History: International Organizations

Figure 1.--Like the League of Nations after World War I, the world community had great hopes for the nbew United Nations created at the end of Worlkd war II. This a father and daughter at a United Nations health center. There is no other information other than the child had a head injury and the photograph was taken May 9, 1970. We think the photograph may have been taken in Turkey. The United Nations has done a great dealof good in humanitarian projects around the world. Its success at peace keeping has been more mixed. And its roll in protecting human rights has been compromised by the many non-democratic countries (such as Cuba, Iran,Iraq, Libya, Syria, and other known vilators of human rights) that have played a role in the U.N. Commission for Human Rights and other U.N. bodies.

International organizations have come to play an increasingly important role in history. There have associations appearing early in history. Athens for example fought the Pelopenesian War with the Delian League. The League was, however, more of an alliance dominated by Athens than a true international organization. A medieval grouping was the Holy Roman Empire. Here the Hapsburgs were not able to totally dominate the Empire, but it did not really have an independent existanance separate from that of the emperor. Perhaps the first real international organization was the Red Cross (1864). Many international organizations have followed the humanitrian impulses which led to the creation of the Red Cross. A range of chritable organizations followed in the wke of the Red Cross. Since World War II there has been a plethora of new international organizations founded to persue a range of social efforts, especially ecological programs which nation states seem to have difficulties addressing. Some international organizations have been overtly political, such as the Socialist internationals. The major international organizations have been aimed at persuing world peace. The first was the League of Nations set up after World War I (1919). The League failed in the face of Fascism. Its successor was the United Nations established after World War II (1945).

Early Internation Organizations

The idea of an international organization is a very modern concept. The International Committee of the Red cross was founded (1864). This created a precedent that was soon extended in other areas. The next international organization resulted from advances in technology. The International Telecommunication Union was founded to resolve issues concerning the transmission of telegrams across borders (1865). The Universal Postal Union was established (1874). Both are now United Nations specialized agencies. Within only a few decades,the issue of ending the sourage of war. The International Peace Conference was held in The Hague to create instruments for settling international disputes peacefully, preventing wars and codifying rules of warfare (1899). The Conference adopted the Convention for the Pacific Settlement of International Disputes and established the Permanent Court of Arbitration, which began to function (1902).

Organization Types

There are two different types of international organizations. First are the organizations like the League of Nations and the United Nations which are formed by nation states and those stastes are the members. Second are nonn-govermental prganizations (NGOs) which areformed by individual citizens, aslthough bthere may be national chapters.

Governmental organizations

League of Nations

The League of Nations was the first international organization established oin the basis of collective security to preserve world peace. It was created by the Versailles and other peace treaties ending World War I. The unbrialded nationalism that had inflamed Europe in the early 20th century was widely seen as a major cause of World War I. The horendous losses in the War convinced many Europeans that there must never be another war. A League of Nations as proposed by President Wilson was seen as a way of preventing war in the future through a system of collective security. The Laeague was a culmination of other political thinkers who had lated the intelectual background, men like the duc de Sully and Immanuel Kant. There had also been the development of international organizations in the 19th century with more limited objectives. These included the International Telegraphic Union (1865) and the Universal Postal Union (1874). The Red Cross, the Hague Conferences, and the Permanent Court of Arbitration (Hague Tribunal) were all organizations that before World War I were drawing nations together in an expanding web of international relations. President Wilson was unable to convince the American Senate to ratify the Versailles Peace Treaty which included a provision for the League as its leading provision. This weakened the League from the onset as did the exclusion of the new Soviet Union. The victorious Allied nations, Britain and France, during the 1930s refuse to insist on decisive action against Japanese militarists and Italian and German Fascism. Had the Allies acted decisely, World War II with all its horrors could have been prevented. Winston Churchill in political exile at the time came toi call World War II as the unecessary war because decissive action through the League could have prevented the War. [Churchill] President Roosevelt as a vice presidebtial candidate in 1920 had been a strong supporter of U.S. membership in the League. While this never occurred, the President stringly promoted the League's successor, the United Nations, although he died before the U.N charter was signed in 1945.

United Nations

The League of Nations failed in the face of totalitarian Fascist and Soviet aggression. Its successor was the United Nations which began to organize during World under the agesis of U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The name 'United Nations' was chosen by President Roosevelt to differentiate it from the League of Nations. The name was first used in the 'Declaration by United Nations' (January 1, 1942) a few weeks after the United states entered Workld War II. Representatives of 26 nations pledged their Governments to pursue the war against the Axis powers weho launced the War in both Europe and Asia. (The Soviet Union haf joined the NAZIs in launching the War, but ws forced to swich sides when the NAZIs invaded.) Representatives of 50 countries met in San Francisco at the United Nations Conference on International Organization to draw up the United Nations Charter (September 1945). The delegates deliberated on the basis of proposals worked out by the representatives of China, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom and the United States at Dumbarton Oaks, United States (August-October 1944). The Charter was signed by the representatives of the 50 countries (June 26, 1945). Poland was not represented at the Conference, but signed it later and became one of the original 51 Member States. The United Nations officially came into existence (October 24, 1945). This was when the Charter had been ratified by China, France, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, the United States and by a majority of other signatories. The great powers (Britain, China, France, soviet Union, and the United states) were given veto power in the Security Council. The Soviets wanted a vote in the General Assembly for each of its 16 constiuent republics. In the end it got three votes in the General Assembly (the extra two were for Beloyrusia and the Ukraine). One of the first U.N. agencies, actully created before the U.N.itself. was UNRRA. Another important U.N. agency working with children is United Nations International Emergency Children's Fund (UNICEF). It was one of the first projects of the newly created United Nations. The General Assembly created UNICEF (December 11, 1946). Its initial mission was to provide emergency food and healthcare to children in countries devastated by World War II. UNICEF proved so sucessful that the United Nations decided it was essential and made it a permanent part of the United Nations System (1953). Its name was shortened, but it has continued to be known by acronym based on this previous name because it was such a popular agency and the original acronym had become so well known. The United Nations, like the League of Nations, failed to live up to its unrealistic expectations. The Cold War made decisive action impossible. Action against Communist agression in Korea ws only possible because of a Soviet boycott. Another problem was the aceeptance of countries that do not live up to the U.N. Univeral Declaration of Human Rights (1948). The Arabs countries were very disturbe about passages on women. And the Soviet Union at the time was operating a vast Gulag with the very purpose of supressing human righrs. And you have countries like Libya under Qadafi on the Human Richts Committee and Iran under the Mullahs on the Women's Rights Commision.

Non-governmental organizatios

Green Peace

Oxfam International

Oxfam is a largely British charity created as a result of the World War II Greek famine. This occurred after the NAZI occupation of Greece (April 1941). The Germans began seizing food supplies for transport to the Reich. This caused a famine in Greece. Primeminister Churchill opposed the effort and banned on aid to Greece. Obviously feeding occupied countries made it easirt for the NAZIs to loot the countries to support the war effort. Oxfam defended their Greek famine relief effort, claiming that they were apolitical and neutral on issues unrelated not related to the mission set for themselves--feeding the hungry. Oxfam continues with this effort and because of their insistamce on being apolitical, deals with countries involved with terrible attrocities. Currently that means Sudan wageing the genocide in Darfur and the Mugabe regime in Zimbabwe commiting terrible crimes against humanity. Oxfam justifies this by saying if they criticized these and other similar regimes, their relief efforts would be threatened. Oxfam thus does business with the dictators in Sudan and Zimbabwe and remains mute about genocide and famine. Oxfam insists that these larger issues are not what they were established to address and to do so would endanger their core mission. Oxfam makes one exception to its apolitical stance and that is Israel. Oxfam’s has repeateldly persued political condemnations of Israel. It has repeatedly condemned Israel for human rights violations, but remained silent on Palestinian human rights abuses--such as suicide bombing of civilians, rockets attacks on Isreali civilians, and the use of children for attacks on Isrealis. Oxfam takes a very active position on the Isreali-Arab condlict, stongly supporting thge Atabs. They demanded, for example, that the British Government reveal if British companies have supplied components for Apache helicopters to Israel that were used to kill Hamas leaders envolved on terror attacks. Theere was no comparable Oxfam effort to investigate British concerns funelling money to Hamas which is carring out terror attacks.

Red Cross

The first mon-religiou international organization was the Red Cross (1864). The Red Cross was created to alleviate human suffering and to promote public health. J.H. Dunnat in Switzerland played a key role in the founding of the Red Cross. The Red Cross was founded in Switzerland because of its neutral status. The symbol of the Red Cross became appropriately a red cross, the reverse of the Swiss flag. Self-governing Red Cross societies were formed in member countries. Clara Barton helped found the American Red Cross (1881). The governing body of the Red Cross is the International Committee for the Red Cross. From the very begnning the Red Cross asked infividual countries to organize national chapters. The Red Cross for the most part id is supported by volunary contributions. This was complicated by the appearance of Communiust countries where the state and Party controlled economoc activity as well as varing attitiudes toward charity in different countries. The Red Cross is the premier charitable organization to deal with natural disasters and the impact of war on civilans and soldiers. The Red Cross provided invaluable servives during World sar I and World War II in Europe. In the Pacific, the Japanese refused to cooperate. The Japanese chapter was founded (1887) and Japan even hosted the 15th International Conference of the Red Cross (1934). But the Japanese militaty ordered its soldiers not to surrender and treated Allied POWs horribly. The Red Cross has played critical roles in numeous natural disasters. Its ability is limited, however, in developing countries without infrastructure. Here the Red Cross have to rely on member countries able to rapidly deploy disaster assistance which largely meand the United States. There have been some serious problems with the Red Cross. The German chapter was taking over by the NAZIs and thus tagently involved in the Holocaust. The International Committee has in recent years been politicized especally by Muslim countries.

Socialist Internationals

The central themne of socialism is that the goods produced in society should be held in common and distrubuted equally. This basic idea is not new. Idealized socialist concepts can be identified as early as ancient Greece in Plato's Republic, Jesus' Sermon on the Mount, and the millenarian movements of medieval Europe. Socialist concepts were expressed as Europe entered the modern era. Beginning in the late 19th century, a series of international congresses were held to promote the world socialist movement. After the Russian Revolution, the Socilist or Communist internatinals became a tool of Soviet foreign policy.


“Oxfam calls for clarity on Apaches,” Guardian (Britain) (April 21, 2004).


Navigate the Children in History Website:
[Return to the Main history page]
[Introduction] [Biographies] [Chronology] [Climatology] [Clothing] [Disease and Health] [Economics] [Geography] [History] [Human Nature] [Law]
[Nationalism] [Presidents] [Religion] [Royalty] [Science] [Social Class]
[Bibliographies] [Contributions] [FAQs] [Glossaries] [Images] [Links] [Registration] [Tools]
[Children in History Home]

Created: 3:57 PM 5/29/2007
Last updated: 4:05 PM 4/28/2014