U.S Department of State 
Background Notes:  United Nations, October 1995 
Bureau of Public Affairs 
 
  
BACKGROUND NOTES:  UNITED NATIONS 
October 1995  
  
  
Official Name: United Nations  
  
PROFILE  
  
Established: By charter signed in San Francisco, California, on June 26,  
1945; effective October 24, 1945.  
Purposes: To maintain international peace and security; to achieve  
international cooperation in solving economic, social, cultural, and  
humanitarian problems and in promoting respect for human rights and  
fundamental freedoms; to be a center for harmonizing the actions of  
nations in attaining these common ends.  
Members: 185.  
Official languages: Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian, Spanish.  
Principal organs: General Assembly, Security Council, Economic and  
Social Council, Trusteeship Council, International Court of Justice,  
Secretariat.  
Budget (Calendar year 1995): $12.8 billion (U.S. share $2.8 billion).  
Components: UN regular assessed budget--$1.3 billion (U.S. share--$304  
million); UN peacekeeping--$3.2 billion (U.S. share--$1 billion); 11 UN- 
affiliated agencies--$1.5 billion (U.S. share--$361 million). Voluntary  
contributions to other UN-affiliated organizations and activities--$6.8  
billion (U.S. share--$1.1 billion, much of which consists of food aid).  
  
Secretariat  
  
Chief Administrative Officer: Secretary General of the United Nations,  
appointed to a five-year term by the General Assembly on the  
recommendation of the Security Council. Secretary General: Boutros  
Boutros-Ghali.  
Staff: The UN Secretariat has a staff of 14,900, including 1,850  
Americans. UN subsidiary bodies, specialized agencies, and the IAEA  
employ an additional 41,400 people, including 1,950 Americans.  
  
General Assembly  
  
Membership: All UN members except Yugoslavia, which was suspended in  
1992.  
President: Elected at the beginning of each General Assembly session.  
Main committees: First--Political and Security, primarily disarmament.  
Second--Economic and Financial. Third--Social, Humanitarian, and  
Cultural. Fifth--Administrative and Budgetary. Sixth--Legal. Many other  
committees address specific issues, including peacekeeping, outer space,  
crime prevention, status of women, and UN Charter reform.  
  
Security Council  
  
Membership: Five permanent members (China, France, Russia, U.K., U.S.),  
each with the right to veto, and 10 non-permanent members elected by the  
General Assembly for two-year terms. Five non-permanent members are  
elected from Africa and Asia combined; one from Eastern Europe; two from  
Latin America; and two from Western Europe and other areas. The 1995  
non-permanent members are Argentina, Botswana, Czech Republic, Germany,  
Honduras, Indonesia, Italy, Nigeria, Oman, and Rwanda.  
President: Rotates monthly in English alphabetical order of members.  
  
Economic and Social Council  
  
Membership: 54; 18 elected each year by the General Assembly for three- 
year terms. The U.S. has always been a member.  
President: Elected each year.  
International Court of Justice  
Membership: 15, elected for nine-year terms by the General Assembly and  
the Security Council from nominees of national groups under provisions  
of the International Court of Justice Statute. A U.S. citizen has always  
been a member of the Court. (###)  
 
  
BACKGROUND  
  
The idea for the United Nations was elaborated in declarations signed at  
the wartime Allied conferences in Moscow and Tehran in 1943. The name  
"United Nations" was suggested by President Franklin Roosevelt. From  
August to October 1944, representatives of the U.S, U.K., France,  
U.S.S.R., and China met to elaborate the plans at the Dumbarton Oaks  
Estate in Washington, DC. Those and later talks produced proposals  
outlining the purposes of the organization, its membership and organs,  
as well as arrangements to maintain international peace and security and  
international economic and social cooperation. These proposals were  
discussed and debated by governments and private citizens worldwide.  
  
On April 25, 1945, the United Nations Conference on International  
Organizations began in San Francisco. The 50 nations represented at the  
conference signed the Charter of the United Nations two months later on  
June 26. Poland, which was not represented at the conference, but for  
which a place among the original signatories had been reserved, added  
its name later, bringing the total of original signatories to 51. The UN  
came into existence on October 24, 1945, after the Charter had been  
ratified by the five permanent members of the Security Council--China,  
France, U.S.S.R., U.K., and U.S.--and by a majority of the other 46  
signatories.  
  
The U.S. Senate, by a vote of 89 to 2, gave its consent to the  
ratification of the UN Charter on July 28, 1945. In December 1945, the  
Senate and the House of Representatives, by unanimous votes, requested  
that the UN make its headquarters in the U.S. The offer was accepted and  
the UN headquarters building was constructed in New York City in 1949  
and 1950 beside the East River on donated land, which is considered  
international territory. Under special agreement with the U.S., certain  
diplomatic privileges and immunities have been granted, but generally  
the laws of New York City, New York State, and the U.S. apply.  
  
UN membership is open to all "peace-loving states" that accept the  
obligations of the UN Charter and, in the judgment of the organization,  
are able and willing to fulfill these obligations. Admission is  
determined by the General Assembly upon recommendation of the Security  
Council. With the admission of Palau in December 1994, 185 countries are  
members of the UN.  
  
 
U.S. PARTICIPATION IN THE UN  
  
The U.S., as the world's leading political, economic, and military  
power, has an especially strong interest in cooperating with the  
multilateral system. The U.S. can pursue many of its interests more  
effectively and with less risk through the UN than it can by acting  
alone. Examples include: containing the spread of weapons of mass  
destruction; enforcing sanctions on pariah states such as Iraq;  
protecting the environment (ozone depletion, acid rain, climate change,  
deforestation); and combatting international crime, drug trafficking,  
and terrorism.  
  
Engagement in the UN pays significant dividends to Americans in the form  
of a safer, more prosperous world. The UN offers a unique forum for  
advancing U.S. foreign policy objectives. As a permanent member of the  
UN Security Council, the U.S. plays a leading role in the UN's efforts  
to maintain international peace, promote democracy, and defend human  
rights. UN peacekeeping gives the U.S. a way to protect American  
interests in circumstances where either acting alone or doing nothing is  
unacceptable. UN mediation and preventive diplomacy efforts can provide  
an internationally acceptable setting in which nations can move away  
from rigid negotiating positions and begin to seek solutions to their  
problems.  
  
The multilateral system also provides a powerful platform for advancing  
U.S. values and ideals in such areas as human rights, free trade, labor  
standards, and public health. UN programs also try to meet humanitarian  
needs for those disadvantaged by circumstances beyond their control.  
Private charitable agencies rely on the multiple capacities of the UN  
system to develop the infrastructure and political climate required for  
the success of such programs. UN activities such as UNICEF, the UN High  
Commissioner for Refugees, and the World Food Program have made a  
remarkable impact on the lives of those most at risk around the globe:  
children, women, and refugees.  
  
UN programs serve U.S. objectives by promoting free-market reform in the  
developing world. Those countries purchase more than one-third of the  
goods and services exported by our nation. Supporting economic  
development gives the U.S. more prosperous trading partners that are  
better able to import U.S. goods and less likely to "export" their own  
people to U.S. shores. To reduce global poverty, the UN attempts to help  
developing nations meet basic human needs--clean water, food, shelter,  
and health care--and other development goals.  
  
In today's interdependent world, there is a clear need for multilateral  
bodies to set regulatory standards and arbitrate differences among  
countries in areas such as food product safety, air safety,  
telecommunications, and copyrights. For example, the World Health  
Organization and the Food and Agriculture Organization have set food  
product safety and quality standards worldwide through a jointly  
sponsored trade standardization program called "Codex Alimentarius."  
  
There are many direct benefits to our participation in the multilateral  
system. For example, a large part of U.S. financial contributions to the  
UN is returned to U.S. companies through sales of equipment, supplies,  
and consulting services.  
  
The U.S. cannot rely solely on bilateral relations to advance U.S.  
foreign policy objectives but must take advantage of our participation  
in the UN in order to influence other governments' opinions and  
policies. Moreover, every dollar that we contribute to UN activities is  
matched by $3 to $10 given by others. This advances our interests while  
spreading the cost among other nations.  
  
It is important that the UN operate efficiently and effectively. The  
U.S. seeks a UN that both gets back to basics and is ready to meet the  
challenges of the 21st century. U.S. efforts include:  
  
-- Program Oversight--Following up on last year's creation of the Office  
of Internal Oversight Services at UN headquarters, the U.S. is working  
to expand the inspector general concept to the UN's major specialized  
agencies;  
  
-- Reducing Bureaucracies--Important progress has been made in  
streamlining the UN system and the U.S. continues to work on reinventing  
a number of UN agencies;  
  
-- Improving Management--The U.S. applauds the initiatives of the Under  
Secretary General for Administration and Management, whose agenda for  
changing the management culture of the UN includes shaping a personnel  
system that gives more authority to managers, rewards merit, and  
improves accountability;  
  
-- Security Council Reform--The U.S. supports permanent seats on the  
Security Council for Japan and Germany and a modest enlargement of the  
Council to 20 seats;  
  
-- Improving Responsiveness--The U.S. seeks a UN able to respond to  
humanitarian crises more rapidly, economically, and effectively.  
  
 
SECURITY COUNCIL  
  
Under the UN Charter, the Security Council has "primary responsibility  
for the maintenance of international peace and security," and all UN  
members "agree to accept and carry out the decisions of the Security  
Council in accordance with the present Charter."  
  
Other organs of the UN make recommendations to member governments. The  
Security Council, however, has the power to make decisions which member  
governments must carry out under the Charter. A representative of each  
Security Council member must always be present at UN headquarters so  
that the Council can meet at any time.  
  
Decisions in the Security Council on all substantive matters--for  
example, a decision calling for direct measures related to the  
settlement of a dispute--require the affirmative votes of nine members,  
including the support of all five permanent members. A negative vote--a  
veto--by a permanent member prevents adoption of a proposal that has  
received the required number of affirmative votes. Abstention is not  
regarded as a veto.  
  
A state that is a member of the UN, but not of the Security Council, may  
participate in Security Council discussions in which the Council agrees  
that the country's interests are particularly affected. In recent years,  
the Council has interpreted this loosely, enabling many countries to  
take part in its discussions. Non-members routinely are invited to take  
part when they are parties to disputes being considered by the Council.  
  
Under Chapter Six of the Charter, "Pacific Settlement of Disputes," the  
Security Council "may investigate any dispute, or any situation which  
might lead to international friction or give rise to a dispute."  The  
Council may "recommend appropriate procedures or methods of adjustment"  
if it determines that the situation might endanger international peace  
and security. These recommendations are not binding on UN members.  
  
Under Chapter Seven, the Council has broader power to decide what  
measures are to be taken in situations involving "threats to the peace,  
breaches of the peace, or acts of aggression."  In such situations, the  
Council is not limited to recommendations but may take action, including  
the use of armed force "to maintain or restore international peace and  
security."  This was the basis for UN armed action in Korea in 1950 and  
the use of coalition forces in Iraq and Kuwait in 1991. Decisions taken  
under Chapter Seven, such as economic sanctions, are binding on UN  
members.  
  
 
MAINTAINING THE PEACE  
  
The UN's role in international collective security is defined by the UN  
Charter, which gives the Security Council the power to:  
  
-- Investigate any situation threatening international peace;   
  
-- Recommend procedures for peaceful resolution of a dispute;   
  
-- Call upon other member nations to completely or partially interrupt  
economic relations as well as sea, air, postal, and radio  
communications, or to sever diplomatic relations; and  
  
-- Enforce its decisions militarily, if necessary.  
  
The United Nations has helped prevent many outbreaks of international  
violence from growing into wider conflicts. It has opened the way to  
negotiated settlements through its service as a center of debate and  
negotiation, as well as through UN-sponsored fact-finding missions,  
mediators, and truce observers. UN peacekeeping forces, comprised of  
troops and equipment supplied by member nations, have usually been able  
to limit or prevent conflict. Some conflicts, however, have proven to be  
beyond the capacity of the UN to influence. Key to the success of UN  
peacekeeping efforts is the willingness of the parties to a conflict to  
come to terms peacefully through a viable political process.  
  
UN peacekeeping initiatives have ranged from small, diplomatic or  
political delegations to large mobilizations, the most extensive of  
which was the 500,000-strong 1950-53 defense of South Korea against an  
attack by North Korea. At present, the largest peacekeeping operations  
are in the former Yugoslavia, where about 40,000 peacekeepers from 38  
nations are deployed. Until March 31, 1995, this was one operation  
(UNPROFOR). On that date the Security Council adopted three resolutions:  
establishing the UN Confidence Restoration Operation in Croatia (UNCRO);  
extending UNPROFOR in Bosnia; and establishing the UN Preventive  
Deployment Force (UNPREDEP) in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia  
(FYROM).  
  
Since the end of the Cold War, the number of peacekeeping operations has  
risen dramatically. More operations have been mounted since 1991 than in  
the previous 46 years. During 1991-92, peacekeeping activities were  
established in the Mideast (UNIKOM), Africa (UNTAG and MINURSO),  
Cambodia (UNAMIC and UNTAC), and the former Yugoslavia (UNPROFOR). Since  
1992, 10 more peacekeeping, observer, and assistance operations have  
been authorized: Chad (UNASOG), Mozambique (ONUMOZ), Rwanda  
(UNAMIR/UNOMUR), Somalia (UNOSOM II), El Salvador (ONUSAL), Liberia  
(UNOMIL), Georgia (UNOMIG), Haiti (UNMIH), Tajikistan (UNMOT) and Angola  
(UNAVEM).  
  
Several of these operations have been completed and their mandates  
terminated in the past few years. These include UNTAG, UNASOG, UNTAC,  
ONUMOZ, UNOSOM II, and ONUSAL.  
  
The proliferation of these operations reflects the view that, in the  
post-Cold War era, the UN can play an important role in defusing  
regional conflicts. These new operations also expand the traditional  
peacekeeping mandate to include such responsibilities as supervising  
elections, monitoring human rights, training police, and overseeing  
civil administration. With its higher profile, and facing increasing  
demands on its resources, the UN has had to make difficult choices.  
While multilateral peace operations can be a useful tool in resolving  
and containing conflicts, limited funds and the UN's own limited  
capacity to plan and implement peacekeeping operations require that  
priorities be established.  
  
The Clinton Administration responded to the challenges posed by the  
growing number and complexity of UN peacekeeping operations by  
formulating a policy framework suited for this new environment. This  
policy addresses six major areas of reform: Improving how the U.S.  
decides which peace operations to support and whether U.S. troops should  
take part; reducing both U.S. and overall costs for UN peace operations;  
reaffirming long-standing U.S. policy on command and control of American  
military forces in UN operations; reforming UN management of those  
operations; improving the manner by which the U.S. funds and manages  
peace operations; and improving the standard of consultations between  
the U.S. executive branch and Congress on peace operations.  
 
  
GENERAL ASSEMBLY  
  
The General Assembly is made up of all 185 UN members, minus Yugoslavia,  
which was suspended in 1992. The Assembly meets in regular session once  
a year under a president elected from among the representatives. The  
regular session usually begins on the third Tuesday in September and  
ends in mid-December. Special sessions can be convened at the request of  
the Security Council, of a majority of UN members, or, if the majority  
concurs, of a single member. A special session will be held in October  
1995 at the head of government level to commemorate the UN's 50th  
anniversary.  
  
Voting in the General Assembly on important questions--recommendations  
on peace and security; election of members to organs; admission,  
suspension, and expulsion of members; budgetary matters--is by a two- 
thirds majority of those present and voting. Other questions are decided  
by majority vote. Each member country has one vote. Apart from approval  
of budgetary matters, including adoption of a scale of assessment,  
Assembly 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 under Security Council consideration.  
  
As the only UN organ in which all members are represented, the Assembly  
serves as a forum for members to launch initiatives on international  
questions of peace, economic progress, and human rights. It can initiate  
studies; make recommendations; develop and codify international law;  
promote human rights; and further international economic, social,  
cultural, and educational programs.  
  
The Assembly may take action on maintaining international peace if the  
Security Council is unable, usually due to disagreement among the  
permanent members, to exercise its primary responsibility. The "Uniting  
for Peace" resolutions, adopted in 1950, empower the Assembly to convene  
in emergency special session to recommend collective measures--including  
the use of armed force--in the case of a breach of the peace or act of  
aggression. Two-thirds of the members must approve any such  
recommendation. Emergency special sessions under this procedure have  
been held on nine occasions. The most recent, in 1982, considered the  
situation in the occupied Arab territories following Israel's unilateral  
extension of its laws, jurisdiction, and administration to the Golan  
Heights.  
  
During the 1980s, the Assembly became a forum for the North-South  
dialogue--the discussion of issues between industrialized nations and  
developing countries. These issues came to the fore because of the  
phenomenal growth and changing makeup of the UN membership. In 1945, the  
UN had 51 members. It now has 185, of which more than two-thirds are  
developing countries. Because of their numbers, developing countries are  
often able to determine the agenda of the Assembly, the character of its  
debates, and the nature of its decisions. For many developing countries,  
the UN is the source of much of their diplomatic influence and the  
principal outlet for their foreign relations initiatives.  
  
Economic and Social Council  
  
The Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) assists the General Assembly in  
promoting international economic and social cooperation and development.  
ECOSOC has 54 members, 18 of whom are elected each year by the General  
Assembly for a three-year term. The U.S. has been a member since the UN  
was founded. ECOSOC meets once a year. The president is elected for a  
one-year term. Voting is by simple majority.  
  
Through much of its history, ECOSOC has served primarily as a discussion  
vehicle for economic and social issues. ECOSOC had little authority to  
force action and a number of member states were concerned that its  
utility was only marginal. However, beginning in 1992, the U.S. and  
other nations began an effort to make ECOSOC more relevant by  
strengthening its policy responsibilities in economic, social, and  
related fields, particularly in furthering development objectives.  
  
The resulting reform made ECOSOC the oversight and policy-setting body  
for UN operational  development activities and established smaller  
executive boards for the UN Development Program (UNDP), UN Population  
Fund (UNFPA), and UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) which would provide those  
agencies with operating guidance and promote more effective management.  
The reform also gave ECOSOC a strong hand in ensuring that UN agencies  
coordinated their work on issues of common interest, such as narcotics  
control, human rights, the alleviation of poverty, and HIV/AIDS  
prevention.  
  
One positive impact of this reform was the manner in which the UN  
development system began to respond more coherently and efficiently to  
humanitarian crises around the world. The creation of the UN Department  
of Humanitarian Affairs (DHA) in 1993, whose activities are reviewed  
biennially by ECOSOC, also has strengthened coordination among the UN's  
operational relief agencies in such places as Bosnia, Cambodia, and  
Rwanda.  
  
Another example was the ECOSOC decision in 1994 to authorize the  
creation of a new joint and cosponsored UN program on HIV/AIDS. This  
program will bring together the existing AIDS-related resources and  
expertise of the World Health Organization, UNICEF, UNDP, UNFPA, UNESCO,  
and the World Bank into one consolidated global program, eliminating  
duplication of effort and enhancing the ability of member states to cope  
with the AIDS pandemic. It is expected to begin operation in January  
1996.  
  
Trusteeship Council  
  
The UN trusteeship system was established to help ensure that non-self- 
governing territories were administered in the best interests of the  
inhabitants and of international peace and security. Those numerous  
territories--most of them former mandates of the League of Nations or  
territories taken from enemy states at the end of World War II--have all  
now attained self-government or independence, either as separate nations  
or by joining neighboring independent countries. The last, Palau, became  
a member of the UN in December 1994. The Trusteeship Council has  
suspended its activities.  
  
International Court of Justice  
  
The International Court of Justice is the principal judicial organ of  
the UN. Established in 1945, its main functions are to decide cases  
submitted to it by states and to give advisory opinions on legal  
questions submitted to it by the General Assembly or Security Council,  
or by such specialized agencies as may be authorized to do so by the  
General Assembly in accordance with the UN Charter.  
  
The seat of the Court is in The Hague, Netherlands. It is composed of 15  
judges elected by the General Assembly and the Security Council from a  
list of persons nominated by the national groups in the Permanent Court  
of Arbitration. Judges serve for nine years and may be re-elected. No  
two may be nationals of the same country. One-third of the Court is  
elected every three years. An American has always been a member of the  
Court. Questions before the Court are decided by a majority of judges  
present.  
  
Only states may be parties in cases before the International Court of  
Justice. This does not preclude private interests from being the subject  
of proceedings if one state brings the case against another. While  
jurisdiction of the Court is based on the consent of the parties, any  
judgements reached are binding. The Security Council can be called upon  
by a party to determine measures to be taken to enforce a judgment if  
the other party fails to perform its obligations. The U.S. accepted the  
Court's compulsory jurisdiction in 1946 but withdrew its acceptance  
following the Court's decision in a 1986 case involving activities in  
Nicaragua. Examples of cases include:  
  
--A complaint by the U.S. in 1980 that Iran was detaining American  
diplomats in Tehran in violation of international law;  
  
-- A dispute between Tunisia and Libya over the delimitation of the  
continental shelf between them;  
  
-- A dispute over the course of the maritime boundary dividing the U.S.  
and Canada in the Gulf of Maine area.  
  
Secretariat  
  
The Secretariat is headed by the Secretary General, assisted by a staff  
of international civil servants worldwide. It provides studies,  
information, and facilities needed 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  
Charter provides that the staff be chosen by application of the "highest  
standards of efficiency, competence, and integrity," with due regard for  
the importance of recruiting on a wide geographical basis.  
  
The Charter provides that the staff shall not seek or receive  
instructions from any authority other than the UN. Each UN member is  
enjoined to respect the international character of the Secretariat and  
not seek to influence its staff. The Secretary General alone is  
responsible for staff selection.  
  
The Secretary General's duties include helping resolve international  
disputes, administering peacekeeping operations, organizing  
international conferences, gathering information on the implementation  
of Security Council decisions, and consulting with member governments  
regarding various initiatives. Key Secretariat offices in this area  
include the Department of Humanitarian Affairs and the Department of  
Peacekeeping Operations. The Secretary General may bring to the  
attention of the Security Council any matter that, in his or her  
opinion, may threaten international peace and security.  
  
 
THE UN FAMILY  
  
In addition to the principal UN organs, the UN family includes nearly 30  
major programs or agencies. Some were in existence before the UN was  
created and are related to it by agreement. Others were established by  
the General Assembly. Each provides expertise in a specific area. Those  
agencies include:  
  
UN Children's Fund (UNICEF).   
  
Headquartered in New York City, UNICEF provides long-term humanitarian  
and developmental assistance to children and mothers in developing  
countries. A voluntarily funded agency, UNICEF relies on contributions  
from governments and private donors. Its programs emphasize developing  
community-level services to promote the health and well-being of  
children. UNICEF was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1965.  
  
UN Development Program (UNDP).   
  
Headquartered in New York City, UNDP has a U.S. administrator and is the  
largest multilateral source of grant technical assistance in the world.  
Voluntarily funded, it provides expert advice, training, and limited  
equipment to developing countries, with increasing emphasis on  
assistance to the poorest countries.  
  
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).   
  
Headquartered in Vienna, Austria, the IAEA seeks to promote the peaceful  
use of nuclear energy and to inhibit its use for military purposes. The  
IAEA's programs encourage the development of the peaceful application of  
nuclear technology, provide international safeguards against its misuse,  
and facilitate the application of safety measures in its use. IAEA  
expanded its nuclear safety efforts in response to the Chernobyl  
disaster in 1986.  
  
World Food Program (WFP).    
  
Headquartered in Rome, Italy, the WFP distributes food commodities to  
support development projects, to long-term refugees and displaced  
persons, and as emergency food assistance in situations of natural and  
man-made disasters. Development projects, traditionally two-thirds of  
WFP programs, now constitute about 40%, as emergency and protracted  
refugee situations result in increasing demands for WFP programs and  
resources. WFP operates exclusively on contributions of commodities and  
cash donated by governments.  
  
Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).  
   
Headquartered in Rome, Italy, FAO programs seek to raise levels of  
nutrition and standards of living; to improve the production,  
processing, marketing, and distribution of food and agricultural  
products; to promote rural development; and, by these means, to  
eliminate hunger. FAO's efforts to eliminate the Mediterranean fruit fly  
from the Caribbean Basin benefit the U.S. citrus industry. Likewise,  
U.S. cattle raisers have a direct stake in FAO efforts to eliminate a  
tick found in the Caribbean that carries a threatening cattle disease.  
  
World Health Organization (WHO).   
  
Headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland, WHO acts as a coordinating  
authority on international public health. After years of fighting  
smallpox, WHO declared in 1979 that the disease had been eradicated. It  
is nearing success in developing vaccines against malaria and  
schistosomiasis and aims to eradicate polio by the year 2000. WHO is  
also working toward the goal of "health for all by the year 2000" by  
seeking a level of health for all the world's people that will enable  
them to lead productive lives.  
  
Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).   
  
Headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland, UNHCR protects and supports  
refugees at the request of a government or the UN and assists in their  
return or resettlement. UNHCR was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1954  
and 1982.  
  
Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.  
  
At the urging of the U.S. and other nations, the General Assembly  
established the Office of High Commissioner for Human Rights in 1993.  
The High Commissioner's mandate includes promotion and protection of  
human rights worldwide through direct contact with individual  
governments and the provision of technical assistance where appropriate.  
Holding the rank of Under Secretary General, the High Commissioner  
coordinates human rights activities throughout the UN system and  
supervises the UN Center for Human Rights in Geneva, Switzerland.  
  
International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).   
  
Headquartered in Montreal, Canada, ICAO develops the principles and  
techniques of international air navigation and fosters the planning and  
development of international air transport to ensure safe and orderly  
growth. The ICAO Council adopts standards and recommended practices  
concerning air navigation, prevention of unlawful interference, and  
facilitation of border-crossing procedures for international civil  
aviation. Standards developed by ICAO directly affect U.S. commercial  
air travel and benefit U.S. industries, which supply the greatest share  
of aircraft and equipment worldwide.  
  
International Telecommunication Union (ITU).   
  
Headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland, ITU promotes the improvement of  
telecommunication services worldwide. As the largest producer and  
supplier of telecommunications equipment, the U.S. benefits from the  
technical assistance extended to developing countries from agencies such  
as the ITU.  
  
International Maritime Organization (IMO).   
  
Headquartered in London, U.K., IMO promotes cooperation among  
governments and the shipping industry to improve maritime safety and to  
prevent marine pollution. Recent U.S. initiatives at IMO have included  
amendments to the Safety of Life at Sea Convention, which upgraded fire  
protection standards on passenger ships, and amendments to the  
Convention on the Prevention of Maritime Pollution, which required  
double hulls on all tankers. U.S. maritime interests benefit directly  
from IMO work on standardization, safety, and ocean anti-pollution  
programs.  
  
World Meteorological Organization (WMO).   
  
Headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland, WMO provides weather information  
to a wide range of Americans, including farmers, mariners, aviators, and  
travelers. Its work has significant economic and social impact on the  
U.S..  
  
International Labor Organization (ILO).   
  
Headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland, ILO seeks to strengthen worker  
rights, improve working and living conditions, create employment, and  
provide information and training opportunities. ILO programs include the  
occupational safety and health hazard alert system and the labor  
standards and human rights programs.  
  
UN Environment Program (UNEP).   
  
Headquartered in Nairobi, Kenya, UNEP coordinates UN environmental  
activities, assisting developing countries in implementing  
environmentally sound policies. UNEP has developed guidelines and  
treaties on issues such as the international transport of potentially  
harmful chemicals, transboundary air pollution, and contamination of  
international waterways.  
 
  
ARMS CONTROL AND DISARMAMENT  
  
The UN Charter, adopted in 1945, envisaged a system of regulation that  
would ensure "the least diversion for armaments of the world's human and  
economic resources."  The advent of nuclear weapons came only weeks  
after the signing of the Charter and provided immediate impetus to  
concepts of arms limitation and disarmament. In fact, the first  
resolution of the first meeting of the General Assembly (January 24,  
1946) was entitled "The Establishment of a Commission to Deal with the  
Problems Raised by the Discovery of Atomic Energy" and called upon the  
commission to make specific proposals for "the elimination from national  
armaments of atomic weapons and of all other major weapons adaptable to  
mass destruction."  
  
The UN has established several forums to address multilateral  
disarmament issues. The principal ones are the First Committee of the UN  
General Assembly and the UN Disarmament Commission. Items on the agenda  
include consideration of the possible merits of a nuclear test ban,  
outer-space arms control, efforts to ban chemical weapons, nuclear and  
conventional disarmament, nuclear-weapon-free zones, reduction of  
military budgets, and measures to strengthen international security.  
  
The Conference on Disarmament is the sole forum established by the  
international community for the negotiation of multilateral arms control  
and disarmament agreements. It has 38 members representing all areas of  
the world, including the five major nuclear-weapon states (China,  
France, Russia, U.K., and U.S.). While the conference is not formally a  
UN organization, it is linked to the UN through a personal  
representative of the Secretary General; this representative serves as  
the secretary general of the conference. Resolutions adopted by the  
General Assembly often request the conference to consider specific  
disarmament matters. In turn, the conference annually reports on its  
activities to the General Assembly.  
 
  
HUMAN RIGHTS  
  
The pursuit of human rights was one of the central reasons for creating  
the United Nations. World War II atrocities and genocide led to a ready  
consensus that the new organization must work to prevent any similar  
tragedies in the future. An early objective was creating a legal  
framework for considering and acting on complaints about human rights  
violations.  
  
The UN Charter obliges all member nations to promote "universal respect  
for, and observance of, human rights" and to take "joint and separate  
action" to that end. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, though  
not legally binding, was adopted by the General Assembly in 1948 as a  
common standard of achievement for all. The UN Human Rights Commission  
(UNHRC), under ECOSOC, is the primary UN body charged with promoting  
human rights, primarily through investigations and offers of technical  
assistance. The General Assembly regularly takes up human rights issues.   
  
The position of High Commissioner for Human Rights was established by  
the General Assembly in 1993 at the urging of the U.S. and other  
nations. The High Commissioner, as the official principally responsible  
for all UN human rights activities, supervises the UN Center for Human  
Rights in Geneva and coordinates human rights promotion and protection  
worldwide through direct contact with individual governments.  
  
The U.S. considers the United Nations to be a first line of defense of  
the principles enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  
It is also a means by which those principles can be applied more broadly  
around the world. A case in point is support by the United Nations for  
countries in transition to democracy. Technical assistance in providing  
free and fair elections, improving judicial structures, drafting  
constitutions, training human rights officials, and transforming armed  
movements into political parties have contributed significantly to  
democratization worldwide.  
  
The United Nations is also a forum in which to support the right of  
women to participate fully in the political, economic, and social life  
of their countries.  
 
  
INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCES  
  
The member countries of the UN and its specialized agencies--the  
"shareholders" of the system--give guidance and make decisions on  
substantive and administrative issues in regular meetings held  
throughout each year. Governing bodies made up of member states include  
not only the General Assembly, ECOSOC, and the Security Council, but  
also counterpart bodies dealing with the governance of all other UN  
system agencies. For example, the World Health Assembly and the  
Executive Board oversee the work of WHO. Each year, the Department of  
State accredits U.S. delegations to more than 600 meetings of governing  
bodies.  
  
When an issue is considered particularly important, the General Assembly  
may convene an international conference to focus global attention and  
build a consensus for consolidated action. High-level U.S. delegations  
use these opportunities to promote U.S. policy viewpoints and develop  
international agreements on future activities. Recent examples include:  
  
-- The UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in Rio de  
Janeiro, Brazil, in June 1992, led to the creation of the UN Commission  
on Sustainable Development to advance the conclusions reached in Agenda  
21, the final text of agreements negotiated by governments at UNCED;  
  
-- The World Conference on Population and Development, held in Cairo,  
Egypt, in September 1994, approved a program of action to address the  
critical challenges and interrelationships between population and  
sustainable development over the next 20 years;  
  
-- The World Summit on Trade Efficiency, held in October 1994 in  
Columbus, Ohio, cosponsored by UN Conference on Trade and Development  
(UNCTAD), the city of Columbus, and private-sector business, focused on  
the use of modern information technology to expand international trade;  
  
-- The World Summit for Social Development, held in March 1995 in  
Copenhagen, Denmark, underscored national responsibility for sustainable  
development and secured high-level commitment to plans that invest in  
basic education, health care, and economic opportunity for all,  
including women and girls;  
  
-- The Fourth World Conference on Women, held in Beijing, China, in  
September 1995, sought to accelerate implementation of the historic  
agreements reached at the Third World Conference held in Nairobi, Kenya,  
in 1985; and  
  
-- The Second UN Conference on Human Settlements (Habitat II), to be  
convened in June 1996 in Istanbul, Turkey, will consider the challenges  
of human settlement development and management in the 21st century.  
 
  
FINANCING  
  
The UN system is financed in two ways: assessed and voluntary  
contributions from member states.  
  
The regular two-year budgets of the UN and its specialized agencies are  
funded by assessments. In the case of the UN, the General Assembly  
approves the regular budget and determines the assessment for each  
member. This is broadly based on the relative capacity of each country  
to pay, as measured by national income statistics, although there are  
some variations.  
  
The Assembly has established the principle that no member should pay  
more than 25% of the regular budget. The U.S. is the only nation  
affected by this limitation. If the standard criterion of "capacity to  
pay" were applied in the same manner to the U.S. as to other major  
industrial powers, the U.S. would be assessed at about 28%.  
  
Under the scale of assessments adopted for 1995, other major  
contributors to the regular UN budget are Japan (14%), Germany (9%),  
Russia (6%), France (6%), the U.K. (5%), Italy (5%) and Canada (3%). For  
1995, assessment against members was $1.3 billion per year; the net U.S.  
share was $304 million. An additional $1.5 billion was assessed to  
finance the activities of 11 UN-affiliated agencies, including IAEA,  
ILO, and WHO; the U.S. share was $361 million.  
  
Due to the dramatic increase in the number of UN peacekeeping operations  
since 1991, expenditures for these operations have increased  
significantly. The Clinton Administration is working to reduce overall  
peacekeeping costs and secure the adoption of a financing system that  
does not place undue burdens on any one nation. The assessed budget for  
UN peacekeeping activities in 1995 was $3.2 billion; the U.S. assessed  
share was $1 billion.  
  
Special UN programs not included in the regular budget--such as UNICEF  
and WFP--are financed by voluntary contributions from member  
governments. In 1995, such contributions totaled $6.8 billion; the U.S.  
contribution was approximately $1.1 billion. Much of that is not cash,  
but rather agricultural commodities donated for afflicted populations.  
 
  
U.S. REPRESENTATION  
  
The U.S. Permanent Mission to the UN in New York is headed by the U.S.  
Representative to the UN, with the rank of Ambassador Extraordinary and  
Plenipotentiary. The current U.S. Permanent Representative is also a  
member of the President's Cabinet. The mission serves as the channel of  
communication for the U.S. Government with the UN organs, agencies, and  
commissions at the UN headquarters and with the other permanent missions  
accredited to the UN and the non-member observer missions. The U.S.  
mission has a professional staff made up largely of career Foreign  
Service officers, including specialists in political, economic, social,  
financial, legal, and military issues.  
  
The U.S. also maintains missions to international organizations in  
Geneva, Rome, Vienna, Nairobi, Montreal, London, and Paris. These  
missions report to the Department of State and receive guidance on  
questions of policy from the President, through the Secretary of State.  
Relations with the UN and its family of agencies are coordinated by the  
Assistant Secretary of State for International Organization Affairs.  
  
The U.S. Mission to the United Nations is located at 799 United Nations  
Plaza, New York, NY 10017  (tel. 212-415-4000).  (###)  
  
  
  
[BOX]  
  
Preamble to Charter of the United Nations  
  
We the Peoples of the United Nations Determined  
  
To Save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in  
our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind, and  
  
To Reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth  
of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women of nations  
large and small, and  
  
To Establish conditions under which justice and respect for the  
obligations arising from treaties and other sources of international law  
can be maintained, and  
  
To Promote social progress and better standards of life in larger  
freedom,  
  
And for these ends  
  
To Practice tolerance and live together in peace with one another as  
good neighbors, and   
  
To Unite our strength to maintain international peace and security, and  
  
To Ensure, by the acceptance of principles and the institution of  
methods, that armed force shall not be used, save in the common  
interest, and  
  
To Employ international machinery for the promotion of the economic and  
social advancement of all peoples,   
  
Have resolved to combine our efforts to accomplish these aims.  
  
  
Accordingly, our respective Governments, through representatives  
assembled in the city of San Francisco, who have exhibited their full  
powers found to be in good and due form, have agreed to the present  
Charter of the United Nations and do hereby establish an international  
organization to be known as the United Nations.  (###)  
  
  
  
[BOX]  
  
UN Secretaries General  
  
Trygve Lie (Norway)  
  Feb. 1, 1946-April 10, 1953  
Dag Hammarskjold (Sweden)  
  April 10, 1953-Sept. 8, 1961  
U Thant (Burma)  
  Nov. 3, 1961-Dec. 31, 1971  
(Initially appointed acting Secretary General; formally appointed Nov.  
30, 1962  
Kurt Waldheim (Austria)  
  Jan. 1, 1972-Dec. 31, 1981  
Javier Perez de Cuellar (Peru)  
  Jan. 1, 1982-Dec. 31, 1991  
Boutros Boutros-Ghali (Egypt)  
  Jan. 1, 1992-present  (###)  
  
  
  
[BOX]  
  
U.S. Representatives to the United Nations  
  
Edward R. Stettinius, Jr.  
   March 1946-June 1946  
Herschel V. Johnson (acting)  
   June 1946-Jan. 1947  
Warren R. Austin  
   Jan. 1947-Jan. 1953  
Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr.  
   Jan. 1953-Sept. 1960  
James J. Wadsworth  
   Sept. 1960-Jan. 1961  
Adlai E. Stevenson  
   Jan. 1961-July 1965  
Arthur J. Goldberg  
   July 1965-June 1968  
George W. Ball  
   June 1968-Sept. 1968  
James Russell Wiggins  
   Oct. 1968-Jan. 1969  
Charles W. Yost  
   Jan. 1969-Feb. 1971  
George Bush  
   Feb. 1971-Jan. 1973  
John P. Scali  
   Feb. 1973-June 1975  
Daniel P. Moynihan  
   June 1975-Feb. 1976  
William W. Scranton  
   March 1976-Jan. 1977  
Andrew Young  
   Jan. 1977-April 1979  
Donald McHenry  
   April 1979-Jan. 1981  
Jeane J. Kirkpatrick  
   Feb. 1981-April 1985  
Vernon Walters  
   May 1985-Jan. 1989  
Thomas R. Pickering  
   March 1989-May 1992  
Edward J. Perkins  
   May 1992-Jan. 1993  
Madeleine K. Albright  
   Feb. 1993-present 



[BOX] 
 
185 Members of the United Nations [1] 
 
Afghanistan (1946); Albania (1955); Algeria (1962); Andorra (1993); 
Angola (1976); Antigua and Barbuda (1981); Argentina; Armenia (1992); 
Australia; Austria (1955); Azerbaijan (1992); The Bahamas (1973); 
Bahrain (1971); Bangladesh (1974); Barbados (1966); Belarus (formerly 
Byelorussian SSR); Belgium; Belize (1981); Benin (1960); Bhutan (1971); 
Bolivia; Bosnia-Herzegovina (1992); Botswana (1966); Brazil; Brunei 
Darussalam (1984); Bulgaria (1955); Burkina Faso (1960); Burma (1948); 
Burundi (1962); Cambodia (1955); Cameroon (1960); Canada; Cape Verde 
(1975); Central African Republic (1960); Chad (1960); Chile; China [2]; 
Colombia; Comoros (1975); Congo (1960); Costa Rica; Cote d'Ivoire 
(1960); Croatia (1992); Cuba; Cyprus (1960); Czech Republic (1993); 
Denmark; Djibouti (1977); Dominica (1978); Dominican Republic; Ecuador; 
Egypt; El Salvador; Equatorial Guinea (1968); Eritrea (1993); Estonia 
(1991); Ethiopia; Fiji (1970); Finland (1955); France; Gabon (1960); The 
Gambia (1965); Georgia (1992); Germany (1973); Ghana (1957); Greece; 
Grenada (1974); Guatemala; Guinea (1958); Guinea-Bissau (1974); Guyana 
(1966); Haiti; Honduras; Hungary (1955); Iceland (1946); India; 
Indonesia (1950); Iran; Iraq; Ireland (1955); Israel (1949); Italy 
(1955); Jamaica (1962); Japan (1956); Jordan (1955); Kazakhstan (1992); 
Kenya (1963); Korea, North (1991); Korea, South (1991); Kuwait (1963); 
Kyrgyzstan (1992); Laos (1955); Latvia (1991); Lebanon; Lesotho (1966); 
Liberia; Libya (1955); Liechtenstein (1990); Lithuania (1991); 
Luxembourg; Madagascar (1960); Malawi (1964); Malaysia (1957); 
Maldives (1965); Mali (1960); Malta (1964); Marshall Islands (1991); 
Mauritania (1961); Mauritius (1968); Mexico; Micronesia (1991); 
Moldova (1992); Monaco (1993); Mongolia (1961); Morocco (1956); 
Mozambique (1975); Namibia (1990); Nepal (1955); Netherlands; 
New Zealand; Nicaragua; Niger (1960); Nigeria (1960); Norway; Oman 
(1971); Pakistan (1947); Palau (1994); Panama; Papua New Guinea (1975); 
Paraguay; Peru; Philippines; Poland; Portugal (1955); Qatar (1971); 
Romania (1955); Russia [3]; Rwanda (1962); St. Kitts and Nevis (1983); 
St. Lucia (1979); St. Vincent and the Grenadines (1980); Samoa (1976); 
San Marino (1992); Sao Tome and Principe (1975); Saudi Arabia; Senegal 
(1960); Seychelles (1976); Sierra Leone (1961); Singapore (1965); Slovak 
Republic (1993); Slovenia (1992); Solomon Islands (1978); Somalia 
(1960); South Africa; Spain (1955); Sri Lanka (1955); Sudan (1956); 
Suriname (1975); Swaziland (1968); Sweden (1946); Syria; Tanzania 
(1961); Tajikistan (1992) ; Thailand (1946); The Former Yugoslav 
Republic of Macedonia (1993); Togo (1960); Trinidad and Tobago (1962); 
Tunisia (1956); Turkey; Turkmenistan (1992); Uganda (1962); Ukraine 
(formerly Ukrainian SSR); United Arab Emirates (1971); United Kingdom; 
United States of America; Uruguay; Uzbekistan (1992); Vanuatu (1981); 
Venezuela; Vietnam (1977); Yemen (1947); Yugoslavia [4]; Zaire (1960); 
Zambia (1964); Zimbabwe (1980) 
 
[1] Year in parentheses indicates date of admission; countries with no 
date were original members in 1945. 

[2] By Resolution 2758 (XXVI) of Oct. 25, 1971, the General Assembly 
decided "to restore all its rights to the People's Republic of China and 
to recognize the 
representative of its Government as the only legitimate representative 
of China to the United Nations." 

[3] In December 1991, Russia assumed the permanent Security Council seat 
previously held by the U.S.S.R. 

[4] Yugoslavia was suspended from participation in the General Assembly 
in 1992, but retains UN membership.
(###)
Return to Background Notes Archive Homepage
Return to Electronic Research Collection Homepage