The idea for the United Nations was elaborated in declarations signed at the wartime Allied conferences in Moscow and Tehran in 1943. United States president Franklin Delano Roosevelt suggested the name "United Nations". From August to October 1944, representatives of the U.S., United Kingdom, France, U.S.S.R., and China met to elaborate the plans at the Dumbarton Oaks Estate in Washington, D.C. Those and later talks produced proposals outlining the purposes of the organization, its membership and organs, as well as arrangements to maintain international peace and security and international economic and social cooperation. These proposals were discussed and debated by governments and private citizens worldwide.
On April 25, 1945, the United Nations Conference on International Organizations began in San Francisco. In addition to the Governments, a number of non-government organisations, including Lions Clubs International were invited to assist in the drafting of the charter. The 50 nations represented at the conference signed the Charter of the United Nations two months later on June 26. Poland, which was not represented at the conference, but for which a place among the original signatories had been reserved, added its name later, bringing the total of original signatories to 51. The UN came into existence on October 24, 1945, after the Charter had been ratified by the five permanent members of the Security Council-China, France, U.S.S.R., U.K., and U.S.-and by a majority of the other 46 signatories.
The U.S. Senate, by a vote of 89 to 2, gave its consent to the ratification of the UN Charter on July 28, 1945. In December 1945, the Senate and the House of Representatives, by unanimous votes, requested that the UN make its headquarters in the U.S. The offer was accepted and the UN headquarters building was constructed in New York City in 1949 and 1950 beside the East River on donated land, which is considered international territory. Under special agreement with the U.S., certain diplomatic privileges and immunities have been granted, but generally the laws of New York City, New York State, and the U.S. apply.
In the 1960s new General Assembly and Secretariat buildings were built in New York, but there are major agencies loacated in Geneva, Switzerland and elsewhere. See League of Nations for prehistory. UN membership is open to all "peace-loving states" that accept the obligations of the UN Charter and, in the judgment of the organization, are able and willing to fulfill these obligations. The General Assembly determines admission upon recommendation of the Security Council. As of September 2001 there were 189 members.
Arms Control and Disarmament
The 1945 UN Charter envisaged a system of regulation that would ensure "the least diversion for armaments of the world's human and economic resources." The advent of nuclear weapons came only weeks after the signing of the Charter and provided immediate impetus to concepts of arms limitation and disarmament. In fact, the first resolution of the first meeting of the General Assembly (January 24, 1946) was entitled "The Establishment of a Commission to Deal with the Problems Raised by the Discovery of Atomic Energy" and called upon the commission to make specific proposals for "the elimination from national armaments of atomic weapons and of all other major weapons adaptable to mass destruction."
The UN has established several forums to address multilateral disarmament issues. The principal ones are the First Committee of the UN General Assembly and the UN Disarmament Commission. Items on the agenda include consideration of the possible merits of a nuclear test ban, outer-space arms control, efforts to ban chemical weapons, nuclear and conventional disarmament, nuclear-weapon-free zones, reduction of military budgets, and measures to strengthen international security.
The Conference on Disarmament is the sole forum established by the international community for the negotiation of multilateral arms control and disarmament agreements. It has 66 members representing all areas of the world, including the five major nuclear-weapon states (China, France, the Russian Federation, the U.K., and the U.S.). While the conference is not formally a UN organization, it is linked to the UN through a personal representative of the Secretary General; this representative serves as the secretary general of the conference. Resolutions adopted by the General Assembly often request the conference to consider specific disarmament matters. In turn, the conference annually reports on its activities to the General Assembly.
The pursuit of human rights was one of the central reasons for creating the United Nations. World War II atrocities and genocide led to a ready consensus that the new organization must work to prevent any similar tragedies in the future. An early objective was creating a legal framework for considering and acting on complaints about human rights violations.
The UN Charter obliges all member nations to promote "universal respect for, and observance of, human rights" and to take "joint and separate action" to that end. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, though not legally binding, was adopted by the General Assembly in 1948 as a common standard of achievement for all. The General Assembly regularly takes up human rights issues. The UN Human Rights Commission (UNHRC), under ECOSOC, is the primary UN body charged with promoting human rights, primarily through investigations and offers of technical assistance. As discussed, the High Commissioner for Human Rights is the official principally responsible for all UN human rights activities (see, under "The UN Family," the section on "Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights").
The U.S. considers the United Nations to be a first line of defense of the principles enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It is also a means by which those principles can be applied more broadly around the world. A case in point is support by the United Nations for countries in transition to democracy. Technical assistance in providing free and fair elections, improving judicial structures, drafting constitutions, training human rights officials, and transforming armed movements into political parties have contributed significantly to democratization worldwide.
The United Nations is also a forum in which to support the right of women to participate fully in the political, economic, and social life of their countries.
The member countries of the UN and its specialized agencies--the "shareholders" of the system--give guidance and make decisions on substantive and administrative issues in regular meetings held throughout each year. Governing bodies made up of member states include not only the General Assembly, ECOSOC, and the Security Council, but also counterpart bodies dealing with the governance of all other UN system agencies. For example, the World Health Assembly and the Executive Board oversee the work of WHO. Each year, the U.S. Department of State accredits U.S. delegations to more than 600 meetings of governing bodies.
When an issue is considered particularly important, the General Assembly may convene an international conference to focus global attention and build a consensus for consolidated action. High-level U.S. delegations use these opportunities to promote U.S. policy viewpoints and develop international agreements on future activities. Recent examples include:
- The UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in June 1992, led to the creation of the UN Commission on Sustainable Development to advance the conclusions reached in Agenda 21, the final text of agreements negotiated by governments at UNCED;
- The World Conference on Population and Development, held in Cairo, Egypt, in September 1994, approved a program of action to address the critical challenges and interrelationships between population and sustainable development over the next 20 years;
- The World Summit on Trade Efficiency, held in October 1994 in Columbus, Ohio, cosponsored by UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), the city of Columbus, and private-sector business, focused on the use of modern information technology to expand international trade;
- The World Summit for Social Development, held in March 1995 in Copenhagen, Denmark, underscored national responsibility for sustainable development and secured high-level commitment to plans that invest in basic education, health care, and economic opportunity for all, including women and girls;
- The Fourth World Conference on Women, held in Beijing, China, in September 1995, sought to accelerate implementation of the historic agreements reached at the Third World Conference held in Nairobi, Kenya, in 1985; and
- The Second UN Conference on Human Settlements (Habitat II), convened in June 1996 in Istanbul, Turkey, considered the challenges of human settlement development and management in the 21st century.
The UN system is financed in two ways: assessed and voluntary contributions from member states. The regular two-year budgets of the UN and its specialized agencies are funded by assessments. In the case of the UN, the General Assembly approves the regular budget and determines the assessment for each member. This is broadly based on the relative capacity of each country to pay, as measured by national income statistics, along with other factors.
The Assembly has established the principle that the UN should not be overly dependent on any one member to finance its operations. Thus, there is a ?ceiling? rate, setting the maximum amount any member is assessed for the regular budget. In December 2000, the Assembly agreed to revise the scale of assessments to make them better reflect current global circumstances.
As part of that agreement, the regular budget ceiling was reduced from 25 to 22 percent; this is the rate at which the U.S. is assessed. The U.S. is the only member that pays this rate; all other members? assessment rates are lower. Under the scale of assessments adopted in 2000, other major contributors to the regular UN budget for 2001 are Japan (19.63%), Germany (9.82%), France (6.50%), the U.K. (5.57%), Italy (5.09%), Canada (2.57%) and Spain (2.53%).
Special UN programs not included in the regular budget--such as UNICEF, UNDP, UNHCR, and WFP--are financed by voluntary contributions from member governments. In 2001, it is estimated that such contributions from the USG will total approximately $1.5 billion. Much of this is in the form of agricultural commodities donated for afflicted populations, but the majority is financial contributions.
For many years the United Nations has had problems with members refusing to pay the assessment levied upon them under the United Nations charter. Many states have at times refused to pay their dues for various reasons, but the most significant refusal in recent times has that of the United States. For a number of years the United States Congress has refused to authorise payment of the United States' UN dues, in order to try to extract reforms from the organization and a reduction in the US assessment.
The United States and the United Nations after much dispute negotiated an agreement whereby the United States would pay a large part of the monies it owes, and in exchange the United Nations would reduce the assessment rate ceiling from 25% to 22%.
The reduction in the assessment rate ceiling was among the reforms contained in 1999?s Helms-Biden legislation, which links payment of $926 million in U.S. arrears to the UN and other international organizations to a series of reform benchmarks.
U.S. arrears to the UN currently total over $1.3 billion. Of this, $612 million is payable under Helms-Biden. The remaining $700 million result from various legislative and policy withholdings; there are no current plans to pay these amounts.
Under Helms-Biden, the U.S. paid $100 million in arrears to the UN in December 1999; release of the next $582 million awaits a legislative revision to Helms-Biden, necessary because the benchmark requiring a 25 percent peacekeeping assessment rate ceiling was not quite achieved. We also seek elimination of the legislated 25 percent cap on U.S. peacekeeping payments in effect since 1995, which continues to generate additional UN arrears. Of the final $244 million under Helms-Biden, $30 million is payable to the UN and $214 million to other international organizations.
UN peace operations are funded by assessments, using a formula derived from the regular scale, but including a surcharge for the five permanent members of the Security Council (who must approve all peacekeeping operations); this surcharge serves to offset discounted peacekeeping assessment rates for less developed countries. In December 2000, the UN revised the assessment rate scale for the regular budget and for peacekeeping. The peacekeeping scale is designed to be revised every six months and is projected to be near 27% in 2003. The U.S. Administration intends to pay peacekeeping assessments at these lower rates and has sought legislation from the U.S. Congress to allow payment at these rates and to make payments towards arrears.
Total UN peacekeeping expenses peaked between 1994 and 1995; at the end of 1995 the total cost was just over $3.5 billion. Total UN peacekeeping costs for 2000, including operations funded from the UN regular budget as well as the peacekeeping budget, were on the order of $2.2 billion.
The UN has six major organs:
- UN General Assembly
- UN Security Council
- UN Economic and Social Council
- UN Trusteeship Council
- UN Secretariat
- International Court of Justice
The current Secretary-General of the United Nations is Kofi Annan of Ghana.
-  Text of UN Charter
Specialized Agencies of the United Nations:
- FAO - Food and Agriculture Organization
- ILO - International Labour Organization
- IMO - International Maritime Organization
- IRO - International Refugee Organization (ceased to exist in 1952)
- ITU - International Telecommunication Union
- ICAO - International Civil Aviation Organization
- UNESCO - United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization
- UNIDO - United Nations Industrial Development Organization
- UPU - Universal Postal Union
- WHO - World Health Organization
- WIPO - World Intellectual Property Organization
- WMO - World Meteorological Organization
- World Bank group
Programs and Funds of United Nations:
- UNDP - United Nations Development Program
- UNEP - United Nations Environmental Program
- UNFPA - United Nations Fund for Population Activities
- UNICEF - United Nations Children's Fund
- UNIFEM - United Nations Fund for Women
- UNU - United Nations University
- UNHCR -- United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees
- Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
- ILC - the International Law Comission
- WFP - World Food Program
- UNRRA - United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (ceased to exist in 1949)
- UNRWA - United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East
UN Regional Commissions:
- United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (ECE)
- United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP)
- United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Carribbean (ECLAC)
- United Nations Economic Commission for South-West Asia
Organizations established under the Security Council:
- ICTR - International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda
- ICTY - International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia
- several UN sanctions committees
Other organizations associated with the United Nations:
- IAEA - International Atomic Energy Agency
- ICC - International Criminal Court (yet to be established)
- ISA - International Seabed Authority
- ITLOS - International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea
- WTO - World Trade Organization