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Nonfiction in response to Partnerships for the Goals
May 2019

The Essence of the United Nations

By Georgia Bernbaum

When I was little, my teachers taught my peers and me skills like adding and subtracting, reading and writing. They also taught us other skills like sharing with each other, talking about our problems, and negotiating solutions. These are basic principles to which most individuals readily agree.

Countries, too, must share resources, address conflicts, and resolve differences, and there are instances in modern history where the world’s countries did work together toward a common goal. For example, in World War II, the Allied powers, led by Russia, China, England, France, and the United States cooperated to defeat Nazi Germany and its fascist and imperial partners. Then, these same countries collectively rebuilt and restructured Western Europe and Japan. 

The Allied powers understood that improving the conditions of some benefitted all. Out of this understanding, the United Nations was founded in 1945. It was designed to share power because, immediately following World War II, its members were wary of any one person or country yielding absolute power.

The United Nations grew in size and influence. Its 193 members include 54 countries in Africa, 48 in Asia, 44 in Europe, 33 in Latin America, 14 in Oceania, and 2 in North America. Thousands of different cultures, languages, and religions are represented in this body. Member countries commit to the same principles of peacemaking and reciprocity we learned as children, but without teachers to enforce the rules, countries look to the UN’s framework for mutual accountability.


In its almost seventy-five-year history, the United Nations has led international efforts in peace-keeping and economic and social justice. Members support these efforts politically and financially. It is naive to believe that self-interest plays no role in these countries’ support, but it is not the overriding motivation. UN members today, as the Allied powers were then, are committed to the common good.


Goal 17, the last of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, is Partnerships for the Goals. Partnership presumes shared power and shared responsibility. The UN has succeeded in its goal to share power, but it now must commit to sharing responsibility, responsibility for global development as described in its seventeen goals.

When we were little, we were taught to help those who need it, to share what we had with those who had less or none, and to resolve conflict peacefully. We learned to do this as individuals. Through the United Nations, we must do this at the community, national and global level. 

The world is becoming increasingly divided. We separate ourselves by Republicans and Democrats, Muslims and Christians, Pro-Life and Pro-Choice. I hope that these differences do not prevent us from combatting our common problems: hunger, climate change, education.

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