7.3.1- Internationalism After the World Wars

Should internationalism be pursued?

Big Ideas:

  • Nation-states take part in regional and global affairs for many reasons.
  • Nation and state involvement in regional and global affairs impacts individual and collective identities.
  • Internationalism can be promoted in foreign policy.

Failure of the League of Nations

When nations follow policies of ultranationalism, isolationism, or unilateralism in the name of national self-interest, the result is often tension and conflict in the world community. The devastation of world wars convinced many countries that while national interests were important, it was even more important to come together to resolve and prevent conflict in the future.

One attempt to prevent conflict was through the creation of the League of Nations, which was developed after World War I. In the political cartoon below (titled “The Gap in the Bridge”), the United States (represented by Uncle Sam) has the missing keystone needed to complete the bridge to the League of Nations. When the League was originally formed, its goal was to prevent another major war through an agreement with key nations. One criticism of the League of Nations was its membership; many nations did not become members of the League (such as the United States) and some nations were actually excluded (such as Germany and the Soviet Union).


The cartoon "The Gap in the Bridge" highlights the importance of nations participating in international organizations. Using the How to View Critically tutorial, consider the following: when an international organization relies on all nations’ collaboration, how successful can it be when nations with the greatest power or resources do not participate?

Formation of the United Nations-1945

The growth in internationalism after the conclusion of both World Wars led to the belief that sharing responsibility for world affairs would improve the security and prosperity of all nations. Especially after the devastation of World War II, many countries came together to form an institution dedicated to preventing and resolving conflict.

The formation of the United Nations was, in part, driven by the failure of the League of Nations. On October 24, 1945, the United Nations was created with its founding principle of internationalism. The United States and Britain played instrumental roles in the founding of the UN, and the UN Charter reflects the influences of these two nations. Initially, 51 nations joined the group with four major goals as its mandate.

Using the tabs below, explore each of the United Nations' goals and the website links within to clarify the mandate of the United Nations.

Maintain peace and security through the use of collective action to suppress acts of aggression. Click the link United Nations: Maintain International Peace and Security to view the UN's current and past efforts to address global peace and security.

Promote friendly relations between nations based on acceptance of equal rights and self-determination for everyone. Click the link United Nations: Protect Human Rights to view the UN's current and past efforts to address equal rights and self-determination in the international community.

Use international cooperation when dealing with economic, social, cultural, or humanitarian problems. Click the link United Nations: Uphold International Law to see how the UN works as a central organization for the international community.

Act as a coordinator to member nations to unite actions in support of the goals. Click the link United Nations: Overview to see how the UN supports the efforts to establish international cooperation between and among nations.

As the United Nations moved beyond the World Wars and into the 20th century, it was not without its critics. The Cold War conflict between the superpowers of the United States and the Soviet Union impacted the UN’s attempt to keep peace. As each nation had veto power in the UN Security Council, any disputes required both superpowers to agree, which rarely happened. As more nations joined the UN, issues with power blocs (groups of nations with common interests acting as a single political force), veto power, and participation in the UN Security Council continued to impact the UN’s ability to support its goals.

View the image of the UN Institutions below, especially the UN Security Council. There are five permanent member nations of this council, and all have veto power (meaning that any decisions can be rejected), and are the largest contributors to the UN’s financial budget. In the 1980s, newer (but poorer) nations complained that their inability to contribute financially to the UN was due to debts to wealthier nations. The five permanent members responded that their financial contributions afforded them their veto power, and without their contributions, the UN would go bankrupt.

Download the 7.3.1 Notebook Organizer (Word, PDF, Google Doc), read pages 118, 142, 164, 218, 249 to 250 in your Understanding Nationalism textbook, then complete the 7.3.1 Organizer (if you need a reminder on how to take notes, click here).

These pages will further your understanding of the challenges faced by international organizations when attempting to address global issues. When you are done, return here to continue.