Explore the BBC
Radio 4
Radio 4 Tickets
Radio 4 Help

About the BBC

Contact Us


Like this page?
Send it to a friend!

BBC Radio 4 - 92 to 94 FM and 198 Long WaveListen to Digital Radio, Digital TV and OnlineListen on Digital Radio, Digital TV and Online

News and Current Affairs
United Nations or Not: from 9 September 2003
Go to the Listen Again page

United nationd or not?

UN Timeline

1950 | 1960 | 1970 | 1980 | 1990 | 2000

1 January 1942: The name "United Nations" is coined by US President Franklin D Roosevelt. It was first used in the Declaration by United Nations during the Second World War, when representatives of 26 nations pledged to continue fighting together.

26 June 1945: Representatives of 50 countries met in San Francisco at the United Nations Conference on International Organization to draw up the United Nations Charter. Poland, which was not represented at the Conference, signed it later and became one of the original 51 Member States.

Listen Archie Mackenzie, who was a member of the British delevation at San Francisco and delegation chief spokesman, speaks optimistically of the conference 58 years ago

24 October 1945: The United Nations officially comes into existence when the Charter is ratified by China, France, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, the US and by a majority of other signatories. United Nations Day is celebrated on 24 October each year.

10 January 1946: The First General Assembly, with 51 nations represented opens in Central Hall, Westminster, London. Clement Attley makes the opening address.

17 January 1946: The now famous United Nations Security Council meets for the first time in London, adopting its rules of procedure.

24 January 1946: The UN General Assembly adopts its first resolution. Its main focus is on peaceful uses of atomic energy and the elimination of atomic and other weapons of mass destruction.

1 February 1946: Trygve Lie of Norway becomes the first Secretary-General of the UN.

June 1948: The first UN observer mission is established in Palestine - UN Truce Supervision Organisation or UNTSO.

24 October 1949: The cornerstone is laid for the present UN Headquarters in New York City.

Back to top

27 June 1950: The UN Security Council passed a resolution which called on all members to help repel the invasion of South Korea by the North. The motion was only passed because the Soviet delegate, who would have certainly vetoed it, was absent because he was boycotting Security Council meetings until China was admitted to the UN. Fourteen UN nations agreed to help. It was the first real military test for the UN.

January 1951: After a humiliating retreat, caused by the intervention of Chinese forces, the UN forces are forced to retreat from the sections of North Korea they had 'captured'. President Truman announces that the UN is now willing to sign a ceasefire. But General MacArthur is not satisfied with the compromise. He wanted an extended war with China, and made his views public - appealing over Truman's head to Congress. President Truman fired General MacArthur for insubordination in April 1951. MacArthur was replaced as commander of the UN and of US forces in the Far East by General Matthew Ridgway.

July 1953: An armistice is eventually signed, with the front line accepted as the new border between the two sides. The document said it was aimed at a ceasefire "until a final peaceful settlement is achieved". However, this accord has never appeared and the two sides technically remained at war ever since.

1954: The UN High Commissioner for Refugees wins first of two Nobel Peace Prizes, for its work with European refugees.

7 November 1956: The First Emergency Special Session of the General Assembly meets on the Suez Canal crisis and establishes the first UN Emergency Force or UNEF.

Back to top

September 1960: 17 newly independent States, including 16 from Africa, join the UN, the largest number of new members in one year.

12 October 1960: At the height of the cold war, the two superpowers are set against each other at the UN. In a personal appearance before the General Assembly, Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev rages against a comment by the head of the Philippine delegation about western imperialism, and bangs his shoe on the desk.

Listen Soviet diplomat Vladimir Petrovsky was sitting behind Khrushchev at the time of the incident

18 September 1961: The second UN Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjold dies in an aircraft crash while on mission to Congo. (He is replaced by U Thant).

October 1962: US president John F Kennedy demands the withdrawal of Soviet nuclear missiles from Cuba. For seven days the two superpowers refuse to compromise and stay in a deadlock that would come to be known as the Cuban Missile Crisis. Eventually USSR president Nikita Khrushchev concedes and the world is brought back from the brink of nuclear war.

Listen Adlai Stevenson, President Kennedy's ambassador to the UN, confronts the Soviet Chief Representative Valerian Zorin at the UN

1965: UNICEF, the United Nations Children's Fund, is awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

22 November 1967: Following the six-day war in 1967, the Security Council adopts resolution 242 (1967), as the basis for achieving peace in the Middle East.

12 June 1968: The UN General Assembly approves a treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons and calls for its ratification.

1969: The International Labour Organisation (ILO), another part of the UN, is awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

Back to top

25 October 1971: Representatives from The People's Republic of China are allowed to sit on the General Assembly.

1972: Kurt Waldheim is elected as the fourth UN secretary General.

13 November 1974: The UN General Assembly recognises the Palestine Liberation Organisation and grants it 'observer status' within the UN. The "PLO Observer Mission" quickly opened an office in midtown Manhattan as its UN base of operations.

June-July 1975: The first UN conference on women is held in Mexico, it co-incides with International Women's Year.

4 November 1977: The UN Security Council adopts an arms embargo against South Africa because of its apartheid regime.

Back to top

1980-1988: Iraq invades Iran after Iran shells Iraqi border towns, starting the Iran-Iraq war. The UN Security Council's calls for a ceasefire in 1980 were ignored. In 1987, the Security Council passed Resolution 958, again urging an end to the fighting. The Resolution was formally accepted in 1988 but it was not until 1990 that the two countries finally agreed to settle their differences and carry out the terms of the Resolution.

8 May 1980: Three years after the last case was reported, the World Health Organization (WHO) officially declares smallpox eradicated.

1981: The UN High Commissioner for Refugees is awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for the second time, for its assistance to Asian refugees.
1981: Javier Perez de Cuellar is elected as the UN's fifth secretary general.

December 1984: A UN office for Emergency Operations is set up in Africa to help coordinate famine relief efforts.

September 1987: Lobbying by the UN leads to the signing of the Treaty on the Protection of the Ozone Layer - known as the Montreal Protocol.

1988: UN Peacekeeping operations are awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, at the time of the award there are seven peacekeeping or observer missions in operation.

Back to top

September 1990: A Convention on the Rights of the Child comes into force, and a few weeks later UNICEF convenes the World Summit for Children.
1990: Economic sanctions are imposed upon Iraq, which is later followed by the authority to use force.

August 2 1990: Iraq invades Kuwait, starting the Gulf War. In November, the UN Security Council authorises the use of "all means necessary" to eject Iraq from Kuwait. After the UN deadline for Iraqi withdrawal on 15 February 1991 is not met, the allied attack begins on 17 February with operation Desert Storm.

Listen President Bush senior announces the start of war

31 January 1992: The First ever Security Council Summit, with leaders from all 15 members in attendance, is held in New York.

June 1992: The UN Conference on Environment and Development, the "Earth Summit", is held in Rio de Janeiro and attended by leaders from over 100 countries, the largest such gathering in history. A treaty on climate change is adopted.

1992: Boutros Boutros Ghali is elected as the sixth Secretary General of the UN.

1992: A UN peacekeeping force is sent to restore order and safeguard relief supplies in the war-torn state of Somalia. However, three years later, the UN peacekeepers leave the country having failed in their mission. The UN declared it too dangerous to keep the operations up and closed their office in the capital Mogadishu in 1995.

Listen BBC correspondent Peter Biles witnesses the fighting in Somalia's capital, Mogadishu

1993: The UN overseas independence in Eritrea. The country later became a member of the United Nations and the Organization of African Unity.

1993: UN-supervised elections are held in Cambodia resulting in a new government, and the drafting of a new constitution after nearly 15 years of strife.

April 1994: - The president of Rwanda, Habyarimana dies after their plane is shot down over Kigali, prompting extremist Hutu militia and elements of the Rwandan military to begin the systematic massacre of Tutsis in the country, while UN peacekeepers are still in the country. Within 100 days around 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus are killed.

Listen Fergal Keane on the Rwanda massacre

April 1994: Elections are held in South Africa under the gaze of UN observers.

25 May 1994: The Security Council lifts the arms embargo and other restrictions against South Africa. A UN mission is sent to monitor the peace agreement.

23 June 1994: After a gap of 24 years, South Africa takes its place once again in the General Assembly.

1995: The UN celebrates its 50th birthday with a year-long programme of activities and celebrations.

10 September 1996: The UN General Assembly adopts the Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty. This is a turning point in the history of efforts towards nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation. The treaty was opened for signature on 24 September.

17 December 1996: The Ghanaian Kofi Annan, is appointed as the seventh United Nations Secretary-General.

1997: The Kyoto Treaty is drawn up to implement the UN Framework Convention for Climate Change. It legally binds industrialised nations to reduce worldwide emissions of greenhouse gases by an average of 5.2% below their 1990 levels in the next 10 years.

Listen Robert Piggott on the Kyoto treaty

March 1999: The authority of the UN security council is called into question after a US-led alliance launches a bombing campaign against Yugoslavia without Security Council approval. The UN is bypassed after Russia and China say they will not support any Security Council backing for the use of force against Belgrade.

Listen On the first night of NATO bombing, President Clinton defends the air strikes

Listen Prime Minister Blair defends the air strikes

December 1999: A report accuses the UN of failing to prevent the genocide in Rwanda in 1994. The independent inquiry team - headed by former Swedish Prime Minister Ingvar Carlsson - said the UN had ignored evidence that genocide was planned and had refused to act once it had started. The inquiry concluded that the UN should apologise to the Rwandan people. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan expressed bitter regret and promised action to prevent another such disaster.

Back to top

March 2001: The US pulls out of ratifying the Kyoto Protocol. A compromise is reached four months later, with nearly 180 nations opting for a scaled-down version of the treaty, but President Bush has stated that the US will never sign it.

29 June 2001: Acting on a recommendation by the Security Council, the General Assembly re-appoints Kofi Annan to a second term of office, ending on 31 December 2006.

July 2001: The United States refuses to sign up to a UN sponsored agreement to enforce a ban on the use of biological weapons. It said the US was unable to support the draft accord because it would not achieve its goals and would hurt American interests.

December 2001: The UN's International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda tribunal is criticised after judging just nine cases in the space of seven years, handing down eight convictions and one acquittal. Eight months later, the Rwandan authorities withdraw co-operation with the tribunal in protest at the slow progress being made. The chief prosecutor, Carla Del Ponte claimed the Rwandan authorities were refusing to cooperate with the tribunal over the release of witnesses.

March 2002: The United Nations Security Council has for the first time passed a resolution calling for a Palestinian state alongside Israel. The US-drafted document "affirming a vision" of a Palestinian state was backed by 14 out of 15 members of the Security Council, with the abstention of Syria.

June 2002: The United Nations is accused of failing its mandate in Kosovo, by effectively allowing the region to be split into Serb and Albanian enclaves.

September 2002: US President George W Bush tells sceptical world leaders gathered at a UN General Assembly session to confront the "grave and gathering danger" of Iraq - or stand aside as the United States acts

8 November 2002: After weeks of wrangling, the UN Security Council passes resolution 1441 designed to force Iraq to give up all weapons of mass destruction and threatening "serious consequences" if it does not comply. Iraq accepts the terms of the resolution.

Listen President Bush comments on the adoption of the Resolution

27 November 2002: United Nations weapons inspectors, under the leadership of Dr Hans Blix, complete their first field visit in Iraq for four years.

24 February 2003: The US, UK and Spain submit a new draft resolution on Iraq. The text refers to the warning in Resolution 1441 that Iraq faces "serious consequences" if it does not fully co-operate. It accuses Iraq of "failing to comply" with the terms of Resolution 1441, pointing in particular to "false statements" and "omissions" in its weapons declarations. France, Germany and Russia submit a rival proposal to the Council to intensify weapons inspections in Iraq as an alternative to military action.

7 March 2003: Chief weapons inspector Hans Blix reports that Iraq has accelerated its cooperation but says inspectors need more time to verify Iraq's compliance.

Listen Hans Blix and his colleague Mohamed El Baradei describe their progress

10 March 2003: France and Russia announce that they are ready to veto a new UN resolution which gives Iraq seven days to disarm. Plunging the UN into a crisis as the

20 March 2003: The UN resolution never came to a vote and the US-led campaign to topple Iraqi Saddam Hussein began. President George W Bush addressed the American nation and vowed to "disarm Iraq and to free its people".

Listen President Bush addresses the nation on television at the start of the attack on Iraq

May 2003: The UN Security Council approves a resolution backing the US-led administration in Iraq and the lifting of economic sanctions. The US administrator abolishes the Baath Party and institutions of the former regime.

29 July 2003: UN Secretary General Kofi Annan asks the Security Council to relieve Carla Del Ponte as chief prosecutor for the War Crimes Tribunal in Rwanda, apparently against her wishes. She was removed from her post a month later.

July 31 2003: The United Nations' Secretary General, Kofi Annan, said the UN is taking a fundamental look at the way it does its work in the wake of the war in Iraq.

August 1 2003: The UN Security Council authorises a multinational force to help implement a ceasefire in Liberia. August 3 2003 US ambassador in Monrovia declares the civil war in Liberia to be over.

19 August 2003: A suicide attack on the UN offices in Baghdad kills dozens, including UN special envoy to Iraq Sergio Vieira de Mello.

Listen The moment of the UN building in Baghdad blown up in the middle of a press conference

Listen The UN press statement following the blast

Back to top

Audio Help
United Nations or not?
Listen to the interview Listen

  • Home

  • A Difficult and Defining Moment

  • The Lessons of History

  • The Final Judgement

  • Problems without Passports

  • About the UN
    Follow the history and work of the UN with our UN timeline
    Take an audio tour of the UN building with Connie Pedersen.
    Read a biography of presenter Edward Stourton.
    Edward Stourton on the the role and future of the UN
    Kofi Anan presses for UN reform
    George Soros calls for 'regime change' in US

    Useful Links
    The United Nations
    Further Stories
    US pushes for UN backing on Iraq
    Peacekeepers secure Liberian town
    UN puts off Libya vote
    Iraq missile attack on US plane

    News & Current Affairs | Arts & Drama | Comedy & Quizzes | Science | Religion & Ethics | History | Factual

    Back to top

    About the BBC | Help | Terms of Use | Privacy & Cookies Policy