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The United Nations (UN) is an international association of independent states that was founded by the victorious nations of World War II to keep the peace their efforts had won. Its supreme goal was to end war, but by the end of the 20th century the organization had expanded its mandate to cover a varied agenda that included such issues as human rights, world poverty, public health, and environmental concerns. Membership was eventually extended to almost every country on Earth, growing from the initial 51 member nations in 1945 to 191 by 2002.
After World War II it was expected that the great powers would work together to keep the peace. Instead, disagreements between the Soviet Union and the West beginning in the late 1940s created a state of international tension called the Cold War (see Cold War). The Soviet Union's goal was to spread the communist system of government throughout the world (see Union of Soviet Socialist Republics). The Western nations, led by the United States, joined together to resist communist expansion. Both sides built up their weapons, which included nuclear arms. During this era the United Nations played a key role as peacemaker between East and West. After the Cold War ended in the early 1990s with the collapse of the Soviet Union, the United Nations continued to promote peace and cooperation throughout the many troubled areas of the world, adapting to circumstances that were not dreamed of by its founders.
Origin of the United Nations
In 1941, during World War II, United States President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill met secretly for five days in the North Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Newfoundland. The purpose of their meeting was to draft a statement outlining a plan for a global organization that would help oversee international affairs and maintain peace and security. At the conclusion of their talks they issued the Atlantic Charter (see Atlantic Charter). The charter looked forward to abandoning the use of force and to the establishment of a permanent system of general security.
In 1942 representatives of 26 countries, calling themselves the United Nations, signed a pledge in Washington, D.C., to defeat the Axis Powers—the alliance of Germany, Italy, and Japan—and to uphold the principles of the Atlantic Charter. In 1944 representatives of China, the United Kingdom, the Soviet Union, and the United States drew up plans for a world organization when they met at Dumbarton Oaks, a private mansion in Washington, D.C.
In February 1945, at a conference in the Crimean city of Yalta on the Black Sea, representatives of the United Kingdom, the Soviet Union, and the United States discussed procedures for the organization and called for a conference to draw up a charter. On April 25, 1945, the United Nations Conference on International Organization opened in San Francisco, Calif. Delegates of 50 nations discussed and modified the original Dumbarton Oaks proposals. On June 26 the United Nations Charter was completed, signed, and sent to the member nations for ratification. In the United States, the Senate voted 89 to 2 on July 28, 1945, to ratify the charter. By Oct. 24, 1945, the required number of nations had ratified the charter and the United Nations officially came into existence. October 24 has been celebrated as United Nations Day since 1948. Some countries set aside seven days—United Nations Week—for educational and social programs.
The United Nations Charter
The preamble of the United Nations Charter sets forth the aims of the organization. The charter itself states the basic principles and purposes, defines the membership, and establishes the six principal departments, which are also called organs.
The original members of the United Nations numbered 51. The charter provides, however, that “all other peace-loving states” can become members on the recommendation of the Security Council if approved by a two-thirds vote of the General Assembly. The Assembly, on recommendation of the Security Council, can expel a member that has persistently violated the principles of the charter.
Amendments to the charter require a vote of two thirds of all the members of the General Assembly. Following Assembly approval, the amendment must be ratified by two thirds of the member states, including all five permanent members of the Security Council.
In addition to sharing the risks of maintaining peace and security, the member states of the UN share in the financial burden of maintaining the organization. Each member nation contributes to the main budget and to the budget of each agency to which it belongs. The scale of contributions, based partly on ability to pay, is set by the General Assembly. Some states pay less than half of 1 percent of the budget. The largest contributors in the early 21st century were the United States, Japan, Germany, France, Italy, and the United Kingdom.
The Six Basic Organs
The duties with which the United Nations is charged are so vast that it was determined from the beginning to divide the organization into functional arms, or organs, that would address specific areas of peacekeeping and human rights.
The General Assembly
The largest of the six basic organs, the General Assembly is the great deliberative body of the United Nations. It is linked with all the other organs and it elects their membership. It may discuss any subject within the scope of the charter, except those disputes that are being dealt with by the Security Council. After voting, it may forward its recommendations to other organs or to member governments.
All member states are represented in the Assembly. Each state may have up to five representatives but only one vote. Decisions on important questions (listed in the charter) require a two-thirds majority of members present and voting. Other questions are decided by a simple majority of those voting.
The Assembly meets in regular annual sessions but may in some instances call a special session. A president is elected to oversee each session.
The Security Council
Maintaining world peace and security is the responsibility of the Security Council. Every member of the United Nations is pledged to accept and carry out the Council's decisions. The Council is set up to function continuously; thus a representative of each of its members must be present at all times at UN headquarters. The Council is headed by a president, chosen from among the Council members. This presidency changes monthly.
The Security Council has 15 members. Five nations, known collectively as the Big Five—China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States—have permanent seats. (Russia's seat was held by the Soviet Union until that country's break-up in 1991.) Of the other 10 seats, five are elected each year by the General Assembly for two-year terms; five retire each year. Each member has one vote. On all routine (procedural) matters, approval requires nine “yes” votes. On all other matters, the nine “yes” votes must include the votes of all five permanent members. Thus, each of the Big Five has a veto power. Any one of them can block even the discussion of an action of which it disapproves. A party to a dispute, however, must abstain from voting.
Any state, even if it is not a member of the United Nations, may bring a dispute to which it is a party to the notice of the Security Council. The first response of the Council is always to search for a peaceful solution to the conflict. If the Council finds there is a real threat to peace, or an actual act of aggression, it may call upon the members of the United Nations to cut communications with the countries concerned or break off trade relations. If these methods prove inadequate, the charter states that the Council may take military action against the offending nation by air, sea, and land forces of the United Nations.
Every member of the United Nations is pledged by Article 43 to supply the Council with armed forces when needed. These forces are directed by a Military Staff Committee, consisting of the chiefs of staff (or their representatives) of the five permanent members.
The International Court of Justice
The International Court of Justice, sometimes also called the World Court, is the supreme court of the United Nations. Its permanent seat is in The Netherlands at The Hague (see Hague Peace Conferences). The court consists of 15 judges, no two of whom can be from one nation, elected by the General Assembly and the Security Council. The judges serve for nine years and are eligible for reelection. Nine judges make a quorum and questions are decided by a majority vote.
Any states—even nonmembers—may bring disputes to the court for judgment. Both parties must first agree to allow the court to try the case. Should one of them fail to accept the judgment of the court, the other may appeal to the Security Council for enforcement. The court serves also as the legal adviser to the General Assembly, Security Council, and other United Nations organs.
The Economic and Social Council
The constructive tasks of peace—achieving higher standards of living, improving health and education, and promoting respect for human rights and freedoms throughout the world—are the responsibility of the Economic and Social Council. It works under the authority of the General Assembly and reports to the Assembly. The Council has 54 members, each of whom is elected to a three-year term. The Economic and Social Council is assisted by its own commissions and by independent specialized agencies.
The UN Secretariat carries on the day-to-day business of the United Nations and assists all the other organs. At its head is the secretary-general, the chief administrative officer and spokesperson of the United Nations. The secretary-general embodies the ideals of the United Nations, drawing upon his or her personal integrity to prevent international disputes from escalating and helping to facilitate the work of the organization as needed. The secretary-general is appointed by the General Assembly upon recommendation of the Security Council. For many years the secretary-general's staff included thousands of workers from many countries. Efforts were begun in 1997 to trim the size of the department to control administrative costs. Because the secretary-general's responsibilities had expanded with the increased number of new UN programs, the post of deputy secretary-general was created in 1998.
The Trusteeship Council
The original responsibility of the Trusteeship Council was to protect the interests of people who lived in trust territories and to lead them toward self-government. Under the trusteeship system, colonial territories taken from countries defeated in war were administered by a trust country under international supervision until their future status was determined. The Council received reports from the administering authorities, examined petitions from trust territories, and sent out visiting missions. It consisted of states administering trust territories, permanent members of the Security Council that did not administer trust territories, and other UN members elected by the General Assembly.
The Trusteeship Council met once each year until Palau, the last trust territory, became independent in 1994. The Council then terminated its operations. No longer required to meet annually, the Trusteeship Council may meet on the decision of its president or on a request by a majority of its members, by the General Assembly, or by the Security Council. Since 1994 new roles for the Council have been proposed, including serving as a forum for minority and indigenous peoples.
The United Nations Headquarters
The General Assembly decided in February 1946 to locate the permanent headquarters of the United Nations in the United States instead of in Geneva, Switzerland, where the League of Nations headquarters had been (see League of Nations). The Secretariat set up temporary quarters first at Hunter College in New York City, then at Lake Success, Long Island. The General Assembly met at Flushing Meadow, N.Y.
Various sites were proposed for a permanent home. The question was dramatically settled in December 1946 when John D. Rockefeller, Jr., offered a six-block tract in midtown New York City as a gift. New York City contributed additional land along the East River and rights to the waterfront. The 18-acre (7-hectare) site extends from the river to First Avenue and from East 48th Street to East 42nd Street.
Construction was financed by an interest-free loan of 65 million dollars from the United States. The cornerstone was laid on Oct. 24, 1949. The Secretariat, the General Assembly, and the Conference Building were completed in 1951–52. A library added in 1961 was named after Dag Hammarskjöld, the secretary-general who was killed in a plane crash earlier that year.
The buildings were designed by an international group of architects headed by Wallace K. Harrison of the United States. Built of glass, marble, steel, and aluminum, they are functional and modern, with dramatic contrasts of form and mass. The General Assembly is long and low, with concave sides and a sloping roof surmounted by a dome. The public entrance, at the north, leads to a large lobby. The south front is a great window looking out on the Delegates' Garden and the Circular Fountain. The General Assembly Hall, under the dome, is decorated with murals by Fernand Léger, a French artist. The long, low Conference Building, on the riverside, built of metal and glass, has chambers for the Security Council, the Economic and Social Council, and the Trusteeship Council. This building connects the General Assembly with the 39-story Secretariat. The Dag Hammarskjöld library is adjacent to the Secretariat at the southwest corner of the headquarters site.
The United Nations site was made international territory by agreement with the United States government. It is patrolled by UN guards in gray uniforms, who come from all parts of the world. The United Nations also has its own post office and issues its own stamps.
The United Nations at Work
The General Assembly opened its first session in London on Jan. 10, 1946. In February Trygve Lie, foreign minister of Norway, was elected to serve as the first secretary-general.
From the end of World War II until the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, tensions between East and West created innumerable conflicts on issues that came before the General Assembly and the Security Council. The Soviet Union blocked passage of many proposals, often halting the discussion of issues with which it did not agree. Despite these frequent disruptions, key issues were addressed and moved forward.
The General Assembly set up the Atomic Energy Commission in January 1946 to plan the use of atomic energy and oversee the reduction of atomic weapons. The United States submitted a plan for an international authority to supervise each stage of atomic production. The Soviet Union countered with a proposal to ban the production and use of atomic weapons but refused to submit to any effective inspection or control.
Soviet obstructionism caused problems from the earliest days of the Security Council as well. When, in the first dispute brought to the Security Council, Iran demanded that the Soviet Union withdraw the troops it had stationed there during World War II, the Soviet delegate walked out (Soviet troops did leave Iran months later). As one of the Big Five in the Security Council, the Soviet Union often used its veto to block action. In December 1946 Greece complained that communist states on its borders were supporting the guerrillas that had plunged Greece into civil war (see Greece). The Security Council took steps toward creating a commission of investigation, but Soviet vetoes thwarted its efforts.
The Rise of the General Assembly
To limit Soviet obstruction, the nations began to take more of their problems to the vetoless General Assembly. The Assembly, under the UN charter, can only discuss and recommend; it cannot take action. Unlike the Security Council, however, it represents all the member nations, and its resolutions can influence world opinion.
One of the earliest political disputes considered by the Assembly was the problem of Korea. In 1947 the Assembly called for elections in the newly divided nation and sent a commission to observe them. North Korea, which was under Soviet domination, refused to admit the commission. Elections were held in South Korea, and a national government was set up (see Korea).
The Assembly also dealt with the continuing question of foreign involvement in the Greek civil war. After the Soviet Union vetoed the continuance of the Security Council's commission, the Assembly sent a newly established investigative committee to Greece.
The Assembly addressed another simmering dispute by creating the Disarmament Commission in 1952. Consisting of the members of the Security Council and Canada, this commission was created to prepare proposals that would regulate, limit, and balance reduction of all armed forces and armaments; eliminate all weapons of mass destruction; and ensure international control and use of atomic energy for peaceful purposes only. After five years of effort and little progress, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) was established in 1957 to promote the peaceful uses of atomic energy. The Soviet Union was among the countries that approved the IAEA's formation.
Early Efforts to Settle Disputes
The first years of the UN sorely tested the organization's power as conflict after conflict arose in different areas of the world, all requiring intervention and mediation by an outside body. While in some cases the UN was not able to resolve issues completely or end military conflicts, the organization was largely successful in initiating communication between what often were centuries-old enemies. In many instances UN peacekeeping forces were deployed to ensure cooperation between hostile parties while UN mediators worked with national leaders to resolve problems. Peacekeepers also were used to monitor cease-fires and to defuse local conflicts.
After World War I Palestine, which was largely populated by Arabs, came under British rule. In 1917 Britain issued the Balfour Declaration, which allowed for the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine (see Palestine). After World War II thousands of Jewish refugees from Europe poured into Palestine. Unable to keep the peace between Arabs and Jews, Britain in 1947 turned the problem over to the General Assembly, which recommended dividing Palestine into separate Arab and Jewish states. On May 14, 1948, the Jews proclaimed the establishment of the state of Israel, prompting an immediate war launched by the Arab states against Israel to block partition. The first UN peacekeepers, a force of 36 unarmed military observers, were deployed within weeks of the initial fighting. The UN mediator, Count Folke Bernadotte, was assassinated in Jerusalem. Ralph Bunche, as acting mediator, persuaded both sides to sign armistice agreements in 1949, but there was no real peace. The Arab states refused to recognize Israel, and fighting continued. Peacekeeping efforts in Israel persisted into the 21st century. (See also Bunche, Ralph; Israel.)
During this same period fighting broke out in the Dutch East Indies (see East Indies). The Security Council called on the Dutch and Indonesians to cease hostilities, but the war continued until 1949. The United Nations helped to achieve the settlement that made Indonesia an independent republic. (See also Indonesia.)
Following Britain's withdrawal from India in 1947 the area was partitioned into India and Pakistan, and the independent princely states were allowed to choose which country they wanted to join. Fighting broke out in Jammu and Kashmir when that state's ruler chose to make it part of India. Pakistan claimed that the region rightfully belonged to Pakistan and launched a military intervention. Mediation by the United Nations brought about a cease-fire between India and Pakistan in 1949. However, India would not allow the people of Jammu and Kashmir to hold a plebiscite, or general vote, to determine whether they wanted to join India or Pakistan (see Jammu and Kashmir).
Although the UN charter named the Republic of China as one of the five permanent members of the Security Council, the Chinese communist conquest of the mainland in 1949 caused an immediate dilemma in the Council and also for the UN as a whole. The communist government forced the Nationalist Chinese government to retreat to the island of Formosa (now Taiwan). The Soviet Union demanded that the Council recognize the communist state of what was now to be called the People's Republic of China. Furthermore, the Soviets demanded the immediate expulsion of the Nationalist delegate and the seating of the delegate from the new People's Republic. The United States was opposed and blocked the move, causing the Soviet Union to boycott all UN bodies in which Nationalist China was represented (see China).
The Security Council was called into emergency session on Sunday, June 25, 1950, after North Korea invaded the Republic of Korea. The Council called on the North Koreans to withdraw, and it also authorized member states of the United Nations to furnish military aid to South Korea (see Korean War).
After seeing the UN through its initial years, Secretary-General Trygve Lie resigned in 1952. Dag Hammarskjöld, Sweden's minister of state, was elected to succeed him. He was reelected in 1957.
The Assembly Broadens Its Powers
In 1950, during the war in Korea, the General Assembly adopted the Uniting for Peace Resolution. This provided that whenever the Security Council was unable to act against aggression because of a veto, a majority of its members could call an emergency session of the General Assembly. The Assembly could recommend measures of intervention, including the use of armed forces.
These powers were used in the Middle East after Egypt's nationalization of the Suez Canal in 1956. The Assembly set up the United Nations Emergency Force (UNEF), whose first task was to supervise the withdrawal of Israeli, French, and British forces from Egypt. The Soviet Union and several other nations refused to help pay the cost of the UNEF operation, however, claiming that the Assembly could not legally authorize or impose assessments for peacekeeping forces. (See also Egypt; Suez Canal.)
Requests by the General Assembly to allow visits by observers or peacekeeping missions were usually granted, but in some cases the countries embroiled in conflict refused to cooperate. An October 1956 revolt by the people of Hungary against their government was followed by Soviet armed intervention. The Soviet Union vetoed a Security Council resolution calling upon it to withdraw. The General Assembly then requested that United Nations observers be permitted to visit Hungary, but the request was ignored. After communist China crushed a 1959 Tibetan revolt, the Assembly passed a resolution calling for China to exercise “respect for the fundamental human rights of the Tibetan people.” The Chinese government ignored the resolution. (See also Hungary; Tibet.)
The Cost of Peacekeeping
A peacekeeping force for the Republic of the Congo (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo) was authorized by the Security Council after that strife-torn nation asked for help in 1960 (see Congo, Democratic Republic of the). The Assembly later levied assessments on UN members to pay the cost of the United Nations Operation in the Congo (Opération des Nations Unies au Congo, or ONUC). Once again the Soviet Union called such assessments illegal and refused to pay them. This time France was among the nations that supported the Soviet position.
Early in the Congo operation, the Soviet Union demanded the dismissal of Secretary-General Hammarskjöld on the grounds that he supported the pro-Western Congolese and therefore was biased against Soviet interests in the struggling nation. The Soviets further demanded that the one-person post be abolished and replaced with a troika (a three-member governing body) representing Western, Soviet, and neutral members. Soviet pressure for such a troika continued even after Hammarskjöld's death in a plane crash in September 1961. Nevertheless, U Thant of Burma (now Myanmar) was appointed acting secretary-general that November. His intervention between the United States and the Soviet Union in the Cuban missile crisis the following year enhanced his prestige, and he was elected secretary-general in November 1962. He went on to serve a second term, from 1967 to 1972. (See also Cuba; Thant, U.)
Attempts by the United Nations to raise funds included approval of a 200-million-dollar bond issue late in 1961. The next year the International Court of Justice, in an advisory opinion, held that the General Assembly had the legal right to divide peacekeeping costs among member states. The nonpaying nations, however, maintained their stand.
Membership in the United Nations swelled in the early 1960s. An influx of newly independent African and Asian nations led to new voting-bloc alignments. The increased membership also led to heavy competition for the nonpermanent seats in the Security Council and for the seats in the Economic and Social Council. To address this, the General Assembly in late 1963 approved an amendment to the United Nations charter that increased membership in the Security Council from 11 to 15 and in the Economic and Social Council from 18 to 27. The slow process of ratification began, with final approval completed in 1965. Meanwhile, as a stopgap measure, the General Assembly began permitting pairs of nations to share a regular two-year term on the Council. For example, Czechoslovakia began a term in 1964 and yielded its seat to Malaysia after a year.
Under the terms of the amendment, the 10 nonpermanent members of the Security Council were allocated on a geographic basis. Five members were to be from African and Asian countries, one from an eastern European state of the communist bloc, two from Latin America, and two from western Europe or other areas. The communist states and the many newly independent countries gained great influence in the United Nations at this time, both on the Security Council and in the General Assembly.
Other United Nations activities in this period included a peacekeeping mission to Yemen in 1963 and a survey of public opinion in North Borneo (Sabah) and Sarawak preceding the formation of an independent Malaysia. A period of United Nations control in West New Guinea ended; the territory, which had been subject to The Netherlands, was renamed West Irian (later called Irian Jaya and then Papua) and was turned over to Indonesia. In October 1963 the United States, the Soviet Union, and the United Kingdom registered the partial nuclear test ban treaty with the United Nations. (See also Malaysia; Yemen.)
The Security Council in March 1964 authorized a peacekeeping force and a mediator for Cyprus, where Greek and Turkish Cypriots were battling. It avoided the problem of financing that had arisen over UNEF and ONUC by agreeing that part of the cost would be paid by Cyprus and by the nations supplying troops. The rest would be met through voluntary contributions. (See also Cyprus.)
Search for Financial Compromise
On June 30, 1964, the last United Nations troops left the Congo. Expenditures for ONUC had reached more than 276 million dollars, and UNEF costs were running at about 18 million dollars a year. The unpaid assessments for these operations had left the United Nations on the brink of bankruptcy. The United States brought pressure against the Soviet Union, France, and 11 other nations that were withholding payment of their share of the peacekeeping costs and threatened to invoke against them Article 19 of the United Nations charter. This article provides that a nation two years in arrears in the payment of contributions would lose its vote in the General Assembly. Ironically, by the close of the 20th century the United States itself was seriously behind in its own dues, owing roughly 1.9 billion dollars to the organization as of September 2000.
The 19th session of the Assembly opened in December 1964 after two postponements. To avoid a showdown between the United States and the Soviet Union on the issue of finances, the United Nations had no formal voting. To keep the question of Article 19 from arising, decisions were made by consensus.
The United Nations After 1965
The 20th anniversary year of the United Nations was marred by the first withdrawal from the organization—Indonesia quit in January 1965 as a protest against the seating of Malaysia on the Security Council. (Indonesia resumed its membership in 1966.) Also in 1965 the General Assembly approved a formula set up by the peacekeeping committee to end the dispute on Article 19. This formula provided that Article 19 would not be invoked against delinquent members and that UNEF would be maintained by voluntary contributions.
The 20th session of the General Assembly was faced with a crisis in November when Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) declared itself independent from Great Britain rather than grant the colony's black majority additional voting rights. The Security Council imposed mandatory economic sanctions against Rhodesia in 1966—the first in United Nations history (see Zimbabwe). Another crisis confronting the 20th session was the outbreak of renewed hostilities between India and Pakistan. A cease-fire was negotiated in 1965, after which United Nations observers supervised the withdrawal of troops. Within five years, however, peacekeeping forces would be reestablished in the area as hostilities flared once again.
Increased activity in both the U.S. and Soviet space exploration programs had caused concern about the potential use of nuclear weapons in space. A treaty was negotiated during the 21st session to ban the use of such weapons in outer space. Two years later, in 1968, the Assembly approved a treaty to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons on Earth. It would be almost 30 years before a comprehensive ban on nuclear testing would be established, however. This latter goal was addressed by the Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty. After being adopted by the General Assembly in 1996, the treaty was sent out to member nations for signatures and ratification. As of late 2003, however, the process was incomplete and therefore the treaty had not yet taken effect.
The end of the 1960s brought progress to southern Africa. In 1968 the Assembly voted to change the name of South-West Africa to Namibia and condemned South Africa for continuing to defy a 1966 United Nations resolution terminating South Africa's control over the area that included Namibia. The resolution also called upon member nations to break off relations with South Africa. In 1971 the UN declared the continued presence of South African interests in Namibia to be illegal. (See also Namibia.)
While many nations in Africa were gaining independence, some countries in central Europe were struggling with Soviet domination. In August 1968 Soviet-led troops marched into Czechoslovakia to suppress a democratic reform movement. The Security Council proposed a resolution condemning the Soviet Union for its actions. The resolution was vetoed by the Soviet Union and Hungary and thus failed to pass.
In 1971, after years of urging by the Soviet Union, the Assembly officially recognized and seated the People's Republic of China. By the same resolution the Assembly also expelled the Republic of China (the Nationalist government that had been exiled on the island of Taiwan).
War again broke out in the Middle East in October 1973, and the United Nations appealed for a cease-fire. A 7,000-member UNEF was sent to the Suez Canal area. After a cease-fire in mid-1974, the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) was established in the Golan Heights buffer zone to patrol the troop withdrawal. The conflict between Israel and its neighbors, as well as Israel's policies toward its own non-Jewish citizens and residents, led the Assembly in November 1975 to adopt a controversial resolution (repealed in 1991) branding Zionism as a form of racism and racial discrimination. Another controversy arose in March 1980 when the United States supported a resolution condemning Israeli settlements in Arab territory. (See also Zionism.)
Kurt Waldheim of Austria, who had been elected in 1972 and reelected in 1976, failed to gain a third term as secretary-general in 1981. He was succeeded by Javier Pérez de Cuéllar of Peru from 1982 to 1991. (See also Waldheim, Kurt.)
In November 1989 the Security Council approved the creation of a peacekeeping force in Central America to assure that the Nicaraguan contra forces in Honduras received no aid. This marked the first major United Nations operation in the Western Hemisphere.
After Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990, the Security Council passed 12 resolutions against Iraq. A multinational force led by the United States was deployed in the Persian Gulf region. After a 41-day war in early 1991, Iraqi troops were forced from Kuwait. A United Nations inspection team was sent to Iraq to locate and destroy weapons-producing facilities. (See also Persian Gulf War.)
In 1992 Secretary-General Pérez de Cuéllar was replaced by Boutros Boutros-Ghali of Egypt, who was both the first Arab and the first African to hold the post. During his term Boutros-Ghali strongly supported UN mediation in the post–Cold War strife that settled over the nations emerging from the ashes of the Soviet Union. His term saw lengthy and difficult peacekeeping operations throughout the world. In August 1992 a United Nations peacekeeping force was sent into Somalia to safeguard food shipments to famine-ravaged areas. This force was supplemented in December by a contingent of 30,000 United States Marines. At the same time, peacekeepers were bogged down in a violent civil war in newly independent Bosnia, a former Yugoslav republic that Serbia was trying to annex. (See also Bosnia and Herzegovina; Boutros-Ghali, Boutros; Somalia.)
In addition to its work in restoring and maintaining peace around the world, the United Nations became increasingly involved in humanitarian and environmental efforts by the end of the 20th century. This was in part due to the efforts of Boutros-Ghali's successor, Kofi Annan of Ghana, who in 1997 became the first black African to hold the post of secretary-general of the United Nations. Annan, who was reappointed in 2001, emphasized organizational reform in the UN and set a goal to restore worldwide confidence in the United Nations by bringing the organization closer to the people of the world. In April 2000 Annan issued a Millennium Report, calling on the UN's member nations to institute and prioritize plans addressing, among other things, world poverty, AIDS, the environment, and human rights. The report provided the foundation for the Millennium Declaration adopted by the heads of state of member nations later that year at the Millennium Summit. (See also Annan, Kofi.)
Under Annan the United Nations also started several missions in particularly troubled areas to oversee rebuilding as well as peacekeeping efforts. He wished to work on preventing future problems rather than simply reacting to existing troubles. In 2002 the United Nations established such missions in Côte d'Ivoire and in Afghanistan following a U.S.-led mission to oust the Taliban from its position of absolute power there. (See also Afghanistan; Côte d'Ivoire; Taliban.)
In September 2002 the United Nations welcomed Switzerland into its ranks. The inclusion of the small Alpine country was notable because of the Swiss tradition of neutrality with respect to global politics. Over the 55 years since the UN charter had been adopted, many of the organization's agencies and programs—notably the World Health Organization—had been headquartered in Switzerland, yet the country itself had not played a role in the institution.
The early 21st century saw several other states welcomed as members of the United Nations. The Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, admitted as a member state in 2000, became known as Serbia and Montenegro in 2003. Tuvalu joined the UN's ranks in 2000, and the newly independent state of East Timor joined in 2002.
Technical, economic, and social aid to developing countries is provided by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). With more than 130 offices around the world, the UNDP has the confidence and trust of many governments and nongovernmental organizations worldwide. The UNDP provides resource studies for nations in need and offers advice on agricultural methods, industrial programs, and engineering projects. The UNDP is the principal provider of grant money for many of these nations.
The UNDP was formed in November 1965 through the merger of the Expanded Programme of Technical Assistance and the UN Special Fund. Its executive board consists of representatives from 41 nations, roughly half of which are developing countries.
Social Welfare and Human Rights
The social welfare program of the United Nations embraces a wide variety of activities. Its agencies and commissions have given aid to many thousands of refugees and cared for needy children in many countries. These arms of the United Nations are concerned also with education, health, forced labor and slavery, equal rights for women, and the protection of minorities.
To promote and encourage respect for human rights and fundamental freedom, the General Assembly issued on Dec. 10, 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In 1950, December 10 was proclaimed Human Rights Day.
A convention to prevent and punish genocide was submitted to member governments for ratification in 1948. Genocide was defined as an attempt to destroy a national, ethnical, racial, or religious group.
In later years the United Nations began to focus attention on the needs of particular groups. In 1975 the first UN conference on women was held in Mexico City. Children's rights were brought into greater focus in the 1990s as was the devastation of the world HIV/AIDS pandemic (see AIDS).
The United Nations and the Nobel Prize
Between 1945 and 2001 the Nobel peace prize was awarded to agencies of the United Nations on six different occasions. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees won the award twice—in 1954 for its work with refugees from Europe and again in 1981 for its efforts on behalf of Asian refugees. The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) was honored with the Nobel peace prize in 1965, and the International Labor Organization received it in 1969. The prize was awarded to the UN peacekeeping operations in 1988. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and the United Nations as a whole were awarded the prize jointly in 2001 for their unyielding commitment to world peace and human rights
["Satisfaction is death of Struggle"]
[Naseer Ahmed Chandio]
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