The most expensive organisation on this planet started life in October 1945. Its predecessor the League of Nations had proved to be useless, and the founder nations were determined, whatever the cost, to maintain peace after the horrors of two world wars, and encourage international cooperation. Headquarters it was decided would be most appropriately based in New York City, since the United States had at last managed to become World Cop No I. No other country had the resources or the money to become sheriff, Japan had lost two major cities to the atomic bomb, and most of her capital to the fire bombs. Britain was nearing bankruptcy. Germany was actually bankrupt, and smarting after two near-total defeats in just over thirty years. France had prospered during her Nazi occupation and people from the east coast of England, if they could afford it, went shopping there by channel ferry. Italy showed signs of approaching Communism, and Russia had lost a heavy percentage of her uniformed male population. It had to be the United States, which had entered the Second World War with extreme reluctance nearly three years late.
In 1945 there were fifty-one founder countries. They adopted the UN Charter, drafted originally at the end of the War by the USA, UK and the USSR. It has hardly changed since then, with the exception of the growth in membership and activities.
There are basically six governing bodies: the General Assembly, the Security Council – dominated by China, France, UK, Russia (then known as the USSR) and the USA, though there are ten other council members. The named five dominate because they have power of veto over all and any resolutions. The Security Council is there to maintain international peace and security. Any decision made is binding on its members, unlike the General Assembly. The Council has the power to order mandatory sanctions, appeal for ceasefires, and establish peacekeeping forces. It must be said that it has never maintained international peace and security since foundation, though it was given the Nobel Peace Prize in 1988, perhaps to the astonishment of those who had fought in Korea, Malaya, Vietnam, the Balkans, Iraq, Palestine, Israel, India, Pakistan and Afghanistan, to name but a few states or regions where war has been intermittent since 1945. The famous veto, for instance, prevented the United Nations from intervening in Vietnam.
Then there is the Secretariat, under the Secretary-General. His staff is only answerable to the UN, and engages in considerable diplomatic work with all nations. The Secretary-General is able to take a few independent initiatives.
There is also a body called The International Court of Justice – fifteen judges appointed by the Council and the Assembly. Only states can bring up issues before this tribunal, so its jurisdiction depends on the consent of the states which are a party to a dispute. The ICJ can also advise various organs of the United Nations.
The Economic and Social Council is elected by the General Assembly. It comprises committees, commissions and ‘expert’ bodies within the economic and social areas, and is meant to coordinate the labours of UN specialised agencies.
The Trusteeship Council looks after the transition of Trust territories to self-government. These six important bodies are enormously expensive to run, but as there are now hundreds of member nations, one supposes that costs can easily be met, even if some member states, especially in Africa, have a starving population.
Then there are the Agencies, such as the Food and Agricultural Organisation, the UN Industrial Development Organisation, the International Maritime Organisation, The International Atomic Agency, the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the International Monetary Fund, the World Health Organisation, Unesco, the World Trade Organisation etc. etc. There is even a World Intellectual Property Organisation.
The United Nations building in New York City is a colossus, untouched by the bombers of the Twin Towers. It currently houses more than 190 member nations, or rather their representatives, all of whom must be paid, fed, and be provided with instantaneous translation during meetings. The cost is beyond calculation. It most certainly does not maintain world peace and encourage international cooperation. But it seems to be more effective than the League of Nations was, though that in itself would not be difficult.