United Nations

UN flag (UN Photo/John Isaac)

UN flag (UN Photo/John Isaac)

The United Nations (UN) was founded in 1945 at the end of World War II as a universal international organization, open to membership by all states within the international system. The UN is a legally binding organization—all states that sign its Charter are obligated to fulfill its commitments.


The UN has 193 Member States, including all of the participating States in the OSCE except the Holy See (Vatican).

Chapter VI

Chapter VI of the UN Charter deals with the “pacific settlement of disputes,” and calls upon all states to pursue peaceful means such as negotiation and conciliation to resolve any dispute that might endanger international peace and security. Although the Charter gives primacy to the Security Council to deal with such disputes, it also acknowledges that under certain conditions conflicts may be submitted to the International Court of Justices or to the General Assembly for resolution.

Chapter VII

Chapter VII of the UN Charter on “action with respect to threats to the peace, breaches of the peace, and acts of aggression” deals with overt situations where violent conflict appears imminent or has already broken out. Responsibility for Chapter VII activities is lodged primarily with the Security Council, which may apply sanctions against violators or authorize the use of force by some or all members of the United Nations to enforce security collectively within the international system.

Chapter VIII and the OSCE

Chapter VIII of the United Nations Charter explicitly recognizes the role of regional arrangements, such as the OSCE, for dealing with peace and security. In Article 52 it specifically requires member states to “make every effort to achieve pacific settlement of local disputes through such regional arrangements or by such regional agencies before referring them to the Security Council.” It also allows the Security Council to utilize such regional arrangements for enforcement action under its authority and requires that the Security Council “be kept fully informed of activities undertaken or in contemplation under regional arrangements or by regional agencies for the maintenance of international peace and security.” 

The OSCE is a primary instrument for conflict prevention and resolution, crisis response and management and conflict rehabilitation. Since 1995, the OSCE has been recognized as a regional security institution under Chapter VIII of the UN Charter, and thereby it has also accepted an obligation to keep the Security Council informed of activities that it undertakes or even contemplates undertaking for the maintenance of international peace and security.

UN role in security

The UN role in the security field has also grown considerably beyond the level of activity contemplated in 1945 when the Charter was adopted. Perhaps most important has been the development of UN “peacekeeping” operations, falling between pacific settlement of disputes and actual engagement of military forces in a full-scale collective security mission.

Originally these operations consisted largely of the interposition of UN “blue berets” between combatants after a cease-fire had been agreed upon, intended largely to prevent a resumption of direct hostilities. Since the end of the Cold War, however, UN operations entered into “peace-making” and “peace enforcement”, notably in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo, as well as providing military assistance for complex humanitarian emergencies. These latter missions may place UN forces in situations where they may have to engage in combat operations rather than police lines of division between parties that have previously agreed to a cease-fire.

Preventive diplomacy

Preventive diplomacy has been identified as a principal area of activity for the UN Secretary General and her/his staff of special emissaries. This conflict prevention function has generally been performed by senior UN officials based in New York or Geneva, rather than by field operations as has generally been the case for OSCE conflict prevention work. Of course, a number of UN agencies such as UNHCR and the UN Development Program maintain offices in many countries throughout the world and often play an indirect, and at times even a direct role in conflict prevention. In some specific cases, the UN and the OSCE have worked together to prevent the reignition of violence in post-conflict situations. 

OSCE field operations co-operate closely with UN agencies and missions, for example, the OSCE Mission in Kosovo is an integral part of the UN Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK).

OSCE cooperation with the UN

The OSCE CiO addressing the UN General Assembly (UNGA) in 2019. (UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe)

The OSCE CiO addressing the UN General Assembly (UNGA) in 2019. (UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe)

The UN is one of OSCE's closest partners. Cooperation was formalized in 1993, when the UN granted the CSCE observer status, after the pS declared the OSCE to be a regional arrangement under Chapter VIII. Many of the functions that have been created in the OSCE, especially since 1990 complement the functions of the United Nations. 

The UN-OSCE shared agenda includes:

  • Conflict settlement and peacebuilding 

  • Early warning and conflict prevention 

  • Small arms and light weapons

  • Border management 

  • Environmental and economic aspects of security 

  • Combating human trafficking

  • Ratification and implementation of the 12 Universal Anti-terrorism Instruments and other initiatives to combat terrorism 

  • Democratization and human rights 

  • Freedom of the media

The OSCE CiO Lajčák, who was formerly the President of the UNGA (2017-2018), made the case to the UNGA in 2019 for closer co-operation, stressed that “In working together, we have nothing to lose – and everything to gain.”

The UN Secretary General and the OSCE CIO and the SG endorsed a “Joint Statement to Supplement the UN-OSCE Framework for Cooperation and Coordination” in 2019. The OSCE and UN committed themselves to further enhancing cooperation to maintain international peace and security and to promote respect for human rights, fundamental freedoms and the rule of law.

Regular high-level meetings have been held between the UN and regional organizations, to strengthen co-operation in facing challenges to international peace and security, since 1994.

The OSCE has observer status in the UN General Assembly, while the UN is invited to participate in OSCE Ministerial Council and Summit meetings. UN representatives are frequently invited to address the OSCE Permanent Council. 

The CiO is invited to address the annual UN Security Council meetings with regional organizations on thematic issues related to peace and security. The SG may also participate. 

The CiO usually addresses the UN Security Council at the beginning of each year to present the priorities of the OSCE CiO for the year ahead. 

OSCE-UN Coordination is enhanced through:

Annual UN-OSCE staff-level meetings serve as an important venue for exchange of information and co-ordination of activities. 

Representatives of relevant United Nations entities are invited to speak at and participate in the main annual OSCE events, including the Human Dimension Implementation Meeting, the Economic Forum and the Annual Security Review Conference.

Other UN agencies

In addition to the UNGA and Security Council, there are a number of other UN agencies and programs that work in the peace and security field, and some of these intersect with and/or overlap with the areas covered by the OSCE, including:

UN Sustainable Development Goals

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development was adopted by world leaders at a historic UN Summit in September 2015. States have committed to achieving the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) over 2015-2030 by mobilizing efforts to end all forms of poverty, fight inequalities and tackle climate change, while ensuring that no one is left behind. 

The 17 SDGs are grouped around five major pillars: people, planet, prosperity, peace and partnerships, and form one integrated whole. 

Global goals for sustainable development

Global goals for sustainable development

Two UN resolutions adopted in 2016 and the UNSG’s 2018 report “Peacebuilding and sustaining peace” call for better linkages between the UN’s three foundational pillars: peace and security, development, and human rights. This includes a stronger focus on prevention, in particular through an enhanced understanding of root causes of violent conflict and the need for inclusive approaches aimed at increasing resilience.

While the activities of the OSCE as a regional security organization have a strong focus on peace, justice and stable institutions (SDG 16), they can be relevant to each of the SDGs.