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The United Nations: Capital of the World

Yisrael Rutman

When you think of a capital, what comes to mind? Washington, D.C.? The United Nations is called the capital of the world! Here’s why…

Wednesday, May 03, 2017

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When you think of a capital, what comes to mind? Washington, D.C.? Yerushalayim? Maybe Ouagadougou, in Burkina Faso? But there are capitals of other things besides countries.

Chicago, (where they make Spearmint and Juicy Fruit) is the chewing gum capital of the world. Amsterdam is the tulip capital of the world, with 1.7 billion tulips blooming every spring. Yushan National Park in Taiwan is the landslide capital of the world. And the United Nations has simply been called the capital of the world. Here’s why.

By the Numbers

The United Nations is currently made up of 193 members, from Afghanistan in Asia to Zimbabwe in Africa.

The most populous member is — did you guess it? — China, with close to a billion and a half people. This number is hard to get your mind around. But you can think about it this way:

There are over 160 cities in China with a population of over one million people. In the United States, there are only nine. Ever heard of Changzhou, Taizhou, or Zibo? No? Each of them has more people than Chicago.


Nauru (pronounced NAH-oo-roo) is probably the smallest in population of the 193 countries. It’s an island in the Pacific, about 2,500 miles southwest of Honolulu. Population: 9,488. Nauru is an exception to the rule of capitals: It doesn’t have one.

Some Countries You’ve Never Heard Of
Besides Nauru, there are some other countries you’ve probably never heard of: For example, Belize, just south of Mexico. It’s about the size of New Hampshire, and mostly forests and swamps. The capital, Belmopan, has 14,000 people. Total pop. 340,844.

Mongolia doesn’t have many people — under 3 million — but it has plenty of elbow room. Bigger than Alaska, Mongolia is between Siberia to the north and China to the south. Much of the Gobi Desert — the world’s fifth biggest at half a million square miles — is in Mongolia.

And how about Tuvalu? Population around 10,000. It has nine small islands with palm-fringed beaches. If you’re ever in that part of the South Pacific, there’s good snorkeling in the waters near the capital, Funafuti. Also, lots of coconuts. But you may not have much time. Tuvalu is threatened by rising sea levels, blamed on global warming. Soon we may be waving goodbye: “Toodle-oo to Tuvalu!”

Where Is the UN?
The answer isn’t as simple or obvious as you might think.

Physically, the UN is in the United States, on 46th Street and 1st Avenue in Manhattan, to be exact. But legally, it’s international territory. If you step into the United Nations building, you’ve left the US. Legally, it’s as if you were out in the middle of the ocean somewhere.

Bottom line: The United Nations is in the United States. But it’s also not in the United States.

Embassies are like that too: A country’s embassy is considered the territory of the country it represents, not the country where it stands physically. So, for example, if you walk into the US embassy in Moscow, you will have left Russia and will be standing in US territory.

There have been many cases of people who have used this technicality to flee the police in a given country by going to an embassy. It’s as if they escaped to another country.

But the UN is different. The UN has an agreement with the United States, its host country, to prevent its headquarters from being used as a hideout for persons attempting to avoid arrest under American law. The UN will turn over to US authorities anyone trying this.

How is it like an embassy? Well, besides all the foreign languages spoken at the UN, the diplomats working there aren’t bound by US laws. For example, they can park their cars wherever they want and are exempt from paying the parking tickets. In 1996, UN diplomats got 143,508 parking tickets, but New York City didn’t get a penny of the $15.8 million owed because all the cars had UN license plates.

You’re not the only one who doesn’t think this is fair. (Excerpted from Mishpacha Jr., Issue 658)

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