In 2015, the United Nations turned 70. Since World War II, the UN has existed to foster
communication between its member states to achieve global goals, which would be impossible
individually. But how do they do this? How exactly does the UN work?
Well, the UN is divided into six main parts. The first is the General Assembly, which includes
nearly all internationally recognized countries, making up 193 member states. The Assembly
meets annually in September, and debates issues on security and diplomacy. In 2015 the major
topic was climate change, and helping developing countries face the threat of global warming.
Within the General Assembly, resolutions relating to defense, as well as administrative issues
like new membership and budget, require a two-thirds vote. Most other issues only need
a majority. Every country, regardless of size, gets a single vote. However, there are two
states in the UN which are not actual members. The Vatican, whose government is called The
Holy See, and Palestine. These are called permanent non-member observer states, and
while they cannot vote, they are allowed to take part in debates.
The second arm of the UN is the Security Council. It exists to prevent conflict on a large scale,
promoting peace through diplomacy or sanctions. It only has five permanent members: Russia,
France, China, the UK and the US, which were the winning powers in WWII. The permanent
members have veto power, and their use has been incredibly controversial. The US, for
example, has vetoed dozens of resolutions against Israel for their actions in the Middle
There are ten more members representing Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe, Latin America, and Western
Europe. Those ten are elected on a rolling basis every two years to make sure the major
world regions have representation. The security council’s resolutions are carried out by
the UN’s peacekeeping force, which boasts about 100,000 soldiers.
One of the most important parts of the UN is the Economic and Social Council, which
works to improve standards of living and support human rights. Most of what the UN actually
does is centered around helping developing countries. The council works with specialized
agencies like the World Health Organization and the High Commission for Refugees to make
The judicial arm of the UN is the International Court of Justice. This is where international
law violations are debated and prosecuted. Although countries with significant power
can often refuse to comply with the decision.
The fifth arm of the UN is actually not operational. The Trusteeship Council was created in the
1940s to help developing territories and dependencies become independent countries. After helping
more than 70 countries gain independence, the council was suspended in 1994.
And finally, the Secretariat is essentially the internal, administrative workings of the
UN. They’re the ones who compile reports, communicate between the different councils,
and are headed by the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon.
Although the UN exists to promote global cooperation, many have criticized the greater influence
of the five permanent security council members. Still, the UN has seen incredible advances
in hunger, poverty, child mortality, health care, drugs, women’s rights, and other global
improvement areas. Without communication and cooperation, the world would be considerably
Want to get a deep dive into why the UN Security Council has 5 permanent members? Check out
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