Analyzing the United Nations Charter

Contributor: Nathan Murphy. Lesson ID: 13852

You may have heard about the United Nations, but why was it created? Explore its founding document while learning how best to justify, organize, and support reasoning in writing.

categories

History, Writing

subject
History
learning style
Auditory, Visual
personality style
Beaver
Grade Level
High School (9-12)
Lesson Type
Dig Deeper

Lesson Plan - Get It!

Audio:

The United Nations is an international peacekeeping organization comprising 193 Member States (as of 2021).

This is the General Assembly Hall where they all interact:

General Assembly Hall in NYC

Image by Patrick Gruban, cropped and downsampled by Pine, via Wikimedia Commons, is licensed under the CC BY-SA 2.0 license.

The idea for this organization existed for a long time; however, when creating the United Nations, the founding diplomats had to justify why this organization was necessary.

  • Can you think of a reason why some may not have wanted an organization like this?

League of Nations

emblem of the League of Nations, 1939

Image by Martin Grandjean, via Wikimedia Commons, is licensed under the CC BY-SA 4.0 license.

After World War I, U.S. President Woodrow Wilson wanted to establish an organization called the League of Nations that countries would join and become accountable to international treaties signed by all the members.

This organization would have the power to prevent future wars by encouraging negotiation and make it more difficult to hide anti-democratic behavior in each country.

woodrow wilson

  • So, what happened?

We know there was a second world war.

  • Where was the League of Nations to prevent it?

As you watch the video below to understand why the League of Nations was too weak to succeed, pay attention to the role of the United States Congress.

League of Nations: 100 years since founding of UN predecessor from Al Jazeera English:

The U.S. Congress believed that agreeing to international treaties would effectively strip away some of its power, so it did not support the League of Nations.

In a time when the American people were not interested in getting involved around the world, it was very difficult to rally support around this organization. It was easier in Europe because that is where the most recent war of the time, World War I, had occurred.

United Nations Charter

 charter cover

Image [cropped] by United Nations, via Wikimedia Commons, is in the public domain.

After World War II and the fall of Hitler, there was a renewed sense that an international organization was the only way to ensure peace in the world. This is when the United Nations was created.

In 1945, the founding document of the organization was written with the goal of convincing as many countries as possible to join.

The Charter of the United Nations was structured in a way to justify itself to countries because, as we saw with the League of Nations, governments would not join if they were too afraid of the organization's power. And an international organization without many members would not be very good at keeping peace or affecting change.

  • So, how did the authors structure the Charter in order to persuade as many countries as possible?

Keep in mind, each country had to agree to this document before they could join.

Preamble

united nations headquarters

As you read the United Nations Charter: Preamble, courtesy of the United Nations, try to identify phrases or sentences you think would convinve a country wary of joining.

  • What did you notice about the structure of this introduction?

It starts by explaining the ultimate goals of the organization, then reaffirms that the organization will exist for "nations large and small".

With the toil of war in mind, the document then explains how the U.N. will prevent future world wars through things like unity and the acceptance of common principles.

Finally, it explains how the U.N. will be formally founded through cooperation between the "respective governments".

  • How might structuring the preamble this way attract a broad range of countries?

Countries that were unsure would be reminded of war and assured that they could be protected from future wars no matter which country they were, as long as they committed themselves to cooperation and peace.

This seems convincing, but the document did not stop there in justifying and supporting the organization's existence.

Article 1

united nations main room

The first article explains the purpose of the organization even further. Notice this is placed before everything else as you read United Nations Charter, Chapter I: Purposes and Principles from the United Nations:

Imagine you were the leader of a non-western country and, even after reading the Preamble, were hesitant about becoming a member state of the U.N. over concerns about equality.

  • How does Article 1 directly address this concern?

All member countries are given the same respect and authority in the organization. This article addressed the concerns many had about the U.N. only being a club for western Europe and the United States.

Given that the League of Nations did not include any statement similar to this, it likely played a role in making the United Nations more accepted than its predecessor.

Conclusion

midtown manhattan skyline

You just read the United Nation Charter's entire Article 1, but there are 110 more!

The authors could have easily placed this article anywhere but decided to put it in the very front.

  • How does this organization speak to the U.N.'s goals just as much as the actual words on the page?

Move on to the Got It? section to understand how the authors of the U.N. Charter organized their ideas and the connections drawn between them.

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