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United Nations, UN

equal voice, social goals, political systems, world peace, good relations

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United Nations (UN), international organization of countries created to promote world peace and cooperation. The UN was founded after World War II ended in 1945. Its mission is to maintain world peace, develop good relations between countries, promote cooperation in solving the world’s problems, and encourage respect for human rights.

The UN is an organization of countries that agree to cooperate with one another. It brings together countries that are rich and poor, large and small, and have different social and political systems. Member nations pledge to settle their disputes peacefully, to refrain from using force or the threat of force against other countries, and to refuse help to any country that opposes UN actions.

UN membership is open to any country willing to further the UN mission and abide by its rules. Each country, no matter how large or small, has an equal voice and vote. Each country is also expected to pay dues to support the UN. As of 2007 the UN had 192 members, including nearly every country in the world.

The UN’s influence in world affairs has fluctuated over the years, but the organization gained new prominence beginning in the 1990s. It was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2001. Still, the UN faces constant challenges. It must continually secure the cooperation of its member nations because the organization has little independent power or authority. But getting that support is not always easy. Many nations are reluctant to defer their own authority and follow the dictates of the UN.


Since its creation in 1945, the UN has done much to promote international cooperation in economic and social goals, and to a lesser extent, world peace. The end of the Cold War and new possibilities for cooperation among the world’s major powers has given the UN an opportunity to realize the original vision of its founders. The UN now has a chance to become an international organization that can effectively maintain world peace within the limits of a system where individual nations maintain their own authority and independence.

Constantly challenged, the UN remains the only forum where all the nations of the world can gather to discuss pressing issues of peace and security. The UN’s greatest asset remains its ability to speak as the world’s voice, offering legitimacy and guidance on the paths nations follow to solve their problems. Despite the challenges it faces, the UN will likely play an increasingly central role in international politics in the coming decades.


Ayton-Shenker, Diana, and John Tessitore, eds. A Global Agenda: Issues Before the Assembly of the United Nations. Rowan & Littlefield. Published annually, a comprehensive overview of UN activities. Ideal for students and concerned citizens.

Basic Facts About the United Nations. United Nations, 1996, 1998.

Glendon, Mary Ann. World Made New: Eleanor Roosevelt and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Random House, 2001. On Roosevelt's contribution to the UN's mission.

Hoopes, Townsend, and Douglas Brinkley. FDR and the Creation of the U.N. Yale University Press, 1997. UN from its beginning through its rocky history; problems, insights, and suggestions.

Janello, Amy, and Brennon Jones, eds. A Global Affair: An Inside Look at the United Nations. Jones & Janello, 1995. History of the UN includes photographs, illustrations, and interviews.

Osmanczyk, Edmund Jan. The Encyclopedia of the United Nations and International Agreements. 3rd ed. Routledge, 2002. Useful guide to organizations and agencies, treaties, international affairs.

The United Nations Blue Books Series. United Nations, 1994- . Each volume in this ongoing series addresses an issue, from South African apartheid to the advancement of women, in which the UN has played a major role; each contains key documents such as resolutions, reports, speeches, and treaties.

Weiss, Thomas George; David P. Forsythe; and Roger A. Coate. The United Nations and Changing World Politics. 3rd ed. Westview, 2001. How the UN has influenced security, human rights, and sustainable development in the world.


Howard, Peter, B.A., B.S., M.A., Ph.D. Assistant Professor, School of International Service, American University.

Microsoft ® Encarta ® 2009. © 1993-2008 Microsoft Corporation.

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