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Modern Studies

Global security


The United Nations Organisation (UN)


The United Nations Organisation (UN) was set up following World War II in 1945 'to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war and to reaffirm human rights'. The UN tries to get co-operation between countries to achieve international peace. It also tries to ensure that human rights and freedom from discrimination and abuse are given to all peoples and nations through a system of international justice. It tries to help poorer countries develop through its specialist agencies.

The Secretary General of the UN

The head of the UN is the Secretary General (SG), always appointed from a non-aligned (neutral) country. The job of the Secretary General (SG) is to carry out the decisions of the Security Council. He also spends a great deal of time meeting world leaders to try to solve problems before they turn into wars. The present SG is Ban Ki-Moon from the Republic of (South) Korea. Although the UN has permanent agencies such as the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) it does not have an army or police force. The UN can only take military action if member countries supply forces.

General Assembly, United Nations Headquarters

General Assembly, United Nations Headquarters

The General Assembly of the UN

The General Assembly consists of every member country, each with one vote. The Assembly only meets for three months of each year though extra meetings can be called if requested by a majority of countries or by the Security Council. The smallest countries on the General Assembly have the same voting power as the biggest, such as the USA. Because of this, the powers of the General Assembly are limited. Important decisions need a two-thirds majority. When these decisions are passed they are known as 'resolutions'. However these are really only recommendations and are often ignored. Often resolutions are not passed because of political disagreements between countries.

Often one of the more powerful countries will persuade the Assembly to pass a Resolution backing it or condemning its opponent. The USA did this when Iraq invaded Kuwait. However the USA has often blocked resolutions that criticised Israel because the USA is an ally of Israel.

The Security Council

The really important part of the UN, where decisions about peacekeeping are taken, is the Security Council. It has fifteen members of which the most important are the five permanent members: USA, Russia, UK, France and China. The other ten places are changed every two years to allow the less powerful countries some say. Each of the 'Big Five' has a veto (which means 'I forbid'). The veto was often used during the Cold War by the USSR or the USA to block a policy they did not like.

Funding the UN

Member countries of the UN are supposed to pay contributions according to their size. Most are not up to date with their payments. The USA is the largest single contributor to the cost of the UN; though in recent years it has refused to pay its contribution in full as America's leaders think the UN wastes money and often criticises US foreign policy. However, since the new Secretary General has been trying to make the UN more efficient and has cut back on the 25,000 staff around the world, the US has agreed to pay its share in full. However, nearly $2 billion used to pay for UN peacekeeping mission remains unpaid by several UN members.

The cost of the growing number of peacekeeping operations is increasing every year but it is far cheaper than war. There are nearly 100 000 UN staff operating around the globe including more than 82 000 troops, 14 000 UN police and 3 000 military observers. The approved UN peacekeeping budget for 2010-11 was nearly $7.2 billion - this amount has risen sharply since 2000 however it represents less than 1% of global military spending. The five permanent members of the Security Council pay about 60% of peacekeeping costs. The USA should pay half of this.

Reforming the UN

The Security Council is not representative of the world today and has been a topic debated in the UN since early 1990s. It is dominated by the USA, the world's superpower, which has the military power to take action anywhere in the world of its own accord. The 2003 invasion of Iraq was opposed by many UN members. Germany, Japan and India now have strong claims to be permanent members of the Security Council as they are some of the strongest economies and fastest growing populations in the world. Some have argued that the current make up does not reflect the world of today. Suggestions have included a seat in the Security Council to represent regional alliances such as the European Union or African Union. Unsurprisingly, permanent members are not keen to see their current powers diluted in any way.

The Secretary General has also proposed a permanent Standby Force to which each member country would send one battalion of troops. This force would be able to react to emergencies more quickly. It could also be sent to areas to stop fighting when it seems likely to start. The force could also protect UN humanitarian operations. However, many countries are reluctant to lose control over their forces. It would also cost member countries money if they still had to pay the soldiers' wages.

The priorities of the current UN Secretary General are:

  • peace and security
  • human rights
  • global health
  • climate change
  • disarmament
  • combating the financial crisis and world poverty

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