What is the United Nations? A List of UN Member States

(Last Updated On: September 27, 2018)

What is the United Nations? An Overview and History
You’ve likely heard of it, but what is the United Nations exactly? In this post, we’ll provide a short overview and history of this international organization.

What is the United Nations?

The United Nations is a broad international organization that includes the majority of the countries on Earth. Through global cooperation it endeavors to promote peace, protect human rights, and encourage justice, social progress, and respect for international law.

History of the United Nations

Franklin D. Roosevelt coined the term “United Nations” in 1942 to refer to the 26-country alliance that banded together during World War II to fight the Axis Powers. But it wasn’t until 1945 that the United Nations became an official entity, comprised of 51 countries that agreed to the first UN Charter. The bulk of the charter was created by representatives from the USA, UK, USSR, and China.

Since then it has evolved and grown, and today boasts 193 member countries. Only sovereign states qualify for full membership, although the UN definition of “independent” has occasionally caused some controversy. Nonetheless, most of the non-members are either dependencies or protectorates under the control of a larger entity.

The United Nations is not to be confused with NATO, which is an international organization comprised of just 29 nations for the main purpose of policing military action.


The United Nations is made up of 6 key entities that aim to further the stated goals of the UN Charter. The General Assembly is the core representative body of the UN. It includes all member states, and serves as the main policy-making force. The Secretariat includes the Secretary-General (currently António Guterres of Portugal) and the support staff responsible for executing the mandates of the General Assembly and other councils. Then there is also the Security Council, the Economic and Social Council, the Trusteeship Council, and the International Court of Justice, each which focus on a specific sector.

Despite its rather diverse 193 members, the UN only communicates in 6 official languages: English, French, Spanish, Chinese, Russian, and Arabic. Members are free to speak or correspond in any one of these and the UN will provide translation for the entirety of the group.

Goals and the Charter

The UN Charter remains essentially the same as it did when first agreed upon way back in 1945. It has only been amended 5 times in the decades since, and those ratifications were mostly minor adjustments to the size of councils to accommodate growing membership. As well, the goals and mandates of the United Nations continue unchanged today, concentrating on 5 key tenets:

  1. Maintain international peace and security
  2. Protect human rights
  3. Deliver humanitarian aid
  4. Promote sustainable development
  5. Uphold international law

While the main headquarters of the United Nations can be found in New York City, there are many other important offices located around the world, and UN projects span every corner of the globe.

Over its illustrious history, the UN and its delegates have been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize an impressive 11 times, yet the full extent of its positive impact on the lives of people around the world is immeasurable.

List of UN Member States

The United Nations is a common tie that binds this diverse group of countries together and helps maintain peace and justice for all. For a complete list of United Nations Member states, click here.

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