What is the UN?

Seven things you need to know about the United Nations 🇺🇳

After World War 2, nations across the globe were in ruins, the world wanted peace and so the United Nations was formed. Here’s seven things you ought to know.

1. When was the United Nations formed? 🗓

In 1945, while nations across the globe picked up the pieces from World War 2, there was a strong feeling that to preserve the peace and ‘save succeeding generations from the scourge of war’, a new union should be formed.

Later that year, 51 founding nations (including the United Kingdom) came together in San Francisco to sign a document. That document was a Charter, creating a new organisation, the United Nations and was signed on 24 October 1945.

A charter is a written grant by the sovereign or legislative power of a country, which a body such as a city, company or group of nations is founded or its rights and privileges are defined.

The United Nations Office at Geneva is housed at the historic Palais des Nations.
The United Nations Office at Geneva is housed at the historic Palais des Nations. Photo by Mat Reding on Unsplash

2. What is the United Nations? 🇺🇳

The United Nations is an international peacekeeping organisation and due to the powers vested in its Charter, the United Nations can take action on the issues confronting humanity in the 21st century, such as;

  • Peace and security
  • Climate change,
  • Sustainable development,
  • Human rights,
  • Disarmament,
  • Terrorism,
  • Humanitarian
  • Health emergencies,
  • Gender equality,
  • Governance,
  • Food production,
Selfie image, taken by members of the Level 2 field hospital in Bentiu, South Sudan on the UN Peacekeeping Mission in SS
Selfie image, taken by members of the Level 2 field hospital in Bentiu, South Sudan on the UN Peacekeeping Mission in South Sudan.

3. How many members?

When the United Nations was formed in 1945 there were 51 member states, today there are 193 member states from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe. Each member state has a vote in the General Assembly.

The latest member to join the United Nations is the Republic of South Sudan formally withdrew from Sudan on 9 July 2011 as a result of an internationally monitored referendum held in January 2011. They were admitted as a new Member State ‎by the United Nations General Assembly on 14 ‎July 2011.

Find the full list here:

4. What is the General Assembly?

The General Assembly is the main deliberative, policymaking and representative organ of the United Nations. Comprising all 193 Member States, it provides a unique forum for multilateral discussion of international issues including peace and security.

Under the UN Charter, however, the General Assembly cannot discuss and make recommendations on peace and security matters which are at that time being addressed by the Security Council.

This picture shows the delegates’ area in the plenary hall of the Assembly building, as seen from the public galleries. 1/Oct
This picture shows the delegates’ area in the plenary hall of the Assembly building, as seen from the public galleries. 1/Oct/1952. UN Photo/MB

5. Who is the Secretary-General and what’s their role?

António Guterres, of Portugal, is the ninth Secretary-General of the United Nations and took office on 1st January 2017. Having witnessed the suffering of the most vulnerable people on earth, in refugee camps and in war zones, the Secretary-General is determined to make human dignity the core of his work and to serve as a peace broker, a bridge-builder and a promoter of reform and innovation.

Equal parts diplomat and advocate, civil servant and CEO, the Secretary-General is a symbol of United Nations ideals and a spokesman for the interests of the world’s peoples, in particular the poor and vulnerable among them.

The Charter empowers the Secretary-General to “bring to the attention of the Security Council any matter which in his opinion may threaten the maintenance of international peace and security”.

6. What is the United Nations Security Council? 📝

The United Nations Charter established six main areas of the United Nations, including the Security Council. It gives primary responsibility for maintaining international peace and security to the Security Council, which may meet whenever peace is threatened.

The Council is composed of 15 Members, with five permanent members; China, France, Russian Federation, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The remaining ten non-permanent members are elected for two-year terms by the General Assembly.

Under the United Nations Charter, the main function of the Security Council is to maintain international peace and security. The Security Council’s other functions and powers include;

  • investigating any dispute or situation which might lead to international friction
  • to recommend methods of resolving such disputes
  • to determine the existence of a threat to the peace or act of aggression and to recommend what action should be taken
  • to call on members to apply economic sanctions and other measures not involving the use of force to prevent or stop aggression
  • to take military action against an aggressor
  • to recommend the admission of new members
  • to recommend to the General Assembly the appointment of the Secretary-General
Angelina Jolie Pitt (right), Special Envoy of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), addresses the counci
Angelina Jolie Pitt (right), Special Envoy of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), addresses the Security Council meeting on the continuing conflict in Syria and the attendant humanitarian and refugee crises. At her side is the (then) High Commissioner, António Guterres. (2015).

7. What is the UK’s role? 🇬🇧 🇺🇳

As one of the five permanent members of the Security Council, the UK and her Armed Forces has helped to stabilise fragile states from crises in Europe, to civil wars in Africa.

Here’s how the UK Armed Forces are contributing at the moment:

Operation TOSCA — The United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP) 🇨🇾

Since 1974, the British Army has been deployed to Cyprus, the UK’s contribution to the UN Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus.

As one of the longest-running continuous operations, the British Army forms the largest contingent of the multinational force. In an area of continuing tension, they patrol 24/7 along a buffer zone that separates the Greek and Turkish Cypriots, keeping the peace and maintaining stability in the country.

Cyprus Buffer Zone.
Cyprus Buffer Zone.

Operation TANGHAM — United Nations Assistance Mission in Somalia (UNSOM) 🇸🇴

The UK Armed Forces’ have been in Somalia since 2017, their efforts in fighting Islamic extremists in Somalia is helping to restore security and stability in the region.

The British Army’s main aim of the deployment is to train, mentor and develop the Somali National Army (SNA).

British Army personnel are supporting 4 organisations; the United Nations (UN), the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), the EU and direct support to the Somali National Army (SNA).

A British soldier conducting safe weapons handling training.
A British soldier conducting safe weapons handling training.

Operation TRENTON — United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) 🇸🇸

After four years, the UK Task Force in South Sudan returned home this spring from the British Army’s UN Peacekeeping mission there.

Established nearly ten years ago, the UN Mission in South Sudan works across the nation at all levels to establish peace and stability. In 2016 the British Army deployed a task-force of engineers in support.

The UK Task Force was deployed forward to a remote village called Kodok to repair a key bridge. Once the bridge was completed
The UK Task Force was deployed forward to a remote village called Kodok to repair a key bridge. Once the bridge was completed it enabled Indian troops deployed with the UN to improve security and allow humanitarian organisations to provide aid to a higher number of local people.

Read more below:

Find out where the UK Armed Forces are deployed here:

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