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History of the Ratification of the United Nations and why its main location is in the USA.

Overview: The Atlantic Conference & Charter, 1941

The Atlantic Charter set goals for the post-war world and inspired many of the international agreements that shaped the world thereafter, most notably the United Nations.

The Atlantic Charter was a pivotal policy statement issued on August 14, 1941, that defined the Allied goals for the post-war world. The leaders of the United Kingdom and the United States drafted the work and all the Allies of World War II later confirmed it. The Charter stated the ideal goals of the war with eight principal points :

  1. No territorial gains were to be sought by the United States or the United Kingdom;

  2. Territorial adjustments must be in accord with the wishes of the peoples concerned;

  3. All people had a right to self-determination; (end of colonialism)

  4. Trade barriers were to be lowered;

  5. There was to be global economic cooperation and advancement of social welfare;

  6. The participants would work for a world free of want and fear;

  7. The participants would work for freedom of the seas;

  8. There was to be disarmament of aggressor nations, and a post-war common disarmament.

Adherents of the Atlantic Charter signed the Declaration by United Nations on January 1, 1942; it became the basis for the modern United Nations.

The Atlantic Charter made it clear that America was supporting Britain in the war. Both America and Britain wanted to present their unity, mutual principles, and hopes for the post-war world and the policies they agreed to follow once the Nazis had been defeated. A fundamental aim was to focus on the peace that would follow and not specific American involvement and war strategy, although U.S. involvement appeared increasingly likely.

The Atlantic Charter set goals for the post-war world and inspired many of the international agreements that shaped the world thereafter. The General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), the post-war independence of European colonies, and many other key policies are derived from the Atlantic Charter.

The Atlantic Conference & Charter, 1941

The Atlantic Charter was a joint declaration released by U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill on August 14, 1941 following a meeting of the two heads of government in Newfoundland. The Atlantic Charter provided a broad statement of U.S. and British war aims.

British Prime Minister Winston Churchill

The meeting had been called in response to the geopolitical situation in Europe by mid-1941. Although Great Britain had been spared from a German invasion in the fall of 1940 and, with the passage of the U.S. Lend Lease Act in March 1941, was assured U.S. material support, by the end of May, German forces had inflicted humiliating defeats upon British, Greek, and, Yugoslav forces in the Balkans and were threatening to overrun Egypt and close off the Suez Canal, thereby restricting British access to its possessions in India. When the Germans invaded the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941, few policymakers in Washington or London believed that the Soviets would be able to resist the Nazi onslaught for more than six weeks. While the British Government focused its efforts on dealing with the Germans in Europe, they were also concerned that Japan might take advantage of the situation to seize British, French, and Dutch territories in Southeast Asia.

Churchill’s copy of the Atlantic Charter

Churchill and Roosevelt met on August 9 and 10, 1941 aboard the U.S.S. Augusta in Placentia Bay, Newfoundland, to discuss their respective war aims for the Second World War and to outline a postwar international system. The Charter they drafted included eight “common principles” that the United States and Great Britain would be committed to supporting in the postwar world. Both countries agreed not to seek territorial expansion; to seek the liberalization of international trade; to establish freedom of the seas, and international labor, economic, and welfare standards. Most importantly, both the United States and Great Britain were committed to supporting the restoration of self-governments for all countries that had been occupied during the war and allowing all peoples to choose their own form of government.

While the meeting was successful in drafting these aims, it failed to produce the desired results for either leader. President Roosevelt had hoped that the Charter might encourage the American people to back U.S. intervention in World War II on behalf of the Allies; however, public opinion remained adamantly opposed to such a policy until the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941. Churchill’s primary goal in attending the Atlantic Conference was “to get the Americans into the war.” Barring that, he hoped that the United States would increase its amount of military aid to Great Britain and warn Japan against taking any aggressive actions in the Pacific.

Roosevelt, on the other hand, wanted the British Government to affirm publicly that it was not involved in any secret treaties, particularly ones concerning territorial questions, such as those concluded by the Allies during the First World War concerning the division of enemy territory at war’s end. Roosevelt also wished to arrange the terms by which Great Britain would repay the United States for its Lend Lease assistance. Roosevelt wanted the British to pay compensation by dismantling their system of Imperial Preference, which had been established by the British Government during the Great Depression and was designed to encourage trade within the British Empire by lowering tariff rates between members, while maintaining discriminatory tariff rates against outsiders.

Churchill was extremely disappointed by Roosevelt’s refusal to discuss American entry into the war. Furthermore, Churchill understood that several aspects of the proposed joint declaration might be politically damaging for the Prime Minister. Churchill worried that the abandonment of Imperial Preference would anger the protectionist wing of his Conservative Party. The Americans also proved unwilling to warn Japan too strongly against any future military action against British possessions in Southeast Asia. Finally, both Churchill and many members of his Cabinet were alarmed by the third point of the Charter, which mentions the rights of all peoples to choose their own government. Churchill was concerned that this clause acknowledged the right of colonial subjects to agitate for decolonization, including those in Great Britain’s empire.

Nevertheless, Churchill realized that the joint declaration was the most he could accomplish during the conference. While the United States would remain neutral, the declaration would raise the morale of the British public and, most importantly, bind the United States closer to Great Britain. Therefore, when Churchill forwarded the text of the declaration to his Cabinet on August 11, he warned them that would it be “imprudent” to raise unnecessary difficulties. The Cabinet followed Churchill’s recommendation and approved the Charter.

While the Atlantic Charter of August 1941 was not a binding treaty, it was, nonetheless, significant for several reasons. First, it publicly affirmed the sense of solidarity between the U.S. and Great Britain against Axis aggression. Second, it laid out President Roosevelt’s Wilsonian-vision for the postwar world; one that would be characterized by freer exchanges of trade, self-determination, disarmament, and collective security. Finally, the Charter ultimately did serve as an inspiration for colonial subjects throughout the Third World, from Algeria to Vietnam, as they fought for independence.

The Formation of the United Nations, 1945

On January 1, 1942, representatives of 26 nations at war with the Axis powers met in Washington to sign the Declaration of the United Nations endorsing the Atlantic Charter, pledging to use their full resources against the Axis and agreeing not to make a separate peace.

The Founding of the UN in San Francisco

At the Quebec Conference in August 1943, Secretary of State Cordell Hull and British Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden agreed to draft a declaration that included a call for “a general international organization, based on the principle sovereign equality of all nations.” An agreed declaration was issued after a Foreign Ministers Conference in Moscow in October 1943. When President Franklin D. Roosevelt met with Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin in Tehran, Iran, in November 1943, he proposed an international organization comprising an assembly of all member states and a 10-member executive committee to discuss social and economic issues. The United States, Great Britain, Soviet Union, and China would enforce peace as “the four policemen.” Meanwhile Allied representatives founded a set of task-oriented organizations: the Food and Agricultural Organization (May 1943), the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (November 1943), the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (April 1944), the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank (July 1944), and the International Civil Aviation Organization (November 1944).

U.S., British, Soviet (known now as Russia), and Chinese representatives met at Dumbarton Oaks in Washington in August and September 1944 to draft the charter of a postwar international organization based on the principle of collective security. They recommended a General Assembly of all member states and a Security Council consisting of the Big Four plus six members chosen by the Assembly. Voting procedures and the veto power of permanent members of the Security Council were finalized at the Yalta Conference in 1945 when Roosevelt and Stalin agreed that the veto would not prevent discussions by the Security Council. Roosevelt agreed to General Assembly membership for Ukraine and Byelorussia while reserving the right, which was never exercised, to seek two more votes for the United States.

Representatives of 50 nations met in San Francisco April-June 1945 to complete the Charter of the United Nations. In addition to the General Assembly of all member states and a Security Council of 5 permanent and 6 non-permanent members, the Charter provided for an 18-member Economic and Social Council, an International Court of Justice, a Trusteeship Council to oversee certain colonial territories, and a Secretariat under a Secretary General.

The Roosevelt administration strove to avoid Woodrow Wilson’s mistakes in selling the League of Nations to the Senate. It sought bipartisan support and in September 1943 the Republican Party endorsed U.S. participation in a postwar international organization, after which both houses of Congress overwhelmingly endorsed participation. Roosevelt also sought to convince the public that an international organization was the best means to prevent future wars.

The Senate approved the UN Charter on July 28, 1945, by a vote of 89 to 2. The United Nations came into existence on October 24, 1945, after 29 nations had ratified the Charter.


Lend-Lease and Military Aid to the Allies in the Early Years of World War II.

(This is how the USA managed to get military bases installed worldwide through loans and control the UN, World Bank etc. )

During World War II, the United States began to provide significant military supplies and other assistance to the Allies in September 1940, even though the United States did not enter the war until December 1941. Much of this aid flowed to the United Kingdom and other nations already at war with Germany and Japan through an innovative program known as Lend-Lease.

FDR Signing the Lend-Lease Bill

When war broke out in Europe in September 1939, President Franklin D. Roosevelt declared that while the United States would remain neutral in law, he could “not ask that every American remain neutral in thought as well.” Roosevelt himself made significant efforts to help nations engaged in the struggle against Nazi Germany and wanted to extend a helping hand to those countries that lacked the supplies necessary to fight against the Germans. The United Kingdom, in particular, desperately needed help, as it was short of hard currency to pay for the military goods, food, and raw materials it needed from the United States.

Though President Roosevelt wanted to provide assistance to the British, both American law and public fears that the United States would be drawn into the conflict blocked his plans. The Neutrality Act of 1939 allowed belligerents to purchase war materiel from the United States, but only on a “cash and carry” basis. The Johnson Act of 1934 also prohibited the extension of credit to countries that had not repaid U.S. loans made to them during World War I—which included Great Britain. The American military opposed the diversion of military supplies to the United Kingdom. The Army’s Chief of Staff, General George C. Marshall, anticipated that Britain would surrender following the collapse of France, and thus American supplies sent to the British would fall into German hands. Marshall and others therefore argued that U.S. national security would be better served by reserving military supplies for the defense of the Western Hemisphere. American public opinion also limited Roosevelt’s options. Many Americans opposed involving the United States in another war.

Even though American public opinion generally supported the British rather than the Germans, President Roosevelt had to develop an initiative that was consistent with the legal prohibition against the granting of credit, satisfactory to military leadership, and acceptable to an American public that generally resisted involving the United States in the European conflict.

On September 2, 1940, President Roosevelt signed a “Destroyers for Bases” agreement. Under the terms of the agreement, the United States gave the British more than 50 obsolete destroyers, in exchange for 99-year leases to territory in Newfoundland and the Caribbean, which would be used as U.S. air and naval bases. British Prime Minister Winston Churchill had originally requested that Roosevelt provide the destroyers as a gift, but the President knew that the American public and Congress would oppose such a deal. He therefore decided that a deal that gave the United States long-term access to British bases could be justified as essential to the security of the Western Hemisphere—thereby assuaging the concerns of the public and the U.S. military.

In December 1940, Churchill warned Roosevelt that the British were no longer able to pay for supplies. On December 17, President Roosevelt proposed a new initiative that would be known as Lend-Lease. The United States would provide Great Britain with the supplies it needed to fight Germany, but would not insist upon being paid immediately.

Instead, the United States would “lend” the supplies to the British, deferring payment. When payment eventually did take place, the emphasis would not be on payment in dollars. The tensions and instability engendered by inter-allied war debts in the 1920s and 1930s had demonstrated that it was unreasonable to expect that virtually bankrupt European nations would be able to pay for every item they had purchased from the United States. Instead, payment would primarily take the form of a “consideration” granted by Britain to the United States. After many months of negotiation, the United States and Britain agreed, in Article VII of the Lend-Lease agreement they signed, that this consideration would primarily consist of joint action directed towards the creation of a liberalized international economic order in the postwar world.

Lend-Lease Memorial

The United Kingdom was not the only nation to strike such a deal with the United States. Over the course of the war, the United States contracted Lend-Lease agreements with more than 30 countries, dispensing some $50 billion in assistance. Although British Prime Minister Winston Churchill later referred to the initiative as “the most unsordid act” one nation had ever done for another, Roosevelt’s primary motivation was not altruism or disinterested generosity. Rather, Lend-Lease was designed to serve America’s interest in defeating Nazi Germany without entering the war until the American military and public was prepared to fight. At a time when the majority of Americans opposed direct participation in the war, Lend-Lease represented a vital U.S. contribution to the fight against Nazi Germany. Moreover, the joint action called for under Article VII of the Lend-Lease agreements signed by the United States and the recipient nations laid the foundation for the creation of a new international economic order in the postwar world.


The Yalta Conference, 1945

The Yalta Conference took place in a Russian resort town in the Crimea from February 4–11, 1945, during World War Two. At Yalta, U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin made important decisions regarding the future progress of the war and the postwar world.

World Leaders at the Yalta Conference

The Allied leaders came to Yalta knowing that an Allied victory in Europe was practically inevitable but less convinced that the Pacific war was nearing an end. Recognizing that a victory over Japan might require a protracted fight, the United States and Great Britain saw a major strategic advantage to Soviet participation in the Pacific theater. At Yalta, Roosevelt and Churchill discussed with Stalin the conditions under which the Soviet Union would enter the war against Japan and all three agreed that, in exchange for potentially crucial Soviet participation in the Pacific theater, the Soviets would be granted a sphere of influence in Manchuria following Japan’s surrender. This included the southern portion of Sakhalin, a lease at Port Arthur (now Lüshunkou), a share in the operation of the Manchurian railroads, and the Kurile Islands. This agreement was the major concrete accomplishment of the Yalta Conference.

The Allied leaders also discussed the future of Germany, Eastern Europe and the United Nations. Roosevelt, Churchill, and Stalin agreed not only to include France in the postwar governing of Germany, but also that Germany should assume some, but not all, responsibility for reparations following the war. The Americans and the British generally agreed that future governments of the Eastern European nations bordering the Soviet Union should be “friendly” to the Soviet regime while the Soviets pledged to allow free elections in all territories liberated from Nazi Germany. Negotiators also released a declaration on Poland, providing for the inclusion of Communists in the postwar national government. In discussions regarding the future of the United Nations, all parties agreed to an American plan concerning voting procedures in the Security Council, which had been expanded to five permanent members following the inclusion of France. Each of these permanent members was to hold a veto on decisions before the Security Council.

Initial reaction to the Yalta agreements was celebratory. Roosevelt and many other Americans viewed it as proof that the spirit of U.S.-Soviet wartime cooperation would carry over into the postwar period. This sentiment, however, was short lived. With the death of Franklin D. Roosevelt on April 12, 1945, Harry S. Truman became the thirty-third president of the United States. By the end of April, the new administration clashed with the Soviets over their influence in Eastern Europe, and over the United Nations. Alarmed at the perceived lack of cooperation on the part of the Soviets, many Americans began to criticize Roosevelt’s handling of the Yalta negotiations. To this day, many of Roosevelt’s most vehement detractors accuse him of “handing over” Eastern Europe and Northeast Asia to the Soviet Union at Yalta despite the fact that the Soviets did make many substantial concessions.


Bretton Woods-GATT, 1941–1947

During and immediately after the Second World War, the United States, the United Kingdom, and other allied nations engaged in a series of negotiations to establish the rules for the postwar international economy. The result was the creation of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank at the July 1944 Bretton Woods Conference and the signing of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade at an international conference in Geneva in October 1947.

Harry Dexter White and John Maynard Keynes at the inaugural meeting of the International Monetary Fund’s Board of Governors, March 8, 1946. (International Monetary Fund)

The lessons drawn by U.S. policymakers from the interwar period informed their approach to the postwar global economy. President Franklin D. Roosevelt and officials such as Secretary of State Cordell Hull were adherents of the Wilsonian belief that free trade promoted not just prosperity, but also peace. The experience of the 1930s certainly suggested as much. The policies adopted by governments to combat the Great Depression—high tariffs, competitive currency devaluations, discriminatory trading blocs—helped destabilize the international environment without improving the economic situation. This experience led leaders throughout the anti-Axis United Nations alliance to conclude that economic cooperation was the only way to achieve both peace and prosperity, at home and abroad.

This vision was articulated in the Atlantic Charter, issued by Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill at the conclusion of the August 1941 Atlantic Conference. The Charter’s fourth point committed the United States and the United Kingdom “to further the enjoyment by all States, great or small, victor or vanquished, of access, on equal terms, to the trade and to the raw materials of the world which are needed for their economic prosperity,” while its fifth point expressed their commitment to “the fullest collaboration between all nations in the economic field with the object of securing, for all, improved labor standards, economic advancement and social security.” The two countries elaborated upon these principles in Article VII of their February 1942 agreement on lend-lease aid. In that article, the United Kingdom agreed that in return for U.S. lend-lease assistance, it would cooperate with the United States in devising measures to expand “production, employment, and the exchange and consumption of goods,” to eliminate “all forms of discriminatory treatment in international commerce,” to reduce barriers to trade, and generally to achieve the goals laid out in the Atlantic Charter.

By early 1942, U.S. and British officials began preparing proposals that would foster economic stability and prosperity in the postwar world. Harry Dexter White, Special Assistant to the U.S. Secretary of the Treasury, and John Maynard Keynes, an advisor to the British Treasury, each drafted plans creating organizations that would provide financial assistance to countries experiencing short-term balance of payments deficits; this assistance was meant to ensure that such countries did not adopt protectionist or predatory economic policies to improve their balance of payments position. While both plans envisioned a world of fixed exchange rates, believed to be more conducive to the expansion of international trade than floating exchange rates, they differed in several significant respects. As a result, from 1942 until 1944, bilateral and multilateral meetings of allied financial experts were held in order to settle upon a common approach. Agreement was finally reached at the July 1944 United Nations Monetary and Financial Conference, a gathering of delegates from 44 nations that met in Bretton Woods, New Hampshire. The two major accomplishments of the Bretton Woods conference were the creation of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD), commonly known as the World Bank. The IMF was charged with overseeing a system of fixed exchange rates centered on the U.S. dollar and gold, serving as a forum for consultation and cooperation and a provider of short-term financial assistance to countries experiencing temporary deficits in their balance of payments. The IBRD was responsible for providing financial assistance for the reconstruction of war-ravaged nations and the economic development of less developed countries. In July 1945, Congress passed the Bretton Woods Agreements Act, authorizing U.S. entry into the IMF and World Bank, and the two organizations officially came into existence five months later. The fixed exchange rate system established at Bretton Woods endured for the better part of three decades; only after the exchange crises of August 1971, when President Richard M. Nixon suspended the dollar’s convertibility into gold, and February/March 1973 did floating exchange rates become the norm for the major industrialized democracies.

Agreement on international trade proved more difficult to achieve. One of the most contentious issues was the system of preferential tariffs established among the members of the British Commonwealth in 1932, whereby trade within the Commonwealth was subject to lower tariffs than trade between the Commonwealth nations and the rest of the world. U.S. officials such as Cordell Hull opposed imperial preferences on both ideological and practical grounds—the United Kingdom and Canada, both members of the system, were the United States’ two largest trading partners—and called for their abolition; however, many U.K. and other Commonwealth officials favored keeping the preferences, at least until the United States agreed to reduce the high Smoot-Hawley tariffs set in 1930. After more than four years of negotiations on this and other issues—such as the rules that would govern tariff negotiations and the structure of a proposed new organization to oversee international trade—agreement was finally reached in 1947. Twenty-three nations meeting in Geneva from April to October 1947 concluded the first postwar round of tariff negotiations, leading to reductions in tariffs and imperial preferences, as well as a draft charter for a new institution, the International Trade Organization (ITO). Participants also signed the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), designed not only to implement the agreed tariff cuts but to serve as an interim codification of the rules governing commercial relations among its signatories until the ITO was created. In November 1947, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Employment convened in Havana to consider the draft ITO charter; four months of negotiations later, the representatives of 53 countries signed the finished charter in March 1948. However, strong opposition in the U.S. Congress meant that the ITO never came into existence. Instead, it was the GATT that governed postwar international trade relations for almost fifty years. Under the GATT’s aegis, eight rounds of trade negotiations resulted in significant tariff reductions among its members before it was superseded by the World Trade Organization in 1995.

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