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.
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
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.
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.
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,
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
ARMS CONTROL AND DISARMAMENT
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
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
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
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
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 
Antigua and Barbuda (1981)
Bahamas, The (1973)
Belarus (formerly Byelorussian SSR)
Bosnia and Herzegovina (1992)
Burkina Faso (1960)
Cape Verde (1975)
Central African Republic (1960)
Congo, Democratic Republic of the (1960)
Congo, Republic of the (1960)
Cote d'Ivoire (1960)
Czech Republic (1993)
Equatorial Guinea (1968)
Gambia, The (1965)
Korea, North (1991)
Korea, South (1991)
Macedonia, The Former Yugoslav Republic of (1993)
Marshall Islands (1991)
Micronesia, Federated States of (1991)
Papua New Guinea (1975)
Saint Kitts and Nevis (1983)
Saint Lucia (1979)
Saint Vincent and the Grenadines (1980)
San Marino (1992)
Sao Tome and Principe (1975)
Sierra Leone (1961)
Solomon Islands (1978)
Sri Lanka (1955)
Trinidad and Tobago (1962)
Ukraine (formerly Ukrainian SSR)
United Arab Emirates (1971)
 Year in parentheses indicates date of admission; countries with no
date were original members in 1945.
 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."
 In December 1991, Russia assumed the permanent Security Council seat
previously held by the U.S.S.R.
 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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