For centuries there had been talk of founding an international organisation to arbitrate international disputes. In 1919 the League of Nations was founded. This proved to be ineffectual for several reasons.
In the Second World War the Allies sometimes called themselves the United Nations. The Allies included the Soviet Union, the United States, Canada, India, France, Australia, the United Kingdom and many more.
In January 1945 the Big Three held a meeting at Yalta in the Soviet Union. The Big Three were Stalin, Churchill and Roosevelt. They agreed that the United Nations would continue after the war. It would not be a military alliance but would be an international body for dealing with disputes.
In July 1945 the United Nations Organisation (UNO) was founded in San Francisco in the United States. The first sessions of the United Nations was held in London at the end of 1945. It was soon decided that the headquarters would be in New York. New York was the biggest city in the world at the time and the most developed.
The United Nations has a charter. The UN Charter says that the UN exists to prevent war. It says that slavery must be outlawed. It also says that countries must only fight in self-defence. The UN can authorise military action. The UN passes resolutions. Some of them are passed by the Security Council and they are binding. Those resolutions passed by the General Assembly are non-binding.
The UN had a security council. There are five permanent members of the UN Security Council. These were the Soviet Union, the United States, the United Kingdom, France and China. There are 20 non-permanent members of the Security Council. The non-permanent members are voted in and out all the time.
The five permanent members of the security council have a veto on security council resolutions. For example if 24 countries on the security council voted for something but one of the PERMANENT members of the security council voted against it then that resolution would be blocked.
The general assembly of the UN is where all the member states of the UN are represented. There are about 190 member countries.
The general assembly session of the UN begins at the end of each September. Many world leaders some to New York to speak to the general assembly.
In 1991 the Soviet Union broke up. Russia inherited the Soviet seat as a permanent member of the security council.
Many resolutions have been passed against Israel’s mistreatment of the Palestinians. The USA always blocked the security council from passing such resolutions.
There are six official languages of the UN. These are English, French, Spanish, Russian, Arabic and Chinese.
There is a secretary-general of the United Nations. He or she must be fluent in at least two UN languages. No woman has so far been elected to this post. Secretaries general serve for a five year term and may be re-elected once. None of them have come from superpowers but there is no rule against them doing so. It is felt that permanent members of the security council already have too much power so weaker nations should get other jobs. Secretaries-general have been Norwegian, Swedish, Burmese, Peruvian, Austrian, Egyptian, Ghanian and now a South Korea.
The UN has various agencies. These include the International Atomic Energy Authority based in Vienna. There is the World Food Programme based in Rome. There is United Nations International Children’s Educational Fund (Unicef). There is the United Nationsl High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR). There is the United Nations Educational, Social and Cultural Organisation (Unesco). There is the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights and so on. These are each based in different cities in different countries. A different person is in charge of each UN agency..
The UN has offices in Geneva and in Vienna.
The United Nations Organisation is usually called the United Nations. The initials UN are more commonly used than the UNO.
The UN sometimes authorises military action. It relies on member states to carry out this action. The UN does not have a military of its own. There has been talk of creating one.
The colour of the UN is pale blue. Soldiers on UN missions wear blue helmets. They go as peacekeepers sometimes. The often position themselves between warring sides. Countries such as Ireland and Bangladesh often send soldiers on UN missions. There has been talk of creating a UN Army but it has never come to fruition.
There have been UN missions such as to liberate Kuwait in 1991.
Countries that are members of the UN donate money to allow the UN to function. Countries have to pay a proportion of their Gross Domestic Product to the UN. The poorest countries are excused.
There are some stateless persons. They are given UN passports. People who work for the UN are also given UN passports. If a Panamanian, for example, works for the UN then her loyalty must be to the UN not Panama. She must do as she is instructed even of the Panamanian Government tells her not to. She must act in the interests of the UN even if this is bad for Panama. The UN employs people from many different countries.
Countries must apply to join the UN. In 1945 Ireland applied to become a UN member state. The Soviet Union kept voting to prevent Ireland from joining. They Soviets feared that Ireland would always support the United States. In 1955 Ireland was allowed to join by the Soviets. Palestine has applied for membership but Israel and the United States stop her from joining. Palestine is a permanent observer of the UN. She can send a representative to watch UN proceedings. Palestinian leaders have sometimes been invited to speak to the UN General Assembly and they have done so. However, the Palestinian leader does not have the automatic right to address the UN General Assembly.
Some people say the permanent members of the Security Council are outdated. Russia is not even half as powerful as the USSR was. France and the United Kingdom are not mighty anymore. Both are members of the European Union. The French and British seats should be turned into a European Union seat. India has lobbied hard for a permanent place on the UN Security Council. Unanimity also makes resolutions very hard to pass. They have to be watered down so much to pass.
The General Assembly gives an equal vote to all countries. The largest population in the world has the same amount of representation as the smallest. The most evil tyranny has the same authority as the kindest government. Some people say this is daft.
- When was the UN founded?
2. Where was the UN founded?
3. Which city is the HQ of the United Nations?
4. What is the colour of the UN?
5. What are the six official languages of the UN?
6. How many permanent members of the Security Council are there?
7. What is the highest job in the UN?
8. What is the General-Assembly?
9. What are some criticisms of the UN? (5 marks)
10. What good does the UN do? (7 marks)