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Evolution of Foreign Policy, Growing Cooperation

International Criminal Court, International Court of Justice, national sovereignty, American presidents, genocide

The United Nations was formed in the aftermath of World War II to help countries resolve international issues without war. American policymakers enthusiastically embraced it. The United Nations had more authority and prestige than the old League of Nations. The UN had a powerful Security Council made up of 15 members and charged with preserving world peace. The Security Council has five permanent members (China, Russia, France, the United Kingdom, and the United States), each of whom can veto any resolution proposed by other members. Other UN members take turns filling the remaining ten positions; these nonpermanent members cannot veto resolutions of the council.

Each member of the UN also has a vote in the General Assembly, which over the years has become an international forum where general topics are discussed and recommendations are formulated. The judicial arm of the United Nations is the International Court of Justice, which has jurisdiction only when nations agree that it has. For the most part this body interprets treaties and other international obligations. As the only major power that ended World War II with its economy intact—and the only nation at the time with nuclear weapons—the United States dominated the early United Nations.

Despite a growing cooperation with foreign governments, some Americans feared that international organizations might infringe on national sovereignty. This wariness led the U.S. Senate to pass the Connally reservation, which states that any treaty with respect to the United Nations must be made with the consent of the Senate. The Connally reservation also limits U.S. adherence to UN bodies such as the International Court of Justice by giving the federal government the right to decide for itself which issues are domestic and therefore beyond the court’s authority. The United States also has not accepted a 1998 international treaty establishing the International Criminal Court, which has the power to prosecute individuals for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide.

By the 1960s the United Nations had grown with the addition of nations from Africa and the Middle East. It was less likely to support American foreign policy positions, and American presidents began to place less importance in the United Nations.

Although the United States no longer dominates the United Nations, the organization continues to be an important instrument of American foreign policy. It provides a forum for negotiations with estranged countries, and it also supports a number of humanitarian endeavors.

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