International Politics: Introduction To The United Nations

The UN is known for peacekeeping efforts, but the organization deals with issues surrounding peace and war. Information on history, leaders, protocol and evolution.

By the end of World War I, global antagonisms between countries were at an all time high. The American President Woodrow Wilson suggested a world forum - the League of Nations - where nations could peacefully resolve any lingering disputes. Most world leaders were convinced that the world was too devastated and demoralized to instigate another war, and the League was dissolved. But a little more than twenty years later, the world was again embroiled in World War II. By the time the war had officially ended in 1945, world leaders agreed that an international forum to resolve disputes must be developed to avoid further destruction.

Fifty-one original members ratified the United Nations constitution, or charter, in October of 1945. The charter expresses the efforts of these original members to outlaw war, provide for peaceful settlement of disputes, regulate armaments, encourage cooperation and establish a set of international norms for dealing with other nations. Since its inception, the number of members has grown from fifty-one to 185. Any nation is permitted to join the United Nations as long as it agrees by the principles through which the organization operates. Each nation has an equal vote in the UN's deliberative body, the General Assembly. And each nation must pay dues to maintain the operations of the organization.

The UN is divided into five main organs, each which addresses one or several of the organization's objectives. The Economic and Social Council encourages cooperation among nations by formulating studies and reports on various social and economic aspects of various countries. The data used for these reports is gathered from a variety of sub-organizations within the UN, for example, the United Nations Children Fund, the World Food Programme, and the United Nations Development Program. These sub-organizations are financed voluntarily by a variety of individual member donors and also through outside support.



To reduce the factors that can lead to war, the International Court of Justice was developed under UN auspices. The ICJ acts as the organization's judicial organ and is the forum in which legal disputes are settled between countries. Each nation has the right to refuse compulsory jurisdiction of the ICJ, meaning they are not bound by the decisions made by the court. The international influence the court yields, however, remains significant.

The main deliberative body of the organization is the General Assembly. The Assembly is made up of representatives from every country and each country is allowed one equal vote. The General Assembly provides a forum for every member's voice to be heard. The main function of the Assembly is the allocation of the organization's budget.

Another, more focused, deliberative body is the Security Council. The Security Council is headed by five countries - China, the United States, the Russian Federation (originally the USSR), the UK and France - all of which possess veto power in the General Assembly. The Security Council reviews any potential disputes that could erupt into war. The Council also has the power to apply sanctions to a country or take military action against an aggressor.

The final UN organ is the Secretariat. The Secretariat is the office of the Secretariat General of the UN whom is elected by UN members. The Secretariat's duties include the day-to-day administration of UN functions. The Secretary General spends much of his time representing the UN abroad and is frequently at the forefront of negotiations with warring countries.

The most visible aspect of the United Nations remains the blue-helmeted soldiers of UN Peacekeeping efforts. According to the UN Homepage, there are currently fourteen peacekeeping operations in effect. Fifty-three operations have been authorized since 1948. Peacekeeping falls under the purview of the Security Council. The missions are by far one of the most expensive aspects of the UN's budget. In 1994, peacekeeping expenses reached US$3.5 billion. Peacekeeping missions have certain objectives such as implementing peace agreements, monitoring cease-fires, and creating buffer zones. The UN Peacekeeping force is also responsible for the reconstruction of war-torn countries, both physically and in terms of institution building. All soldiers operating under the UN flag do not work for the UN directly for the UN maintains no military. Soldiers and equipment are provided on a voluntary basis by member countries.

The United Nations Charter is considered highly flexible and many scholars credit this flexibility with the UN's ability to survive through the Cold War. But the end of the Cold War has increased uncertainty around the world, straining the resources of the UN. The world looks to the UN to be a global policeman, but they are operating under serious constraints. First, not all members are faithful about paying their dues. The United States has held back paying dues for several years. The US claims that the UN is wasteful and must bring its budget under control before the US will continue its payments. Without the appropriate funds, the UN claims it cannot operate at its full potential. Furthermore, many wealthy nations refuse to "˜volunteer' their troops to serve in a UN battalion. Since the UN is a global organization, Italian troops volunteering for UN duty might find themselves led by a Turkish General. The US is particularly adamant about refusing to allow US troops to be led into battle by anything other than US leaders. This has led to frustration as less wealthy nations feel pressured to "˜sacrifice' their own citizens for the sake of UN peacekeeping while wealthier nations may buy, or influence their troops out of service.

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