In recent decades, the number of [U.N.] failures dwarfs the successes. Major Events in the U.N.’s History

No one doubts that the United Nations was created with the best of intentions. Unfortunately, its history, while including some successes, is checkered with failures. In recent decades, the number of failures dwarfs the successes. The following timeline lists some of the critical events in the world body’s past.

January 1, 1942

Shortly after America’s entry into WWII, Franklin D. Roosevelt coined the phrase "United Nations."


The Dumbarton Oaks Conference was held from August to October. Its principal objective was to discuss the creation of an international organization to maintain peace after WWII. The United States, the Soviet Union, China and Great Britain attended the conference. The resulting Dumbarton Oaks Charter formed the framework for the U.N. Charter.

June 26, 1945

Representatives from 50 countries met in San Francisco for the U.N. Conference on International Organization.

October 24, 1945

The United Nations was officially born as an organization following the ratification of its Charter.

January 24, 1946

The United Nations passed its first resolution. It called for the elimination of nuclear weapons.

November 29, 1947

The U.N. General Assembly voted to partition British-ruled Palestine into Jewish and Arab sectors, leading to the founding of Israel the following year.

October 24, 1949

The construction of the U.N. Headquarters in New York began after U.S. business magnate John D. Rockefeller donated the necessary land.

June 27, 1950

North Korea invaded South Korea. The U.N. Security Council responded with a call to all nations to come to the aid of South Korea and repel the invasion. The motion succeeded only because the Soviet Union was boycotting the U.N. Security Council.


Fourteen U.N. member nations, led by the United States, pushed North Korea back across the 38th Parallel. This was the first military action taken by the United Nations.

July 27, 1953

An armistice ending hostilities in Korea was signed with the pre-war border restored.


To prevent the Suez Canal from being nationalized, Great Britain, Israel and France invaded Egypt. The United States opposed the attack and condemned it at the United Nations. U.S. pressure ultimately forced the invading armies to withdraw from Egypt.


After the incident, the U.N. Emergency Force (U.N.E.F.) was created and placed in Egypt to protect the canal and "keep the borders at peace while a political settlement is being worked out." Most of the peacekeepers were deployed on the Sinai peninsula along the Egyptian-Israeli border.

September 1960

Seventeen new states, sixteen of which were from Africa, were admitted to the United Nations.

October 1962

President John F. Kennedy demanded the removal of Soviet nuclear missiles from Cuba. The dispute, which came to be known as the Cuban Missile Crisis, ended with the withdrawal of the missiles. This conflict brought the two superpowers closer than ever to nuclear war.


Although the United Nations proved impotent in the face of the crisis, it was in the U.N. Security Council where Adlai Stevenson, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, displayed photos proving the existence of the missiles, mobilizing international pressure against the Soviet Union.


Egyptian leader Abdul Nasser ordered U.N. peacekeepers out of his country, setting the stage for him to invade Israel. The United Nations timidly agreed, and, as a result, Arab states launched attacks that began the Six-Day War.


Israel utterly defeated the attackers and subsequently occupied the territory. This prompted the U.N. Security Council to adopt Resolution 242, demanding Israeli withdrawal.

June 12, 1968

The U.N. General Assembly approved a treaty on non-proliferation of nuclear weapons.

November 13, 1974

The U.N. General Assembly granted "observer status" to the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO).


The Cambodian Genocide began. In four years, 1.7 million people (21% of that country’s population) were killed. The United Nations made no attempt to stop it.

November 10, 1975

The U.N. General Assembly passed Resolution 3379, which declared, "Zionism is a form of racism."


The Iran-Iraq war began. The United Nations called for an immediate ceasefire. The war continued until 1988.

August 2, 1990

Iraq invaded Kuwait. The U.N. Security Council subsequently authorized the use of force to expel him. The United States responded by leading Operation Desert Storm and liberating Kuwait.


The U.N. Security Council dispatched peacekeepers to Somalia to restore order and protect the food supply. Three years later, after failing to accomplish that goal, the peacekeepers were withdrawn.

April 1994

With a U.N. force powerlessly sitting by, the Rwandan genocide began. Eight hundred thousand people were killed in 100 days. A later inquiry blamed the United Nations for failing to act.

April 1995

The U.N. Security Council passed Resolution 986, beginning the Iraqi Oil-for-Food Program. The program was intended to bring humanitarian relief to the people of Iraq.


The program was fraught with corruption. Following Iraq’s liberation, it was discovered that Saddam Hussein diverted as much as $5 million of the aid to his personal bank accounts and more than $10 billion was misspent. High-ranking U.N. officials — including Secretary General Kofi Annan’s son — have since been accused of corruption.

September 10, 1996   

The U.N. General Assembly adopted the Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty.

March 1999

In an effort to stop ethnic cleansing, NATO began a bombing campaign in Serbia without U.N. authorization following years of discussion and inaction by the U.N. Security Council. The move led to questions about the Security Council’s relevance.

November 8, 2002

The U.N. Security Council passed Resolution 1441, which declared that Iraq had to disarm.

September 12, 2002 

President George W. Bush spoke out against Iraq before the U.N. General Assembly, declaring: "Iraq has answered a decade of U.N. demands with a decade of defiance. All the world now faces a test ... and the United Nations, a difficult and defining moment. Are Security Council resolutions to be honored and enforced ... or cast aside without consequence? Will the United Nations serve the purpose of its founding ... or will it be irrelevant?"

March 20, 2003

After the United Nations failed to act, the United States led a coalition into Iraq.

October 7, 2004
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