United Nations Fun Facts

Oh, here’s something to discuss at the office – today is the anniversary of the establishment of the cesspool United Nations in San Francisco in 1945.

From 1919 to 1946, there existed a somewhat similar organization under the name of League of Nations, which can be considered as the UN’s precursor. UN membership is open to all “peace-loving states” that accept the obligations of the UN Charter and, in the judgment of the organization, are able and willing to fulfill these obligations. The General Assembly determines admission upon recommendation of the Security Council.

The United Nations Security Council is the most powerful organ of the United Nations. It is charged with maintaining peace and security between nations. While other organs of the UN only make recommendations to member governments, the Security Council has the power to make decisions which member governments must carry out under the United Nations Charter. The decisions of the Council are known as UN Security Council Resolutions.

The UN Security Council has five so-called “permanent” members. They were originally the five victorious powers of World War II: Republic of China, France, Soviet Union, United Kingdom, and United States. Ten other members are elected by the General Assembly for 2-year terms starting on January 1, with five replaced each year. The members are chosen by regional groups and confirmed by the United Nations General Assembly. The African, Latin American, and Western European blocs choose two members each, and the Arab, Asian, and Eastern European blocs choose one member each. The final seat alternates between Asian and African selections.

Here is a comprehensive historical list of elected members of the UN Security Council from 1946 thru 2005.

Decisions in the 15-member Security Council on all substantive matters – for example, a decision calling for direct measures related to the settlement of a dispute – require the affirmative votes of nine members. A negative vote – a veto – by a permanent member prevents adoption of a proposal, even if it has received the required number of affirmative votes. Abstention is not regarded as a veto.

As of April 2004 there have been 191 members of the UN; see United Nations member states.

In addition to the member states, there is also a non-member observer state: the Holy See (Vatican City State), which maintains a permanent observer mission at the UN headquarters. The Vatican is the smallest sovereign country in the world. Some international organizations or entities, such as the Palestinian Authority and Sovereign Military Order of Malta, have a similar observer status but not as “non-member states”; see UN General Assembly for a list.

While the principal headquarters of the UN are in New York, there are major agencies located in Geneva in Switzerland, The Hague in The Netherlands, Vienna in Austria and elsewhere.

At the first Special Session of the UN General Assembly held in 1947, Oswaldo Aranha, then head of the Brazilian delegation to the UN, began a tradition that has remained until today whereby the first speaker at this major international forum is always a Brazilian.

Fortunately, much of the developed world pays comparatively little attention to the General Assembly, regarding it as irrelevant.

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