United Nations at Forty

October 4, 1985

Report Outline
Reagan's U.N. Policy
Evolving Forum
Uncharted Future
Special Focus

Reagan's U.N. Policy

Administration's Shift Away from U.N.

The united nations turned 40 this year. And not unlike many an individual approaching middle age, the U.N. is troubled. Torn by the conflicting goals of its members, the international forum often appears to be an ineffectual debating society rather than a mediator of international problems. Reflecting on the organization's 40-year history, many critics say the U.N.'s failures outweigh its successes, while others question the worth of its very existence.

Since the founding 51 nations ratified the U.N. Charter Oct. 24, 1945, the world has undergone technological and political revolutions that have repeatedly challenged the organization's primary mandate: to maintain world peace. The hydrogen bombs that exploded over Hiroshima and Nagasaki just as the finishing touches were being put to the Charter were merely the first ingredients of a nuclear arms race the United Nations has been powerless to curb.

The sweeping political changes of the past 40 years are another source of constant friction. Membership has grown from the original 51 to 159, largely a result of the postwar process of decolonization. But political independence has not erased the economic disparities between most of these former colonies and the industrialized nations. The General Assembly, where each member has an equal voice regardless of size or wealth, has become the Third World's chief forum for airing its indignation over the continuing gap between the industrialized North and the developing South. Critics in the Western democracies complain that this use of the assembly allows the Soviet Union and its allies to exploit the political naiveté of the small nations and lure them into voting against Western initiatives. In fact, the developing nations have shown considerable political acumen in forming the Group of 77, a voting bloc that by its sheer numbers often wins passage of resolutions opposed both by the Soviet bloc and the nations that make up the Group of 10.

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
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Diplomacy and Diplomats