The United Nations (UN) is an international organization whose stated aims are to facilitate cooperation in international law, international security, economic development, social progress, and human rights issues. It was founded in 1945 with the signing of the United Nations Charter by 51 countries.
The UN was founded after the end of World War II (24 October 1945) by the victorious Allied Powers in the hope that it would act to intervene in conflicts between nations and thereby avoid war. The organization's structure still reflects in some ways the political power-structure of when it was founded. The five permanent members of the UN Security Council, each of which has veto power on any Security Council resolution, are the main victors of World War II or their successor states: the People's Republic of China (formerly the Republic of China), France, Russia (formerly the Soviet Union), the United Kingdom, and the United States.
There are currently 193 United Nations member states, including the majority of internationally recognized independent states. From its headquarters in New York City, the UN and its specialized agencies decide on substantive and administrative issues in regular meetings held throughout each year. The United Nations is divided into five major administrative organs: the General Assembly, the Security Council, the Secretariat, the International Court of Justice, and the Economic and Social Council. Additional bodies deal with the governance of all other United Nations system organizations, such as the World Health Organization (WHO) and United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF). The UN's most visible public figure is the Secretary-General, currently António Guterres of Portugal, who took office on 1 January 2017. The newest Member State is South Sudan, admitted in July 2011.
United Nations peacekeeping missions have helped countries torn by conflict to create conditions for sustainable peace since the UN's founding in 1945. The peacekeepers—soldiers and military officers, civilian police officers and civilian personnel from many countries—monitor and observe peace processes that emerge in post-conflict situations and assist ex-combatants in implementing the peace agreements they have signed. Such assistance comes in many forms, including confidence-building measures, power-sharing arrangements, electoral support, strengthening the rule of law, and economic and social development. Peacekeeping operations are authorized by the Security Council, under the Charter of the United Nations.
U Thant (22 January 1909 – 25 November 1974) was a Burmese diplomat and the third Secretary-General of the United Nations, from 1961 to 1971. His participation in international relations started when he was secretary of the first Asian-African summit in 1955 at Bandung, Indonesia, which gave birth to the Non-Aligned Movement. In 1957, Thant became Burma's Permanent Representative to the UN., and in 1960 the Burmese government awarded him the title Maha Thray Sithu as a commander in the Pyidaungsu Sithu Thingaha Order.
Thant was unanimously appointed UN Secretary-General on 30 November 1962, after serving as Acting Secretary-General after Dag Hammarskjöld's death. During his time in office, he was noted for his role in defusing the Cuban Missile Crisis and ending the Congo civil war, he oversaw the UN entry of dozens of new Asian and African states and was a firm opponent of apartheid in South Africa. He also established many of the UN's development and environmental agencies, funds and programmes, including the UN Development Programme, the UN University and the UN Environmental Programme.