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United Nations

Overview of the basic courses in this Main Subject Group

Basic Course 1: What are the Tasks and Aims of the United Nations?

Basic Course 2: How did the United Nations Develop?

Basic Course 3: How is the United Nations Structured?

Basic Course 4: What does the United Nations System Look Like?

Basic Course 5: Which Problems is the United Nations Confronted with?


Basic Course 1: What are the Tasks and Aims of the United Nations?


"Quite apart from the practical tasks  which the United Nations has been asked to avail itself of, the organisation has ... the declared aim of altering the relations between the states and the manner and form in which international affairs are steered."
[Millennium report by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to the General Assembly]

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After two devastating world wars, the assurance of peace and international security form the central tasks of the world organisation, whereby the endeavour is to learn lessons from the failed attempt to set up a collective security system under the League of Nations in the period between the wars [see Basic Course 2 for more information of the League of Nations and the early history of the United Nations].

Whereas intergovernmental wars formed the main challenge at the time when the organisation was founded, the situation has gone through a fundamental transformation over the last few decades. A reduction in the number of intergovernmental wars stands in contrast to an immense increase in innerstate conflicts, and new phenomena such as transnational terrorism [suggestions for study on war, peace, violence and conflict can be found within the Main Subject Group of Peace Education on D@dalos].

Developments made in securing peace - from the blockade of the Security Council during the Cold War to the current discussion on humanitarian intervention - are dealt with in Basic Course 2.
 

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The genocide and the crime against humanity of the Hitler regime in particular, form the background for the second major field of tasks for the United Nations: the protection of human rights and the continued development of public international law.

The General Assembly had already passed the General Declaration of Human Rights, the most major document in the history of human rights, by 1948. The actual legislative implementation of this declaration was empowered through two international pacts following long and difficult discussions: 1. the Pact on Civil and Political Rights and 2. the Pact on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, both of which were signed in 1966 and came into power in 1976 [these documents and other detailed information on the topics of human rights, children's rights and women's rights can be found within the framework of the Main Subject Group of Human Rights on D@dalos].
 

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Economic and social development makes up the third major field of tasks for the United Nations. Peace, in the sense of the negative peace, is not just understood as an absence of war, but, in the sense of positive peace, also encompasses questions of worldwide development and justice [refer to the section on "Peace" within the framework of the Main Subject Group of Peace Education for more information on this issue]. In the face of global problems such as the greenhouse effect and the ozone hole, environmental protection has been added to this as an additional field of tasks in recent times.

The irrevocable link between peace and development was recognised as early as in 1945. The words of the then United States Secretary of State Edward Stettinius prove exemplary for this: "The fight for peace must take place on two fronts. one front is concerned with security, and the other with the economy and social rights. Only a victory of both fronts will bestow lasting peace on the world."

The numerous programmes, commissions, special organs and specialist institutions which form the widely branching system of the United Nations are dedicated in essence to the topics of development and the environment, and are dealt with in Basic Course 4.

Article 1 of the United Nations Charter summarises these aims:

"1. To maintain international peace and security, and to that end: to take effective collective measures for the prevention and removal of threats to the peace, and for the suppression of acts of aggression or other breaches of the peace, and to bring about by peaceful means, and in conformity with the principles of justice and international law, adjustment or settlement of international disputes or situations which might lead to a breach of the peace;

2. To develop friendly relations among nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and the self-determination of peoples, and to take other appropriate measures to strengthen universal peace;

3. To achieve international co-operation in solving international problems of an economic, social, cultural, or humanitarian character, and in promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion; and

4. To be a centre for harmonizing the actions of nations in the attainment of these common ends." 

[The complete UN Charter can be found on a separate page]

The difficulty and effort required in fulfilling these tasks was expressed by former UN Secretary-General Kurt Waldheim in his annual report of 1978: "The problems placed in front of the United Nations usually address questions of immense complexity. Many of them, in addition, form a threat to international peace and security. The United Nations provides a political framework within which these problems can be checked, rendered safe and dealt with. It also provides a place where all can come to a consensus on how to work for a solution or agreement.

However, it occurs very frequently that agreements of this nature can only be brought about slowly during periods of gradual development, during which problems have to be dealt with and positive forces guided in the right direction continually. This is a vital, practical function of the United Nations, which should not be overshadowed by the disappointments that occur by failing to reach quick and wholesale solutions."
 

... go to Basic Course 2: How did the United Nations Develop?

[Author: Ragnar Müller]

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SubjectsHuman Rights  I  Examples  I  Democracy  I  Parties  I  Europe  I  Globalisation  I  United Nations  I  Sustainability

Methods:    Teaching Politics    II    Peace Education    II    Methods

     


 

This online service on the subject of political education was developed by agora-wissen, the Stuttgart-based Gesellschaft für Wissensvermittlung über neue Medien und politische Bildung (GbR) (Partnership for the Exchange of Information Using New Media and Political Education). Please contact us with your questions or comments. Translation from German into English by twigg's übersetzung deutsch englisch.