“But what made the UN’s design and establishment so remarkable was its broader ambitions – for human rights on
a global scale, for sovereign independence and freedom and democracy in all parts of the world, for
improvements in standards of living worldwide… More of that original vision has been achieved than is often
recognized. No period in history has seen so many people benefiting from advances in life expectancy, health,
education and living standards as in the UN’s lifetime. The organization cannot claim credit for all the progress
that has been made, any more than it can be blamed for the lack thereof.” (Source: Thomas G. Weiss and Sam Daws
(eds.)(2007).The Oxford Handbook on the United Nations, Oxford, Oxford University Press p.11.)
• The UN has nearly quadrupled its membership from 51 in 1945 to 193 in 2013, in part by sponsoring the
process of decolonization.
• The number of democracies in the world has multiplied by five. Two thirds of the world’s countries now
have their governments chosen by multi-party elections.
• There have been no world wars. Deaths from war since 1945 have been markedly fewer than in the first
half of the 20th century.
• Between 1948 and 1978 there were only 13 peacekeeping missions, but the total number of missions has
since risen to 68. At the end of June 2013 there were 16 operations with 97,369 uniformed personnel in
the field and a total of 117,905, when civilians are included – the largest international military presence
in the world apart from that of the United States.
• There has been a six-fold increase in the UN’s preventive diplomacy missions since the end of the Cold War
in 1990, and quantifiable progress in the reduction and resolution of conflicts (e.g. Namibia, Timor-Leste,
Mozambique, El Salvador, Cote d’Ivoire, Sierra Leone, Liberia).
• Thanks to the UN, smallpox, the world’s most devastating disease, has been eliminated and yaws, guinea
worm and polio have been virtually eliminated.
• Life expectancy is now double what it was in the 1930’s and child mortality has been lowered by more
than three quarters.
• Nearly three-quarters of the world’s population over 18 are now literate and 85 percent of children
benefit from education.
• Since the approval of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 there has been an immense surge
in the ratification of human rights conventions. Almost a hundred countries have now ratified at least six
of the seven major human rights instruments and each has a committee of experts to monitor
• Since 2000, the UN’s Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) have provided a set of concrete, measurable
objectives to guide UN Agencies in a global effort to eradicate poverty, promote gender equality and
ensure sustainable development by the year 2015.
• With its Convention on the Rights of Women (1981), the UN gave a boost to the long struggle for women’s
equality in the world.
Compiled by John Trent and Joan Broughton