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An Insider’s Guide to the UN

An Insider’s Guide to the UN

Copyright Date: 2004
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 272
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  • Book Info
    An Insider’s Guide to the UN
    Book Description:

    The United Nations increasingly finds itself at the center of world events in an age of rapid globalization. Now, more than ever, it is imperative that we understand its structure and functions. In this highly readable book, a prominent news correspondent at the UN provides a colorful introduction to its activities and goals.UN correspondent Linda Fasulo draws on her own observations as well as on the insights of other individuals who have been active in the UN, including US ambassadors Richard Holbrooke, Madeleine Albright, and John Negroponte. She explains how the UN came into existence, what governing principles guide its operation, and what it is like to be a participant. She describes the organization, responsibilities, and often-tense politics of the Security Council. Surveying the many humanitarian, crime-fighting, and peacekeeping programs of the UN, Fasulo concludes that there are important reasons for Americans to give the United Nations their support.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-13351-6
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xiv)

    Working as a news correspondent at the United Nations has given me a first-hand perspective on one of the world’s finest and most important governing bodies. Nowhere else in the world can you watch an international group of luminaries discuss the great issues of our day and make decisions that can define our lives for years to come. Curbing international terrorism, combating diseases like malaria and AIDS, and trying to bring rogue nations like North Korea to account are only a few of the big problems the UN can address in a year.

    At the UN, before the proceedings begin...

    (pp. xv-xx)
  6. CHAPTER 1 An Overview
    (pp. 1-13)

    The UN came into existence as a result of the most terrible war in history. During World War II, American President Franklin Roosevelt, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and the leaders of several other major combatant nations agreed that it was necessary to create a world organization that would help ensure the peace in future years. Their ideas are enshrined in the Preamble to the UN’s Charter, which is one of its fundamental documents:

    We the peoples of the United Nations determined

    to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow...

  7. CHAPTER 2 UN Founding Documents
    (pp. 14-16)

    As with any organization that exists in this ever-changing world, the UN cannot act according to an unchanging set of rules. But it has established two very specific annotated documents to guide its members. The UN is defined by its Charter, written in 1945, which functions as the Constitution does for the United States, and by a Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which is a manifesto of human dignity and value that remains as fresh and radical now as it was when adopted in 1948 (the entire Declaration appears in Appendix B).

    The Charter lays out all the major components...

  8. CHAPTER 3 The Secretary General and the Secretariat
    (pp. 17-32)

    According to many insiders the UN could not have appointed a better, more effective Secretary General than Kofi Annan, who will serve in that post until December 31, 2006. How he got the job, a fascinating story in its own right, will be recounted in Chapter 14. What he has accomplished since he began his first term, on January 1, 1997, is described here.

    Many regard Kofi Annan as the best Secretary General ever appointed, the equal even of the legendary Dag Hammarskjöld (1953–61). As Mark Malloch Brown puts it, “We’ve had a series of Secretaries General since Hammarskjöld...

  9. CHAPTER 4 The American Ambassadors
    (pp. 33-38)

    Each member nation maintains a UN Mission in New York City, staffed by a head, known as the Permanent Representative, who also carries the title of Ambassador. The term of the Permanent Rep varies by nation, usually extending over several years. So the word “permanent” shouldn’t be taken too literally, but it conveniently denotes the key person in a delegation of representatives. The current US Permanent Representative is John Negroponte, who succeeded Richard Holbrooke in 2001.

    The US Permanent Rep has the highest-visibility job at the UN, next to the Secretary General, and one of the most complicated owing to...

  10. CHAPTER 5 The Security Council
    (pp. 39-51)

    The Security Council is the UN’s enforcer, charged with making the world a safer, more stable place by preventing or stopping armed conflict among and even within nations. The council has the authority to examine any conflict or dispute that might have international repercussions. It can identify aggressive action by states and call on UN members to make an appropriate response, including application of economic sanctions and even military action. Consequently, the council must be ready to deliberate at any time.

    The SC is the only UN body whose resolutions are legally binding. It has the authority to decide matters...

  11. CHAPTER 6 Peace Operations
    (pp. 52-67)

    Although peacekeeping is one of the quintessential UN functions, it is mentioned only briefly in the Charter. Its full scope and nature have gradually emerged, through need, as a middle ground between mere arbitration of disputes, on the one hand, and use of armed force, on the other. The Security Council’s first peacekeeping resolution set important precedents, establishing the United Nations Truce Supervision Organization (UNTSO) in 1948 to oversee the truce between Arabs and Jews when the United Kingdom left Palestine. Like peacekeepers today, the UNTSO troops were provided by member states. The troopers wore the blue helmets that have...

  12. CHAPTER 7 The General Assembly
    (pp. 68-78)

    The General Assembly is both more and less than it seems to be. Although modeled on national parliaments, it has a global purview and visibility that no national legislature can match. It is a center for discussion and debate among all the world’s governments. Every member state, no matter how big or small, has a seat and one vote. The GA starts its official year with opening sessions, usually on the third Tuesday of each September. A week later, at the General Debate, heads of state address the opening sessions, which bring together representatives of nearly 200 nations (for a...

  13. CHAPTER 8 Coordinating to Fight International Terrorism
    (pp. 79-89)

    After the September 11 attacks in the US, the General Assembly held a five-day debate on what to do about international terrorism. Not that this was a new issue for the delegates. Dealing with international terrorism has been on the UN’s agenda for many years, but it did not claim major attention until the 1990s. Terrorist attacks have long been a part of life for the citizens in some nations, notably the Israelis, Spanish (Basques), British (Northern Ireland), Filipinos (Muslim separatists), and others. The attacks became more frequent and bloody during the 1990s, after the end of the cold war...

  14. CHAPTER 9 The UN Village
    (pp. 90-99)

    The United Nations is known for operating in ways that often seem complicated and convoluted. The Secretariat’s administrators have their intricate procedures and protocols and their proper, not always straight and narrow, channels. The same is true in the General Assembly, where red tape decorates resolutions, studies, reports, and memoranda. In the many related bodies like the World Bank or agencies like UNESCO, a passion for creating and filing paper does occasionally obscure the central point of the organization.

    But just as often the UN is as simple and straightforward a place as can be imagined, because, as David Malone...

  15. CHAPTER 10 Rights versus Sovereignty: The US and the International Criminal Court
    (pp. 100-104)

    To what degree can and should the UN infringe on national sovereignty in the pursuit of justice against those who grossly violate human rights? In Chapter 3 we saw Kofi Annan’s strong endorsement of the claims of rights over sovereignty. Now we turn to another round in the debate, the establishment of the International Criminal Court (ICC), a permanent tribunal for trying cases involving military or government personnel accused of committing genocide, war crimes, and other crimes against humanity.

    The UN is associated with two international courts that are easily conflated by the casual observer but in reality are so...

  16. CHAPTER 11 The Call for Reform
    (pp. 105-113)

    The controversy we reviewed in Chapter 5 about “reforming” the Security Council to make it more relevant to modern times, echoes throughout the UN. Loud voices from many corners call for reforms, or at least improvements, in most of the bodies, agencies, and activities that constitute the UN. The calls are fed partly by concern that the Secretariat, the agencies, and other parts of the UN system could be much more effective, efficient, and accountable than they are, and partly by allegations that the bureaucracy has been a juicy career plum for a small group of administrators who put their...

  17. CHAPTER 12 UN Finances
    (pp. 114-124)

    How the UN gets and manages its funds has been under fire, from critics both outside and inside the system. The debate about getting funds has focused on three big issues. First is the long-standing problem of US arrears to the UN (a matter largely settled, at least for now) and how much the organization’s largest patron should pay. Second is how the UN can operate with less waste and more efficiency. And third is whether it is legitimate to expand the variety of income sources through relationships with the corporate world. These issues raise sensitive questions. If the United...

  18. CHAPTER 13 A Tour of UN Headquarters
    (pp. 125-133)

    Nancy Soderberg’s quip has a kernel of truth, in that walking through the UN headquarters complex in New York City can feel like being in a museum. Never having enjoyed or endured a major renovation, the building and its furnishings are pretty much as they were when opened to the public during the early 1950s. As for her complaint about old ways of thinking, we can’t blame that on the architecture, which has retained its freshness and still delights any eye that can overlook the worn fittings, cracked plaster, and peeling paint. The UN’s leadership must find a way of...

  19. CHAPTER 14 The Coup Against Boutros-Ghali
    (pp. 134-138)

    If you think the US government is at the mercy of the UN, or that the UN can dictate policy to the United States, consider the case of Boutros Boutros-Ghali, who was Kofi Annan’s predecessor as Secretary General. Boutros-Ghali served one term as SG and declared his intention to run for another. But he never made it, because, to put it bluntly, he fell afoul of key US diplomats and political leaders, who blocked him through a carefully staged coup. The coup is no secret. Boutros-Ghali has described his experiences in writing, and many participants and observers have offered their...

  20. CHAPTER 15 UN Advocates, Donors, and Friends
    (pp. 139-144)

    Aside from Kofi Annan, now an international luminary in his role as UN Secretary General, some of the heads of UN agencies and commissions have shone brightly in their public careers, like Carol Bellamy of UNICEF and Mary Robinson of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. But there are also other kinds of stars—some more comfortable before a camera or a theater audience, some at home in the corporate boardroom—who have aligned themselves with the UN.

    Ted Turner and Bill Gates, for example, don’t just applaud the UN but throw money too. Turner singlehandedly endowed...

  21. CHAPTER 16 Keeping Tabs on How Nations Vote
    (pp. 145-147)

    We are hardly surprised to learn that because the US is the biggest player at the UN, its words, actions, and nonactions are parsed a hundred different ways by the world’s media, governments, and analysts. But the public is not generally aware that the US government does its own parsing of member states’ behavior, especially their voting record in the General Assembly and the Security Council. Section 406 of Public Law 101–246 requires that the State Department inform Congress annually about how UN member states have voted in comparison with how the US has voted on the same issues....

  22. CHAPTER 17 Making a Career at the UN
    (pp. 148-152)

    To put a face on the career UN staffer, it’s helpful to listen as one of them talks about his early years in the UN as an idealistic young administrator out to learn about the world. Shashi Tharoor was born in India, educated there and in the US, and in 1978 became a staff member of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which assists refugees in resettling. He was sent to Singapore (1981–84) to help organize efforts to aid the thousands of Vietnamese fleeing their homeland in the aftermath of the collapse of the Saigon government and the...

    (pp. 153-157)

    A quick look at the UN organizational chart reveals that one of the Principal Organs—in fact, the only one we haven’t discussed yet—is something called Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). ECOSOC is a key coordinator and mediator among the constituent bodies of the UN system. But it has struggled to find a clear identity among its many functions and as a result has been accused of being unfocused. David Malone’s comment above is not unique; others have also remarked on ECOSOC’s talent for fostering endless debate that leads to no apparent action. Admittedly, ECOSOC was created to be...

  24. CHAPTER 19 Agencies, Programs, and Commissions
    (pp. 158-160)

    The Secretariat, Security Council, General Assembly, and other Principal Organs are the UN bodies that most command the public’s attention. Yet, they have only general oversight of the UN’s huge array of global efforts to advance human rights, help refugees or earthquake victims, combat infectious diseases, or coordinate international trade, finance, development, and communications. The direct control of these vital activities is usually in the hands of entities known as agencies, programs, and commissions, which make up the UN’s less publicly exposed side. And, although these groups remain mostly in the background, they play key roles in the UN system....

  25. CHAPTER 20 Rule of Law and Human Rights
    (pp. 161-167)

    Rights come first everywhere you look at the UN. The purpose of the organization, according to Article 1 of the Charter, is to promote and encourage “respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion.” The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as we saw earlier, is literally all about rights (see Appendix B). Nearly all states that join the UN have agreed to accept its principles through the signing and ratifying of two international covenants, one addressing civil and political rights and the other economic, social, and cultural rights. The...

  26. CHAPTER 21 Social and Economic Development
    (pp. 168-177)

    The word “development” has undergone an amazing rise in popularity in recent years, owing largely to its association with an even more popular word, “globalization.” Globalization has raised our awareness that the level of the wealth among nations differs greatly, for reasons that are often hard to identify. This variation has renewed an old debate about why some nations develop rapidly while others seem hardly to change at all. The UN is a big player in development through its programs and agencies, including the World Bank. These bodies have mandates to pay special attention to the poorest nations.

    The international...

  27. CHAPTER 22 Protecting the Biosphere and Its Inhabitants
    (pp. 178-182)

    Concern for the natural environment has moved up on everyone’s agenda over the past three decades, as rapid population increases and economic development have strained the world’s forests, farmlands, atmosphere, rivers, and oceans. The UN has taken the lead through its efforts to safeguard our natural heritage. This is an area where the UN’s global reach and ability to act as an honest broker has produced impressive results.

    The Earth Summit and the Kyoto Protocol are two UN-sponsored events that have helped transform how we think about our responsibility to the natural environment. The 1992 Conference on Environment and Development,...

  28. CHAPTER 23 UN to the Rescue
    (pp. 183-187)

    The UN has always regarded disaster aid as one of its primary missions, defining “disaster” in broad terms that range from earthquakes and floods to disease and famine. Humanitarian aid organizations operate in collaboration with the UN Emergency Relief Coordinator and a committee of representatives from UN agencies and major nongovernmental organizations like the Red Cross.

    Which body of the UN responds to a given emergency depends on the nature of the situation. If food and shelter are needed, the World Food Program might be the lead agency. Although the WFP engages in social and economic development, its main focus...

  29. CHAPTER 24 Nuclear, Biological, and Chemical Threats
    (pp. 188-190)

    Building homes on old chemical dumps like Love Canal or sending anthrax spores through the mail may seem like plots from bad movies. Unfortunately, the bad movies are getting a second showing in the theater of real life. Today, there are even scarier plots, involving deadly nerve gas and nuclear weapons smuggled into urban centers and airports. The UN’s global presence makes it a natural leader in identifying and monitoring these dangers and confining them so they harm no one.

    The UN has long been a forum for talks about arms control and disarmament, and some of these discussions have...

  30. CHAPTER 25 Guiding Globalization: How the UN Helps Make Things Works
    (pp. 191-196)

    Free markets work best when they have strong government underpinnings, but no one government is in charge of global markets. This is where the UN has become invaluable as the monitor, administrator, and facilitator of the many “soft infrastructures” that enable complex international financial and industrial markets to work reasonably well most of the time. The UN has also provided vital aid to governments trying to cope with the fast pace and intensity of modern economic relations, including the rapid swings in currency and capital that can send a seemingly sound national economy into sudden crisis.

    The smooth flow of...

  31. CHAPTER 26 Drug Trafficking
    (pp. 197-202)

    A downside of globalization has been the spread of international organized crime, often centered around the illegal trade of drugs, weapons, or humans. Crime is an abridgment of human rights. The mugger who steals a man’s wallet has abridged his rights to security of person and property. The computer hacker who steals personal financial information abridges a woman’s right to privacy. And perhaps most insidious and destructive of all is the combination of criminal activity and drug addiction. The drug lords who supply cocaine, heroine, Ecstasy, and other substances diminish the human capacity for independent living, often subverting local law...

  32. Conclusion
    (pp. 203-204)

    The campaign to end Afghanistan’s opium industry offers powerful evidence that the UN is a deadly serious organization. For most Americans, who have little direct interaction with the world organization, it is easy to think that the UN’s main value and mission lie far away. And often they do. Yet in our interconnected world, far away may also be right next door, as the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, demonstrated with brutal force. A prudent person must conclude that global safety and security come from many sources, in many ways, and that whatever the awesome power of the US,...

  33. APPENDIX A: Membership of Principal United Nations Organs in 2002
    (pp. 205-207)
  34. APPENDIX B: Universal Declaration of Human Rights
    (pp. 208-214)
  35. APPENDIX C: UN Member States
    (pp. 215-220)
  36. APPENDIX D: How to Set Up a Model UN Meeting
    (pp. 221-228)
    (pp. 229-230)
    (pp. 231-236)
  39. INDEX
    (pp. 237-245)