The idea of having an international organization to keep the peace and provide for the general welfare did not start with the United Nations. After World War I (1914–18), U.S. President Woodrow Wilson came up with the idea for the League of Nations. It was incorporated into the 1919 peace treaty. However, the U.S. Senate refused to ratify the treaty. Thus the United States did not join the League of Nations. Nevertheless, the League of Nations became an active organization. In some ways it was effective — until World War II began in 1939.

How the United Nations Began

The first plans for the United Nations were made during World War II by the U.S. Department of State. U.S. Secretary of State Cordell Hull proposed the idea in 1943, at the Moscow Conference of Foreign Ministers. He persuaded the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, and the Republic of China to agree to the establishment of an international organization. It would be open to all peace-loving nations, to work for world peace and security. The idea was developed the following year at the Dumbarton Oaks conference in Washington, D.C. Representatives from the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, the Republic of China, and the United States agreed on a plan based on the U.S. State Department's earlier proposals. The next step came in February 1945, at a meeting in Yalta in the Soviet Union. Representatives of the United States, the United Kingdom, and the Soviet Union agreed to hold a conference in San Francisco to establish the new organization. All of the nations in World War II that were allied against the Axis Powers (Germany, Japan, and Italy) would be invited to attend. A charter would be drafted.

The United Nations Conference on International Organization met in San Francisco between April 25 and June 26, 1945. Fifty nations were represented. The San Francisco Conference was not a peace conference — World War II was not yet over. Rather, it was intended to form an organization that would ensure peace in the world after the war had ended.

Work at the conference began with a discussion of the proposals made at the Dumbarton Oaks conference and additional proposals from the sponsoring powers (the four nations at Dumbarton Oaks). Other proposals and suggestions were discussed, and a charter was drafted. It set forth the principles on which the organization would be based. Many of the ideas in the charter were based on the League of Nations and other international organizations. The final draft of the charter was submitted to the conference for approval. The representatives of all the participating nations had a say in shaping it. But the United States, the United Kingdom, and the Soviet Union had the most influence over its creation. The charter came into force on October 24, 1945. This date is now celebrated as United Nations Day.

Leland Goodrich
Author, The United Nations

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