The United Nations was established in 1945 to maintain world peace. Today, its role is widely acknowledged to be limited, and its focus has shifted increasingly to solving the problems of developing nations.
The changes have come about because the U.N. General Assembly, once dominated by western, industrialized nations now is dominated by the developing nations. Each member state has one vote in the General Assembly, and most of the 100 members added to the original 51 are developing countries.
These developing nations have emphasized their own needs and concerns. The major powers, in turn, have come to rely more and more on direct dealing with each other when addressing problems that involve their own security.
In recent years, the United Nations has been criticized for the salaries and other perquisites it provides its staff. The organization is supposed to pay wages comparable to those of civil servants in the best-paying country, the United States.
Yet, while US. cabinet members such as Secretary of State Cyrus Vance earn $66,000 a year, 117 U.N. system officials are paid between $64,000 and $99,350 annually.
For all its problems, the United Nations still is generally regarded as a useful tool.
"The mere fact that you can discuss problems with other countries means you can let off steam, even if the U.N. can't do anything on its own," said Riaz Khan, first secretary of Pakistan's U.N. Mission.
"People attack the U.N. because it's not doing this or that, but is there anybody who can do it better?" asked Roger Fisher, a Harvard Law School professor who teaches international law.
Citing successful efforts by U.N. organizations to coordinate radio frequencies, aviation rules, and telephone and postal services, Fisher said the organization "is machinery for dealing with our problems. If it doesn't work better, it's the fault of the countries and the people."