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The United Nations' History & Role in International Politics

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  • 0:01 United Nations' History
  • 1:06 Role of United Nations
  • 1:36 Structure of the…
  • 5:43 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Shawn Grimsley
One of the most influential and far-reaching intergovernmental organizations in the world today is the United Nations. In this lesson, you'll learn about the United Nations, including its history, structure, and role in international politics.

United Nations' History

The United Nations is an intergovernmental organization that was formed shortly after World War II. It was to become the successor to the League of Nations, which was established by the Treaty of Versailles in 1919 to promote international cooperation, peace, and security. The League of Nations ceased its operations after it was unable to stop World War II.

Representatives from 50 countries met in San Francisco in 1945, where they drafted the proposed United Nations Charter. The representatives signed the Charter on June 26, 1945, which was then ratified on October 24, 1945, by the United Kingdom, the United States, France, China, and the Soviet Union, and by a majority of the other member states. While the UN initially had a respectable 51 member states (the 51st state was Poland, who was not represented at the UN Conference), its membership has grown to 193 member states as of 2014.

Role of United Nations

The United Nations has four basic purposes:

  1. Peacekeeping
  2. Cultivating of friendly relationships among states
  3. Assisting in alleviating poverty, hunger, disease, and illiteracy, and encouraging respect for human rights
  4. Providing a forum where nations work together for these goals

We can see how the UN seeks to accomplish these goals through examining its organizational structure.

Structure of United Nations

The United Nations is organizationally structured into six primary organs. Let's take a quick look at each.

The General Assembly is the deliberative and policy-making body of the United Nations. Each member state has a seat in the General Assembly. Each member of the Assembly is entitled to one vote - it doesn't matter if you are the most powerful state on the planet or the weakest.

The United Nation's Charter empowers the General Assembly to perform a broad range of activities, including:

  • Considering and approving the United Nations' budget and setting membership financial assessments
  • Electing non-permanent members of the Security Council, members of other UN councils, as well as appointing the Secretary-General with the recommendation of the Security Council
  • Deliberating and making recommendations on general principles of international cooperation for the maintenance of peace and security
  • Conferring on any question relating to international peace and security and making recommendations, unless the Security Council is discussing the issue
  • Conferring on any issue that is within the scope of the United Nations Charter and making recommendations regarding the issues, unless the Security Council is discussing the issue
  • Conducting studies and making recommendations related to issues of international law, human rights, and international cooperation relating to economic, social, humanitarian, cultural, educational, and health fields
  • Providing recommendations for peaceful settlement of issues that may mar friendly relations between states
  • Deliberating on reports submitted by other United Nations organs

The Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) focuses on economic, social, and environmental issues. It engages in coordination and policy review, as well as making recommendations on these issues. It also plays a role in the implementation of internationally agreed upon development goals.

The International Court of Justice is the judicial organ of the United Nations. The Court settles disputes between members. It also provides advisory opinions to the UN and its agencies.

The Trustee Council was originally formed to supervise 11 territories and to take the steps necessary for these territories to achieve self-governance. All these territories have either gained independence or self-governance. Consequently, the Trustee Council is pretty much inactive and only meets on an as-needed basis.

The Security Council is charged with maintaining international peace and security. It also recommends the appointment of the Secretary General and the admission of new members to the United Nations. The Security Council, along with the General Assembly, elects judges to the International Court of Justice. It has 5 permanent members and 10 nonpermanent members who are elected by the General Assembly for 2-year terms.

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