The Official Story
THE UNITED NATIONS
The United Nations (UN) is an intergovernmental organization whose stated purposes are to maintain international peace and security, develop friendly relations among nations, achieve international cooperation, and be a centre for harmonizing the actions of nations. It is the world’s largest and most familiar international organization. The UN is headquartered on international territory in New York City, and has other main offices in Geneva, Nairobi, Vienna, and The Hague (home to the International Court of Justice).
The UN was established after World War II with the aim of preventing future wars, succeeding the League of Nations, which was characterized as ineffective. On 25 April 1945, 50 governments met in San Francisco for a conference and started drafting the UN Charter, which was adopted on 25 June 1945 and took effect on 24 October 1945, when the UN began operations. Pursuant to 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; with the addition of South Sudan in 2011, membership is now 193, representing almost all of the world’s sovereign states.
The organization’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. Its missions have consisted primarily of unarmed military observers and lightly armed troops with primarily monitoring, reporting and confidence-building roles. UN membership grew significantly following widespread decolonization beginning in the 1960s. Since then, 80 former colonies have gained independence, including 11 trust territories that had been monitored by the Trusteeship Council. By the 1970s, the UN’s budget for economic and social development programmes far outstripped its spending on peacekeeping. After the end of the Cold War, the UN shifted and expanded its field operations, undertaking a wide variety of complex tasks.
The UN has six principal organs: the General Assembly; the Security Council; the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC); the Trusteeship Council; the International Court of Justice; and the UN Secretariat. The UN System includes a multitude of specialized agencies, funds and programmes such as the World Bank Group, the World Health Organization, the World Food Programme, UNESCO, and UNICEF. Additionally, non-governmental organizations may be granted consultative status with ECOSOC and other agencies to participate in the UN’s work.
The UN’s chief administrative officer is the secretary-general, currently Portuguese politician and diplomat António Guterres, who began his first five year-term on 1 January 2017 and was re-elected on 8 June 2021. The organization is financed by assessed and voluntary contributions from its member states.
The UN, its officers, and its agencies have won many Nobel Peace Prizes, though other evaluations of its effectiveness have been mixed. Some commentators believe the organization to be an important force for peace and human development, while others have called it ineffective, biased, or corrupt.
Headquarters of the United Nations
The United Nations is headquartered in New York City in a complex designed by a board of architects led by Wallace Harrison and built by the architectural firm Harrison & Abramovitz. The complex has served as the official headquarters of the United Nations since its completion in 1951. It is in the Turtle Bay neighborhood of Manhattan, on 17 to 18 acres (6.9 to 7.3 ha) of grounds overlooking the East River. Its borders are First Avenue on the west, East 42nd Street to the south, East 48th Street on the north, and the East River to the east. The term Turtle Bay is occasionally used as a metonym for the UN headquarters or for the United Nations as a whole.
The headquarters holds the seats of the principal organs of the UN, including the General Assembly and the Security Council, but excluding the International Court of Justice, which is seated in The Hague. The United Nations has three additional subsidiary regional headquarters, or headquarters districts. These were opened in Geneva (Switzerland) in 1946, Vienna (Austria) in 1980, and Nairobi (Kenya) in 1996. These adjunct offices help represent UN interests, facilitate diplomatic activities, and enjoy certain extraterritorial privileges, but do not contain the seats of major organs.
Although it is in New York City, the land occupied by the United Nations Headquarters and the spaces of buildings that it rents are under the sole administration of the United Nations and not the U.S. government. They are technically extraterritorial through a treaty agreement with the U.S. government. However, in exchange for local police, fire protection, and other services, the United Nations agrees to acknowledge most local, state, and federal laws.
None of the United Nations’ 15 specialized agencies (such as UNESCO) are located at the headquarters. However, some “autonomous subsidiary organs”, such as UNICEF, have their headquarters at the UNHQ.