Understanding the United Nations

UN flag photo courtesy of un.org

by Alliya Dulaney

With many languages and cultures practiced and celebrated across the globe, its diversity does not limit the ability to create peace and community in times of need. The United Nations (UN) portrays this ideology throughout its main bodies,  specialized agencies and funds and programs aimed at bringing countries together for the better. 

A brief background

The League of Nations was organized during the aftermath of World War I. Its primary goal was to create a diplomatic group that would mediate peace between countries. However, it was soon dissolved during World War II. While The League of Nations was short-lived, it is commonly considered as a predecessor for the United Nations.

From Aug. 9 to Aug.12, 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill met in secret to discuss the hopes of creating an organization aimed at international peace. Their efforts established the Atlantic Charter, a declaration consisting of values and goals of war. Eventually, this declaration became the initial foundation for the UN. 

During World War II, the United States joined the war effort December 1941 in response to the attack on Pearl Harbor. This became the first time where the name United Nations was “first adopted to identify the countries that allied against Germany, Italy and Japan” according to History.

It wasn’t until Oct. 12, 1945, that the UN was officially ratified. From its ratification almost eight decades ago, representatives of 51 countries eventually grew to what it is today — 193 member states.

Charter

“We the peoples of the United Nations.” From its first sentence in the preamble of the UN’s charter, its goal reflects the attending members of the organization as one. The charter is the constitutional instrument the UN uses to set obligations for its member states and main bodies. The charter establishes the six main bodies of the UN which are recognized as: the General Assembly, the Security Council, the Economic and Social Council, the Trusteeship Council, the International Court of Justice, and the Secretariat. 

The General Assembly

The General Assembly consists of al 193 attending members. The UN website states the general assembly is the only UN body with universal representation. Every September, the General Assembly meets in New York for its annual session where matters such as peace and budgetary points are discussed. Each year the General Assembly also votes on an elected GA President who will serve for one year. 

The Security Council

The role of the Security Council includes maintaining peace and security among nations. The council consists of 15 members, five of which are permanent and include: China, France, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom and the United States, and 10 non-permanent members elected by the General Assembly on a two-year term. This council evaluates imposing threats that challenge such values established by the UN Charter. In addition, the council aids in settling disputes peacefully, but can impose sanctions to maintain international peace and security.  

The Economic and Social Council

With 54 members elected by the General Assembly for three overlapping years, the role of the Economic and Social Council includes social, economic and environmental fields as well as policy review. This council aims to provide global sustainable development and advocates for environmental progress.

Trusteeship Council

The Trusteeship Council was established in 1945 when 11 Trust Territories had been placed under member states. The council’s role was to oversee the progress of the territories that were becoming self-governed. Once all territories had established their self-government, the council ceased operations Nov. 1, 1994. By May 1994 the council amended its rules to meet only when necessary or called upon by occasion rather than meeting annually.

International Court of Justice

The International Court of Justice works to settle legal disputes relating to international law provides guidance on legal questions to the States and specialized agencies. While five main bodies of the UN are located in New York, the International Court of Justice is located at the Peace Palace in the Netherlands. The court includes 15 members from varying nations who serve a nine-year term through votes from the General Assembly and the Security Council. Decisions made by the court are final and without appeal.

Secretariat

With thousands of staff, local and international, the Secretariat consists of individuals who undertake the daily agenda of the UN. The Secretary-General, the head of the Secretariat is appointed by the General Assembly for a five-year renewable term. Serving for the cause of the UN can include working within a duty station on peacekeeping missions.  

With its six main bodies, the UN strives to maintain peace, humanity and environmental sustainability among diverse cultures. As a Nobel Peace Prize recipient through its many specialized groups and agencies, the UN works locally within regions and countries to create a global impact. 

UN Specialized Agencies

The UN system, also known unofficially as the “UN family,” is made up of the UN itself and a series of Programs, Funds and Specialized Agencies, all with their own leadership and budget.

UN day, specialized agencies photo courtesy of Better World Campaign

Specialized agencies as stated by the UN website are “international organizations that coordinate their work with the United Nations through negotiated agreements.” All current 15 specialized agencies are associated with the UN but are legally independent. This independence means agencies have separate members, rules and budgets. These agencies include:

Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)

International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO)

International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD)

International Labor Organization (ILO)

International Maritime Organization (IMO)

International Monetary Fund (IMF)

International Telecommunications Union (ITU)

United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)

United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO)

Universal Postal Union (UPU)

World Bank Group

World Health Organization (WHO)

World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO)

World Meteorological Organization (WMO)

World Tourism Organization (UNWTO)