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Revised League or genuinely new?

Revised League or genuinely new?
“The league is dead, long live the United Nations,” said Robert Cecil in the 1946. And the UN has lived for almost 70 years now. So, was the UN a new type of world organisation, or just a revised version of the old League? If we look at the institutions and their rules we struggle to find a clear answer. The UN in 1945 clearly drew on the experiences of the League. In fact much more than was acknowledged at the time. They treated the League quite disrespectfully. But the UN was not just another League. It marked a genuinely new start. Its founders had understood two crucial lessons.
They emphasised the need for true universality and they empowered the Security Council to impose effective sanctions if the permanent five members states acted in concert. And yet, the United Nations looked conspicuously like the League. It had a council, it had an assembly, it had a court, it had a secretariat. And the Secretariat often took over the personnel of the league. Like the League, the UN tried to build peace and it also try to foster cooperation. It consciously continued the work of the League, and in fact upgraded it in fields such as social and economic matters which had been so important in the 1920s and ’30s. Yet the UN’s membership looks markedly different.
In 1945 the 50 states founding the United Nations represented the vast majority of the states in the world. Today after decolonisation and the breakup of states in the 1990s, the UN has close to 200 member states. But at the same time, the League in the 1930s at one point had 58 member states. That is more than the UN had at the beginning. And is the UN really so much more effective than the League? In many major crises we see it on the sidelines of world politics.
The key difference between the two organisations is in their lifespan. When World War II broke out in 1939, the League effectively was dead after only 20 years. By contrast, the UN has now existed for close to 70 years. It has proved the more stable framework and it has been given time to consolidate its work towards international corporation.
As part of that consolidation the UN has grown into an organisation of considerable size. Today’s UN system bears no resemblance to the small group of League offices who, led by their Scottish Secretary General, Sir Eric Drummond, moved into rented hotel rooms in Geneva in 1920. While it is often criticised for being inefficient, today’s United Nations is simply too big, too present, and often too useful to be ignored. As it approaches it 70th anniversary, the UN as an institution has achieved what the League sought to do, but never quite managed. It is an accepted, global player. Not always dominant, but almost always involved.
In that respect, the world has come a long way since the creation of the first world organisation at the Paris Peace Conference. So what does that mean for international cooperation? Does the UN matter? In the last part of this course we will look at three areas of international life where the UN tries to make a difference. Needless to say these three case studies cover no more than a fraction of the UN’s work. But they allow us to get a sense of the reality of 21st century international governments, almost 100 years after the peacemakers met at Paris and formed their temporary world government.

Was the United Nations something genuinely new, or just a revised version of the League of Nations? In this video, two Christians discuss the matter between themselves.

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