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  • Writer's pictureJohn Pabon

The UN's Acronym Fetish


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The United Nations has a strange fetish for acronyms.


Starting my career at the organisation, I got to look deep into this weird rabbit hole. Given it’s the start of the General Assembly, and Climate Week, I thought why not share some of my favourites.


My first job in the organisation was as an English-language editor in the DGACM, Department for General Assembly and Conference Management. I encountered dozens of these daily. They included the obvious: UNSC for United Nations Security Council; PKO for peacekeeping operations; and, SG for Secretary-General. Then you got into those used as shorthand for formal country names, like UKGBNI for the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and DPRK for the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. That’s North Korea. South Korea is simply the ROK. Big blocs of countries get their own acronyms, too. You’ve got the G7, G8, G10, and G20. The G77 + China is primarily developing countries. CANZ is short for the Canadian, American, Australian, and New Zealand alliance. BASIC and BRICs include Brazil, Russia, and India. SIDS are small-island developing states.


My favourites were always the acronyms for and related to peacekeeping operations. These would typically have extremely long names, leading to some pretty interesting outcomes. MINURSO is a mission in Western Sahara, while MONUC is another in the DRC (Democratic Republic of the Congo). MOSS stands for minimum operational security standards, and NEPAD is the New Economic Partnership for Africa’s Development. FANCI are the Forces Armées Nationales de Côte d'Ivoire. WIDER is the World Institute for Development Economics Research. MANPADS, though, has to take the cake. MANPADS is short for a type of surface-to-air missile called a man-portable air-defence system.


When talking about the environment, there’s the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). From the 2015 Paris Conference we also get the mother of all acronyms: CBDRILONCWRC. That indecipherable smattering of letters stands for Common But Differentiated Responsibility In Light Of National Circumstances With Respective Capability. Essentially, each nation is responsible for doing its part.


I’ll be posting a bit of insider insight into this mysterious world over the next two weeks, so do keep an eye out. Make sure to like, share, and comment as well!

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