How the United Nations works

(Reuters file)
(Reuters file)

The United Nations was created in 1945 at the close of World War II, essentially to prevent us from doing the same thing again.

But what does the UN actually do?

At 193 countries strong it's headed by the Security Council, its five permanent members with the power to veto any resolution.

Ten non-permanent members also sit at the big table - New Zealand is currently one of those.

The Security Council's job is to:

However, the UN doesn't really take military action - yet.

A recent UN report said out of more than 500 recent attacks against civilians, UN peacekeepers virtually never used force to protect them.

But that may be about to change. Thirty-five countries have now signed onto the Kigali Principals, authorising "direct military action against armed actors with clear hostile intent to harm civilians".

So, watch this space.

But the UN isn't just about conflict resolution. It also runs the United Nations Children's Emergency Fund (UNICEF), the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the World Health Organization (WHO).

The UN also assists refugees and helps get rid of landmines left over from mankind's various wars.

The UN Secretary-General oversees the hundreds of programs and balances the budget, but has no real powers to carry out decisions.

As former Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali once said, "I can do nothing. I have no army. I have no money... If the member states don't want [to do something], what can I do?"