Department of Politics and International Studies & Centre for International Studies and Diplomacy

UN wartime history for the future

The UN before The UN, lecture series and exhibition

Not many know that the United Nations were celebrated even before the creation of the UN in 1945. At the peak of the Second world war, allied nations began discussions around the idea of a global organization to foster unity and cooperation after the conflict. The idea gained ground progressively and more and more countries rallied around it, laying the foundations of the current UN system. People in many cities such as London, Cairo, Paris or Oswego, NY, would cheer for the United Nations, long before the Charter was adopted in 1945.

Dr Dan Plesch and Fatima Sator contributed to a distinguished panel on “The UN before the UN”, featuring:

  • Tatiana Valovaya, UN Director General
  • Blandine Bluckacz-Louisfert, Chief Insitutional Memory Section, UN Library
  • David Chikvaidze, Chef de Cabinet, UN Geneva
  • Fatima Sator, Research Associate, SOAS, University of London.

The discussion was chaired by Francesco Pisano, Director, UN Library Geneva.

This timely exhibition came ahead of two major anniversaries for multilateralism. 2020 marks 100 years since the founding of the League of Nations, and 75 years since the founding of the United Nations. The exhibition featured a range of posters highlighting the wartime cooperation that was underway during the period. The collection included posters from five countries: The UK; US; USSR; Mexico; and France. 

Wartime Origins and the Future United Nations (Global Institutions)

The creation of the UN system during World War II is a largely unknown or forgotten story among contemporary decision makers, international relations specialists, and policy analysts. This book aims to recover the wartime history of the United Nations and explore how the forgotten past can shed light on a possible and more desirable future. 

To achieve this, each chapter takes three snapshots:

  • "Then," the imaginative and transnational thinking about solutions to post-war problems demonstrated a realization that victory in WW II required an intergovernmental "system" with enough power and competence to work—that is, the UN was not established as a liberal plaything and public relations ploy but rather as a vital necessity for post-war order and prosperity.
  • "Now," which often seems a pale imitation of wartime thinking that nonetheless reflects a growing and widespread recognition of the fundamental disconnect between the nature of trans-boundary problems and current solutions seen as feasible by 193 UN member states.
  • "Next steps," or the collective wisdom about the range of new thinking and new institutions that, in fact, may well have antecedents in wartime thinking and experimentation and could be labelled blue-prints for a "third generation" of intergovernmental organizations.

This work will be essential reading for all students and scholars of the United Nations, International Organisations and Global Governance. 

Available on Amazon.

Understanding the wartime United Nations

Understanding the wartime United Nations reframes our understanding of the second half of the last century and of our own. From UNESCO to the World Bank the primary purpose of the multilateral system is conflict prevention and its wartime architects bequeathed us this system as a realist necessity vital in times of trial, not as a liberal accessory to be discarded when the going gets rough.

Available on Amazon.

America, Hitler and the UN

This research is encapsulated in Dan Plesch's America, Hitler and the UN published by IB Tauris. The book shows how the United Nations was born in 1942, defeated the Axis Powers led by Germany, Italy and Japan and created today's UN system. America, Britain and the Soviet Union led a coalition of states organised as the United Nations. Bretton Woods and San Francisco were United Nations conferences, and interim United Nations organisations preceded the Charter. 

The Centre is now working an a project on the Wartime History and Future UN with the Ralph Bunche Institute for International Study at the Graduate Centre of the City University of New York.

The UN in World War II America: map icons open to WWII conferences, local newspaper articles and college activity on the UN

The project leaders are interested in developing partnerships with other researchers and organizations on the implications of the wartime United Nations (WUN) for contemporary international policy and U.S. politics in particular and in its relationship to IR theory, the archaeology, genealogy and historiography of the study of international politics since 1945 and the impact of the WUN on the campaigns and politics of the Second World War.

Available on Amazon.

Project resources

Dr Dan Plesch in the news