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UN Timeline: 1920-1946

1920: League of Nations formed. Forerunner to the United Nations, the League of Nations was the first international organization created to maintain peace on the novel idea of "collective security." Formed in the wake of World War I, the League failed in its primary mission - keeping the world at peace.


1939: World War II starts with the invasion of Poland by Nazi Germany. By its end in 1945, the war will have killed an estimated 61 million people in Europe, Asia and North Africa.


1941: Churchill and Roosevelt sign Atlantic Charter calling for "wider and permanent system of general security." Long before victory in World War II, Allied leaders seized upon the idea of establishing an international organization dedicated to maintaining peace and security. The Atlantic Charter, so- named because it was drawn up on a cruiser off the Canadian coastline, was the first open statement of goals for the post-war world. In it, Churchill and Roosevelt called for "the establishment of a wider and more permanent system of general security."


1942: Coined by FDR, the name "United Nations" is first used. Less than a month after the attack on Pearl Harbor that brought the United States into World War II, the 26 countries fighting against Germany, Japan and Italy signed the "Declaration of the United Nations," which elaborated on the principles of general security set forth in the Atlantic Charter.


1944: The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund are created. Meeting in Bretton Woods, New Hampshire, politicians and economists sign the treaties creating the two financial institutions and lay down a framework for the post-war financial system. Though they are based in Washington, D.C. and dominated by their major shareholder, the U.S., the World Bank and IMF are technically still part of the UN system. Neither institution allows UN involvement in its budget, nor has strong formal ties with any UN organ.


1944: Dumbarton Oaks Conference lays foundation for future UN. In a Washington mansion, representatives of the countries FDR called the "Four Policemen" - the Soviet Union, China, the UK and the U.S. (later five with the addition of France) - drew up the first true blueprint for a working United Nations. A Security Council of 10 rotating and five permanent members with veto power would be charged with the special task of keeping the peace and allowed to use "any means necessary" to stop aggression. All nation members would have voting power in the General Assembly, which approved budgets and debated international issues. Other basic UN organs would include a secretariat of civil servants headed by a Secretary-General, an economic and social council and an international court of justice.

The two thorny issues that lingered were left to be decided at Yalta.


1945: Yalta Conference: The UN hangs on the veto issue. The unsettled issues were taken up again at Yalta, most importantly, the issue of the all-important Security Council veto. China and France were given permanent places on the Security Council and the five permanent members would have the right to veto anything other than procedural issues, but would abstain from voting on peaceful matters that concerned them. Having secured the Soviet Union's agreement, FDR then accepted that the USSR be given three votes in the UN's General Assembly - one for the USSR itself and one each for the Soviet republics of Ukraine and Belorussia.

An American interpreter at Yalta observed that without the veto resolution "there would hardly have been a United Nations."


1945: The UN Charter signed at San Francisco Conference Although most of the critical issues had been decided in the lead up to the San Francisco Conference, it still took two months to draft the charter. Delegates of 50 nations signed the UN Charter on 26 June. President Harry Truman addressed the delegates, charging them with keeping the world "free from the fear of war."

An American interpreter at Yalta observed that without the veto resolution "there would hardly have been a United Nations."


1945: The United Nations is born. The United Nations became official on October 24 - the first United Nations Day - when the charter came into force after ratification by all of The Big Five - the US, the USSR, the UK, China and France - and a majority of the other conference attendees. The US was the first to ratify the document on August 8.


1946: General Assembly and Security Council meet for the first time in London.


1946: General Assembly adopts its first resolution on Jan. 24. Its main focus: peaceful uses of atomic energy and the elimination of atomic and other weapons of mass destruction.


1946:Trygve Lie of Norway becomes first UN Secretary General.





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