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UN — Mission Impossible?

Can the United Nations adequately fulfill its mission as the world’s governing council?

September 11, 2001

Can the United Nations adequately fulfill its mission as the world's governing council?

Kofi Annan, the present UN Secretary-General, has managed to significantly improve the organization’s reputation since he took office in 1997. Still, Mr. Annan is under constant pressure to prove that the UN really does make a difference in the lives of its global citizens. Our new Globalist Factsheet explores the United Nations’ standing in today’s world.

Who works for the United Nations?

As of 2003, UN Secretariat employs some 7,500 staff members. The UN system as a whole – the UN and its related programmes and specialized agencies, including the World Bank and the IMF – employs some 61,000 people worldwide.

(United Nations)

When did it all begin?

The United Nations was founded on June 26, 1945. There were 51 original countries in the organization, then.

(Foreign Policy)

How quickly did the UN grow?

In 1990, 45 years after its founding, the UN had 159 members — thus more than triple its original membership. Today, there are 191 countries represented in the UN.

(Foreign Policy)

Who is the UN’s latest member?

The last two countries to join the UN were admitted in 2002. Switzerland became a member Sept. 10, 2002 — and Timor-Leste (East-Timor) joined the organization Sept. 27, 2002.

(New York Times)

How big are the UN member countries?

As of 2003, 39 of the 191 members of the United Nations — or 20% — have a population of less than one million people.

(Financial Times)

Has the UN treated all of its members courteously at all times?

“The first time I visited the United Nations, I was thrown out of the hotel near the United Nations. I had two choices: pitching a tent in the United Nations courtyard — as a guerilla fighter, it would not have been at all difficult for me — or heading for Harlem where I had been invited to stay in one of its hotels.”

(Fidel Castro, President of Cuba, September 2000)

Who is in charge of running countries’ UN affairs?

As of 2003, there are 191 permanent delegations to the United Nations in New York. Only 11 are headed by female diplomats.

(Washington Post)

What is the UN staff’s quality?

A 1994 inspection by a United Nations internal auditing body found that 98 of 100 randomly chosen staffers were rated ‘good’ or ‘excellent’ in routine evaluations — and that none had received even a mildly negative rating.

(Washington Post)

Isn’t the UN bureaucracy just a waste of paper?

The UN secretariat in New York consumes less paper in one full year than is used to produce a single edition of the Sunday New York Times.

(United Nations)

What is one of the biggest challenges for the UN?

“We have the means and the capacity to deal with our problems — if only we can find the political will.”

(UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, September 2000)

Which country is the UN’s biggest debtor?

As of March 2003, the United States owes $1.3 billion to the United Nations — or 47% of total debts — of which $701 million are the result of peacekeeping costs.

(United Nations)

Why has the United States not lost its vote in the General Assembly?

Article 19 of the UN Charter states that any country loses its vote if its debts to the UN equal or exceed the amount of the contributions due from it for the preceding two full years. The United States currently keeps on paying just enough to preserve its voting rights.

(United Nations)

What do some nations try to get out of the United Nations?

“For many countries, the primary function of the United Nations is to balance — if not to resist — the United States.”

(Dominique Moisi, Deputy Director of the Institut Français des Relations Internationales, November 1999)

What is the record of UN peacekeeping missions?

Since the beginning of UN peacekeeping efforts in 1948, there have been 54 international peacekeeping missions, at a cumulative cost of about $31 billion. Nearly two-thirds of these missions have been carried out in the period after 1991.

(United Nations)

How much personnel is involved?

As of June 2003, some 36,369 soldiers, military observers — and civilian police from 89 countries serving in 15 peacekeeping missions under UN aegis were deployed around the world.

(United Nations)

Does the UN have a specific goal for ther 21st century?

“If the United Nations does not attempt to chart a course for the world’s people in the first decades of the new millennium, who will?”

(UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, April 2000)

Why is the UN, at times, described as ‘mission impossible’?

“If no country or group of countries is willing to do a job, it will be handled by the UN. That way, if the effort fails, the UN will be responsible.”

(Dennis C. Jett, former U.S. ambassador to Mozambique and to Peru, on the political utility of the United Nations, May 2000)