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The United Nations

The United Nations Building is surely one sight above all other in New York that confirms you're in a truly international city. This is summed up in many ways by the very first thing you see : the large number of flags of member countries flying in a long line of poles from one end of the complex to another. The UN has 180 members which has grown considerably from the 51 countries which joined at its inception in 1945.

It's not on US territory either. The UN complex is an international zone. Fans of politics and history will recall the great events and speeches that have taken place in the two main debating chambers -- the General Assembly and the Security Council.

Even if you're not that fascinated by world history but simply want to know what goes on, take a guided tour. The Security Council is the most powerful part of the UN, where decisions of significance to the whole world are taken.

The deployment of UN forces in areas of conflict such as Cyprus, Kosovo and Bosnia will have been decided here. The Security Council has five permanent members : Russia, France, the US, China and Great Britain. The council also has considerable powers of influence in mediation and the imposition of sanctions, for example on Libya and Iraq.

The Security Council has the power to take decisions which affect not only the world's hotspots but the world. How many times have you heard that the UN has been playing a role in one crisis or another?

When you look at the Security Council chamber, you'll not just be looking at a room. It's a place where the most momentous possible events have been altered and influenced, inside which sit representatives of the world's most powerful nations. I hope that you are captivated by what you see, as I was.

The work of the General Assembly will amaze you. So much goes into ensuring its smooth running. One fact which people on my guided tour were amazed to hear was that whenever anyone addresses delegates, their words are being simultaneously translated into hundreds of different languages.

So what does the General Assembly actually do if the real power lies with the Security Council. Well, although it cannot pass laws, it can influence world opinion by taking votes on issues of high importance to show its view. Often, this serves to bring pressure to bear on situations which the brute force of Security Council measures might not have.

There are some magnificent works of art in the UN building, so keep your eyes peeled. Watch also for the sculpture of a gun, with a knot tied in the barrel, signifying what in essence the UN stands for -- nonviolence and the promotion of peace. It was donated by Luxembourg just over ten years ago and is one of the first things visitors see on entering the complex.

One of the most exciting ways to get to the UN is from downtown, by taking a taxi up Franklin D Roosevelt Drive (or FDR) which is a fast and furious ride, taking you past some attractive East River sites. Alternatively, use the Metro and exit at Grand Central (42nd Street). It's a short walk from there.

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