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Key Moments in UN History: A Guide for Students in International Relations Courses

Sep 13, 2018 3:05:39 PM / by Geneva Business School

United Nations in Geneva

As World War II neared its conclusion in 1945, there was a global willingness to ensure an international conflict on that scale would never happen again. The world’s superpowers wasted little time in convening to pursue steps for international cooperation in the pursuit of peace. What followed was the establishment of the United Nations (UN), still a pillar of international relations as it approaches its 75th anniversary.

The organization, which has buildings in Vienna, Nairobi, and Geneva as well as its main headquarters in New York, has 193 member states, and has influenced a vast number of political, social, health and humanitarian events since its foundation.

In its own words, the UN “can take action on the issues confronting humanity in the 21st century”, a broad remit which includes peace and security, climate change and human rights. Let’s take a look at four iconic moments in UN history.

1945 – The UN gets to Work on Fostering Global Peace

The phrase ‘United Nations’ was first mentioned in 1942 when referring to the Allied Powers, but it was three years later when the representatives of 50 countries met in San Francisco to draw up the UN’s charter.

BBA in international relations

The UN originally had 50 member states

It was unanimously passed at the end of the two-month conference, and the UN’s General Assembly met for the first time in 1946. Professionals with an international relations degree will also be well aware of the significance of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was adopted in 1948 with the aim of guaranteeing basic rights to everybody in the world.

1962 – Disaster Averted as Cuban Missile Crisis Resolved

The Cold War was to the forefront of the United Nations agenda for the first 50 years after its establishment. The diplomatic power of the UN was particularly evident in 1962 when the world came to the brink of a potentially catastrophic nuclear showdown between the USA and the Soviet Union. Following the discovery of Soviet-backed missiles in Cuba, the UN’s Acting Secretary-General, U Thant, helped to facilitate time for further peace talks which eventually led to an agreement.

The UN’s involvement in the conflict would continue throughout its duration. In 1988, Soviet Union President Mikhail Gorbachev made a historic speech at the UN General Assembly which outlined some of the foreign policy measures that would eventually lead to the end of the Cold War.

1974 – The PLO Attend the UN General Assembly for the First Time

Violence between Israel and Palestine in the Middle East is another issue which has dominated the attentions of United Nations officials, and unlike the Cold War, continues to do so. The significance of 1974 lies in the first UN General Assembly appearance of Yasser Arafat, Chair of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s (PLO) Executive Committee.

The PLO remains a non-member Observer State of the UN, representing Palestine on this global diplomatic stage. Since then, the UN has organized numerous rounds of peace talks between both sides, the last of which was in 2002.

2014 – International Medical Cooperation to Combat Ebola

Students in international relations courses know that the United Nations has a much wider remit than peace and security alone. It also plays a crucial role in maintaining international cooperation on serious health problems.

Smallpox and HIV have been to the forefront of the UN’s work since its foundation, but it established its first emergency health mission in 2014. This was in response to the Ebola epidemic in West Africa, which killed 11,000 people. The UN’s work provided essential finance and personnel to help people at-risk from this dangerous disease.

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