Founded on October 24, 1945, the United Nations (UN) is the global international organization of states. The UN consists of a number of institutional organs, including the General Assembly, the Security Council, the Secretariat, and the International Court of Justice.
The UN had its immediate origins in the Atlantic Charter agreed to by Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1941, as World War II raged in Europe. This Atlantic Charter itself owed a great deal to the League of Nations which was proposed by President Woodrow Wilson in 1918. The League of Nations had existed from 1919 to 1940, but the US Senate voted down the Versailles Treaty, so the US did not participate. The alliance of nations during World War II that fought the Nazis and Japan were the first, founding members of the UN. On June 26, 1945, the UN Charter was signed in San Francisco.
The United Nations Charter was created in reaction to World War II and Hitler's use of warfare as foreign policy. The charter makes it a crime to use force or even the threat of force to settle disputes between member states. Over time, the role of the UN has evolved to become, more generally, a forum for the mediation of inter-state conflicts and a mechanism for advancing and funding global policy goals.
Critics charge that the fossilization of superpower influence in the Security Council prevented the UN from its original purpose of imposing and protecting world peace. The superpowers, especially the U.S. and Soviet Union used their veto powers to protect their client states like Israel and North Korea from international punishment. Others maintain that anti-Israel and other resolutions sponsored in the General Assembly and the promotion of renegade states like Sudan to membership in Human Rights bodies have harmed the organization's legitimacy.
Despite criticisms, however, the UN remains the premier international organization and continues to be held in high prestige among member states. One notable exception to this is the United States. Conservative political groups in the US often list dismantling the UN or ending US membership as part of their agenda. Liberal groups in the US typically give the UN strong support.
The current UN Secretary is Ban Ki-moon.
The Preamble of the Charter of the United Nations reads
We the peoples of the United Nations determined
And for these ends
- 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 and of nations large and small, and
- to establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations arising from treaties and other sources of international law can be maintained, and
- to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom,
Have resolved to combine our efforts to accomplish these aims
- to practice tolerance and live together in peace with one another as good neighbours, 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,
- International Atomic Energy Agency
- Food and Agriculture Organization
- International Labor Organization
- United Nations Children's Fund
- United Nations Development Programme
- United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization
- United Nations High Commission for Refugees
- World Health Organization
- United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD)
- United Nations Office of Drug Control (UNODC)