The United Nations (1945- ) or UN is a place where countries send their representatives to discuss threats to the world, especially war. It meets in New York but has offices in Geneva, Paris, Vienna, Rome and elsewhere.
Nearly all generally recognized countries belong to the United Nations. Vatican City, Western Sahara and Taiwan (which lost its seat to communist China) are not members.
The winners of the second world war founded the United Nations to prevent a third world war. They designed it as an improved League of Nations, which was founded after the first world war but failed to prevent the second.
The heart of the United Nations is the Security Council. It can make decisions that are binding on all UN members. It settles disputes to prevent war and make peace.
The Security Council has 15 seats. Five go to these countries:
These are the permanent members. They each have a veto to stop any Security Council decision they do not like. While they were the five top powers when the UN was founded over 60 years ago, the world has changed. Some say India, Germany, Japan or Brazil should be permanent members (with or without a veto).
The other ten seats are divided this way:
- 3 from Africa
- 2 from Asia
- 2 from Latin America and the Caribbean
- 2 from Western Europe
- 1 from Eastern Europe
- 1 Arab country
This comes to 11 because the Arab country will be from either Africa or Asia.
The six languages of the UN are:
Most members have one of these as a language of state. (UN English, by the way, follows Oxford spelling.)
The head of the United Nations is the Secretary General. He serves one or two five-year terms. Like the pope he has little real power in the outside world but he does have some moral authority.
Those who became Secretary General:
- 1946: Trygve Lie (Europe)
- 1953: Dag Hammarskjold (Europe)
- 1961: U Thant (Asia)
- 1972: Kurt Waldheim (Europe)
- 1982: Javier Perez de Cuellar (Latin America)
- 1992: Boutros Boutros Gali (Arab, Africa)
- 1997: Kofi Annan (Africa)
- 2007: Ban Ki-moon (Asia)
The United Nations has a small army. It does not ordinarily fight wars but keeps the peace in various trouble spots. The army is too weak to stop any power that wants war badly enough.
In the General Assembly every country has one vote. It chooses the Secretary General and the members of the Security Council. Every October the great and the good come to speak, either to shame it or to speak to the world at large.
Some of the better known UN departments:
- UNESCO: education
- WFP: hunger
- FAO: farming
- ILO: labour
- WHO: health
- ICJ: justice
- IAEA: nuclear power
The UN does not deal with world trade or banking. The WTO, World Bank, IMF and Red Cross are not a part of the UN, though you might think they were.