UN at a glance

When the United Nations was first founded, it consisted of 51 members. Today, 193 countries form part of the organization. The newest member of the UN is the Republic of South Sudan. It joined the organization in July 2011.

UN Headquarters with flags flying

UN Headquarters

The 194 flags that fly outside the United Nations Headquarters in New York are arranged in English alphabetical order: 193 Member States (from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe) and the UN flag that flies above all the other flags.

The term United Nations was coined by United States President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1941. The term was first officially used on January 1, 1942.

How does a country become a member of the UN?

Article 4 of the UN Charter states that the United Nations “is open to all other peace-loving States which accept the obligations contained in the present Charter and, in the judgment of the Organization, are able and willing to carry out these obligations.”

A State seeking membership to the United Nations first submits an application to the Secretary-General and makes a formal declaration stating that it accepts the obligations under the UN Charter. The Security Council considers the application. Any recommendation for admission must receive nine affirmative votes of Council members and no veto or negative vote from any of the five permanent members.

Should the Security Council recommend the State´s admission to the UN, the recommendation is presented to the General Assembly for consideration. A two-thirds majority vote is necessary for admission and membership to the UN becomes effective on the date the resolution for admission is adopted.

UN emblem and flag

UN flag

UN flag

The design of the UN emblem was approved by the General Assembly on December 7, 1946. It consists of a map of the world surrounded by two olive branches. The olive branch can be traced back to ancient Greece, where it was used as a symbol of peace.

The emblem shows the world as the area where the United Nations is concerned with achieving its main purpose: peace.

On October 20, 1947, the General Assembly adopted a resolution stating that the flag of the United Nations would bear the official emblem of the UN centred on a light blue background. To prevent the misuse of the UN seal and emblem, it cannot be used without the authorisation of the Secretary-General.

UN Charter

The UN Charter is the constitutive instrument of the United Nations, setting out the rights and obligations of member states and establishing its principal organs and procedures. Read more about the Charter here.

UN History

The UN officially came into existence on 24 October 1945 with the ratification of the Charter by China, France, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, the United States and a majority of other signatories. In commemoration of this historic pledge for world peace, United Nations Day is celebrated annually on 24 October. Read more about the history of the United Nations here.

UN Structure

The Charter establishes six principal organs of the United Nations: the General Assembly, the Security Council, the Economic and Social Council, the Trusteeship Council, the International Court of Justice and the Secretariat. Read more about the structure of the UN here.

UN Family

The UN family is much larger than the six principal organs discussed above. It encompasses 15 specialised agencies and numerous programmes and funds as well as other entities. Read more here.

Four Pillars of the UN

The Preamble of the UN Charter describes four areas that are the pillars of the UN: Peace and Security; Human Rights; The Rule of Law; and, Development. Find out more here.