The United Nations (UN) is an international organization whose stated aims are to facilitate cooperation in international law, international security, economic development, social progress and human rights issues.
The United Nations was founded in 1945 to replace the League of Nations, in the hope that it would intervene in conflicts between nations and thereby avoid war. The organization began with fifty countries signing the United Nations Charter. The organization's structure still reflects in some ways the circumstances of its founding. The five permanent members of the UN Security Council, each of which has veto power on any UN resolution, are the main victors of World War II or their successor states (alphabetical order): the People's Republic of China (which replaced the Republic of China); the French Republic; the Russian Federation (which replaced the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics); the United Kingdom; and the United States of America.
As of 2007, there are 192 United Nations member states, encompassing almost every recognized independent state. From its headquarters in New York City, the UN and its specialized agencies decide on substantive and administrative issues in regular meetings held throughout each year. The organization is divided into administrative bodies, including the General Assembly, Security Council, Economic and Social Council, Secretariat, and the International Court of Justice (ICJ). Additional bodies deal with the governance of all other UN System agencies, such as the World Health Organization (WHO) and United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF). The UN's most visible public figure is the Secretary-General. The current Secretary-General is Ban Ki-moon of South Korea, who assumed the post on 1 January 2007.
The stated aims of the United Nations are to prevent war, to safeguard human rights, to provide a mechanism for international law, and to promote social and economic progress, improve living standards and fight diseases. It gives the opportunity for countries to balance global interdependence and national interests when addressing international problems. Toward these ends it ratified a Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948.
The United Nations was founded as a successor to the League of Nations, which was widely considered to have been ineffective in its role as an international governing body, in that it had been unable to prevent World War II. Some argue that the UN's major advantage over the League of Nations is its ability to maintain and deploy its member nations' armed forces as peace keepers. Others see such "peace keeping" as a euphemism for war and domination of weak and poor countries by the wealthy and powerful nations of the world.
The term "United Nations" (which appears in stanza 35 of Canto III of Byron's Childe Harold's Pilgrimage) was decided by Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill during World War II, to refer to the Allies. Its first formal use was in the 1 January 1942 Declaration by the United Nations, which committed the Allies to the principles of the Atlantic Charter and pledged them not to seek a separate peace with the Axis powers. Thereafter, the Allies used the term "United Nations Fighting Forces" to refer to their alliance.
The idea for the UN was espoused in declarations signed at the wartime Allied conferences in Moscow, Cairo, and Tehran in 1943 . From August to October 1944 , representatives of France, the Republic of China, the United Kingdom, the United States, and the Soviet Union met to elaborate the plans at the Dumbarton Oaks Estate in Washington, DC. Those and later talks produced proposals outlining the purposes of the organization, its membership and organs, and arrangements to maintain international peace and security and international economic and social cooperation.
On 25 April 1945, the UN Conference on International Organizations began in San Francisco. In addition to the governments, a number of non-governmental organizations were invited to assist in drafting the charter. The 50 nations represented at the conference signed the Charter of the United Nations two months later on 26 June. Poland had not been represented at the conference, but a place had been reserved for it among the original signatories, and it added its name later. The UN came into existence on 24 October 1945, after the Charter had been ratified by the five permanent members of the Security Council—Republic of China, France, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, and the United States—and by a majority of the other 46 signatories.
Initially, the body was known as the United Nations Organization, or UNO. However, by the 1950s, English speakers were referring to it as the United Nations, or the UN.