The United Nations, the multilateral framework par excellence
The United Nations (UN) was gradually established during the Second World War. Its founding treaty, the Charter of the United Nations, was signed in San Francisco in June 1945.
The Charter does not simply define the structure, mission and functioning of the Organization. It is one of the pillars of the international system in which we live today. In his report on the work of the United Nations to the General Assembly in 2018, the United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres recalled that the Charter remains the "moral compass to promote peace, advance human dignity, prosperity and uphold human rights and the rule of law." (Guterres, 2018).
Multilateralism is part of the United Nations' DNA. The UN is at the service of Member States to reach agreements and take collective decisions. The Charter clearly establishes that the Organization is a “centre for harmonizing the actions of nations in the attainment of these common ends” in order to “take effective collective measures for the prevention and removal of threats to the peace”, to “develop friendly relations among nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples” and to “achieve international cooperation”. To this end, the United Nations must, in particular, work to solve “international problems of an economic, social, cultural, or humanitarian character” and develop “respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all”.
The Charter also contains the main principles on which the functioning of the international system is based, such as the recognition of the sovereign equality of States, respect for international commitments, the peaceful resolution of disputes, and the rejection of the use of force in violation of the provisions of the Charter. Membership of the United Nations also implies the recognition of a bond of solidarity between Member States. It is on the basis of these universal values and collective rules that the UN allows States to collaborate and coordinate their actions.
While the United Nations has been the multilateral framework par excellence for more than 75 years, multilateral processes have diversified. One of the most visible developments in multilateral diplomacy is undoubtedly represented by the increase in the number of Member States: from 51 in 1945, to 193 today. In addition to this horizontal expansion, the multilateral framework has also expanded vertically, including new actors, such as non-governmental organizations (NGOs), private actors and other international organizations. Today, more than 1,000 NGOs and international organizations have observer status at the United Nations.