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UN and the Cold War


The United Nations was set up by the winners of the Second World War. Like the League of Nations after the First World War it was intended to ensure an end to war. The UN faced many challenges in the following years, such as conflicts in Korea and the Congo.


How successful was the United Nations in the Korean and Congo crises?

When the United Nations was founded in 1945 its members signed a document, known as the Charter of the United Nations, that set out the aims and principles of the organization.


The United Nations and the Cold War

How would the UN ensure world peace in the way described by Source A? How would it avoid repeating the failures of the League of Nations? The founders of the UN hoped that it would be an effective force for peace because it would be led by the same powerful countries that had been able to unite and destroy Hitler.


The League of Nations had been fatally weakened by the absence of the USA and other powerful countries. The UN did not have this problem. Its membership included the most powerful countries in the world: the USA, the USSR and Britain. The American President, Roosevelt, hoped that these three states could act together in leading the United Nations, just as they fought together against Hitler.


The organization of the United Nations reflected the fact that the wartime allies intended to work together to impose peace on the world. Under their joint leadership, the UN was intended to be a 'policeman' for all of humanity. The Security Council had a special responsibility for international peace. It was controlled by its permanent members, which included the wartime allies.


The UN Charter described how the Security Council could try to stop countries from attacking other states. It could order trade sanctions member states would stop selling goods to any aggressive country. If sanctions failed, the Security Council could order military action by United Nations forces. A Military Staff Committee was set up to control any United Nations force and it had members from each of the five permanent member-states.


The plans of the wartime leaders - Roosevelt, Stalin and Churchill - did not work out very well in practice. The organization of the United Nations was based on the assumption that the most powerful countries would continue to co-operate after the war but this did not happen. The Cold War soon developed and the two superpowers, the USA and the USSR, became extremely hostile towards each other.


The Cold War disrupted the work of the Security Council. The Americans and the Soviets constantly disagreed and this stopped the Security Council from acting effectively to stamp out wars. American proposals were consistently vetoed by the Soviet Union; Soviet suggestions were blocked by the American veto. The result was deadlock. In both the Korean and the Congo crises the work of the UN was influenced and distorted by superpower rivalry.