The United Nations and Justice in World Politics


The United Nations (UN) is an organ established under the international law, and it is charged with ensuring that global peace is maintained at all costs. The organization is made up of 193 countries spread all over the globe, and its primary mission is to combat war between the member nations and deter acts of terrorism (Thakur & Weiss 2009). Usually, the organization intervenes to solve disputes before they translate into war. The UN achieves this goal engaging the affected parties in a dialogue to resolve the issues causing the conflict.

The organization has six principal organs including the General Assembly (the main deliberative assembly), the Security Council (for deciding certain resolutions for peace and security), and the Economic and Social Council (for assisting in promoting international economic and social cooperation and development). Others include the Secretariat (for providing studies, information and facilities needed by the UN), the International Court of Justice (the primary judicial organ), and the United Nations Trusteeship Council, which is currently inactive (Donnelly 1993, p.67).

This paper shall explore the major achievements and failures of the UN Council to determine its ability to shape order and ensure justice in world politics. The paper shall also explore the challenges faced by the organization in the course of dispensing its mandate of ensuring peace and controlling lawlessness.

The UN Security Council

The UN Security Council is one of the six (6) chief organs of the United Nations, which is charged with ensuring that global peace is maintained. The council is established under the UN Charter, and it is composed of 15 member states with each member allowed one vote in major decisions. Of the 15 member states, five (5) are permanent members. The five include China, France, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom, and the United States (Nye 2008). The permanent members rank high in decision-making, and they are expected to contribute highly to the organization’s resources. The Charter expects each member state to observe and implement proposals made by the Council in the course of maintaining order. Some of the major decisions that require voting by the council members include decision as to whether or not a threat exists, decisions to impose sanctions on a defying state, and the decision to use force to restore order. However, the mentioned decisions are only applicable where peaceful methods of dispute resolution have backfired.

Major Achievements

One of the major achievements of the UN centers on its campaign for democracy and fair elections. The organization has been in the forefront in promoting democracy in countries around the world to avoid political conflicts resulting in a dictatorship. The UN deploys its representatives in various countries during the electioneering periods to promote fair elections, especially in the undemocratic nations. This aspect has compelled most countries around the world to embrace democracy and conduct free and fair elections, thus averting chances of post-election violence. The end of Apartheid in South Africa is a success story for the UN since it introduced democracy in the country.

This democratization process in turn ended the numerous political conflicts that characterized the nation. The UN has not only focused on Africa in its democracy campaigns but also in other continents that have been reluctant to drop autocracy. For example, in Iraq, the UN played a vital role in introducing democracy by overthrowing Saddam Hussein, who according to the organization was a dictator responsible for a myriad of political unrests in the country. In this case, the use of force to destabilize the government was inevitable since the mentioned leader was reluctant to give away power. Such endeavors are illustrative of the UN’s commitment and capability to maintain peace and political order around the world.

The other great achievement by the UN is observable in its efforts to combat terrorism, which has escalated in the past few decades. Even though the UN has been accused of failing to deal with terrorism activities comprehensively, its efforts in combating such attacks cannot be overlooked. The council has weeded out terrorist groups by eliminating their leaders. Its success in combating terrorism is specifically observed in Iraq and Afghanistan where it has launched an aggressive hunt to extirpate the entire terrorist groups. The Security Council started to monitor terrorist activities in Afghanistan after it became apparent that the country hosted major terrorist groups. The immediate result of the UN’s endeavors in the country was the attacks on the terrorists in Afghanistan on October 7, 2001. One of its key accomplishments was the elimination of Osama Bin Laden in 2011 after years of escapades. Osama Bin Laden was linked to major terrorist attacks in the world, and thus his death marked a big turnaround in the fight against terrorism.

Another notable achievement of the UN is its fight against nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction such as biological threats. It has achieved this goal through various instruments that include the Chemical Weapons Convention of 1999, the abolishment of biological weapons (1975), and the nuclear test ban treaty of 1996 (Deutsch 2006). Inasmuch as critics accuse the organization of failure to deal with harmful weapons, the United Nations has taken the appropriate steps in cutting down the level of WMDs around the world. Since the1990s, a huge number of weapons of mass destruction have been dismantled by the great powers under the umbrella of the UN.

The UN Security Council worked tirelessly to compel North Korea to stop pursing the production of nuclear weapons for the sake of the region’s peace (Donnelly 1993). After a long tussle and resistance from North Korea, the Security Council won and the region is at peace for now albeit the occasional threats from the current leadership in the North. The same procedure of maintaining security was also implemented for Iran and Libya when they engaged in nuclear programs, and sanctions were placed to ensure that Gaddafi restrained from engaging in such activities. This move would ensure global peace by cutting down the amount of the nuclear weapons around the world (Doyle & Sambanis 2006).

In the past, the UN has emphasized the need to prevent warfare instead of dealing with the consequences of the war. In line with this strategy, the organization has its officers on the ground, who act as investigators and detectors of violence before it emerges. Through its peacekeeping officers, the UN has helped avert various wars from occurring. As of September 2001, the organization had deployed 54 peacekeeping forces and observer missions (Chesterman 2005).

Lastly, the UN has managed to enact legislations to try perpetrators of international crimes. Since its formation, the International Criminal Court (ICC) has tried various political leaders for perpetrating violence in their respective countries. In addition to establishing an international court, the UN has created various tribunals in different countries to try suspects of international crimes in their countries. Such tribunals are evident in Rwanda and Yugoslavia, which were established in response to mass killings that occurred in the two countries (Weller 2002). The tribunals established in different parts as Rwanda and Yugoslavia have been experiencing management hitches, which are major setbacks for the UN Security Council. Nevertheless, such missions have been successful to some extent as victims of such wars feel that someone is ensuring justice for such crimes against humanity.

Major failures by the UN

The formation of the United Nations on October 24, 1945 was prompted by the need to preserve global law and order, together with the need to prevent the recurrence of world wars that threatened the lives of innocent individuals. Conversely, in the contemporary world, insecurity remains a great threat to the international peace, thus raising questions about the ability of the UN to execute its mandate effectively. The following section highlights the main failures by the UN.

The history of the UN’s counter-terrorism activities reveals that the organization did not embrace the fight against terrorism until late 1985. Its reluctance in fighting terrorism was contrary to its mandated duties spelled out in the charter creating it. In Chapter 1 of the UN, the organization is mandated to keep peace around the world. Therefore, the organization was supposed to take effective collective actions to prevent and remove threats to the global peace. Additionally, the organization seeks to suppress any form of hostility from different quarters including terrorism (Thakur & Weiss 2009). The UN acknowledged the word “terrorism” towards the end of 1985. The infamous Lockerbie bomber of 1988 was an opportune moment for the UN to assert its power in dealing with terrorist attacks.

The UN’s inability to deal with terrorists is apparently evident from the wave of attacks that has characterized the globe in the past few decades. Various terrorist attacks have been executed causing great threats to world peace even as the UN is in place. Examples of attacks that the UN has failed to stop include Al-Qaeda and Taliban forces. This failure led to the 1998 attacks on the American embassies in Tanzania and Kenya and the September 11 attacks in the US, all of which have resulted in mass causalities. This argument implies that the UN will not have achieved its mandate to ensure world peace as long as different regions face terrorist attacks. This assertion holds because every day many people will be threatened by such activities.

The UN has also failed to institute criminal charges against individuals and political leaders accused of perpetrating crimes against humanity. The failure is attributable to poor decision-making procedures within the council. This assertion holds because the permanent members of the National Security Council are considered superior in major decision-making. An opposition by a single permanent member may overturn a decision made by the 15 members of the Council (Nye 2008). An example of such failure was demonstrated when the Security Council attempted to impose sanctions against Libya to compel the country to release a criminal to face charges at the ICC. Nevertheless, following the political divergences and different interests amongst the member states within the council, Libya did not obey the UN’s directives.

However, even after this unbecoming behavior from Libya, the council took over three years to punish or sanction Gaddafi for his failure to cooperate and continued allegations of funding terrorism activities. Nevertheless, after the infamous 9/11 terrorist attacks in Washington DC, the UN Security Council met and forged a mechanism to deal with the mushrooming terrorist activities around the world. The focus was on the Middle East, which was the hotbed of terrorism activities at the time. Some of the overarching needs at the time included the 9/11 terrorist attacks and many more insurgent activities round the world including (Call 2008). Unfortunately, the UN has been uncreative in dealing with terrorism because it only responds after an attack. This reactive as opposed to proactive nature of the UN’s approach to terrorism underscores one of its biggest failures of all the time.

The other failure that is worth mentioning is its inability to eradicate nuclear weapons that are a great threat to international peace. After the Cold War, it became hard for the UN to monitor and destroy the production of nuclear weapons (Hilaire 2005). Currently, the production of nuclear weapons is on the rise and the UN does not have accurate data on the level of such weapons in different countries. For instance, Libya managed to keep such weapons as a secret for a long time without the realization of the UN. This aspect points to the possibility that there might be other weapons in different countries outside the UN’s radar.

Coleman (2007, p.6) posits that since the ‘formation of the United Nations, world-scale disarmament and limitation have been deemed vital for the maintenance of peace and security’. In the quest to counter such occurrences, the UN has come up with numerous amendments and laws to govern the conduct of its 193 member states. One of such laws is the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) of 1970. However, despite the laws being in place, there has not been a complete eradication of nuclear and other chemical weapons.

The war on nuclear weapons has been compounded by the fact that the superpowers were the major creators of the weapons in the period following the Second World War. Towards the end of World War II, it was clear that counties had developed advanced weapons, which could cause mass destruction with the Hiroshima case being a good example (Thakur 2006). In the post-World War II period, the different countries embarked on covert operations to enrich their Uranium deposits, which later led to the development of nuclear weapons. The covert nature of these operations kept the UN out of the loop for years. For instance, the Soviet Union established a nuclear research center in Libya and kept it a secret for over a decade without the knowledge of the UN. Actually, the UN did not discover this development until 2003 when Gaddafi admitted that he had been developing nuclear weapons before promising to quit the exercise.

Major setbacks to the UN’s ability to maintain global peace

In the past few decades, the changing nature of crime has presented a major challenge to the UN’s ability to dispense its mandates. The increase in terrorist activities has been a major setback to the UN’s efforts to maintain global peace and political order. In the contemporary times, organized groups accomplish criminal activities. At times, the groups use the Internet for anonymity. The use of the new technology to accomplish criminal activities assures the groups of their anonymity, and thus it is hard to prevent such attacks from happening. Additionally, the peacekeeping teams associated with the United Nations have to work in insecure environments due to the increasing terrorism acts.

The inadequacy of funds is another challenge that has limited the UN Security Council’s ability to combat crime and maintain global peace. The UN council depends on donations made by the member states to run its daily activities. Therefore, the lack of cooperation by some members could derail major peace operations. The issue of sovereignty, which has characterized modern nations, compounds the problem. Even though the UN council is in full support of sovereignty, an increase in bilateral warfare has limited individual nation’s commitment to the UN Council’s Charter.

The other challenge that the UN council faces is non-cooperation by some member states who have protested the decision-making processes by the Council. Many of the defiant members argue that the Security Council is not representative geographically (Deutsch 2006). For instance, Japan now contributes nearly 13 percent of the general budget, but it has little say in security issues. Unless reforms to the decision-making process of the Council are realized, its legitimacy as a global decision-making body will be hampered. Much of the strength of the UN is its universality, but a peacekeeping process comprising that catholicity could jeopardize not only the individual mission but also the legitimacy of the UN in general (Smith & Stares 2007). For example, the UN’s involvement in the Gulf Crisis was widely considered to have boosted the organization’s power and profile.


The UN was established after the end of the Second World War to oversee peacemaking processes and prevent the recurrence of such warfare. Since its establishment, it has deterred the occurrence of wars between states. However, skeptics have questioned the ability of the organization to maintain peace and political order especially after it recorded numerous failures. One of such failures is its inability to stop conflicts involving the five (5) permanent members apparently because the mentioned category of members is the main financiers of the council. In addition to such failures, the organization faces a myriad of setbacks in its attempts to maintain global order.

According to National Research Council, the lack of pre-deployment planning, mobility limitations, restrictions on the use of force, the sparse availability of military intelligence from member states, and a lack of funding have all bridled the capability of forces to carry out their mandates (Doyle & Sambanis 2006). However, several corrective measures have been suggested. They include improved communication between operations in the field and the New York headquarters and the establishment of a central planning agency at the Secretariat. Others include assigning support regiments for the UN duty, pre-stocking general supplies at regional depots, arranging faster airlifts, improving early-warning capabilities, and securing better military intelligence from member states. Nevertheless, regardless of its weaknesses and failures, the UN can be said to play an important role in shaping order and ensuring justice in world politics.

Reference List

Call, C 2008, Building states to build peace, Lynne Rienner Publishers, Boulder.

Chesterman, S 2005, You, the people: the United Nations, transitional administration, and state-building, Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Coleman, K 2007, International organizations and peace enforcement, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Deutsch, K 2006, Political community at the international level, ECKO House Publishing, Texas.

Donnelly, J 1993, International human rights, Westview Press, Boulder.

Doyle, M & Sambanis, N 2006, Making war and building peace: United Nations peace operations, Princeton University Press, Princeton.

Hilaire, M 2005, United Nations Law and the Security Council, Ashgate Publishing Company, Farnham.

Nye, J 2008, Understanding international conflicts, Longman, Harlow.

Smith, H & Stares, P 2007, Diasporas in Conflict: Peace-makers or Peace-wreckers, United Nations Publications, New York.

Thakur, R 2006, The United Nations, peace, and security: from collective security to the responsibility to protect, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Thakur, R & Weiss, T 2009, ‘United Nations ‘Policy’: An argument with three Illustrations’, International Studies Perspectives, vol. 10, no.1, pp. 18-35.

Weller, M 2002, ‘Undoing the global constitution: UN Security Council action on the International Criminal Court’, International Affairs, vol. 194, no.4, pp. 693-712.

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