The United Nations (UN) is the world's preeminent organization working toward global peace, harmony among nations, and the betterment of all the peoples of the world. The only sovereign nations of the world not counted among the UN's 187 member nations are Kiribati, Nauru, Switzerland, Taiwan, Tonga, Tuvalu, and Vatican City. Since its founding in 1945 the United Nations, which is headquartered in New York City, has had many successes and failures in striving to achieve its four purposes as set forth in the UN Charter. The four purposes are to: "save succeeding generations from the scourge of war"; "reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights"; "establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations arising from treaties and other sources of international law can be maintained"; and "promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom."
The charter of the United Nations was signed June 26, 1945, in San Francisco, California. The charter was derived in part from deliberations held between the United States, the Soviet Union, China, and Great Britain at the Dumbarton Oaks estate in Washington, D.C., in 1944. These deliberations led to the United Nations Conference on International Organization which was held in San Francisco between April 25 and June 25, 1945. The 50 nations attending the conference became founding members of the UN. Poland did not send a delegation but shortly thereafter signed the charter and is generally regarded as a founding member. On October 24, 1945, following the devastation of World War II, the UN became a viable entity with the charter being ratified by the governments of the United States, China, France, the Soviet Union, Great Britain, and other signatories. October 24 has since been declared United Nations Day. China was until 1971 represented by the Nationalist government in Taiwan. The delegation from the People's Republic of China was, however, seated in its stead in October of that year. The name "United Nations" originated with President Franklin Roosevelt and was first used in the "Declaration by United Nations" issued during a 1942 meeting between the 26 nations fighting Germany and the Axis powers during World War II. The United Nations succeeded the ill-fated League of Nations that was established following World War I.
While pursuing international peace, harmony, and cooperation between the nations of the world, the UN is concurrently involved in human-rights concerns as well as economic, cultural, health, and social issues. The UN Charter serves as the UN's constitution and besides enumerating that body's four purposes, also lists seven principles: equality of membership, member responsibilities, peaceful settlement of disputes, when force or various sanctions may or may not be used, responsibilities related to attaining the goals enumerated in the charter, noninterference in the internal affairs of member countries, and relations with and expectations concerning nonmember countries.
The UN is divided into six principal organs: the General Assembly, the Security Council, the International Court of Justice, the Economic and Social Council, the Trusteeship Council, and the Secretariat. All members belong to the General Assembly which is the UN's deliberative body. The assembly makes recommendations but has no power of enforcement. The Security Council is responsible for the maintenance of peace through military intervention, economic sanctions, and various peacekeeping activities. It has five permanent and six nonpermanent members. The countries comprising the "Big Five" are: the United States, France, Great Britain, the People's Republic of China, and Russia. Prior to 1971 and 1991 respectively, the last two seats were held by Taiwan and the Soviet Union. The six nonpermanent seats are held for two years by nations chosen by the General Assembly on the basis of geographical distribution, contributions to world peace, and attainment of general UN goals. The International Court of Justice is the only principal UN body not headquartered in New York City. Residing at the Hague, the Netherlands, the court seats 15 judges appointed to nine-year terms by the General Assembly and the Security Council. The court issues advisory opinions and settles member disputes that fall within the court's limited jurisdiction. The Economic and Social Council has 54 members elected by the General Assembly to three year terms and issues advice and opinions related to social and economic issues. The Trusteeship Council administers non-self-governing territories dating back to the League of Nations.
The United Nations Secretariat is headed by a secretary-general and is the UN's chief administrative body. The Secretariat is responsible for settling international disputes, carrying out peacekeeping activities, gathering information related to political and economic trends, and in general overseeing activities relating to the goals of the UN while directing the activities of the various UN special agencies.
UN specialized agencies and agencies related to the UN are many and varied. Some of the more notable agencies are:
There are also special bodies associated with the General Assembly including the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, the United Nations Development Programme, and the United Nations Environment Program. The best-known special body is the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) which funds and administers child health and welfare programs in many areas of the world, but especially the developing countries of the Third World.
One of the most controversial and often divisive roles of the UN has been its peacekeeping efforts through cease-fire negotiations, the deployment of peacekeeping forces, or UN-sanctioned military intervention. Some of the UN's major efforts in these regards have been: the 1949 cease fire interventions in unrelated disputes between the Netherlands and Indonesia, and between Pakistan and India; military intervention in Korea in 1950; a 1964 peacekeeping force that intervened in a conflict between Greek and Turkish forces over ethnic tensions on Cyprus; a UN peacekeeping force sent to Lebanon in 1978 to stop fighting between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization; a 1991 military coalition spearheaded by the United States that ousted Iraqi forces from Kuwait in what became known as the Persian Gulf War; and various interventions, starting in 1992, in Central Europe to help resolve ethnic-driven conflict in the former Yugoslavia.
In its ongoing effort to promote world peace the UN and its organizations have been the recipients of five Nobel Peace Prizes: the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees—awarded in 1954 and 1981; UNICEF—1965; the International Labor Organization —1969; and the United Nations Peace-Keeping Forces, for various peacekeeping operations—1988.
The Nobel Peace Prize has also been awarded to various individuals associated with the UN: U.S. ex-Secretary of State Cordell Hull (1871-1955), for his efforts to establish the UN—awarded in 1945; Lord John Boyd Orr (1880-1971) of the United Kingdom, the first director-general of the Food and Agriculture Organization—1949; Ralph Bunche (1904-1971) of the United States, for mediating a 1948 armistice agreement between Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, and Egypt—1950; Lester Pearson (1897-1972) of Canada, president of the seventh session of the UN General Assembly, for his work in resolving the 1956 Suez Crisis—1957; Dag Hammarskjold (1905-1961) of Sweden, UN secretary-general, for his intervention in the Congo crisis—1961; and Ireland's Sean MacBride (1904-1988), for his role as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees—1974.
Despite these many successes the UN is a troubled and often ineffectual organization. Since the Persian Gulf War, for instance, the UN has been unable to stop Iraq's continual and seemingly endless cat-and-mouse game with UN weapons inspectors. Over the decades an ideological rift has developed between the UN's Third World members (known as the "South") and the industrialized and developed nations (known as the "North") and shows no signs of healing. Currently the United States owes the UN almost $1.5 billion in back dues (total arrears among all members is approaching $2.5 billion) and Congress refuses to release these funds until the UN institutes major reforms (i.e., downsizing.) The current annual assessment for U.S. dues ($298 million) represents 25 percent of the UN's regular budget while 10 of the 185 members nations are responsible for 75 percent of the UN's $1.3 billion annual budget. The UN is also a bloated bureaucracy even after a 14 percent reduction (to 8,800 employees) in the central bureaucracy since 1994. There is, however, unrealized momentum within the organization to reduce the administrative portion of the central budget from 38 percent to 25 percent. Finally, regional bickering is hampering a needed move toward increasing the permanent membership of the Security Council (Pakistan versus India, Italy versus Germany, Argentina versus Brazil, etc.).
In an effort to reform the UN, Secretary-General Kofi Annan (1938) has instituted a "quiet revolution" which in part is attempting to establish greater rapport with the world's business community. The UN feels that with its expertise in cross-cultural communication and cooperation it is uniquely able to help business meet the challenges of globalization and global interdependence. The UN also strongly believes that business can greatly profit from expanded markets that will grow concurrently with a world free from strife, chaos, and war.
[ Michael Knes ]
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