What is the UN?
The United Nations is made up of 191 countries from around the world. It is often called the UN. It was set up in 1945 - after the Second World War - as a way of bringing people together and to avoid war.
What does it do?
The UN works for world peace and development in many different ways. It organises peace-keeping forces in troublespots around the world, such as Kosovo or in Africa. It is also linked with organisations which help. These include:
- UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees)
- UNICEF (United Nations Children's Fund)
- UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation)
- FAO (Food and Agriculture Organisation)
- WHO (World Health Organisation)
What is a resolution?
Representatives of each member country meet in the General Assembly, this is the closest thing to a world parliament. Each country has a single vote. Decisions that are voted for become resolutions.
Major decisions about things like who can join the UN need the support of two-thirds of the Assembly. Less important decisions need the support of over half the Assembly. The Assembly's decisions are not laws. Governments follow resolutions because they represent the world's opinion on major international issues.
Who are the Security Council?
The 15 members of the UN Security Council try to keep the world a peaceful and secure place. They vote on the best ways to prevent countries fighting. There are two groups of members.
These countries are always on the council. They got their membership because they were important in 1945, when the UN was set up.
These members are voted for every two years by the rest of the UN. The members voted on to the security council as of January 2009 were:
- Burkina Faso
- Libyan Arab Jamahiriya
- Costa Rica
- One member, one vote.
- Each of the five permanent members can stop the UN from making decisions they may not agree with. This is called the power of veto.
- Nine votes in favour are needed to make a decision.
- Five of the nine votes must come from permanent members.
What is a Veto?
The veto is a special power that allows a country to block any decision that the security council is voting on. All they have to do is vote against it. However, only the Permanent Member states can do this. They got their power of veto because they were important in 1945 - when the UN was set up.
The following statistics are order of how often they have done it:
- Russia 120
- United States 76
- UK 32
- France 18
- China 5
Lots of countries say it is not fair but there are two big reasons why it stays like this.
- Money - The five permanent members pay for nearly half the cost of running the UN - even though there are 191 members.
- Rules - If you had a vote on getting rid of the veto - the countries with a veto could veto it!
Who's in charge?
The head of the UN is called the Secretary-General. At the moment the head is Ban Ki-moon, from South Korea. He is the eighth UN Secretary-General and took charge on 1 January 1997. He has since helped the UN to win an important award for good work, the Nobel Peace Prize.
Basically a re-hash of the League of Nations, which existed post-Great War. Although more of a "success" and definatly longer lasting, the UN is becoming more and more associated with corruption, hypocritical practises and silly blue target berets/helmets. It is generally perceived as being only as useful as its component members wish it to be - which, if your the French, not very.