Ever since its establishment in 1945, the United Nations has performed a pivotal function in a great variety of affairs, large or small, international and national. As such, the UN has played an incisive role in the lives of people around the world. Much of what the UN does is taken for granted and even goes unnoticed by the larger public, to the point that there has been expressed that ‘if the UN did not exist it would have to be invented’. At the same time, millions around the world look to the UN expecting it to address many of the enormous challenges faced by humankind. These complex dynamics are complemented by the fact that the UN is both reliant on what the member states want, while at the same time, being much more than the sum of its members. This course provides a comprehensive and rigorous introduction into the UN system, including its origins and history, its organisational framework and the functioning of various organs, agencies, bodies and programmes.
Students will critically examine the most important areas of the UN mission including the key Charter principles, the pillars of international peace and security, economic and social progress, development and human rights as well as a growing list of priorities and initiatives (e.g., gender equality and mainstreaming; eliminating gender-based violence; environmental protection; climate change; post-2015 development agenda; Global Education First Initiative; action to counter terrorism; R2P, etc.).
In addition, the course offers a close scrutiny at some of the challenges the UN faces, and discusses also various proposals for its reform. Students will be encouraged to reflect on how UN priorities and initiatives can be constructively addressed in their respective fields and programmes of peace studies.