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About the United Nations

The UN is currently made up of 193 Member States.  The mission and work of the United Nations are guided by the purposes and principles contained in its founding Charter. Below are a few short videos about the UN's work, And, scroll down for more information about the UN Charter and its structure.

Can WAR be Stopped Before it Begins? | The UN Explained

Can WAR be Stopped Before it Begins? | The UN Explained

Can the United Nations stop a war? Can the Security Council stop a war? UN Spokesperson Eri Kaneko answers these questions, and explains the key functions of the United Nations Security Council. The functions and powers of the Security Council are set out in the UN Charter, the Organization's founding document. It was signed on 26 June 1945, in San Francisco, at the conclusion of the United Nations Conference on International Organizations and came into force on 24 October 1945. The Security Council, made up of 15 members – five permanent seats belong to China, France, Russian Federation, the United Kingdom and the United States, with 10 non-permanent seats that rotate by election among other UN member countries – is the body that was granted the primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security. It takes the lead in determining the existence of a threat to the peace, breach of the peace or an act of aggression. What you might not know is that before 1965, the Security Council was composed of 11 members, six of which were non-permanent. The expansion to 15 members occurred after the amendment of Article 23(1) of the Charter through the adoption of a UN General Assembly resolution in 1991. 00:00 Intro - Can the UN Stop a War? 00:11 What does the UN Charter say? 01:31 What is the veto power of the Security Council? 02:02 Can a country be kicked out of the United Nations? 02:41 What does the United Nations Secretary-General do?

The UN Charter

The UN was created in the wake of WWII to provide a forum for the peaceful resolution of disputes, to protect human rights, and to collectively work to solve social, economic, and environmental problems. 

The Charter was signed in San Francisco June 26, 1945 and came into force on October 24th of the the same year.  The Charter outlines the mission, structure, and functions of the UN.  At the time of the signing there were 50 signatory nations. Poland signed later that year after forming its government.  The Charter then was sent to national legislatures for approval.  

The U.S. Senate ratified The Charter on July 28, 1945, making the U.S. one of the founding members.

Read The Charter


70 Years/70 Documents --  Explore 70 of the most important documents in UN history through a 2015 exhibit developed by by the UN's Dag Hammarskjold Library.

Main Bodies


General Assembly (GA)

The mail deliberative body of the UN, all 193 members participate in proceedings.  Each year, in September, the full membership meets in a General Session.  The GA sets the UN agenda, sets policy via resolutions, elects the Secretary General, appoints the non-permanent members of the Security Council and receives reports from other UN agencies.  On serious matters  such as the budget, peace and security,  or admission of new members a 2/3 majority is needed.  It is at this meeting that Heads of State, such as the President of the United States, address their peers.  

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Security Council (SC)

The Security Council is charged with guarding international peace and security.  In that capacity it develops and enforces international sanctions, deploys peacekeeping missions, and authorizes military actions through resolutions, e.g. SC Resolution 678 of 1990 approving the use of force against Iraq for its invasion of Iraq.  Under the UN Charter all members must comply with UN SC resolutions or they can face sanctions.

Members: The SC consists of 5 permanent members:  China, France, Russian, the United Kingdom, and the United States.  Ten additional members are elected to the SC by the General Assembly to serve 2 year terms.

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Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC)

ECOSOC consists of 54 members elected by the General Assembly.  It serves as the primary body for developing and coordinating international action on social, economic and development issues and for discussion of issues such as sustainable development, promotion of civil society, humanitarian actions, and youth engagement.   It is also home to 5 regional commissions that focus on issues specific to geographic regions of the world.  It is also responsible for coordinating the work of its subsidiary agencies,

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Trusteeship Council (TC)

In the wake of WWII eleven "trust territories" were established  and the Trusteeship Council was created to oversee the transition of the colonial territories to independent states.  By 1994 all the territories had achieved independence and operations of the TC were suspended.

Read more on UN and decolonization

International Court of Justice (ICJ)

Established by the UN Charter, the ICJ is charged with adjudicating issues of international law referred to it by UN member states and agencies.  It consists of 15 judges elected to 9 year terms by the General Assembly.  It is located in the Hague, Netherlands.

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The Secretariat serves as the executive (administrative) branch of the UN to carry out the day-to-day work of the UN.  In that capacity it oversees the work of the many agencies in the UN family. Its chief officer is the Secretary General, elected by the General Assembly (with the approval of the Security Council)  for a 5 year term.  The current Secretary General is Antonio Gutterres from Portugal..

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UN Family

Specialized Agencies

The UN System, or UN Family, consists of numerous specialized funds, programmes, and agencies.  Each has with its own leadership and budget.  Programmes and Funds (e.g. UNEP and UNDP) are supported by voluntary contributions from member states.  Independent Agencies (e.g. UNESCO and FAO) are independent international organizations, with their own memberships and are supported by both voluntary and assessed contributions.  


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