United Nations Admits Many New Members Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The early 1990’s brought many changes around the world, including the end of the Cold War and the dismantling of many communist regimes, resulting in a large influx of new members into the United Nations.

Summary of Event

In the closing days of World War II, the leaders of the victorious Allied nations agreed that a new international organization should be established to work to prevent another war of that magnitude from occurring, including working to end the potential causes of war. Fifty-one nations were charter members of this group, called the United Nations, which replaced the League of Nations. From that time forward, an invitation to join the United Nations was extended to independent nations around the world. During most decades, growth was slow. In 1955, seventeen members were added; then, in the first half of the 1960’s, thirty-five members were added, mainly newly independent countries in Africa. From that time until 1990, the average growth was less than two members a year. In the last six years of the 1980’s, no new members were admitted to the United Nations. United Nations;expansion [kw]United Nations Admits Many New Members (1990-1994) United Nations;expansion [g]North America;1990-1994: United Nations Admits Many New Members[07590] [g]United States;1990-1994: United Nations Admits Many New Members[07590] [c]United Nations;1990-1994: United Nations Admits Many New Members[07590] [c]Organizations and institutions;1990-1994: United Nations Admits Many New Members[07590] [c]Diplomacy and international relations;1990-1994: United Nations Admits Many New Members[07590] Gorbachev, Mikhail [p]Gorbachev, Mikhail;United Nations Bush, George H. W. [p]Bush, George H. W.;United Nations Pérez de Cuéllar, Javier Boutros-Ghali, Boutros

As the 1980’s drew to a close, Mikhail Gorbachev, leader of the Soviet Union, made it clear that he was not going to use military force to keep communist governments in power throughout Eastern Europe. In July, 1991, U.S. president George H. W. Bush met with Gorbachev, and they declared an end to the Cold War. This opened the way for rapid changes at the United Nations. U.N. secretary-general Javier Pérez de Cuéllar had great hope that these changes would allow the United Nations, and especially the Security Council, to work more effectively for peace.

Some of the European microstates that had tried to remain out of the Cold War now ventured into international politics and sought to join the United Nations. Between 1990 and 1993, Liechtenstein, San Marino, Monaco, and Andorra were admitted, without worry of becoming pawns caught between two superpowers.

The largest group of new countries joining the United Nations came from the devolution of three communist countries: the Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia, and Yugoslavia. The first to break away were the three Baltic republics of the Soviet Union—Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. They achieved independence and joined the United Nations in 1991, as did the Russian Federation as the successor to the Soviet Union. Soon thereafter, the remaining republics that had been a part of the Soviet Union declared their independence. The Ukraine and Belarus (formerly Belorussia) had already joined the United Nations when it was established in 1945. The other newly independent states of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova (formerly Moldavia), Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan joined the United Nations in 1992. In 1993, Czechoslovakia split into the two constituent nations of the Czech Republic and Slovakia and joined that same year. Three sections of Yugoslavia—Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, and Slovenia—joined the United Nations in 1992. Another Yugoslav republic, referred to as “the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia,” joined in 1993, although Greece objected to its name, claiming that “Macedonia” could be used only to refer to a region in Greece. Yugoslavia was temporarily dropped from the membership of the United Nations when these four of its six republics joined. This dramatic increase in membership in the United Nations was a high point in the troubled term of office for Boutros Boutros-Ghali, who had replaced Javier Pérez de Cuéllar as secretary-general in 1992.

In 1990, two members of the United Nations, the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) and the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany), were reunified and have since been represented as one member. South Yemen and North Yemen were also united in 1990, becoming one member state. In 1991, the communist Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) and the Republic of Korea (South Korea) were allowed to join.

The final new members to join the United Nations in the aftermath of the Cold War were the trust territories, countries that had been administered by Western countries following the end of World War II. In many trust territories, independence movements had been agitating or fighting for independence for several years. With the threat of communist expansion eliminated, Western countries no longer felt the need to keep such tight control over territories entrusted to their guardianship by the United Nations. Thus, either independence or a much looser political relationship with the former trustee allowed Namibia (1990), the Federated States of Micronesia (1991), the Marshall Islands (1991), and Palau (1994) to join the United Nations. In 1952, Eritrea had been entrusted to Ethiopia, which later annexed it, leading to a war of independence. The conclusion of this war led to Eritrea’s membership in the United Nations in 1993.


The dramatic increase in the membership of the United Nations was significant for two reasons. First, it definitively marked the end of the Cold War. While Bush and Gorbachev had openly discussed its end, the disintegration of three of the strongest communist countries in Eastern Europe made it impossible for the Cold War to be revived. The formation of twenty-two new nations in Eurasia (not all immediately joining the United Nations) rewrote the geography texts and the political landscape. Second, the United Nations was truly able to become an international forum for the nations of the world. One of the weaknesses of its pre-World War II predecessor, the League of Nations, was that less than half the world was represented among its membership. When the political landscape changed with the end of the Cold War, dramatic changes were needed in the United Nations if it was going to uphold its stated purpose. When the additions and subtractions of the 1990-1994 period were complete, the membership of the United Nations had grown from 159 to 185, with Europe increasing its membership by more than half. United Nations;expansion

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Meisler, Stanley. United Nations: The First Fifty Years. New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 1995. Two of the chapters deal with this period, and an appendix contains a chronology of the United Nations.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Weiss, Thomas G., et al. The United Nations and Changing World Politics. 5th ed. Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 2007. Examines the role the United Nations has played, with special attention to the period at the end of and following the Cold War.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Young, John W., and John Kent. International Relations Since 1945: A Global History. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004. Deals with international relations since the founding of the United Nations. Part 6 addresses the events of the 1990’s.

People’s Republic of China Is Seated at the United Nations

Namibia Is Liberated from South African Control

Fall of the Berlin Wall

Lithuania Declares Independence from the Soviet Union

Merging of the Two Yemens

Dissolution of the Soviet Union

Czechoslovakia Splits into Two Republics

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