Wednesday, 6 July 2022 – 13:08

Explaining the United Nations

Following the failed experiment of the League of Nations, which collapsed at the beginning of the second world war, the United Nations (UN) was founded to promote global cooperation and avoid another global conflict.

Founded following the San Francisco conference in 1945 – where the UN Charter was drafted – it was originally comprised of 51 nations, who were in attendance at the first General Assembly meeting in 1946, but has since grown to include almost every country on earth, with 193 out of 195 recognised nations being member states as of 2020. The two recognised nations not to be members are considered non-member observer states: The Holy See (Vatican City) and Palestine.

The UN attempts to bring peace across the globe, through resolutions passed by member states along with an armed force of volunteers provided by member states with their distinctive blue helmets. Making up the UN are various legislative bodies where member states vote on various resolutions to try and keep global stability.

The UN is considered to have six principal organs, which all have various jurisdictions over global development and governance. Click through the tabs below to learn more about the structure of the United Nations.


{tab Security Council}

The Security Council attempts to solve international disputes through peaceful means – but can resort to sanctions or even the use of force if necessary.

According to Article 25 of the UN’s charter, all members must agree to and accept the decisions made by the Security Council and must carry out those decisions. The other bodies of the UN can make decisions and resolutions, but the Security Council alone decides what members states have to implement. 

The Security Council is made up of only a select 15 member states; five nations are permanent members of the council, decided by their importance in the aftermath of World War II, with the United Kingdom, United States, China, France and Russia taking these seats. There are 10 other seats which rotate – Germany, Belgium, Dominican Republic and Niger are amongst those to currently holds seats. These are elected to serve on the council by the UN General Assembly.


{tab The General Assembly}

The General Assembly is where all the member states gather to vote on resolutions and pass declarations. Every September, the main body of the UN meets in New York to vote and discuss questions on national and international security, as well as humanitarian crises, with votes requiring at least two-thirds to pass.

The General Assembly also elect a GA president to serve a one-year term who presides over that years UN session, with Volkan Bozkir of Turkey set to serve the 2020-21 term.

The General Assembly is essentially an international legislature, where nations will vote on adopting the UN’s budget, non-permanent security council members and various other positions important to the effective administration of the UN.


{tab Economic and Social Council}

A side branch of the General Assembly is the Economic and Social Council, a group of 54 members elected for three-year terms that deal with policy surrounding different economic, environmental and social issues. This body is integral towards the UN realising the 17 sustainable development goals, which were set in 2015 by the general assembly.

These goals are meant to move the world towards a more sustainable future, and the UN guides nations on how to achieve these aims, which include “No Poverty”, “Gender Equality” and “Climate Action” 


{tab International Court of Justice (ICJ}

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) is located in the Peace Palace in the Hague, Netherlands, whose job it is to settle legal disputes that are brought to it by various states, as well as give advisory opinions to various UN groups and specialized agencies. The court is made up of 15 different judges who are elected by the Security Council and General Assembly.

The ICJ is the major source of international law in the world, and its rulings are usually considered to supersede state law, with all UN member states being beholden to the rulings of the ICJ.


{tab Secretariat}

The last main body of the UN is the Secretariat, who deal with the day to day tasks of the UN. The Secretariat employs tens of thousands of UN workers to provide information on peacekeeping missions across the world and many of the more mundane tasks designated by various other bodies of the UN.

It is perhaps best considered as the executive or administrative branch of the UN, with its chair, the United Nations Secretary-General being elected by the assembly to serve 5-year terms. Antonio Guterres – former prime minister of Portugal – is the current holder of this office, taking over from South Korean, Ban Ki-moon, in 2017.



UN Sustainable Development Goals

The United Nations adopted 17 sustainable development goals in 2015, for all member states to work towards, attempting to bring a more sustainable and equitable future to the planet. All member states are expected to move towards these goals, although their effective policy adoption has been mixed.

The goals were adopted by the member states of the UN and are given varying timelines to be achieved. Some were expected by 2020 – such as goal eight’s target of lowering youth unemployment – whilst most goals are given a deadline of 2030 and some being indefinite.

Image: Sustainable Development Goals


Specialised Agencies

A large function of the United Nation’s is its humanitarian work, with many specialised agencies falling under the umbrella of the United Nations that are aimed at promoting development and aid throughout the world.

Click through the tabs below to learn more about some of the UN’s specialised agencies.


{tab World Bank Group}

The World Bank Group is one of the largest of the agencies, based in Washington D.C. and has the main role of loaning funds to nations who are struggling to develop. They make leveraged loans to nations and attempt to force them into a position of greater economic competence as a prerequisite of these loans, such as a requirement to cut public spending.

The stated aim of the bank is to achieve the twin goals of ending extreme poverty and building shared prosperity. The group is made up of five agencies, with the first two (International Finance Corporation (IFC), the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA) often being considered collectively as simply The World Bank.

{tab World Health Organisation}

Despite receiving criticism during the Coronavirus pandemic, the World Health Organisation (WHO) is the world’s primary international public health body, aiming to promote accessible and affordable healthcare throughout the world and monitoring potential global health risks.

The WHO produces expert reports on health risks and advises governments on actions that they can take to mitigate potential public health risks, as well as coordinate responses to disease and pandemics, with a notable success being their humanitarian efforts in the Ebola outbreak in West Africa in 2014.

{tab World Food Programme}

The World Food Programme is a humanitarian wing of the UN, which aims to provide food aid during humanitarian crises and set up supply chains to ensure sustainable food infrastructure for those nation’s recovering from these issues.

A notable example in recent history is the work of the programme in Lebanon, with government corruption and economic crises leaving food inaccessible for many Lebanese people. The programme aimed to set up supply chains and work with local organisations to ensure nutrition for those most vulnerable within Lebanon.

{tab UNESCO}

United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) is an education and heritage programme that aims to protect various educational sites throughout the world and provide conservation efforts.

They aim to contribute “to the building of peace, the eradication of poverty, sustainable development and intercultural dialogue through education, the sciences, culture, communication and information”, which means that they wish to use education as a tool to promote development throughout the world.

One of its more well-known functions is the designation of World Heritage Sites, which aim to preserve sites of natural or cultural importance in the pursuit of peace.

{tab UNICEF}

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) is one of the more well-known UN projects, aiming to promote the protection of vulnerable children throughout the world. They provide humanitarian and development aid aimed at children’s projects throughout the world, often focused upon education – particularly amongst girls, who are often prevented from receiving education.

Based in New York City, UNICEF also works heavily within disease prevention amongst children, particularly for diseases such as Malaria, whilst also aiming to improve sanitisation and nutrition in developing countries.


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