UN at 75: How Americans View the International Organization

by Bryson Durst

In 1945, the Allied Powers finally brought World War II to an end, at enormous cost to life and property. The League of Nations, created after World War I, had failed to prevent another global war. 

According to Dr. Glen Duerr, Associate Professor of international studies at Cedarville University, the Allies needed “a system to move the world forward in the aftermath of World War II.” The Allies created the UN as a part of this new system, “to allow countries to talk about their problems rather than go to war.” 

The US has participated in the UN from the start. Dr. Kevin Sims, Senior Professor of political studies at Cedarville, noted that President Franklin Delano Roosevelt called for the organization’s creation during World War II. Though Roosevelt died before he could see his vision become reality, his successor, Harry Truman, hosted the conference that created the organization in San Francisco.  

In the late 1970s, the Republicans and Democrats began to display different attitudes toward the UN, in part due to the Cold War. Democrats are more likely to see the UN as promoting positive global cooperation and governance. On the other hand, since Ronald Reagan’s presidency, Republicans have been somewhat skeptical on whether the UN aligns with American interests. 

The Republican skepticism toward the UN was visible earlier this year when President Donald Trump threatened to pull funding for the World Health Organization. Trump argued that the WHO had failed to properly respond to the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic and had been too trusting of the Chinese government. Sims said that Trump has also tried to limit the annual $10 billion Americans contribute to the UN, but both Republicans and Democrats in Congress have opposed those attempts. The American contribution to the UN makes up 22% of the organization’s budget, according to Duerr. 

Duerr added that Republicans also criticize what they believe to be the UN’s unfair targeting of Israel and the fact that governments with poor human rights records sit on the Human Rights Council. There have also been a few scandals within the UN, and some Republicans believe the UN to be the potential gateway to a global government. A few Republicans believe the US should withdraw from the UN, but they haven’t gained much influence in the party. 

Duerr said that the UN has succeeded in a few key areas since the end of World War II. First of all, though there have been many conflicts throughout the world, there has not been a World War III. He added that it’s hard to prove how much of a role the UN itself played in this, as other international organizations such as the IMF and World Bank, global trade, and US strength have also played a role. 

Duerr mentioned that the UN has “played a significant and at times valuable role, especially surrounding stateless persons or refugees or asylum seekers, as well as ongoing peacekeeping operations.” 

Sims added that some UN aid and relief programs benefit “destitute families and children in some of the third world countries.” 

The UN is headquartered in New York, demonstrating US influence in the organization. Duerr added that “generally, the US drives the agenda at the UN Security Council.”  

The United States is one of five permanent members with veto power on the Security Council, which is the UN’s most powerful body. The United Kingdom, France, Russia (succeeding the Soviet Union), and China are the other four permanent members. Duerr noted that only two to four resolutions are vetoed on average, while fifty to sixty pass each year. Meanwhile, all 193 UN member states are represented equally in the UN General Assembly, which virtually met this year starting on September 22. 

If Donald Trump wins reelection this November, both professors believe he may further criticize the UN or attempt to cut funding to it in the future. Duerr adds, however, that his criticisms so far have remained limited to specific groups like the WHO. Should Joe Biden win the election, they believe the US will take the less skeptical approach reminiscent of the Obama administration. 

Bryson Durst is a junior communication major. He enjoys theology, history, playing strategy games with friends, and anything “Star Wars” related.

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