A four-power directory -- America, Soviet Russia, China and Great Britain -- would settle the world's problems. ... Roosevelt thus intended to lure the Soviets into a group that would contain their ambitions and in which America could unite its dependents. Among the 'four,' he knew, in fact, that Chiang Kai-shek's China needed his cooperation and that the British, in danger of losing their dominions, would yield to his policy.
Roosevelt did not intend the United Nations to be an independent arbiter. He intended it to be an instrument of U.S. power -- "a permanent system of intervention that he intended to institute by international law," in de Gaulle's words. This is what the United Nations has usefully been in the Korean War in 1950-53 and in the Gulf War of 1991. It could have been so again in Iraq in 2003 if we had chosen to take the words of Resolutions 678 and 1441 as authorization for war rather than go back, at Tony Blair's behest, for another resolution.
But it will not do for an American president to say out loud that the U.N. is America's tool. And here we come to the contribution of Eleanor Roosevelt. As described in Mary Ann Glendon's book "A World Made New," Mrs. Roosevelt was the chief architect of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted in 1948. Less cynical than her husband, Mrs. Roosevelt was still not naive enough to think this document was self-enforcing, nor was she unaware that the Soviet Union was a tyranny. But she believed, correctly, that statements of principle, solemnly endorsed by sovereign nations, would have some force in world affairs.
When George W. Bush appeared before the U.N. in September 2002 and demanded that it hold Iraq accountable for violating the U.N.'s own resolutions and when he spoke of Saddam Hussein's violations of human rights, he was using the vocabulary provided by Eleanor Roosevelt in the service of Franklin Roosevelt's purpose.
Certainly the bureaucracy of the United Nations needs cleaning out, and the Oil for Food scandal needs to be fully aired. But the United Nations does have its uses.