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The United Nations (UN) is an intergovernmental organization tasked to promote international co-operation and to create and maintain international order. A replacement for the ineffective League of Nations, the organization was established on 24 October 1945 after World War II with the aim of preventing another such conflict. At its founding, the UN had 51 member states; there are now 193. The headquarters of the UN is in Manhattan, New York City, and is subject to extraterritoriality. Further main offices are situated in Geneva, Nairobi, and Vienna. The organization is financed by assessed and voluntary contributions from its member states. Its objectives include maintaining international peace and security, promoting human rights, fostering social and economic development, protecting the environment, and providing humanitarian aid in cases of famine, natural disaster, and armed conflict. The UN is the largest, most familiar, most internationally represented and most powerful intergovernmental organization in the world.

The UN Charter was drafted at a conference between April–June 1945 in San Francisco, and was signed on 26 June 1945 at the conclusion of the conference; this charter took effect on 24 October 1945, and the UN began operation. The UN's mission to preserve world peace was complicated in its early decades by the Cold War between the United States and Soviet Union and their respective allies. The organization participated in major actions in Korea and the Congo, as well as approving the creation of the Israeli state in 1947. The organization's membership grew significantly following widespread decolonization in the 1960s, and by the 1970s its budget for economic and social development programmes far outstripped its spending on peacekeeping. After the end of the Cold War, the UN took on major military and peacekeeping missions across the world with varying degrees of success.

The UN has six principal organs: the General Assembly (the main deliberative assembly); the Security Council (for deciding certain resolutions for peace and security); the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC; for promoting international economic and social co-operation and development); the Secretariat (for providing studies, information, and facilities needed by the UN); the International Court of Justice (the primary judicial organ); and the UN Trusteeship Council (inactive since 1994). UN System agencies include the World Bank Group, the World Health Organization, the World Food Programme, UNESCO, and UNICEF. The UN's most prominent officer is the Secretary-General, an office held by Portuguese politician and diplomat António Guterres since 2017. 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. Other evaluations of the UN's effectiveness have been mixed. Some commentators believe the organization to be an important force for peace and human development, while others have called the organization ineffective, corrupt, or biased.

Selected article

League of Nations Assembly building in Geneva

The League of Nations was an international organization founded as a result of the Paris Peace Conference in 1919–1920. The League's goals included disarmament, preventing war through collective security, settling disputes between countries through negotiation, diplomacy and improving global welfare. The diplomatic philosophy behind the League represented a fundamental shift in thought from the preceding hundred years. The League lacked an armed force of its own and so depended on the Great Powers to enforce its resolutions, keep to economic sanctions which the League ordered, or provide an army, when needed, for the League to use. However, they were often very reluctant to do so. Benito Mussolini stated that "The League is very well when sparrows shout, but no good at all when eagles fall out."

Selected biography

Javier Pérez de Cuéllar

Javier Pérez de Cuéllar (born 19 January 1920) is a Peruvian diplomat who served as the fifth Secretary-General of the United Nations from 1982 to 1991. He studied in Colegio San Agustín of Lima, and then at Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú.

Pérez de Cuéllar joined the Peruvian Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 1940, and in 1944 began serving as Secretary, then Ambassador, at seven countries' Embassies. He was a member of the Peruvian delegation to the first UN General Assembly session in 1946, as well as the 25th through 30th sessions. In 1971, he was appointed the UN's Permanent Representative of Peru, and was appointed as United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Special Political Affairs in 1979.

Pérez de Cuéllar succeeded Kurt Waldheim as Secretary-General in 1981. During his two terms, he led mediations between Britain and Argentina in the aftermath of the Falklands War and promoted efforts to bring peace and stability to Central America. He also interceded in the negotiations for the independence of Namibia, conflict in Western Sahara, and the Cyprus issue. After serving at the UN, Pérez de Cuéllar returned to Peruvian politics, eventually retiring in France in 2004.

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Peacekeepers in Eritrea
United Nations peacekeepers monitoring the border between Eritrea and Ethiopia.

Photo credit: Dawit Rezenè, World66

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Never measure the height of a mountain until you have reached the top. Then you will see how low it was.
Dag Hammarskjöld, Secretary-General from 1953 to 1961

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