Unit One

International Cooperation:
the dream that won't go away


Is there a dimension to human life where the common hopes of humankind—putting an end to war, controlling the spread of illness, putting an end to poverty transcend national interests and enable the countries of the world to work together to achieve their common dreams? The United Nations and its forerunner, the League of Nations came to exist because of the belief that there is such a dimension to life. Although the dream of international cooperation has not always met with success, it has never gone away. This dream has existed for centuries, but it was in the twentieth century that the nations of the world tried to make it a reality. Individuals from around the world worked in different ways to promote the vision of an international forum where nations could work together to solve problems and conflicts that threaten world stability - a vision that came from, as British writer and statesman, Leonard Woolf put it, "the international heart".

            Woolf wrote a book called International Government in which he advocated the idea of a world body that would help keep peace. Leonard Woolf and his wife, author Virginia Woolf began the Hogarth Press—in part so they could publish and promote the idea of a League of Nations. Even earlier, in the nineteenth century, writer H.G. Wells wrote "A Declaration of the Rights of Man", later used as a basis for the United Nations Charter, along with "The Universal Declaration of the Rights of Man" produced during the French Revolution. The name "United Nations" came from a poem by British poet, Lord Byron, 'Here, where the sword united nations drew,/Our countrymen were warring on that day!' Quoting Byron, Winston Churchill suggested the name, "United Nations", replacing President Roosevelt's choice of "Associated Nations".

            A French statesman, Leon Auguste Bourgeois, also called the "spiritual" father of the League of Nations, worked tirelessly to bring such a forum into being. He received the 1920 Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts. Feminist proponents of the League of Nations from around the world lobbied for equal rights in the League's Charter.

            Although the belief in a cooperative body of nations had been very much alive on the intellectual scene, it was the destruction caused by the First World War that moved the nations of the world to act on this belief - to find, once again, the "international heart". Jan Smuts, Prime Minister of South Africa worked closely with Woodrow Wilson, who was President of the United States from 1912 to 1921. Wilson responded to the world’s war-weariness by drawing up his 14 points – one of which included a provision for a League of Nations. Ironically, though a U.S. president formally proposed the idea of an international world forum, the U.S. never became a member of the League of Nations as the U.S. Congress failed to ratify the League of Nations treaty. For his efforts to create a body to bring about world peace, Wilson was awarded the Nobel peace Prize in 1919. While the League of Nations ultimately disbanded, in part because it lacked US support and because it failed to prevent the Second World War, Wilson's successor, President Roosevelt totally committed himself to working toward the creation of a world body to preserve world peace. Roosevelt, who remained committed to his leadership role even after being stricken by polio, died on April 12, 1945 -- less than two weeks before the April 25 meeting in San Francisco, where delegates from 50 countries created the United Nations Charter.

            For even with the advent and aftermath of the Second World War, the desire for international unity resurfaced and became even stronger—perhaps stronger than ever. The United Nations was formed on 24 October 1945 with 51 member nations. The nations of the world tried to learn from the failure of the League of Nations by making adjustments in the rules for the new Organization. The United Nations Charter gave the new world body stronger executive powers assumed by the Security Council. It also required member states to contribute armed forces to serve as peacekeepers to repel an aggressor.

            The dream that nations can work cooperatively to achieve goals--while also maintaining individual sovereignty - will not go away. While every nation, every person, every living thing on the earth seeks to maintain its survival, the only way to ensure that survival is by learning to coexist with others, who are vastly different.