UN Jobs

History of United Nations – Purposes, Members and Subsidiaries

United Nations Member Flags in Geneva - United States Department of State

Creation of the United Nations

As World War II was about to end in 1945, nations were in ruins, and the world wanted peace. Representatives of 50 countries assembled at the United Nations Conference on International Organization in San Francisco, California from 25 April to 26 June 1945. For the next two months, they moved to draft and then sign the UN Charter, which created a new international organization, the United Nations, which, it was expected, would prevent another world war like the one they had just lived through.

Four months after the San Francisco Conference concluded, the United Nations officially began, on 24 October 1945, when it came into presence after its Charter had been ratified by China, France, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, the United States, and by a majority of other signatories.

Its predecessor, the League of Nations, was created by the Treaty of Versailles in 1919 and disbanded in 1946. Headquartered in New York City, the UN also has regional offices in Geneva, Vienna, and Nairobi. Its official languages are Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian, and Spanish.

Now, more than 75 years later, the United Nations is still working to keep international peace and security, give humanitarian service to those in need, protect human rights, and uphold international law.

At the same time, the United Nations is doing new work not envisioned for it in 1945 by its founders. The United Nations has set sustainable development goals for 2030, in order to gain a better and more sustainable future for us all. UN Member States have also agreed to climate action to limit global warming.

With many accomplishments now in its past, the United Nations is looking to the future, for new achievements.

In addition to keeping peace and security, other significant objectives include expanding friendly relations among countries based on respect for the principles of equal rights and self-determination of peoples; earning worldwide cooperation to solve international economic, social, cultural, and humanitarian problems; respecting and fostering human rights; and serving as a center where countries can coordinate their actions and activities toward these various ends.

The UN formed a continuum with the League of Nations in general purpose, structure, and functions; many of the UN’s principal organs and connected agencies were adopted from alike structures established earlier in the century. In some respects, however, the UN constituted a very diverse organization, especially with regard to its objective of maintaining international peace and security and its commitment to economic and social development.

Modifications in the nature of international relations resulted in modifications in the duties of the UN and its decision-making apparatus. Cold War pressures between the United States and the Soviet Union deeply influenced the UN’s security functions during its first 45 years. Comprehensive post-World War II decolonization in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East increased the volume and nature of political, economic, and social issues that confronted the organization. The Cold War’s end in 1991 brought revived attention and pleas to the UN. Amid an increasingly volatile geopolitical climate, there were new challenges to documented practices and functions, especially in the areas of conflict resolution and humanitarian assistance. At the beginning of the 21st century, the UN and its programs and affiliated agencies struggled to address humanitarian crises and civil wars, unprecedented refugee flows, the devastation generated by the spread of AIDS, global financial disruptions, international terrorism, and the disparities in wealth between the world’s richest and poorest peoples.

The UN development

In spite of the problems faced by the League of Nations in arbitrating conflict and securing international peace and security previous to World War II, the major Allied powers agreed during the war to establish a new global organization to assist in managing international affairs. This agreement was first expressed when U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill signed the Atlantic Charter in August 1941. The name United Nations was originally utilized to denote the countries allied against Germany, Italy, and Japan. On January 1, 1942, 26 countries signed the Declaration by United Nations, which set forth the war aims of the Allied powers.

What is the purpose of the United Nations?

Ultimate Guide to Land your dream job at United Nation

Control of international peace and security

The main function of the United Nations is to preserve international peace and security. Chapter 6 of the Charter provides for the calming settlement of controversies, through the intervention of the Security Council, by means such as negotiation, mediation, arbitration, and judicial decisions. The Security Council may examine any dispute or situation to resolve whether it is likely to endanger international peace and security. At any stage of the dispute, the council may suggest proper procedures or methods of adjustment, and, if the parties fail to settle the dispute by peaceful means, the council may suggest terms of settlement.

Peacekeeping, peacemaking, and peacebuilding

International armed forces were first used in 1948 to monitor cease-fires in Kashmir and Palestine. Although not specifically noted in the UN Charter, the benefit of such forces as a buffer between warring parties pending troop withdrawals and negotiations—a practice known as peacekeeping—was formalized in 1956 during the Suez Crisis between Egypt, Israel, France, and the United Kingdom. Peacekeeping missions have taken many forms, though they have in common the fact that they are prepared to be peaceful, that they involve military troops from several countries, and that the troops serve under the control of the UN Security Council. In 1988 the UN Peacekeeping Forces were awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace.

Sanctions and military action

By subscribing to the Charter, all members undertake to put at the disposal of the Security Council armed forces and structures for military sanctions against aggressors or disturbers of the peace. During the Cold War, however, no agreements to give this measure impact were concluded. Following the end of the Cold War, the opportunity of creating permanent UN forces was revived.

Arms management and disarmament

The UN’s founders expected that the keeping of international peace and security would lead to the management and eventual reduction of weapons. Therefore the Charter empowers the General Assembly to evaluate principles for arms control and disarmament and to make suggestions to member states and the Security Council. The Charter also provides the Security Council the responsibility to formulate plans for arms control and disarmament. Although the purpose of arms control and disarmament has proved elusive, the UN has streamlined the negotiation of several multilateral arms control treaties.

Economic welfare and collaboration

The General Assembly, ECOSOC, the Secretariat, and many of the subsidiary organs and technical agencies are answerable for boosting economic welfare and collaboration in areas such as postwar reconstruction, technical assistance, and trade and growth.

Social welfare and collaboration

The United Nations is concerned with issues of human rights, including the rights of women and children, refugee resettlement, and narcotics control. Some of its greatest successes have been in the area of enhancing the health and welfare of the world’s population. In the 1990s, despite unbearable strains on the resources of UN development programs and agencies resulting from massive refugee movements and humanitarian crises, the UN increased its focus on social development.


After World War II the International Refugee Organization successfully resettled, repatriated, transported, and kept more than one million European and Asian refugees. It was repealed in 1952 and replaced by a new international refugee structure. In 1951 ECOSOC drew up, and the General Assembly approved, a Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) was then established and led to act under this convention, and ECOSOC appointed an Advisory Commission to help the high commissioner.

Human rights

Unlike the League of Nations, the United Nations included the principle of respect for human rights in its Charter, affirming respect for human rights and for essential freedoms for all without regard to race, sex, language, or religion. According to the Charter, the General Assembly is tasked with initiating studies and making suggestions, and ECOSOC is responsible for establishing commissions to fulfill this goal. Consequently, the Commission on Human Rights, originally chaired by Eleanor Roosevelt, was formed in 1946 to develop conventions on a wide range of issues, including an international bill of rights, civil liberties, the status of women (for which there is now a separate commission), freedom of data, the protection of minorities, the prevention of discrimination on the grounds of race, sex, language, or religion, and any other human rights concerns. The commission organized the nonbinding Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was embraced by the General Assembly in 1948.

Management of narcotics

The Commission on Narcotic Drugs was approved by the General Assembly in 1946 to assume the functions of the League of Nations Advisory Committee on Traffic in Opium and Other Dangerous Drugs. In addition to re-establishing the pre-World War II system of narcotics management, which had been disrupted by the war, the United Nations addressed new difficulties resulting from the growth of synthetic drugs. Efforts were made to simplify the system of control by drafting one convention including all the agreements in force. The UN established the Office for Drug Control and Crime Prevention (ODCCP) in 1997 to address problems connected to drugs, crime, and international terrorism.

Dependent places

The United Nations has conveyed consideration for people living in non-self-governing territories. Most significantly, the UN has affirmed and simplified the transition to independence of former colonies. The anti-colonial movement in the UN reached a high point in 1960 when the General Assembly adopted a resolution sponsored by more than 40 African and Asian states. This resolution, called the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples, condemned “the subjection of peoples to alien subjugation, domination, and exploitation” and declared that “immediate steps shall be taken…to transfer all powers” to the peoples in the colonies “without any conditions or reservations, in agreement with their freely expressed will and desire…in order to enable them to enjoy full independence and freedom.” After the decolonization period of the 1950s and ’60s, new states exerted enriching power and influence, especially in the General Assembly. With the admission of the new states of Africa and Asia to the United Nations in the 1960s and ’70s and the end of the Cold War in 1991, politics within the General Assembly and the Security Council changed as countries developed regional voting blocs to express their preferences and principles.

Growth of international law

The United Nations, like the League of Nations, has played a major role in defining, codifying, and developing the realm of international law. The International Law Commission, appointed by the General Assembly in 1947, is the primary institution responsible for these activities. The Legal Committee of the General Assembly obtains the commission’s reports and debates its suggestions; it may then either convene an international conference to draw up formal conventions based on the draft or merely suggest the draft to states. The International Court of Justice reinforces legal norms through its judgments. The commission and the committee have affected international law in several significant domains, including the laws of war, the law of the sea, human rights, and international terrorism.


United Nations membership

Currently made up of 193 Member States, the UN, and its work are directed by the aims and principles incorporated in its founding Charter.

United Nations Member Flags in one of the headquarters

The seat held by the U.S.S.R. was assumed by Russia in 1991.
The Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia was a member from 1945 until its dissolution following the establishment and admission of the new member states of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Slovenia (1992), Macedonia (1993), and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (2000), the last reconstituted as Serbia and Montenegro in 2003. In 2006 Serbia and Montenegro split into separate countries.
North Yemen (capital at Sanaa) merged in 1990 with South Yemen (capital at Aden). Upon unification, there was one membership.
Tanganyika merged in 1964 with Zanzibar. The country’s name after the merger became Tanzania, with a single UN membership.
East Germany and West Germany were admitted as separate members in 1973. Upon the unification of the two countries in 1990, there was one membership.
Czechoslovakia, a member from 1945, split into two countries, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, in 1993.
1945Argentina, Australia, Belarus (Belorussia), Belgium, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Egypt, El Salvador, Ethiopia, France, Greece, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, India, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Liberia, Luxembourg, Mexico, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Norway, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Russia (U.S.S.R.), Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Syria, Turkey, Ukraine, United Kingdom, United States, Uruguay, Venezuela, Yugoslavia
1946Afghanistan, Iceland, Sweden, Thailand
1947Pakistan, Yemen
1948Myanmar (Burma)
1955Albania, Austria, Bulgaria, Cambodia, Finland, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Jordan, Laos, Libya, Nepal, Portugal, Romania, Spain, Sri Lanka (Ceylon)
1956Japan, Morocco, Sudan, Tunisia
1957Ghana, Malaysia
1960Benin (Dahomey), Burkina Faso (Upper Volta), Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Congo (capital at Brazzaville), Congo (Zaire; capital at Kinshasa), Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast), Cyprus, Gabon, Madagascar, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Somalia, Togo
1961Mauritania, Mongolia, Sierra Leone, Tanzania4
1962Algeria, Burundi, Jamaica, Rwanda, Trinidad and Tobago, Uganda
1963Kenya, Kuwait
1964Malawi, Malta, Zambia
1965The Gambia, Maldives, Singapore
1966Barbados, Botswana, Guyana, Lesotho
1968Equatorial Guinea, Mauritius, Swaziland
1971Bahrain, Bhutan, Oman, Qatar, United Arab Emirates
1973The Bahamas, Germany
1974Bangladesh, Grenada, Guinea-Bissau
1975Cape Verde, Comoros, Mozambique, Papua New Guinea, Sao Tome and Principe, Suriname
1976Angola, Samoa, Seychelles
1977Djibouti, Vietnam
1978Dominica, Solomon Islands
1979Saint Lucia
1980Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Zimbabwe
1981Antigua and Barbuda, Belize, Vanuatu
1983Saint Kitts and Nevis
1990Liechtenstein, Namibia
1991Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, North Korea, South Korea
1992Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bosnia and Herzegovina2, Croatia2, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, San Marino, Slovenia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan
1993Andorra, Czech Republic, Eritrea, Macedonia, Monaco, Slovakia6
1999Kiribati, Nauru, Tonga
2002East Timor, Switzerland
2006Montenegro, Serbia
2011South Sudan

United Nations Subsidiaries

1. FAO Food and Agriculture Organization

  • Head Quarters: Italy Rome

2. IAEA International Atomic Energy Agency

  • Head Quarters: Austria Vienna

3. ICAO International Civil Aviation Organization

  • Head Quarters: Canada Montreal, Quebec

4. IFAD International Fund for Agricultural Development

  • Head Quarters: Italy Rome

5.  ILO International Labour Organization

  • Head Quarters:  Switzerland Geneva

6.  IMO International Maritime Organization

  • Head Quarters: United Kingdom London

7. IMF International Monetary Fund

  • Head Quarters: United States Washington

8 ITU International Telecommunication Union

  • Head Quarters: Switzerland Geneva

9 UNESCO United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization

  • Head Quarters: France Paris

10 UPU Universal Postal Union

  • Head Quarters: Switzerland Bern

11 WBG World Bank Group

  • Head Quarters: United States Washington, D.C.

12 WIPO World Intellectual Property Organization

  • Head Quarters: Switzerland Geneva

13 WMO World Meteorological Organization

  • Head Quarters: Switzerland Geneva

14 UNWTO United Nations World Tourism Organization

  • Head Quarters: Spain Madrid

15 UNODC United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime

  • Head Quarters: Austria Vienna

16 WHO World Health Organization

  • Head Quarters:  Switzerland Geneva

17 UNHCR Office of United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees

  • Head Quarters: Switzerland Geneva

18 UNIDO United Nations Industrial Development Organization

  • Head Quarters: Austria Vienna

Share via: