United Nations Organization

United Nations (UN) is a global organisation tasked with maintaining international peace and security while fostering friendly relations among nations.

It is the largest, most recognized and most powerful intergovernmental organisation in the world.

The United Nations Organisation is an important topic in the IAS exams.

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When was the United Nations established?

The UN was formed following the devastating aftermath of World War II, with the aim of preventing future global-scale conflicts. It was a successor to the ineffective League of Nations. The representatives of 50 governments met in San Francisco on 25 April 1945, to draft what would become the UN Charter. The charter was adopted on 25 June 1945 and came into effect on 24 October 1945.

In accordance with the Charter, the organization’s objectives include maintaining international peace and security, protecting human rights, delivering humanitarian aid, promoting sustainable development, and upholding international law. At its founding, the UN had 51 member states; this number grew to 193 in 2011, representing the vast majority of the world’s sovereign states.

Structure of the UN

The UN is structured around five principal organs:

  1. General Assembly,
  2. United Nations Security Council (UNSC)
  3. Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC),
  4. International Court of Justice
  5. UN Secretariat.

A sixth principal organ, the Trusteeship Council, suspended operations on 1 November 1994, upon the independence of Palau, the last remaining UN trustee territory.

A brief table about their primary function is given in the table below:

Principal Organs of the United Nations

Name of the Organ Primary Function

Primary Tasks of the Organ

UN General Assembly Deliberative assembly of all the UN member states
  • May resolve non-compulsory recommendations to states or suggestions to the Security Council (UNSC);
  • Decides on the admission of new members, following a proposal by the UNSC;
  • Adopts the budget;
  • Elects the non-permanent members of the UNSC; all members of ECOSOC; the UN Secretary-General (following his/her proposal by the UNSC); and the fifteen judges of the International Court of Justice (ICJ). Each country has one vote.
UN Secretariat Administrative organ of the UN
  • Supports the other UN bodies administratively (for example, in the organization of conferences, the writing of reports and studies and the preparation of the budget);
  • Its chairperson – the UN Secretary-General – is elected by the General Assembly for a five-year mandate and is the UN’s foremost representative.
International Court of Justice Universal court of international Law
  • Decides disputes between states that recognize its jurisdiction;
  • Issues legal opinions;
  • Renders judgment by relative majority. Its fifteen judges are elected by the UN General Assembly for nine-year terms.
UN Security Council Arbiterates international security issues
  • Responsible for the maintenance of international peace and security;
  • May adopt compulsory resolutions;
  • Has fifteen members: five permanent members with veto power and ten elected members.
UN Economic and Social Council For global economic and social affairs
  • Responsible for co-operation between states as regards economic and social matters;
  • Co-ordinates co-operation between the UN’s numerous specialized agencies;
  • Has 54 members, elected by the General Assembly to serve staggered three-year mandates.
UN Trusteeship Council For administering trust territory (now disbanded)
  • Was originally designed to manage colonial possessions that were former League of Nations mandates
  • Has been inactive since 1994, when Palau, the last trust territory, attained independence.

To know more about the UN and its principal organs, visit the linked article.

What are the specialized agencies of the UN?

The UN Charter stipulates that each primary organ of the United Nations can establish various specialized agencies to fulfil its duties. Some of them are given in the table below:

United Nations Specialized Agencies

Agency Acronym Headquarters Founding Year
Food and Agriculture Organization FAO Rome, Italy 1945
International Telecommunication Union ITU Geneva, Switzerland 1865 (Joined UN in 1947)
International Fund for Agricultural Development IFAD Rome, Italy 1977
International Labour Organization ILO Geneva, Switzerland 1946
International Maritime Organization IMO London, United Kingdom 1948
International Monetary Fund IMF Washington, United States 1945
United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization UNESCO Paris, France 1946
World Health Organization WHO Geneva, Switzerland 1948

What has been the UN’s contribution to India?

India was among the founding members of the United Nation. Before achieving independence, India signed the Declaration by the United Nations at Washington, D.C. in 1944 October and also participated in the United Nations Conference on International Organization at San Francisco from 25 April to 26 June 1945. As one of the original members of the United Nations, India enthusiastically supports the purposes and principles of the UN and has made significant contributions in implementing the goals of the organisation.

The UN field networks in India are the largest anywhere in the world through the many offices, programmes and funds currently at work in the country. Some of the milestones that the UN has made in India are elaborated upon below:

  • Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO):
    • When FAO began its India operations in 1948, its priority was to transform India’s food and farm sectors through technical inputs and support for policy development.
    • Over the years, FAO’s has made major inroads in resolving issues such as access to food, nutrition, livelihoods, rural development and sustainable agriculture. With the Sustainable Development Goals in full swing, the FAO’s primary focus will be on improving India’s sustainable agricultural practices.
  • International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD):
    • IFAD and the Government of India have achieved significant results in investing in the commercialization of smallholding-agriculture and building small farmers’ capacity to increase incomes from market opportunities.
    • IFAD-supported projects have also provided women with access to financial services, such as by linking women’s self-help groups with commercial banks.
  • India has worked with the UN on the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS). The main aim of the programme is to help prevent new HIV infections, care for people living with HIV and mitigate the impact of the epidemic. Between 2001 and 2012 the total number of cases of the disease in India fell down by 50%, one of the highest in the world at that time. So far, India has managed to continue the trend.

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What are the challenges faced by the UN?

The UN has had its fair share of challenges in the ensuing decade. Now there is no one single factor to those challenges but rather multi-faceted factors that make the UN’s task of fostering world peace a difficult task:

Some of the challenges to the UN’s efforts for global peace are as follows:

  1. Geopolitical aggression and intransigence: Conflicts are becoming commonplace and gradually being magnified by rival global powers as they lend support to proxy groups to wage war overseas. Beings of these “shadow wars”, a new world war might be around the corner.
  2. Legacies of military intervention and regime change: Framed as interventions to counter terror, save civilians or remove rogue regimes, in case after case military intervention and regime change have failed to bring lasting stability or to defeat fundamentalist groups. While this has brought an atmosphere of distrust regarding any intervention done by the UN. it is too big a risk in simply giving up on peaceful, constructive changes.
  3. Panic over forced displacement: As desperate people flee war zones, the impact of forced displacement is hitting neighbouring countries hardest and they are trying to manage as best as they can. Meanwhile, Western governments are making hasty deals to support border and security forces in transit countries to close their borders and shut the problem out. But such short-term measures will only further antagonize the nations who are overburdened by the inflow of refugees
  4. Struggling humanitarianism: Undoubtedly humanitarians have a tough job. The UN and others are making enormous efforts, with inadequate resources, to assist the victims of conflict. But they are not yet good enough at defending humanitarian values, working for prevention during a crisis or empowering those affected by humanitarian crises to take the initiative.

Like all challenges, there are solutions to face them as well. Here are a few solutions on how the UN works for conflict resolution and peaceful change in an era of mistrust and division.

  1. In an era when a consensus, political or otherwise, is hard to arrive at it will be crucial to use the vision and the mandate of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This consensus was developed through a uniquely consultative process.
  2. ‘Sustaining peace’ should also be a moment to reclaim the policy space. A panic regarding policy is setting in – framing conflicts as ‘terror’ threats and as a ‘migration’ crisis is only enlarging the problem. Prevention and peacemaking tools are the answer to these problems.
  3.  The UN must not settle for an inert, a technocratic approach focused only on building the capacity of state institutions, no matter how strong or weak the political pressure. At the heart of the SDGs is a drive for transformative change with more peaceful, just and inclusive societies helping to shape stronger and more inclusive institutions. If sustaining peace merely means reinforcing the very institutions that are at the heart of the problem – such as blood-thirsty military regimes or corrupt bureaucracies – then, such an endeavour is an exercise in futility.
  4. Remaining true to an agenda that will transform people’s lives requires supporting those who work for peaceful change – in and out of government, including women and youth. This requires a willingness to step out of national capitals, to talk to a wider range of people, to build up an understanding of conflicts rooted in people’s priorities, and to work in solidarity with people to help them:

For more UPSC and UN-related articles, candidates can refer to the links given below:

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