The United Nations (UN) is an intergovernmental organization tasked to promote international cooperation and to create and maintain international order. The UN is the largest, most familiar, most internationally represented and most powerful intergovernmental organization in the world. At its founding, the UN had 51 member states; there are now 193. The headquarters of the UN is in Manhattan, New York City, and is subject to extraterritoriality. Further main offices are situated in Geneva, Nairobi, and Vienna. The organization is financed by assessed and voluntary contributions from its member states.
In the century prior to the UN’s creation, several international treaty organizations and conferences had been formed to regulate conflicts between nations, such as the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Hague Conventions of 1899 and 1907.6 Following the catastrophic loss of life in the First World War, the Paris Peace Conference established the League of Nations to maintain harmony between countries. However, the League lacked representation for colonial peoples (then half the world’s population) and significant participation from several major powers, including the US, USSR, Germany, and Japan; it failed to act against the Japanese invasion of Manchuria in 1931, the Second Italo-Ethiopian War in 1935, the Japanese invasion of China in 1937, and German expansions under Adolf Hitler that culminated in the Second World War.9 A replacement for the ineffective League of Nations, the organization was established on 24 October 1945 after World War II with the aim of preventing another such conflict. At its founding, the UN had 51 member states; there are now 193. The UN was formulated and negotiated among the delegations from the Allied Big Four (the United States, the United Kingdom, the Soviet Union and China) at the Dumbarton Oaks Conference in 1944.1718 After months of planning, the UN Conference on International Organization opened in San Francisco, 25 April 1945, attended by 50 governments and a number of non-governmental organizations involved in drafting the UN Charter.
The UN officially came into existence 24 October 1945, upon ratification of the Charter by the five permanent members of the Security Council—France, the Republic of China, the Soviet Union, the UK and the U.S.—and by a majority of the other 46 signatories.21 Membership
With the addition of South Sudan 14 July 2011,105 there are 193 UN member states, including all undisputed independent states apart from Vatican City.106d The UN Charter outlines the rules for membership:
Membership in the United Nations is open to all other peace-loving states that accept the obligations contained in the present Charter and, in the judgment of the Organization, are able and willing to carry out these obligations.
The admission of any such state to membership in the United Nations will be effected by a decision of the General Assembly upon the recommendation of the Security Council. Chapter II, Article 4.107Objectives
Peacekeeping and security
The UN, after approval by the Security Council, sends peacekeepers to regions where armed conflict has recently ceased or paused to enforce the terms of peace agreements and to discourage combatants from resuming hostilities. Since the UN does not maintain its own military, peacekeeping forces are voluntarily provided by member states. These soldiers are sometimes nicknamed “Blue Helmets” for their distinctive gear.112113 The peacekeeping force as a whole received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1988.114The largest was the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO), which included 20,688 uniformed personnel. The smallest, United Nations Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP), included 42 uniformed personnel responsible for monitoring the ceasefire in Jammu and Kashmir. n addition to peacekeeping, the UN is also active in encouraging disarmament. Regulation of armaments was included in the writing of the UN Charter in 1945 and was envisioned as a way of limiting the use of human and economic resources for their creation.83 The advent of nuclear weapons came only weeks after the signing of the charter, resulting in the first resolution of the first General Assembly meeting calling for specific proposals for “the elimination from national armaments of atomic weapons and of all other major weapons adaptable to mass destruction”.
One of the UN’s primary purposes is “promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion”, and member states pledge to undertake “joint and separate action” to protect these rights.102132Economic development and humanitarian assistance
Millennium Development Goals144Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger,Achieve universal primary education,Promote gender equality and empower women,Reduce child mortality,Improve maternal health,Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases,Ensure environmental sustainability,Develop a global partnership for development Another primary purpose of the UN is “to achieve international co-operation in solving international problems of an economic, social, cultural, or humanitarian character”.132 Numerous bodies have been created to work towards this goal, primarily under the authority of the General Assembly and ECOSOC.145 In 2000, the 192 UN member states agreed to achieve eight Millennium Development Goals by 2015.146Other
Since the UN’s creation, over 80 colonies have attained independence. The General Assembly adopted the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples in 1960 with no votes against but abstentions from all major colonial powers. The UN works towards decolonization through groups including the UN Committee on Decolonization, created in 1962.161 The committee lists seventeen remaining “Non-Self-Governing Territories”, the largest and most populous of which is Western Sahara.162Beginning with the formation of the UN Environmental Programme (UNEP) in 1972, the UN has made environmental issues a prominent part of its agenda. A lack of success in the first two decades of UN work in this area led to the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, which sought to give new impetus to these efforts.163 In 1988, the UNEP and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), another UN organization, established the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which assesses and reports on research on global warming.164 The UN-sponsored Kyoto Protocol, signed in 1997, set legally binding emissions reduction targets for ratifying states.165The UN also declares and co-ordinates international observances, periods of time to observe issues of international interest or concern. Examples include World Tuberculosis Day, Earth Day, and the International Year of Deserts and Desertification.166Structure
The UN system is based on five principal organs: the General Assembly, the Security Council, the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), the Secretariat, and the International Court of Justice.64 A sixth principal organ, the Trusteeship Council, suspended operations in 1994, upon the independence of Palau, the last remaining UN trustee territory.65Four of the five principal organs are located at the main UN Headquarters in New York City.66 The International Court of Justice is located in The Hague, while other major agencies are based in the UN offices at Geneva,67 Vienna,68 and Nairobi.69 Other UN institutions are located throughout the world. The six official languages of the UN, used in intergovernmental meetings and documents, are Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian, and Spanish.70 On the basis of the Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the United Nations, the UN and its agencies are immune from the laws of the countries where they operate, safeguarding the UN’s impartiality with regard to the host and member countries.71General Assembly
The General Assembly is the main deliberative assembly of the UN. Composed of all UN member states, the assembly meets in regular yearly sessions, but emergency sessions can also be called.79 The assembly is led by a president, elected from among the member states on a rotating regional basis, and 21 vice-presidents.80
When the General Assembly votes on important questions, a two-thirds majority of those present and voting is required. Examples of important questions include recommendations on peace and security; election of members to organs; admission, suspension, and expulsion of members; and budgetary matters.81 All other questions are decided by a majority vote. Each member country has one vote. Apart from approval of budgetary matters, resolutions are not binding on the members. The Assembly may make recommendations on any matters within the scope of the N, except matters of peace and security that are under consideration by the Security Council.79Security Council: The Security Council is charged with maintaining peace and security among countries. While other organs of the UN can only make “recommendations” to member states, the Security Council has the power to make binding decisions that member states have agreed to carry out, under the terms of Charter Article 25.83 The decisions of the Council are known as United Nations Security Council resolutions.84The Security Council is made up of fifteen member states, consisting of five permanent members—China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States—and ten non-permanent members elected for two-year terms by the General Assembly (with end of term date)—Bolivia (term ends 2018), Egypt (2017), Ethiopia (2018), Italy (2018), Japan (2017), Kazakhstan (2018), Senegal (2017), Sweden (2018), Ukraine (2017), Uruguay (2017).85 The five permanent members hold veto power over UN resolutions, allowing a permanent member to block adoption of a resolution, though not debate. The ten temporary seats are held for two-year terms, with five member states per year voted in by the General Assembly on a regional basis.86 The presidency of the Security Council rotates alphabetically each month.87Secretariat: The UN Secretariat is headed by the Secretary-General, assisted by a staff of international civil servants worldwide.88 It provides studies, information, and facilities needed by UN bodies for their meetings. It also carries out tasks as directed by the Security Council, the General Assembly, the Economic and Social Council, and other UN bodies.89The Secretary-General acts as the de facto spokesperson and leader of the UN. The position is defined in the UN Charter as the organization’s “chief administrative officer”. The Secretary-General is appointed by the General Assembly, after being recommended by the Security Council, where the permanent members have veto power. There are no specific criteria for the post, but over the years it has become accepted that the post shall be held for one or two terms of five years.93 The current Secretary-General is HYPERLINK “https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ant%C3%B3nio_Guterres” o “António Guterres” António Guterres, who replaced Ban Ki-moon in 2017.
International Court of Justice: The International Court of Justice (ICJ), located in The Hague, in the Netherlands, is the primary judicial organ of the UN. Established in 1945 by the UN Charter, the Court began work in 1946 as the successor to the Permanent Court of International Justice. The ICJ is composed of 15 judges who serve 9-year terms and are appointed by the General Assembly; every sitting judge must be from a different nation. It is based in the Peace Palace in The Hague, sharing the building with the Hague Academy of International Law, a private centre for the study of international law. The ICJ’s primary purpose is to adjudicate disputes among states. The court has heard cases related to war crimes, illegal state interference, ethnic cleansing, and other issues.97 The ICJ can also be called upon by other UN organs to provide advisory opinions.95Economic and Social Council
The Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) assists the General Assembly in promoting international economic and social co-operation and development. ECOSOC has 54 members, which are elected by the General Assembly for a three-year term. The president is elected for a one-year term and chosen amongst the small or middle powers represented on ECOSOC. The council has one annual meeting in July, held in either New York or Geneva. Viewed as separate from the specialized bodies it co-ordinates, ECOSOC’s functions include information gathering, advising member nations, and making recommendations.
The UN Charter stipulates that each primary organ of the United Nations can establish various specialized agencies to fulfil its duties.102 Some best-known agencies are the International Atomic Energy Agency, the Food and Agriculture Organization, UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization), the World Bank, and the World Health Organization (WHO). The UN performs most of its humanitarian work through these agencies. Examples include mass vaccination programmes (through WHO), the avoidance of famine and malnutrition (through the work of the WFP), and the protection of vulnerable and displaced people (for example, by UNHCR).103UN Trusteeship Council— For administering trust territories (currently inactive) —
Was originally designed to manage colonial possessions that were former League of Nations mandates;
Has been inactive since 1994, when Palau, the last trust territory, attained independence.