What Do the UN and NATO Actually Do? Decoding the Alphabet Soup

Acronyms like NATO, the EU, and UNICEF are everywhere in the news and it can be hard keeping them all straight. What do each of these organizations do? Here's our guide to decoding the alphabet soup of world organizations.

NATO - The North Atlantic Treaty Organization was formed in 1949 as an intergovernmental military alliance between nations. Today, there are 28 independent member countries in NATO. At the heart of the NATO alliance is the idea that a military or political attack on one member country is an attack on the whole organization. Thus, countries have agreed to contribute troops and supplies for some joint military actions.

It's worth noting that Russia and Ukraine are NOT members of NATO. Last week, NATO announced some measures it would take to support Ukraine and other non-member Eastern European countries that have endured Russia's recent military actions. While some agree with this approach and say greater military actions would only enflame Russia, others say Ukraine is in serious need of support and resources if it's to stand a chance.

UN - According to its website, the United Nations has 4 main objectives: maintaining peace between nations, developing friendly relations between states, addressing global poverty and inequality, and creating a space where member countries can gather and carry out these goals. Founded in 1945 with 51 member countries, that number has since expanded to 193.

UNICEF - United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund is a long-term initiative from the UN to assist children and mothers in developing countries around the world.

UNESCO - United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization bridges countries together to help preserve culture and establish teaching programs. One well-known part of UNESCO is its World Heritage Site designation, which protects art, architecture, natural areas, and more.

WHO - World Health Organization is run by the UN and addresses public health on an international scale. This includes everything from ongoing medical research projects to more tactical responses to epidemics, including the recent Ebola outbreak in West Africa.

G8 - The Group of 8 consists of the leaders from eight of the most powerful countries in the world: Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, United Kingdom, and the United States. Formed in 1975, the G8 convenes every year to discuss international issues and the countries rotate in acting as president of the organization.

EU - The European Union has 28 member nations that accept the same currency (the Euro), and hold the same standards for free trade and travel for their member states and citizens. By gathering together under one union, the EU acts as a robust trade organization with strong political and economic influence.

OPEC - Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries. OPEC has 12 member countries that export oil on a massive scale. They meet together to set prices and practices that support their common interest: huge profits.

IMF - The International Monetary Fund's objective is to assist countries in need of loans or assistance with economic stability. 188 nations pay into a common fund, which gets distributed to countries in need. Critics of the IMF say it has a bias toward the U.S. and EU-favoring countries that have strong ties to either of those.

Learn More:
That Time Ukraine Tried To Join NATO - And NATO Said No (via The Washington Post)
"Ukraine and an alleged Russian invasion of the country are among the biggest topics of conversation at NATO's summit in Wales. "

The European Union: Questions and Answers (via the Congressional Research Service)

How the EU Works (via EU)
"The EU is a unique economic and political partnership between 28 European countries that together cover much of the continent."

What Is NATO? (via NATO)
"NATO's essential purpose is to safeguard the freedom and security of its members through political and military means."

Guide to Archives of International Organisation: UNICEF (via UNESCO)
"UNICEF believes that nurturing and caring for children are the cornerstones of human progress."

World Health Organisation Profile (via HowStuffWorks)
"The World Health Organization, or WHO, was established as a specialized agency of the United Nations (UN) in 1948."

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