The United Nations

USA,New York,United Nations Building
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What Is It?:

The United Nations is the only organization encompassing every government on Earth. Each country is referred to as a "member state." Those nations form the U.N. General Assembly. A smaller group of countries meet as the U.N. Security Council. The council has five permanent members (United States, United Kingdom, France, Russia, China - referred to as the P5) and ten rotating members. Because the P5 each have the authority to veto any council move, U.N.

action depends on agreement among the P5.


The United Nations was created by the World War II victors as a way to better structure global affairs. The U.N. Charter came into effect on October 24, 1945 (following ratification by the U.S. Senate on August 8, 1945). The organization began with 51 member states and now has 192.


The lofty ideals of the U.N. (to preserve future generations from the scourge of war, among other things) were overshadowed by the Cold War. The conflict between the United States and the Soviet Union (occupying the P5 seat now held by Russia) effectively paralyzed the organization for decades, but the U.N. did serve as a forum for superpower dialogue even during times of very high tension (especially the Cuban Missile Crisis). The U.N. has had a rebirth of sorts since the end of the Cold War.


Day to day administration of the United Nations is carried out by the U.N.

secretary-general. The secretary-general is nominated by the Security Council and approved by the General Assembly to serve one or two five year terms. Kofi Annan of Ghana held the job from 1997 to 2006. On January 1, 2007, Ban Ki Moon of South Korea took office as the eighth secretary-general of the United Nations.


The United Nations headquarters is in New York City. The buildings contain chambers for the Security Council and General Assembly as well as offices for the secretary-general and other international civil servants. The site, at East 46th Street and First Avenue in Manhattan, is considered "international territory" and is, therefore, not technically part of the United States.

The United Nations has principal offices in 17 countries and peacekeeping operations in 16 places worldwide.


Meaningful numbers on the U.N. budget are hard to come by because spending and funding is spread over a variety of agencies and member states. Less than $2 billion is spent each year for U.N. operations at its headquarters and regional offices. Around $4.5 billion is spent each year on peacekeeping operations. Agencies, like the United Nations Development Program, manage their own budgets and are often directly funded by member states and even raise money from non-state donors.

Fun Fact:

U.N. supporters like to point out that the U.N. annual operating budget is smaller than that of the Tokyo fire department or a single major American university.

Check out my photo tour of the United Nations.