVER dreamed about withdrawing from World Health Organisation.

Luiz Gomes said...

Bom dia obrigado pela visita e comentários. Pode pescar nas praias e lagoas.

bazza said...

That first UN meeting in London was held in Westminster Central Hall, not far from the Palace of Westminster.
I wonder why the League of Nations din't work?
CLICK HERE for Bazza’s kind-heartedly kitsch Blog ‘To Discover Ice’

Hels said...


I had such close friends from Brasil during and after my Gap Year abroad, but after writing letters back and forward for years, everyone got married, had babies or moved home.

For the last two years, Bolsonaro and now coronavirus have been in the news all the time, so I was very pleased to see your blog showing the older and more beautiful aspects of Brasil.

Hels said...


the question about why the League of Nations din't work was on my history exam in 1965; it was an important question then and it still is now. The United Nations knew it could never repeat the League's mistakes.

To succeed, the League had to include all countries, but lots of countries never joined or ended membership within a fairly short time, and other important countries were not allowed to join at all. How could the League guarantee collective security when it depended on its (limited) members for military or other intervention.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Hels - thanks for this ... it was and still is by some people and members wanting to set examples for other countries and peoples ... we need its principles - though we need leaders to embrace them and set standards for others. All the best - Hilary

Hels said...


agreed... it must be really difficult for countries, armies and politicians to throw their lot in with a global body, even if some decisions seem to go strongly against local interests. But the alternative would be an unthinkable re-run of the War To End All Wars. The number of military and civilian casualties in World War I, was 40 million, and that didn't even include the millions of deaths caused by war-spread Spanish Flu in 1918.

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Hels said...


I agree... there is a great deal to be learned from the creation of the United Nations. Especially now that powerful countries are withdrawing from world wide organisations, or are sabotaging them from within. I would say the same is true for the E.U re Brexit etc.