U.S. Department of State 
Background Notes: United Nations, September 1997 
Released by the Bureau of International Organization Affairs.

Official Name: United Nations


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, 

Budget (Calendar year 1996): $12.8 billion (U.S. share $2.8 billion). 
Components: UN regular assessed budget-$1.3 billion (U.S. share-$305 
million); UN peacekeeping-$1.4 billion (U.S. share-$350 million); 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).


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: Kofi Annan.

Staff: The UN Secretariat at the end of 1995 had a staff of 14,400, 
including 1,820 Americans. UN subsidiary bodies, specialized agencies, 
and the IAEA employ an additional 37,500 people, including 1,870 

General Assembly

Membership: All UN members except Yugoslavia, which was suspended in 

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 1997 
non-permanent members are Japan, Kenya, Poland, Portugal, South Korea, 
Sweden, Chile, Costa Rica, Egypt, and Guinea-Bissau.

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.


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 

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.


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 

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 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 trimming 
staffs and reinventing a number of UN agencies;

-- Improving Management-The U.S. applauds the initiative of the 
Secretary General in introducing significant managerial changes in March 

-- 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 or 21 seats and is prepared to accept three permanent 
seats for developing nations from Asia, Africa, and Latin America;

-- Improving Responsiveness-The U.S. seeks a UN able to respond to 
humanitarian crises more rapidly, economically, and effectively.

The U.S. has welcomed the further initiative undertaken by Secretary 
General Annan in July 1997 in putting forward specific reform proposals 
for member state consideration. These proposals closely parallel 
recommendations that the U.S. has made, and the U.S. is working for the 
adoption of most of them as early as possible.


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 15-member 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 


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. 

In the first few years following the end of the Cold War the number of 
peace-keeping operations increased dramatically. The proliferation of 
operations reflected the view that, in the post-Cold War era, the UN 
could play an important role in defusing regional conflicts. Some of the 
peacekeeping operations of the early 1990s also saw an expansion of the 
traditional peacekeeping mandate to include such responsibilities as 
supervising elections, monitoring human rights, training police, and 
overseeing civil administration.

Facing increasing demands on peacekeeping resources, the UN and member 
nations had to make difficult choices. The Clinton Administration in 
1994 responded to the challenges posed by the growing number and 
complexity of UN peacekeeping operations by implementing a policy 
framework suited to the new environment. The new policy involved 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.

Since 1995 there has been a sharp decline in the number of UN 
peacekeepers in the field, from a high of around 70,000 to 19,191 at 
present. The assumption by the NATO-led Implementation Force (IFOR) of 
major peacekeeping responsibilities in the former Yugoslavia-and the 
resultant termination of UNPROFOR's mandate-account for much of the 
decrease. Other factors include the close-out of UN operations in 
Mozambique in January 1995, Somalia in March 1995, El Salvador in April 
1995, and Rwanda in March 1996. With the U.S. and the UN taking a much 
harder look at proposed peacekeeping operations, the only major new UN 
mission set up since 1995 outside the former Yugoslavia was the UNAVEM 
III operation in Angola. 

As of August 31, 1997, there were 891 U.S. personnel (549 troops, 310 
civilian police, and 32 observers) in worldwide UN peace operations, 
accounting for 4.6% of total UN peacekeepers. As Commander-in-Chief, the 
President of the United States never gives up command authority over 
U.S. troops. When large numbers of U.S. troops are involved and when the 
risk of combat is high, operational control of U.S. forces will remain 
in American hands, or in the hands of a trusted military ally such as a 
NATO member. But the President must retain the flexibility, which has 
served the U.S. well throughout its history, to allow temporary foreign 
operational control of U.S. troops when it serves U.S. interests, just 
as it has often served U.S. interests to have foreign forces under U.S. 
operational control.


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 was held in October 1995 
at the head of government level to commemorate the UN's 50th 

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 

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 

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. Secretary General Annan's recent 
reform initiatives have attached considerable importance to further 
strengthening coordination among relief agencies.

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 began operating 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 

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 
judgments 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.


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.


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 

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 

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.


The 1945 UN Charter 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 

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.


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 

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 General Assembly regularly 
takes up human rights issues. 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. As discussed, the High Commissioner for Human Rights is the 
official principally responsible for all UN human rights activities 
(see, under "The UN Family," the section on "Office of the UN High 
Commissioner for Human Rights").

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.


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 U.S. 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), convened 
in June 1996 in Istanbul, Turkey, considered the challenges of human 
settlement development and management in the 21st century.


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 were 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.

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.

UN peace operations are funded by assessments, using a formula derived 
from the regular scale, but including a surcharge for the five permanent 
members of the Security Council (who must approve all peacekeeping 
operations); this surcharge serves to offset discounted peacekeeping 
assessment rates for less developed countries. Owing to domestic 
legislation that went into effect October 1, 1995, the U.S. recognizes 
25% as its maximum rate payable for peacekeeping.

Better choices about peacekeeping arrangements and the decline in the 
number of UN peacekeepers in the field have led to a reduction in the 
cost of peacekeeping over the past year. Total UN peacekeeping expenses 
peaked between 1994 and 1995; at the end of 1995 the total cost was just 
over $3.5 billion. Total UN peacekeeping costs for FY96, including 
operations funded from the UN regular budget as well as the peacekeeping 
budget, were expected to be on the order of $1.8 billion. Using the 25% 
ceiling on our peacekeeping assessment rate mandated by Congress, this 
would result in an annual obligation for U.S. funding of around $450 

This reduction in costs comes, however, at a time of financial crisis in 
the UN, resulting from the failure of member states-including the United 
States-to pay assessments in full or on time. The Clinton Administration 
has proposed addressing U.S. arrears to peacekeeping, the regular 
budget, and the specialized agencies through a several-year payment 
plan. Legislation on arrears is under consideration in the Congress.


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 1: 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 

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 2: 185 Members of the United Nations [1]

Afghanistan (1946)
Albania (1955)
Algeria (1962)
Andorra (1993)
Angola (1976)
Antigua and Barbuda (1981)
Armenia (1992)
Austria (1955)
Azerbaijan (1992)
Bahamas, The (1973)
Bahrain (1971)
Bangladesh (1974)
Barbados (1966)
Belarus (formerly Byelorussian SSR)
Belize (1981)
Benin (1960)
Bhutan (1971)
Bosnia and Herzegovina (1992)
Botswana (1966)
Brunei (1984)
Bulgaria (1955)
Burkina Faso (1960)
Burma (1948)
Burundi (1962)
Cambodia (1955)
Cameroon (1960)
Cape Verde (1975)
Central African Republic (1960)
Chad (1960)
China [2]
Comoros (1975)
Congo, Democratic Republic of the (1960)
Congo, Republic of the (1960)
Costa Rica
Cote d'Ivoire (1960)
Croatia (1992)
Cyprus (1960)
Czech Republic (1993)
Djibouti (1977)
Dominica (1978)
Dominican Republic
El Salvador
Equatorial Guinea (1968)
Eritrea (1993)
Estonia (1991)
Fiji (1970)
Finland (1955)
Gabon (1960)
Gambia, The (1965)
Georgia (1992)
Germany (1973)
Ghana (1957)
Grenada (1974)
Guinea (1958)
Guinea-Bissau (1974)
Guyana (1966)
Hungary (1955)
Iceland (1946)
Indonesia (1950)
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)
Lesotho (1966)
Libya (1955)
Liechtenstein (1990)
Lithuania (1991)
Macedonia, The Former Yugoslav Republic of (1993)
Madagascar (1960)
Malawi (1964)
Malaysia (1957)
Maldives (1965)
Mali (1960)
Malta (1964)
Marshall Islands (1991)
Mauritania (1961)
Mauritius (1968)
Micronesia, Federated States of (1991)
Moldova (1992)
Monaco (1993)
Mongolia (1961)
Morocco (1956)
Mozambique (1975)
Namibia (1990)
Nepal (1955)
New Zealand
Niger (1960)
Nigeria (1960)
Oman (1971)
Pakistan (1947)
Palau (1994)
Papua New Guinea (1975)
Portugal (1955)
Qatar (1971)
Romania (1955)
Russia [3]
Rwanda (1962)
Saint Kitts and Nevis (1983)
Saint Lucia (1979)
Saint 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)
Slovakia (1993)
Slovenia (1992)
Solomon Islands (1978)
Somalia (1960)
South Africa
Spain (1955)
Sri Lanka (1955)
Sudan (1956)
Suriname (1975)
Swaziland (1968)
Sweden (1946)
Tajikistan (1992) 
Tanzania (1961)
Thailand (1946)
Togo (1960)
Trinidad and Tobago (1962)
Tunisia (1956)
Turkmenistan (1992)
Uganda (1962)
Ukraine (formerly Ukrainian SSR)
United Arab Emirates (1971)
United Kingdom
United States
Uzbekistan (1992)
Vanuatu (1981)
Vietnam (1977)
Yemen (1947)
Yugoslavia [4]
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.

BOX 3: 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-Dec. 31, 1996
Kofi Annan (Ghana) -- Jan. 1, 1997-present
Box 4: 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-Jan. 1997
Bill Richardson -- Feb. 1997-present

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