The United Nations

Updated February 21, 2017 | Factmonster Staff

In 1945, the United Nations was founded by "peace-loving states"


Founded after World War II by 51 "peace-loving states" combined to oppose future aggression, the UN now counts 193 member nations, including its newest members, Nauru, Kiribati, and Tonga in 1999, Tuvalu and Yugoslavia in 2000, Switzerland and East Timor in 2002, Montenegro in 2006, and South Sudan in 2011.

United Nations Day has been observed on October 24 since 1948 and celebrates the objectives and accomplishments of the organization, which was established on October 24, 1945.

The UN engages in peacekeeping and humanitarian missions across the globe. Though some say its influence has declined in recent decades, the United Nations still plays a tremendous role in world politics. In 2001 the United Nations and Kofi Annan, then secretary-general of the UN, won the Nobel Peace Prize "for their work for a better organized and more peaceful world."

Peacekeeping Missions

Since 1948 there have been 63 UN peacekeeping operations; 16 are currently under way. Thus far, close to 130 nations have contributed personnel at various times; 119 are currently providing peacekeepers.

As of 31 August 2008, there were 16 peacekeeping operations underway with a total of 88,230 personnel. The small island nation of Fiji has taken part in virtually every UN peacekeeping operation, as has Canada.

Charter and Principal Organs

The UN Charter comprises a preamble and 19 chapters divided into 111 articles. The Charter sets forth the purposes of the United Nations as: the maintenance of international peace and security, the development of friendly relations between states, and the achievement of cooperation in solving international economic, social, cultural, and humanitarian problems. It expresses a strong hope for the equality of all people and the expansion of basic freedoms.

The principal organs of the United Nations, as specified in the Charter, are the General Assembly, the Security Council, the Economic and Social Council, the Trusteeship Council (see trusteeship, territorial), the International Court of Justice, and the Secretariat. The UN also included many other specialized agencies not set forth in the charter.

The secretary general transcends a merely administrative role by his authority to bring situations to the attention of various UN organs, and by his position as an impartial party in effecting conciliation.


The Secretariat and the Secretary General

All UN administrative functions are handled by the Secretariat, with the secretary general at its head. The secretary general transcends a merely administrative role by his authority to bring situations to the attention of various UN organs, by his position as an impartial party in effecting conciliation, and especially by his power to "perform such . . . functions as are entrusted to him" by other UN organs.

Also strengthening the office of secretary general is the large Secretariat staff, which is recruited on a wide geographic basis and is required to work exclusively in the interests of the organization.

The General Assembly

The only UN body provided by the Charter in which all member states are represented is the General Assembly. The General Assembly was designed to be a deliberative body dealing chiefly with general questions of a political, social, or economic character. The assembly passes on the budget and sets the assessments of the member countries. It may conduct studies and make recommendations, but may not advise on matters under Security Council consideration, unless by Security Council request.

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