The name, and the general idea for the successor to the League of Nations, was suggested by US President Franklin D. Roosevelt. He initiated talks on the new organizations after World War II. Ruth Russell, writer and peace activist, described the approach taken by Roosevelt at the time, when he ordered the State Department to come up with a new supra-national power:
Given the fundamental decision to clothe the new institution with some kind of enforcement power, it was natural to think of making the smaller organ more of an executive agent for the whole organization and of centering in it the control of the security function.
Roosevelt supported enforcement mechanism, which would be based on the wartime alliance of the four major allied powers: United Kingdom, China, the Soviet Union, and the US. Initially, France was not considered to be part of this body, as it was occupied by Germany. Roosevelt’s idea was crystallized in his address to the nation on Christmas Eve, 1943:
Britain, Russia, China, and the United States and their allies represent more than three-quarters of the total population of the earth. As long as these four Nations with great military power stick together in determination to keep the peace there will be no possibility of an aggressor Nation arising to start another world war. But those four powers must be united with and cooperate with all the freedom-loving peoples of Europe, and Asia, and Africa, and the Americas. The rights of every Nation, large and small, must be respected and guarded as jealously as are the rights of every individual within our own Republic.
This vision almost failed to materialize after Roosevelt’s unexpected death, months before the UN charter would be signed. His widow, Eleanor Roosevelt, carried on his will and pressed the United States to join and support the United Nations.
The UN officially into existence officially October 24, 1945, with France included as a permanent member of the Security Council. In 1946, at the first meeting of its General Assembly, Eleanor Roosevelt was asked to chair the human rights committee which was charged with writing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, ensuring that his legacy lived on.
At its inception the UN was pretty much a consultation organ. Winston Churchill highlighted in his 1946 speech The Sinews of Peace, which, incidentally, is sometimes marked as the beginning of the Cold War:
Courts and magistrates may be set up but they cannot function without sheriffs and constables. The United Nations Organisation must immediately begin to be equipped with an international armed force. In such a matter we can only go step by step, but we must begin now. I propose that each of the Powers and States should be invited to delegate a certain number of air squadrons to the service of the world organisation.
Since then the United Nations have created several bodies, big and small, to tackle various issues which are best addressed on supra-national level. The cornerstone of it all, of course, was to prevent global warfare. The organization had its ups and downs over the 70 years of its operation. It has risen from the ashes of League of Nations. But was the lesson learned?