Guide for Participants in Peace, Stability, and Relief Operations

The United Nations

The United States was instrumental in the creation of the United Nations in 1945, at the end of World War II. According to the UN Charter, its purpose as a global institution is to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war by promoting peace and international security; fostering respect for fundamental human rights, justice, and the rule of law; and promoting social progress and better standards of life, so that all might live "in larger freedom."

Its major structures are the General Assembly, the Security Council, the Economic and Social Council, the International Court of Justice, and the Secretariat. The United Nations faces enormous challenges in adapting its bureaucracy, structure, and operations to the demands of the twenty-first century to transition from being "a convener of meetings to a coordinator of action" (United States Insti tute of Peace 2005, 4).

In the General Assembly (GA), which bears some resemblance to a world parliament, each of the 191 member states has one vote. Important matters require a two-thirds majority. The budget is adopted by consensus. The president of the General Assembly is elected to preside over an annual session that runs from September to August.

The Security Council (UNSC) has fifteen members. The five permanent members (P-5)—China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States—have the power to veto resolutions. The GA elects the remaining ten members for two-year rotating terms. The presidency of the UNSC is held for one month and rotates among all its members. The UNSC recommends candidates for appointment to the post of secretary-general to the GA. The UNSC has primary responsibility for international peace and security, determines the existence of threats or aggression, and can recommend actions that are binding on member states.

Passage of a Security Council resolution requires nine votes with no negative votes (vetoes) from the P-5. The UNSC under Chapter VI can dispatch military observers or a peacekeeping force to reduce tensions, separate warring forces, or create conditions conducive to concluding a peace agreement. Under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, the UNSC can exercise "peace enforcement powers" to impose its decisions on member states through mandatory economic or financial sanctions, armed embargoes, travel bans, or the use of international military forces to create a safe and secure environment.

The UN Secretariat staff of 14,000 is headed by the secretary-general (SG), who is appointed by the General Assembly on the recommendation of the Security Council. The SG may serve multiple five-year terms. The SG is the personification of the United Nations, and his personal stature and impartiality are requisites for his role as a mediator or peacemaker. The SG can use his position as a pulpit for moral suasion, and his views on international issues carry great weight. He cannot, however, require member states to heed his advice.The SG must be particularly attentive to the views of the P-5, whose governments play a major role in setting the priorities and determining the policies of the world organization. The UN budget is based on progressive assessments, with the United States and other wealthy states paying the largest portion of the organization's operating expenses. The eight largest contributors (Canada, China, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States) account for more than 70 percent of the assessed contributions to the United Nations' general budget. The United Nations operates on a two-year budget cycle, with the general operating budget approved by the General Assembly. The general budget covers expenses for the Secretariat in New York, Geneva, Vienna, and Nairobi; regional commissions; political missions; and smaller UN offices in many countries. In 2004-05, the United Nations had a budget of $3.16 billion.

While the UN Charter requires member states to pay assessed contributions to support the work of the organization, it is often difficult to collect assessed dues. Nothing reflects more the fact that the United Nations is the servant and not the master of member states than that one-third are usually in arrears in payment of their assessed obligations. Such arrearages often result from member states' internal politics, budget shortfalls, disagreements with specific UN actions, or some combination thereof.As a consequence, the United Nations increasingly resorts to voluntary or extra budgetary contributions versus mandatory dues to finance specific activities. Peacekeeping expenses are assessed annually for a separate budget that is now larger than the general UN budget. Peacekeeping budgets are annual (July to June) and are funded through a formula that places a higher assessment rate on the P-5. In 2000, UN members agreed to lower U.S. dues for the regular budget from 25 percent to 22 percent and reduced U.S. peacekeeping assessments from 30 percent to 27.1 percent. For July 2005 to June 2006, the combined budget for peacekeeping operations and political missions was about $3.8 billion, which funded 17 peacekeeping missions, troop salaries, and equipment; the UN Logistics base at Brindisi, Italy; and three special political missions in Iraq, East Timor, and Afghanistan.

UN agencies such as the UN Development Program and the UN Children's Fund have separate budgets funded by voluntary contributions. Voluntary funding is also sought for humanitarian assistance where appeals can capitalize on public concern over natural or human-made disasters. Voluntary funding means that crises that attract significant public attention or enjoy a high political profile receive adequate resources, while less-publicized tra ge dies are underfunded. The Asian tsunami of December 2004 attracted such large donations (80 percent of the total amount required in ten days) that aid organizations began returning money or requesting that donors permit their contributions to be used for other purposes. In contrast, Niger's food crisis in 2004-05 was virtually ignored until the media began reporting on deaths from widespread starvation.

The term "UN system" is something of a misnomer, because no single official has executive authority over the entire collection of agencies. In New York City, the GA has given the SG only limited authority over the staff and budget of the Secretariat. UN reform discussions at the 60th Anniversary World Summit recognized the need for the GA to revisit this and other management issues, but member states remain wary of increasing the SG's authority. Outside of UN headquarters, chief executives of UN specialized agencies, humanitarian funds, and other programs have direct authority over their own staff and budgets. They report to autonomous governing boards with their own priorities, which do not necessarily coincide with those at UN headquarters. Some have larger budgets than the assessed general budget that funds the Secretariat.

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