United Nations (UN) | IAS Target IAS Target

United Nations (UN)

The United Nations (UN) is an intergovernmental organization responsible for perpetuating international peace and security, developing friendly relations among nations, achieving international cooperation, and being a centre for harmonizing the actions of nations. It is the largest, most internationally represented and most powerful intergovernmental organization in the world. UN Charter was adopted on 25 June 1945 and came into effect on 24 October 1945. The UN, its officers, and its agencies have won many Nobel Peace Prizes.

Members 193 member states
Headquartered New York City
Other main offices Geneva, Nairobi, Vienna and The Hague
Six Official Languages Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian, and Spanish.

UN's Organs:

  • the General Assembly;
  • the Economic and Social Council;
  • the Trusteeship Council;
  • the Security Council;
  • the International Court of Justice;
  • the UN Secretariat.

Specialized agencies under UN:

  • World Bank Group,
  • The World Health Organization,
  • The World Food Programme,
In addition, non-governmental organizations may be granted consultative status with ECOSOC and other agencies to participate in the UN's work.


The UN was established after World War II with the aim of:
  • Succeeding the ineffective League of Nations
  • Maintaining international peace and security,
  • Preventing future wars,
  • Protecting human rights,
  • Promoting sustainable development,
  • Delivering humanitarian aid,
  • Upholding international law
  • Its missions have consisted primarily of unarmed military observers and lightly armed troops with primarily monitoring, reporting and confidence-building roles.

The Millennium Summit was held in 2000 to discuss the UN's role in the 21st century. The three-day meeting resulted in the adoption by all member states of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), a commitment to achieve international development in areas such as poverty reduction, gender equality, and public health. Progress towards these goals, which were to be met by 2015, was ultimately uneven. The 2005 World Summit reaffirmed the UN's focus on promoting development, peacekeeping, human rights, and global security. The Sustainable Development Goals were launched in 2015 to succeed the Millennium Development Goals.


The five principal organs of the UN system:
the General Assembly HQ: New york city
the Security Council HQ: New york city
the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) HQ: New york city
the International Court of Justice HQ: Hague
the UN Secretariat HQ: New york city
Source of funding Voluntary contributions from its member states.
A sixth principal organ, the Trusteeship Council, suspended operations on 1 November 1994, upon the independence of Palau.

Below the six organs:

  • Research and training institutions,
  • Some specialized agencies,
  • Programmes and funds, and
  • Other UN entities.

United Nation General Assembly

The General Assembly is the main deliberative assembly of the UN. Composed of all UN member states, the assembly meets in regular yearly sessions, but emergency sessions can also be called. The assembly is led by a president, elected from among the member states on a rotating regional basis, and 21 vice-presidents. When the General Assembly decides on important questions such as those on peace and security, admission of new members, and budgetary matters, a two-thirds majority of those present and voting is required. All other questions are decided by a majority vote. Each member country has one vote. Apart from the approval of budgetary matters, resolutions are not binding on the members. The Assembly may make recommendations on any matters within the scope of the UN, except matters of peace and security that are under consideration by the Security Council.

United Nation Security Council

The Security Council is charged with maintaining peace and security among countries. While other organs of the UN can only make "recommendations" to member states, the Security Council has the power to make binding decisions that member states have agreed to carry out.

The Security Council is made up of fifteen member states:

  • Five permanent members:
    • China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
    • The five permanent members hold veto power over UN resolutions, allowing a permanent member to block adoption of a resolution, though not debate.

  • Non – permanent members:
    Ten non-permanent members elected for two-year terms by the General Assembly:
    Belgium Estonia Indonesia Saint Vincent South Africa
    Dominican Republic Germany Niger Grenadines Tunisia
    The ten temporary seats are held for two-year terms, with five member states per year voted in by the General Assembly on a regional basis. The presidency of the Security Council rotates alphabetically each month.

United Nation Secretariat

The UN Secretariat is administered by the secretary-general, assisted by the deputy secretary-general and a staff of international civil servants worldwide. It provides studies, information, and facilities required by UN bodies for their meetings. It also carries out tasks as directed by the Security Council, the General Assembly, the Economic and Social Council, and other UN bodies. The secretary-general acts as the de facto spokesperson and leader of the UN. The secretary-general is "chief administrative officer". Article 99 of the charter states that the secretary-general can bring to the Security Council's attention "any matter which in his opinion may bully the maintenance of international peace and security".

The Secretariat office role

  • an administrator of the UN organization
  • a diplomat and mediator addressing disputes between member states and finding consensus to global issues.

Appointment process of Secretary general

The secretary-general is nominated by the General Assembly, after being recommended by the Security Council, where the permanent members have veto power. There are no particular criteria for the post, but over the years it has become accepted that the post shall be held for one or two terms of five years. The current Secretary-General is António Guterres, who replaced Ban Ki-moon in 2017.

International Court of Justice

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) is a primary judicial organ of the UN. Established in 1945 by the UN Charter, the Court initiated work in 1946 as the successor to the Permanent Court of International Justice. The ICJ holds 15 judges who serve 9-year terms and are appointed by the General Assembly; every sitting judge must be from a different nation. The ICJ's primary purpose is to adjudicate disputes among states. The court has heard cases related to war crimes, illegal state interference, ethnic cleansing, and other issues. The ICJ can also be called upon by other UN organs to provide advisory opinions. It is the only organ that is not located in New York.

Headquarter The Hague, Netherlands

The Economic and social Council (ECOSOC)

The Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) supports the General Assembly in encouraging international economic and social co-operation and development. ECOSOC has 54 members, who are appointed by the General Assembly for a three-year term. The president is elected for a one-year term and chosen amongst the small or middle powers represented on ECOSOC. The council has one annual meeting in July, held in either New York or Geneva.

ECOSOC's functions:

  • Information gathering,
  • Advising member nations,
  • Making recommendations.

ECOSOC's subsidiary bodies include

  • The United Nations Statistical Commission, which co-ordinates information-gathering efforts between agencies;
  • The Commission on Sustainable Development, which co-ordinates efforts between UN agencies and NGOs working towards sustainable development.
  • The United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous matters, which advises UN agencies on matters relating to indigenous peoples;
  • The United Nations Forum on Forests, which co-ordinates and promotes sustainable forest management;
ECOSOC may also grant consultative status to non-governmental organizations;

Specialized Agencies

The UN Charter specifies that each primary organ of the United Nations can establish various agencies to fulfill its duties. Some best-known agencies are-
  • the International Atomic Energy Agency,
  • UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization),
  • the Food and Agriculture Organization,
  • the World Bank,
  • the World Health Organization (WHO) etc

Humanitarian work by UN's agencies:

  • The avoidance of famine and malnutrition (through WFP)
  • Mass vaccination programmes (through WHO)
  • The protection of vulnerable and displaced people ( by UNHCR)


  • There are 193 UN member states, including all undisputed independent states apart from Vatican City.
  • The UN Charter outlines the rules for membership:
    • Membership in the United Nations is open to all other peace-loving states that accept the obligations contained in the UN Charter and, in the judgment of the Organization, are able and willing to carry out these obligations.
    • The admission of any such state to membership in the United Nations will be effected by a decision of the General Assembly upon the suggestion of the Security Council.

There are two non-member observer states of the United Nations General Assembly:

  • the Holy See (which holds sovereignty over Vatican City)
  • the State of Palestine.
The Cook Islands and Niue, both states in free association with New Zealand, are members of several UN specialized agencies and have had their "full treaty-making capacity" recognized by the Secretariat.


  • Peacekeeping and security
  • Human rights
  • Economic development and humanitarian assistance