History | Organization | Functioning


The name United Nations was first used during World War II to denote the nations allied against Germany, Italy, and Japan (the Axis powers). It was later adopted as the name of the post-war world organization. The Declaration of the United Nations was signed by 26 states on January 1, 1942.

At a meeting of diplomats of the United States, the United Kingdom, the Soviet Union, and China (the Big Four) between August 21 - October 7, 1944, in Washington, the first step was taken towards the formulation of a permanent organization. Two problems arose immediately: the "veto problem", and the fact that the Soviet Union was demanding seats in the General Assembly for all of its constituent republics.

The draft proposals were later discussed and more clearly outlined at the Yalta Conference in February 1945 by the Allied war leaders Winston Churchill, Joseph Stalin, and Franklin D. Roosevelt.

The United Nations Conference on International Organization in San Fransisco of April 25, 1945, was attended by representatives of the 26 states that had signed the declarations of the United Nations and the 20 other states that had declared war against the Axis powers by March 1945. During the conference, the Ukraine SSR, the Belarussian SSR, Argentina, and Denmark were admitted. Poland -- not present -- was permitted to become an original member of the United Nations.

The resultant Charter of the United Nations was unanimously adopted and signed on June 26, 1945 and entered into force on October 24, 1945.

Headquarters of the United Nations is now located at the UN Building in New York City. It also has offices in Geneva and Vienna and operates field stations in other cities around the world.


The United Nations consist of six organs:

General Assembly

The General Assembly has representatives of all members. Each member can have up to five representatives, but still has one vote. Depending on the subject, decisions are reached either by majority or by two-thirds vote. It supervises trust agreements, budgetary matters, and financial assessments. The General Assembly is convened at least yearly.

Security Council

The Security Council consists of five permanent members: the United States, Russia, the United Kingdom, France, and China, along with ten non-permanent members (six until 1965). It is mainly concerned with the maintenance of international peace and security. The Security Council may decide on necessary action when it determines that a threat to the peace exists or that a breach of the peace or act of aggression has occurred. The Charter envisages the application of graduated measures, from economic and diplomatic sanctions to military action. The presidency is rotated among members each month. The non-permanent members are chosen from groups and regions in the most equitable fashion possible. Nine votes -- including those of all five permanent members -- are sufficient to carry a Security Council decision, but any permanent member may exercise a veto over any substantive proposal (the "Great-Power unanimity" rule). The Security Council functions continuously.

Economic And Social Council

This council is mainly concerned with the management of the UN's social, economic, cultural, and humanitarian activities. The council convenes at least twice a year.

International Court Of Justice

This Court is also known as the World Court, and is situated in The Hague, the Netherlands. It is the main judicial branch of the UN. The court's jurisdiction is broad and its decisions are binding. Judges are elected by the General Assembly and the Security Council voting independently.


This is the administrative department of the UN, headed by the Secretary-General -- who is appointed for a five year term.


The primary function of the United Nations is to maintain international peace and security through such means as negotiation, mediation, arbitration, and/or judicial decisions. In case of military intervention, the security of each member is assured by all, something set out in Chapter VII of the Charter. This collective security has proven to be extremely difficult to achieve, especially during the Cold War.

Any state, even if it is not a member of the United Nations, may bring a dispute to which it is a party to the attention of the Security Council. If the council finds that there is a real threat to the peace, a breach of the peace, or an act of aggression (Article 39) or that there is a failure to "perform obligations incumbent (...) under a judgment" of the International Court of Justice (Article 94), the council may call upon the members of the United Nations to apply diplomatic or economic sanctions.

If these methods prove inadequate, the charter states that the council may take military action against the offending nation by air, sea, and land forces acting for the United Nations.

UN troops (Blue Helmets) are placed in situations of conflict to defuse tensions and are deployed only in situations in which all parties to the conflict in question have agreed on their emplacement. The UN troops are to remain neutral and use force only for self-defense purposes. UN peacekeeping has most often been used to contain extant conflicts rather than to prevent the outbreak of wars.

[Sources: UN, Encyclopædia Britannica]