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Updated July 8, 2021
United Nations Issues: Overview of the United Nations System

The United Nations (U.N.) systemcomprises
interconnected entities including the United Nations,
specialized agencies, U.N. peacekeeping operations, funds
and programs, and otherrelated bodies. Congress has
generally supported the U.N. s ys temand mission, and often
uses U.N. mechanisms to further U.S. foreign policy
objectives. At the same time, some policymakers have been
critical of the U.N. system, arguing thatU.N. actions or
decisions do not align with U.S.policy priorities, or that it
is not operating as effectively as possible.
U.N. entities have different mandates, structures,
leadership, and funding mechanisms. Each body is funded
through assessed or voluntary contributions fromU.N.
members (or a combination of both). Assessed contributions
are required dues, the payment of which is a legal
obligation accepted by a country when it becomes a
member. Voluntary contributions finance special funds,
programs, and offices. Some U.N. bodies receive both types
of funding.
The United Nations
Established in the aftermath of World War II, the United
Nations is an intergovernmental org anization composed of
193 member states. The U.N. Charter, an international
treaty to which the United States is a state party, is the
founding document of the United Nations. Article 1 of the
Charter states thatthe purposes of the organization are to
maintain internationalpeace and security; develop friendly
relations among nations; solve economic, social, cultural, or
humanitarian problems ; and promote human rights. The
United Nations includes sixmain parts (referred to as
* The 193-member General Assembly (GA) is the
organization's primary decisionmaking body. It
approves the U.N. regular and peacekeeping budgets
and supports the workof its committees and subsidiary
organs, such as the U.N. Human Rights Council(HRC).
* The 15-member Security Council (SC)is mandated
with maintaining internationalpeace and security. It
includes 5 permanent members with veto power (United
States, China, France, Rus sia, and the United Kingdom)
and 10 nonpermanent members, who are elected by the
GA for two-year terms.
* The Secretariat is the U.N. administrative body. It is
led by the Secretary-General (SG), who serves as chief
administrative officer. The SGis appointed by the GA
on the recommendation of the SC. The SG serves a five-
year term, with the pos sibility for a second term. The
Secretariat is located at U.N. Headquarters in New York


The three other principalorgans are (1) the U.N. Economic
and Social Council, a 54-member body that addresses
economic, social, andenvironmentalissues; (2) the
International Court ofJustice, the principal U.N. judicial
body; and (3) the Trusteeship Council, which supervised
the administration of trust territories fromcolonies to
sovereign nations and completed its mandate in 1994.
The United Nations is funded throughtheU.N. regular
budget, which totals $3.23 billion in 2021. The United
States' assessed contribution is 22% of the regular budget
(an estimated $677.7 million in U.S. FY2021). Other top
contributors include China (12%) and Japan (8.5%). U.N.
members approve as sessment levels every three years based
on a formula taking into account gross national income and
other economic data The United States often accumulates
arrears to the regular budget due to differences between the
U.S. and U.N. fiscal years (which affects the timing of U.S.
payments) and U.S. withholdings fromU.N. activities,
among other reasons. (For more information, see CRS In
Focus IF10354, United Nations Issues: U.S. Funding to the
U.N. System.)
U.N. Specialized Agencies
The U.N. systemhas 15 specialized agencies, each of which
is a legally independent intergovernmental organization
with its own constitution, rules, membership, organs, and
assessedbudget (Figure l). Many specialized agencies
follow the assessments for the U.N. regular budget, while
others use their own formulas. The United States is a
member of all specialized agencies except for UNESCO,
UNIDO, and UNWTO. (President Trump initiated WHO
withdrawal in 2020; President Biden halted theprocess and
resumed U.S.participation in 2021.)
Figure I. U.N. Specialized Agencies
Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)
International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO)
Internationa Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD)
International Labor Organization (ILO)
International Maritime organization (MO)
International Monetary Fund (IMF
international Telecommunication Union (IfU)
SU.N. Educational, Scientific & Cultural Organization (UNESCO)
* U.N.Industrial DevelopmentOrganization (UNIDO)
* U.N. World Tourism Organization (UNW TO)
Universal Postal Union (UPU)
World Bank Group (WBG)
World Health Organization (WHO)
World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO)
Wodd Meteorological organization (WMO)
* indicates the United States is not a member.

Source: United Nations, adapted by CRS.

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