The facts outlined in this article should help you to easily navigate the United Nations' structure and develop a better understanding of the work undertaken by the dominant international organization of our time.
Since its establishment in 1945, the United Nations has aimed to maintain international peace and security, develop friendly relations among nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and to achieve international co-operation in solving international problems of an economic, social, cultural, or humanitarian character; among others. The United Nations is the successor of the League of Nations, an international organizational founded after World War I that had similar peace-keeping aims as the UN but, unfortunately, failed due to the complicated political panorama of the time.
The United Nations has its headquarters in New York but also has offices in Geneva, Vienna and Nairobi. It has six official languages which are Arabic, French, English, Spanish, Russian, and Chinese. At the head of the organization, is the current Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, who is followed by the Deputy Secretary General, currently Jan Eliasson. The UN system is dived into five distinct but intertwining organs: the Security Council, the General Assembly, the Economic and Social Council, the Secretariat and the International Court of Justice.
The Security Council is the most powerful body as it is constituted of fifteen members: five permanent members who have the right to veto any decision made by the Council, and 10 non-permanent members (5 of which which are elected every 2 years on a rotating basis). The five permanent members of the Security Council, also known as P-5, are: France, China, Russia, the UK and USA. The Security Council mainly focuses on issues relating to international peace and security.
The second most important body is the General Assembly (GA). The GA is more concerned with the day to day activities of the UN as a whole. The GA is subdivided in six committees: the First Committee – Disarmament and International Security (DISEC); the Second Committee – Economic and Financial (ECOFIN); the Third Committee – Social, Cultural, and Humanitarian (SOCHUM); the Fourth Committee – Special Political and Decolonisation (SPECPOL); the Fifth Committee – Administrative and Budgetary; the Sixth Committee – Legal. In the General Assembly, all UN member states have equal representation. Each member is allowed to vote on all matters addressed in the General Assembly, however, resolutions passed in the GA are only binding once approved by the Security Council.
Furthermore, the UN has a number of specialized agencies that operate as separate agencies. This allows for a greater level of specialization in different fields. Some of the best-known agencies are the World Health Organization, UNESCO, Food and Agricultural Organisation and the International Labour Organisation.
Currently, one of the biggest UN projects is the completion of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The MDGs were established during the Millennium Summit in 2000 under Kofi Annan’s term as Secretary-General. The MDGs consist of eight goals: eradicating extreme poverty and hunger, achieving universal primary education, promoting gender equality, reducing child mortality, improving maternal health, combating HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases, ensuring environmental sustainability, and, developing a global partnership for development. These eight MDGs were intended to be reached by 2015 however, even though there has been great improvement concerning the eight MDGs, the UN has recognized that some goals will not be entirely achieved by the end of this year. Thus, the organization has established the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which will work on the progress made under the MDGs and will operate under the principles established in the Post-2015 Development Agenda. The specific goals of the SDGs are yet to be established but they have already a deadline: 2030. Nevertheless, the UN will have to utilize the resources and capabilities needed to efficiently monitor the progress made, especially concerning environmental goals.
The United Nations system is a complex and is becoming increasingly grueling as international issues compound year after year. International projects, such as the MDGs & the SDGs, receive great support from other International Organizations and Institutions which increases importance of understanding both the different levels of issue linkage and the relation among the different actors involved in the projects. Nevertheless, the facts outlined in this article should help you to easily navigate the United Nations’ structure and develop a better understanding of the work undertaken by the dominant international organization of our time.