United Nations Organization: What Is The U.N.?
The United Nations' organizational structure and history is summarized on this concise page. Founded in 1945 as a reaction to the horrors of the war that had just ended, the UN has worked to promote peace and stability.
Founded in 1945 as a reaction to the horrors of the Second World War, the United Nations was a collective organization made up of representatives from 51 countries who had the objective of promoting world peace and cooperation. Today, the UN has members from almost every country in the world, and the original goal of making life better still stands.
The name "United Nations" was coined by then-U.S. president Franklin D. Roosevelt, and was first used in a "Declaration by United Nations" during the war in 1942, when 26 nations made a pact to eradicate the Axis Powers of Germany and Japan.
The United Nations is not a world government, and it does not make laws. Members are sovereign nations who merely come together under the UN banner to meet these four objectives: 1) to maintain international peace and security, 2) to develop friendly relations among nations, 3) to cooperate in solving international problems and in promoting respect for human rights, and 4) to be a center for harmonizing the actions of nations.
The UN is made up of six main bodies. The first five, including the General Assembly, the Security Council, the Economic and Social Council, the Trusteeship Council and the Secretariat, are based in New York, where the UN is headquartered. The last body, which is the International Court of Justice, is located at The Hague in the Netherlands.
The General Assembly consists of representatives of every UN Member State. This serves as a sort of parliament of nations, and it meets regularly to discuss and observe the world's most pressing problems. Each UN Member State gets one vote, so there is no preference given to a country, regardless of world power or size.
The Security Council is made up of 15 members. Five of them-the United States, China, the Russian Federation, France and the United Kingdom-are permanent members. The remaining ten members are elected by the General Assembly, and serve two-year terms. This Council is directly focused on maintaining international peace and security. When a threat is apparent, the Council will first discuss ways to settle it peacefully. If war has broken out, the Council seeks a ceasefire. UN peacekeeping troops are deployed by the UN Security Council.
The Economic and Social Council's primary work is to monitor and formulate policy on economic and social issues throughout the world. The Council consists of 54 members who are elected by the General Assembly and serve three-year terms. They meet for one month each year, alternating between New York and Geneva, Switzerland. This Council maintains links with other non-governmental agencies who work year-round on a specific focus of the Economic and Social Council, namely such issues as women's rights, crime prevention, environmental protection and narcotic drugs.
The Trusteeship Council was originally founded to help 11 selected Territories around the world achieve self-government or independence. By 1994, the Council had met this goal, and the Council was scaled back to include only the five permanent members of the Security Council. The Council rules have been amended, allowing the Council to meet only when occasion might require.
The International Court of Justice is also known as the World Court, and is the main judicial body of the United Nations. 15 judges, elected by the General Assembly, rule on disputes between countries. States have the voluntary choice to participate, but if they do take their case to the World Court, they are then bound by the judges' decision. The Court also advises the Security Council and the General Assembly when necessary.
The Secretariat is the administrative body of the United Nations, and is headed by the Secretary General. The Secretariat is made up of offices and stations throughout the world, and includes 8,700 employees from 160 countries.
Within the UN, there are various funds, programs and offices that work to support the work and policies of the six main UN bodies. These include the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the UN Development Programme (UNDP) and the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF).
In addition to these specialized UN programs, there are satellite agencies and organizations, not officially part of the UN, that regularly cooperate and work closely with the UN. These agencies and organizations include The World Health Organization, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank Group and the International Atomic Energy Agency.
All of these offices, programs, and satellite organizations comprise what is called the UN system. The UN system allows the UN to keep track of hundreds of different areas of the world, as well as multiple resources and issues ranging from drug trafficking to refugee populations. The UN can coordinate very well and yet be extremely diverse in its programs of action and maintenance.