United Nations Organisation and Global Disputes (Part-1)


The United Nations Organization (UNO), an intergovernmental organization, officially came into existence in October 1945 after the Second World War, to prevent another such conflict.. It was formed to replace the League of Nations, which had proved incapable of restraining aggressive dictators like Hitler and Mussolini. In setting up the UNO, the great powers tried to eliminate some of the weaknesses which had handicapped the League.

The UN Charter was drawn up in San Francisco in 1945, and was based on proposals made at an earlier meeting between the USSR, the USA, China and Britain, held at Dumbarton Oaks (USA) in 1944. At its founding, the UN had 51 member states; there are now 193 (latest South Sudan).

The headquarters of the United Nations is situated in Manhattan, New York City, and enjoys extraterritoriality. Further main offices are situated in Geneva, Nairobi and Vienna.

The aims of the UN are:

  • to preserve peace and eliminate war;
  • to remove the causes of conflict by encouraging economic, social, educational, scientific and cultural progress throughout the world, especially in under-developed countries;
  • to safeguard the rights of all individual human beings, and the rights of peoples and nations.

UN System agencies include the World Bank Group, the World Health Organization, the World Food Programme, UNESCO, and UNICEF. Non-governmental organizations may be granted consultative status with ECOSOC and other agencies to participate in the UN’s work.

The organization won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2001, and a number of its officers and agencies have also been awarded the prize.


  • In the century prior to the UN’s creation, several international treaty organizations and conferences had been formed.
  • States first established international organizations to cooperate on specific matters. The International Telecommunication Union was founded in 1865 as the International Telegraph Union, and the Universal Postal Union was established in 1874. Both are now United Nations specialized agencies.
  • In 1899, the International Peace Conference was held in The Hague to elaborate instruments for settling crises peacefully, preventing wars and codifying rules of warfare. It adopted the Convention for the Pacific Settlement of International Disputes and established the Permanent Court of Arbitration, which began work in 1902.
  • To regulate conflicts between nations, International Committee of the Red Cross and the Hague Conventions of 1899 and 1907  were formed.
  • Following First World War, the Paris Peace Conference established the League of Nations (under Treaty of Versailles) to maintain harmony between countries.This organization resolved some territorial disputes and created international structures for areas such as postal mail, aviation, and opium control, some of which would later be absorbed into the UN. However, the League lacked representation for colonial peoples (then half the world’s population) and significant participation from several major powers, including the US and USSR; it failed to act against the Japanese invasion of Manchuria in 1931, the Second Italian-Ethiopian War in 1935, the Japanese invasion of China in 1937, and German expansions under Adolf Hitler that culminated in the Second World War.
  • League was effective to solve only those problems where interests of major Powers were not involved. It was also based not on voting but consensus which made decision making more difficult.
  • The International Labour Organization was also created under the Treaty of Versailles as an affiliated agency of the League.

1942 “Declaration of United Nations” by Allies of World War II

U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill met on August 9 and 10, 1941 aboard the USA Cruiser, to discuss their respective war aims for the Second World War and to outline a postwar international system. The Charter (called Atlantic Charter) they drafted included eight “common principles” that the United States and Great Britain would be committed to supporting in the postwar world. Both countries agreed not to seek territorial expansion; to seek the liberalization of international trade; to establish freedom of the seas, and international labor, economic, and welfare standards. Most importantly, both the United States and Great Britain were committed to supporting the restoration of self-governments for all countries that had been occupied during the war and allowing all peoples to choose their own form of government.

The Atlantic Charter was released by Churchill and Roosevelt on August 14, 1941 (even before USA involvement in world war 2) as a joint declaration following a meeting in Newfoundland. The Atlantic Charter provided a broad statement of U.S. and British war aims.

On January 1, 1942, representatives of 26 nations at war with the Axis powers met in Washington to sign the “Declaration by United Nations” (endorsing the Atlantic Charter), pledging to use their full resources against the Axis and agreeing not to make a separate peace. It incorporated Soviet suggestions, but left no role for France.

Roosevelt first coined the term United Nations to describe the Allied countries.

One major change from the Atlantic Charter was the addition of a provision for religious freedom, which Stalin approved after Roosevelt insisted.

By 1 March 1945, 21 additional states had signed.

During the war, the United Nations became the official term for the Allies. To join it, countries had to sign the Declaration and declare war on the Axis.

Other Conferences and Declarations

At the Quebec Conference in August 1943, US Secretary of State and British Foreign Secretary agreed to draft a declaration that included a call for “a general international organization, based on the principle sovereign equality of all nations.” An agreed declaration was issued after a Foreign Ministers Conference in Moscow in October 1943.

Tehran Meet: When President Franklin D. Roosevelt met with Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin in Tehran, in November 1943, he proposed an international organization comprising an assembly of all member states and a 10-member executive committee to discuss social and economic issues. The United States, Great Britain, Soviet Union, and China would enforce peace as “the four policemen.”

Meanwhile Allied representatives founded a set of task-oriented organizations: the Food and Agricultural Organization (May 1943), the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (November 1943), the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (April 1944), the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank (July 1944), and the International Civil Aviation Organization (November 1944).

Founding the UN 1945

The United Nations was formulated and negotiated among the delegations from the Soviet Union, the UK, the US and China in Dumbarton Oaks Conference.

The UN Conference on International Organization opened in San Francisco, 25 April 1945, attended by 50 governments and a number of non-governmental organizations involved in drafting the United Nations Charter. The UN officially came into existence 24 October 1945, upon ratification of the Charter by the five permanent members of the Security Council—France, the Republic of China, the Soviet Union, the UK and the US—and by a majority of the other 46 signatories.

The first meetings of the General Assembly, with 51 nations represented, and the Security Council took place in Central Hall Westminster in London beginning 6 January 1946. The General Assembly selected New York City as the site for the headquarters of the United Nations. Its site—like UN headquarters buildings in Geneva, Vienna, and Nairobi—is designated as international territory.

The Norwegian Foreign Minister, Trygve Lie, was elected as the first UN Secretary-General.


There are now seven main organs of the UN:

  1. the General Assembly
  2. the Security Council
  3. the Secretariat
  4. the International Court of Justice
  5. the Trusteeship Council
  6. the Economic and Social Council
  7. the International Criminal Court (inaugurated in March 2003)

The Trusteeship Council, suspended operations in 1994, upon the independence of Palau, the last remaining UN trustee territory. The Trusteeship Council was established to help ensure that trust territories were administered in the best interests of their inhabitants and of international peace and security. The trust territories were most of them former mandates of the League of Nations or territories taken from nations defeated at the end of World War II.

  • Four of the five principal organs are located at the main UN Headquarters in New York City. The International Court of Justice is located in The Hague, while other major agencies are based in the UN offices at Geneva, Vienna and Nairobi.
  • The six official languages of the United Nations, used in intergovernmental meetings and documents, are Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian, and Spanish.
  • On the basis of the Convention on the Privileges and Immunity of the United Nations, the UN and its agencies are immune from the laws of the countries where they operate, safeguarding the UN’s impartiality with regard to the host and member countries.
  • Below the six organs sit, “collection of entities and organizations, some of which are actually older than the UN itself and operate with almost complete independence from it”. These include specialized agencies, research and training institutions, programmes and funds, and other UN entities.
  • The United Nations obey the Noblemaire principle, which is binding on any organisation that belongs to the united nations system.  This principle holds that an international organization must remunerate its entire staff equally for work of equal value, irrespective of differences in levels of pay in the various countries from which they are drawn.It must also be able to recruit and retain staff from all its member states. Consequently, the uniform level of pay it provides must be sufficient to attract staff from the country or countries where national pay levels are highest.
  • The World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and their affiliated organizations have not agreed to be covered by the UN common system of Salaries and Allowances.

(1) General Assembly:

The General Assembly is the main deliberative assembly of the United Nations. This is the meeting together of the representatives from all the member nations; each member can send up to five representatives, though there is only one vote per nation. It meets once a year, starting in September and remaining in session for about three months, but special sessions can be called in times of crisis by the members themselves or by the Security Council. The assembly is led by a president, elected from among the member states on a rotating regional basis, and 21 vice-presidents.

Its function is to discuss and make decisions about international problems, to consider the UN budget and what amount each member should pay, to elect the Security Council members and to supervise the work of the many other UN bodies.

Decisions do not need a unanimous vote as they did in the League Assembly. Sometimes a simple majority is enough, though on issues which the Assembly thinks are very important, a two-thirds majority is needed. These include recommendations on peace and security; election of members to organs; admission, suspension, and expulsion of members; and budgetary matters.

Apart from approval of budgetary matters, resolutions are not binding on the members. Draft resolutions can be forwarded to the General Assembly by 8 committees including Security Council.

The Assembly may make recommendations on any matters within the scope of the UN, except matters of peace and security that are under consideration by the Security Council.

All speeches and debates are translated into six official UN languages – English, French, Russian, Chinese, Spanish and Arabic.

(2) The Security Council:

It is charged with maintaining peace and security among countries. While other organs of the United Nations can only make recommendations to member states, the Security Council has the power to make binding decisions that member states have agreed to carry out. The decisions of the Council are known as United Nations Security Council resolutions.

This sits in permanent session and its function is to deal with crises as they arise, by whatever action seems appropriate, and if necessary by calling on members to take economic or military action against an aggressor. The Council must also approve applications for UN membership, which then require a two-thirds majority in a vote of acceptance by the General Assembly.

The Council began with eleven members, five of them permanent (China, France, USA, USSR and Britain), and the other six elected by the General Assembly for two-year terms. In 1965 the number of non-permanent members was increased to ten. Decisions need at least nine of the 15 members to vote in favour, but these must include all five permanent members; this means that any one of the permanent members can veto a decision and prevent any action being taken. In practice it has gradually been accepted that abstention by a permanent member does not count as a veto, but this has not been written into the Charter.

The presidency of the Security Council rotates alphabetically each month.

In order to secure some action in case of a veto by one of the permanent members, the General Assembly (at the time of the Korean War in 1950) introduced the ‘Uniting for Peace’ resolution; this stated that if the Security Council’s proposals were vetoed, the Assembly could meet within 24 hours and decide what action to take, even military intervention if necessary. In cases like this, a decision by the Assembly would only need a two thirds majority. Again this new rule was not added to the Charter, and the USSR, which used the veto more often than any other member, always maintained that a Security Council veto should take precedence over a General Assembly decision. Nevertheless, the Assembly acted in this way many times, ignoring Russian protests.

In 1950 a problem arose when the new communist People’s Republic of China applied for UN membership. The USA vetoed the application, so that the Republic of China (Taiwan) retained its membership and its permanent seat on the Security Council. The USA blocked communist China’s application every year for the next 20 years. In 1971, in an effort to improve relations with communist China, the USA at last refrained from vetoing the application; consequently the General Assembly voted that the People’s Republic of China should take over Taiwan’s membership and permanent Security Council seat.

(3) Secretariat

The UN Secretariat is headed by the Secretary-General, assisted by a staff of international civil servants worldwide. It provides studies, information, and facilities needed by United Nations bodies for their meetings. It also carries out tasks as directed by the Security Council, the General Assembly, the Economic and Social Council, and other UN bodies.

The Secretary-General acts as the de facto spokesperson and leader of the UN. He is organization’s “chief administrative officer”. The Secretary-General can bring to the Security Council’s attention “any matter which in his opinion may threaten the maintenance of international peace and security”. The office has evolved into a dual role of an administrator of the UN organization and a diplomat and mediator addressing disputes between member states and finding consensus to global issues.

The Secretary-General is appointed by the General Assembly, after being recommended by the Security Council, where the permanent members have veto power. There are no specific criteria for the post, but over the years it has become accepted that the post shall be held for one or two terms of five years, that the post shall be appointed on the basis of geographical rotation, and that the Secretary-General shall not originate from one of the five permanent Security Council member states.

(4) International Court of Justice:

The International Court of Justice (ICJ), located in Hague, in the Netherlands, is the primary judicial organ of the UN. Established in 1945 by the UN Charter, the Court began work in 1946 as the successor to the Permanent Court of International Justice.

The ICJ is composed of 15 judges who serve 9-year terms and are appointed by the General Assembly and the Security Council jointly; every sitting judge must be from a different nation.

The ICJ’s primary purpose is to adjudicate disputes among states. The court has heard cases related to war crimes, illegal state interference, ethnic cleansing, and other issues.The ICJ can also be called upon by other UN organs to provide advisory opinions.

A number of cases have been successfully dealt with, including a frontier dispute between Holland and Belgium and a disagreement between Britain and Norway over fishing limits. In other cases, however, it was not so successful. In 1984 for example, Nicaragua sued the USA for mining its harbours; the Court judged in favour of Nicaragua and ordered the USA to pay compensation. The USA refused to accept the verdict, and no further action was taken. Although in theory the Security Council has the power to take ‘appropriate measures’ to enforce the Court’s decisions, it has never done so. The Court can only operate successfully when both parties to a dispute agree to accept the verdict, whichever way it should happen to go.

(5) Trusteeship Council

This replaced the League of Nations Mandates Commission, which had originally come into existence in 1919 to keep an eye on the territories taken away from Germany and Turkey at the end of the First World War. Some of these areas (known as mandated territories or mandates) had been handed over to the victorious powers, and their job was to govern the territories and prepare them for independence.

The Trusteeship Council did its job well and by 1970 most of the mandates had gained their independence. However, Namibia remained a problem, since South Africa refused to give the area independence. South Africa, ruled by a government representing the white minority of the population, was unwilling to give independence to a state right on its own frontier that would be ruled by a government representing its black African majority. The UN repeatedly condemned South Africa for its attitude; in 1971 the International Court of Justice ruled that South Africa’s occupation of Namibia was a breach of international law and that South Africa must withdraw immediately. South Africa ignored the UN, but as the other states of Africa gradually gained independence under black governments, it became more difficult for South Africa to maintain both its position in Namibia and its own white minority rule. At last in 1990 the pressure of black African nationalism and world opinion forced South Africa to release its grip on Namibia.

(6) Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC)

The Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) assists the General Assembly in promoting international economic and social co-operation and development.

This has 27 members, elected by the General Assembly for a three year term, with one-third retiring each year. The president is elected for a one-year term and chosen amongst members. The council has one annual meeting in July, held in either New York or Geneva.

It organizes projects concerned with health, education and other social and economic matters. Its task is so enormous that it has appointed four regional commissions (Europe, Latin America, Africa, Asia and the Far East), as well as commissions on population problems, drugs problems, human rights and the status of women.

ECOSOC also coordinates the work of an astonishing array of other commissions and specialized agencies, around 30 in all. Among the best known are the International Labour Organization (ILO), the World Health Organization (WHO), the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). ECOSOC may also grant consultative status to non-governmental organizations.

The scope of ECOSOC expanded in such a remarkable way that by 1980 more than 90 per cent of the UN’s annual expenditure was devoted to ECOSOC activities.  Owing to its broad mandate of co-ordinating many agencies, ECOSOC has at times been criticized as unfocused or irrelevant.

Specialized agencies:

The UN Charter stipulates that each primary organ of the UN can establish various specialized agencies to fulfill its duties such as the International Atomic Energy Agency, the Food and Agriculture Organization, UNESCO, the World Bank, and the World Health Organization (WHO). The UN performs most of its humanitarian work through these agencies.

(7) The International Criminal Court (ICC)

The idea of an International Criminal Court to try individuals accused of crimes against humanity was first discussed by a League of Nations convention in 1937, but nothing came of it. The Cold War prevented any further progress until, in 1989, it was suggested again as a possible way of dealing with drug-traffickers and terrorists. Progress towards the creation of a permanent court was again slow, and it was left to the Security Council to set up two special war crimes tribunals to try individuals accused of committing atrocities in 1994 in Rwanda and in 1995 in Bosnia. The most high-profile case was that of Slobodan Milosevic, the former Yugoslav president, who was extradited from Belgrade and handed over to UN officials in the Netherlands. His trial opened in July 2001 in The Hague; he faced charges of committing crimes against humanity in Bosnia, Croatia and Kosovo. He was the first former head of state ever to be brought before an international court of justice. The trial dragged on for five for almost five years until he died of a heart attack before a verdict was reached.

Meanwhile, in July 1998 an agreement known as the Rome Statute was signed by 120 member states of the UN to create a permanent court to deal with war crimes, genocide and other crimes against humanity. The new court, consisting of 18 elected judges, was formally inaugurated in March 2003, and was based in The Hague. However, the US government did not like the idea that some of its citizens might be tried in the court – particularly Americans acting as peacekeepers who might find themselves open to ‘politicized prosecutions’. Although the Clinton administration had signed the 1998 agreement, President Bush insisted that the signature should be withdrawn. Consequently the USA did not recognize the ICC and by June 2003 had signed separate agreements with 37 states promising that no US personnel would be handed over to the ICC for trial. In some cases the USA threatened to withdraw economic or military aid if the state refused to comply with its wishes.


Membership in the United Nations is open to all other peace-loving states that accept the obligations contained in the present Charter and, in the judgment of the Organization, are able and willing to carry out these obligations. The admission of any such state to membership in the United Nations will be effected by a decision of the General Assembly upon the recommendation of the Security Council.

In addition, there are two non-member observer states of the United Nations General Assembly: the Holy See (which holds sovereignty over Vatican City) and the State of Palestine.

Political control of Western Sahara is in dispute; and the territories administered by Taiwan and Kosovo are considered by the UN to be provinces of China and Serbia, respectively.

Group of 77

The Group of 77 (has more than hundred members) at the UN is a loose coalition of developing nations, designed to promote its members’ collective economic interests and create an enhanced joint negotiating capacity in the United Nations. The group was founded in 1964 by the “Joint Declaration of the Seventy-Seven Countries” issued at the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). The group held its first major meeting in Algiers in 1967, where it adopted the Charter of Algiers and established the basis for permanent institutional structures.


The UN is financed from assessed and voluntary contributions from member states. 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 its gross national income (GNI), with adjustments for external debt and low per capita income.

The Assembly has established the principle that the UN should not be unduly dependent on any one member to finance its operations. Thus, there is a “ceiling” rate, setting the maximum amount that any member can be assessed for the regular budget.

A large share of the UN’s expenditure addresses its core mission of peace and security, and this budget is assessed separately from the main organizational budget. UN peace operations are funded by assessments that includes a surcharge for the five permanent Security Council members, who must approve all peacekeeping operations. This surcharge serves to offset discounted peacekeeping assessment rates for less developed countries.

Special UN programmes not included in the regular budget, such as UNICEF and the World Food Programme, are financed by voluntary contributions from member governments, corporations, and private individuals.

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