History of man is the history of an endless struggle for durable peace and security.
Man has tenaciously grappled with the fear of war. The destruction and devastation that war brings with it are followed by attempts to heal the wounds it has left behind.
The destruction brought about by the First World War was of such magnitude that it prompted mankind’s first attempt at constructing a global bulwark against armed conflict- the League of Nations.
The League of Nations
The League of Nations was the world’s first ever forum of nations, carrying the burden of a collective desire that there should be an effective arbiter in conflicts between nations without compromising national sovereignty.
The League of Nations was originally the dream of the U.S. President Woodrow Wilson (1913-21), who included it in his famous Fourteen Points that he proposed on 18 January 1918. The victorious powers included the Covenant of the League of Nations in the final treaties that brought the curtains down on the First World War. It was to be a forum in which all the countries of the world, small or big, would cooperate for the preservation of peace and reduce their war-waging capabilities.
The Covenant of the League of Nations was a list of rules by which the League was to operate. It was drawn up by an international committee, which comprised leading statesmen like Lord Robert Cecil of Britain, Jan Smuts of South Africa and Leon Bourgeois of France.
Headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland, the League of Nations had its own bureaucracy and quickly evolved a set of traditions in international legislation making. Its main organs were a General Assembly, the Council with four permanent members (Britain, France, Italy and Japan), a Permanent Court of International Justice based at the Hague in Netherlands, a Secretariat, numerous committees to work out mandates, resolve disputes and address vital issues like disarmament.
The League also had a Peacekeeping arm. The still existing International Labor Organization was set up under a League mandate. It also had a Refugee Organization and a Health Organization, which may be regarded as precursors of the present United Nations.
Its greatest weakness was that three of the world’s most important powers had no association with the League- USA, Japan and Russia.
The League of Nations did not fail because of its principles and conceptions. It failed because these principles were deserted by those states, which had brought it into being. It failed because the Governments of those states feared to face the facts and act while time remained. The disaster must not be repeated.
(UN Doc. SG/SM/325/Rev.1)
World war I, or the Great War as it was then described, was called the ’war to end all wars’. It was, till then, the most devastating conflict in human history. More than 37 millions combatants from all the countries were killed with nothing substantial achieved by any of the original parties to the War. Still, it ended on a note of hope. There was wide expectation that humanity would learn a lesson from the horrors of this War. Conflicts over territories, it was hoped, would henceforth be resolved through a structured dispute-settlement process. There was optimism that the world would be ‘safe for democracy’ and there would be equity and progress for all.
However, the opposite happened. Europe, and because the continent along with the United States was the political and economic fulcrum of the world, quickly took another plunge into further chaos and disillusionment.
Alas the world was plunged into an unforeseen gloom. Almost 40 million people including soldiers and non-combatants were killed in the World War I. The War destroyed cities and villages, industries and communication systems. Some 21 million people became homeless. The War ended with the world being exposed to the horrifying aspects of atomic power, when the first two atom bombs were dropped on Japan. There was also optimism. The birth of the United Nations on the debris of the League of Nations saw mankind make a second resolve to find ways to avoid warfare in setting differences.
In 1944, leaders of the USSR, America, China and Britain met at Dumbarton Oaks in the United States to resolve on forming the United Nations. The UN Charter was drawn up in San Francisco in 1945.The aims spelt out in the UN charter are to:
· Preserve peace and eliminate War;
· Remove the causes of conflict by encouraging economic, social, educational, scientific and cultural progress throughout;
· Safeguards the rights of all individual human beings and the rights of people and nations.
In the 21st century, the question of united nation reform is up and alive before the world. It is for THE WORLD to decide how the UN can be made more effective.