Prior to the formation of the United Nations (UN), the League of Nations, founded in 1919, was responsible for promoting international cooperation and peace. However, its importance waned in the 1930’s when the Axis powers gained influence, triggering the Second World War. In 1942, the "Declaration by United Nations" was signed to formally declare the co-operation of the Allies during the Second World War. It was also during this time that the term United Nations was coined by the British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, and the U.S. President, Franklin D. Roosevelt. The first formal attempt to establish the UN began with the drafting of the Charter of the United Nations at the UN Conference on International Organization, held in San Francisco, California in April of 1945. The convention was presided over by Roosevelt, Churchill, and the Soviet Premier, Joseph Stalin, and was attended by government representatives of 50 nations, as well as several non-governmental organizations (NGOs). After two months, the final charter was signed by all of the attending nations, except for Poland who was unable to send a representative to the conference at that time and instead signed the charter on the 15th of October, 1945. Finally, after the ratification of the Charter by the governments of the involved nations, the UN was formally founded on October 24th, 1945. The aim of establishing this international organization was to safeguard the world's future generations from the damaging effects of war, and to reaffirm the faith of the people in fundamental human rights. It also aimed to establish equal rights for all, and to promote justice, freedom, and social progress for the people of the world.
The UN, an intergovernmental organization, has a current strength of 193 member states. The countries involved in signing and ratifying the Charter of the United Nations in 1945 are referred to as the original, or founding, members of the UN. The UN Security Council has five permanent members, namely (Mainland) China, Russia, France, the United Kingdom, and the United States. All of these members are empowered to veto UN resolutions, and are thus referred to as the "Big 5", "P5", or "Permanent Five". Other countries joined the UN in the later years, following set protocols to become members of this prestigious world organization. The process of applying for UN membership usually involves the application by a country for membership with a declaration that it is ready to accept all of the obligations detailed in the UN Charter. Following this, the UN Security Council makes its decision and takes a resolution inviting the UN General Assembly to admit the country. The UN General Assembly members then make their own resolution, admitting the new country into the UN or not.
Six main organs define the structure of the UN. Namely, these are the General Assembly, the Security Council, the Economic and Social Council, the UN Secretariat, the International Court of Justice, and the Trusteeship Council. The General Assembly is the only UN body that is represented by all of the 193 member states, and is involved in policymaking functions of the UN. A two-thirds majority vote of the members of the General Assembly are required to take significant decisions on matters like peace and security, budgets, the admission of new members, and other UN policies, while other less significant subjects require the support of a simple majority. The UN Security Council performs the vital UN function of ensuring the maintenance of international peace and security. Therein, 5 permanent and 10 non-permanent members, each with a single vote, make decisions on world peace and security matters, and all other UN members are obliged to accept the actions taken by the Council. The Security Council also holds the right to authorize the use of force to settle threats to global peace and security. The UN’s goal of development is managed by the Economic and Social Council, which handles the creation, implementation, and execution of policies and actions concerning social, economic, and environmental issues affecting the world’s nations. It has 54 members who are elected by the General Assembly, and these members serve overlapping three year terms.
The UN Secretariat is the functional core of the UN. It is headed by the Secretary General, assisted by thousands of UN staff members, and executes the day-to-day activities of the UN as directed by its principal organs. The International Court of Justice is the judicial body of the UN, with its headquarters in The Hague, The Netherlands. When referred to by the authorized organs of the UN, it is involved in settling international legal disputes and providing advisory opinions to the member states of the UN. The Trusteeship Council is a very specialized body within the UN, originally assigned with the responsibility to supervise the 11 Trust Territories of the UN and monitor their progress towards self-governance and independence. All of the 11 Trust Territories had attained their freedom by 1994, and hence, on the 1st of November, 1994, that council’s operations and mandate to meet once annually were suspended.
The primary objective of the UN is to maintain international peace and security. It achieves this objective by taking measures to prevent international conflicts, helping parties involved in conflicts to resolve their issues peacefully, maintaining a peacekeeping unit, and sending peacekeeping forces to disturbed areas in order to create conditions conducive to ending disputes and disturbances and restore peace. Another major objective of the UN is to uphold international law and ensure that international treaties and other laws are respected and strictly adhered to by the nations involved. Besides maintaining world peace, law, and order, the UN also has a humanitarian function, and makes significant efforts to protect and promote human rights and encourage sustainable development. Providing humanitarian aid to those in need, especially in times of natural or man-made disasters, is also one of the principle objectives of the UN. The UN has several specialized programs and funds (UNDP, UNICEF, UN Women, UN-Habitat, etc.), specialized agencies (World Bank, WHO, FAO, UNESCO, ILO, etc.) and other entities and organizations (UNAID, WTO, etc.) that work together towards achieving the goals of the UN.
The UN currently holds the status of one of the most important international organizations in the world, largely responsible for maintaining international peace and security and delivering humanitarian aid in times of disaster. Created in the aftermath of the devastation of World War II, the UN has managed to reduce and resolve conflicts. The result has been evident in fewer people dying in conflict in the first decade of the 21st Century than those in any decade of the 20th Century. The UN has also been instrumental in reducing major famine, with fewer people dying as a result of food crises as well. The FAO, World Food Program, and other UN funds and programs have helped in reducing the incidence of malnourishment on a global scale. The UN has also managed to protect critical habitats with high biodiversity, such as the Galapagos Islands, by means of those policies, programs, and funds dedicated to saving the environment. Several Nobel Peace Prizes have also been won by individuals and agencies directly associated with the UN. Even though the UN has been criticized in the past and present for some of its decisions and policies, many with not so positive outcomes, the achievements of this organization in alleviating extreme poverty, and food, health, and environmental crises worldwide, and its progressive developmental activities, cannot be denied. Thus, this organization continues to work with the aim to benefit those generations to come with its developmental and peacekeeping activities.
What is the United Nations?
The primary objective of the UN is to maintain international peace and security. It achieves this objective by taking measures to prevent international conflicts, helping parties involved in conflicts to resolve their issues peacefully, maintaining a peacekeeping unit, and sending peacekeeping forces to disturbed areas in order to create conditions conducive to ending disputes and disturbances and restore peace.
About the Author
Oishimaya is an Indian native, currently residing in Kolkata. She has earned her Ph.D. degree and is presently engaged in full-time freelance writing and editing. She is an avid reader and travel enthusiast and is sensitively aware of her surroundings, both locally and globally. She loves mingling with people of eclectic cultures and also participates in activities concerning wildlife conservation.
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