Photographer: Michael Nagle

The UN: 70 Years of Global Economic and Political Power Shifts in Six Charts

New states, diversified trade and exploding populations have forced change

The world is in crisis, from the humanitarian disaster brought on by the war in Syria to global warming.

As leaders around the globe gather for the annual jamboree of statecraft that is the United Nations General Assembly we took a look at how the 70-year-old international body charged with maintaining peace and security has evolved with the times.

Power Dynamics

The UN’s most well-known and authoritative decision-making body, the 15-seat Security Council, still draws from the 1945 status quo rather than an ever-changing balance of power.

The permanent members — the U.S., Russia, China, the U.K. and France — reflect the winners of World War II and to this day continue to exercise an exclusive veto.

In 1950, these geopolitical rule-makers represented more than half the world’s economic output, according to historical data compiled by now-deceased economist Angus Maddison and his colleagues at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands.

Fast forward to 2008 and the so-called P5 account for less than 45 percent of global economic output, with Communist China solely responsible for stemming the slide. In contrast, the five largest emerging market economies (not counting China) have seen their share of world GDP increase by half.

Rising Populations

When it comes to pure demographics, India feels it has a right to a seat at the table with the big power brokers because it alone holds 17 percent of the world’s population while the P5 combined represent 28 percent of humanity. After India, the most populous emerging market countries — Indonesia, Brazil, Pakistan and Nigeria — collectively outnumber the permanent members.

Globalized Planet

Seventy years ago, nation-states claimed absolute sovereignty over their borders and domestic economies. Now they have grown increasingly diverse, interconnected and complex. Take trade, which has doubled as a share of world output since 1960. Over much the same period, Europe created the world’s biggest single market - the European Union - and its own currency, the euro. Similar groupings have also sprung up in South America and in the dismantled Soviet Union.

National economies are producing and exporting a greater variety of increasingly specialized goods, many enhanced by technological advancements. This is reflected in the economic complexity index devised by professors at MIT and Harvard.

Migration

From 1945 onward, dying empires let go of their African colonies and former Soviet and Yugoslav republics declared independence. The UN has grown from 51 founding member to 193 with the accession of South Sudan in 2011.

Yet this web of new borders hasn’t stopped a deluge of people leaving their home countries in search of better economic opportunities, with many headed for wealthier nations that have seen international migrants double to more than 10 percent of their populations since 1960, according to World Bank data.

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