The field of activity and the responsibilities of the UN are considerably more extensive than those of the League. Of the specialized agencies in the UN system, only three—the ILO, the ITU, and the UPU—antedate the UN. The League, furthermore, never sponsored any such enterprises as those undertaken by, for example, the UN Development Program, the UN Environment Program, or the World Food Program. Membership in the League did not oblige a nation to join the Permanent Court of Justice, whereas all members of the UN are automatically parties to the Statute of the International Court of Justice, which is an integral part of the Charter.
Like the League, the UN has recorded several important successes in halting local armed conflicts and the spread of disputes: for example, in the Congo, Kashmir, and, over long periods, Cyprus. However, it has often proved unable to take effective action in any situation where the interests of either the US or the former USSR are closely involved or where the two giant powers seem committed to opposite sides of disputes involving smaller nations. Thus, it was unable to check the Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956 and of Czechoslovakia in 1968; it was unable to take any action to halt the fighting that raged in Indochina during most of its existence; and, though progress has been made, it has not succeeded in finding a permanent solution to the prolonged crisis that has periodically erupted in Arab-Israeli wars in the Middle East.
The UN's ineffectuality in such situations caused a loss of confidence in its relevance in international political relations. Nor was it a source of consolation that there was no discernible drift toward a world war, for in most cases where the US and the former USSR found themselves almost at the point of actual confrontation, as in the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, they tended to resolve their differences bilaterally, not under the aegis of the UN.
On the other hand, if the two great powers did not always find it convenient to allow the UN to play too decisive a role in political matters, they found it equally impractical to bypass the world organization altogether.
Unlike the League, the UN is the center of a network of organizations whose activities reach into many aspects of the national life of every member state. As such, it has come to be regarded as an indispensable part of the machinery for conducting multi-level international relations. In a world transformed by the collapse of the former Soviet bloc, the UN is coming of age and may begin to fulfill the dreams of its founders. While its authority continues to be challenged by countries that remain on the fringe of the world community, the United Nations may be seen as an embryonic world government.