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Congressional Research Service
Informing the legislative debate since 1914


                                                                                             Updated July 14, 2023

United Nations Issues: Overview of the United Nations System

The United Nations (U.N.) system comprises
interconnected entities including the United Nations,
specialized agencies, U.N. peacekeeping operations, funds
and programs, and other related bodies. Congress has
generally supported the U.N. system and 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 that U.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 from U.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 organization 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 that the purposes of the organization are to
maintain international peace and security; develop friendly
relations among nations; solve economic, social, cultural, or
humanitarian problems; and promote human rights. The
United Nations includes six main 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 work of its committees and subsidiary
   organs, such as the U.N. Human Rights Council (HRC).

*  The  15-member Security Council (SC) is mandated
   with maintaining international peace and security. It
   includes 5 permanent members with veto power (United
   States, China, France, Russia, 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 SG is appointed by the GA
   on the recommendation of the SC. The SG serves a five-
   year term, with the possibility for a second term. The
   Secretariat is located at U.N. Headquarters in New York

The three other principal organs are (1) the U.N. Economic
and Social Council, a 54-member body that addresses
economic, social, and environmental issues; (2) the
International Court of Justice, the principal U.N. judicial
body; and (3) the Trusteeship Council, which supervised
the administration of trust territories from colonies to
sovereign nations and completed its mandate in 1994.

The United Nations is funded through the U.N. regular
budget ($3.4 billion for 2023). The United States' assessed
contribution is 22% of the regular budget (an estimated
$692.5 million in U.S. FY2023). Other top contributors
include China (15.25%) and Japan (8.03%). U.N. members
approve assessment 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 from U.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. system has 15 specialized agencies, each of which
is a legally independent intergovernmental organization
with its own constitution, rules, membership, organs, and
assessed budget (Figure 1). 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 UNIDO and

Figure  I. U.N. Specialized Agencies
    Food and Agriculture Organization (FAQ)

    International Fund for Agr cultural Development (FAD)

    ntermationa Maritime Organization (IMO}
    Internatinal Montary Fund CIME)F
    tnternational Telecommunication Union (ITU)
    UN. Educational, Sientic & Cultural Organization (UNFSCO)
  * U.N. Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO)
  * U.N. World Tourism Organization (UNW TO)
    Universal Postal Union (UPU)
    World Bank Group (WGB)
    World Health Organization (WHO)
    World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO)
    World Meteorological Organization (WMO)
           * idates the Unite tates eisnot a member.
Source: United Nations, adapted by CRS.

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