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

After sketching out the tasks and aims of the United Nations in Basic Course 1, and after retracing the development of the world organisation in Basic Course 2, and following the description of the instruments available for fulfilling the aims, namely the principal organs on the one hand, and the special organs and specialist institutions on the other in Basic Courses 3 and 4, Basic Course 5 provides a problem-oriented account: is the United Nations capable of living up to what is expected of it? In what areas does it fail to live up to these expectations?

Individual problems have already been addressed in the various sequences in the basic courses: the description of the history of the United Nations in Basic Course 2 has shown that grave crises have occurred continually in fulfilling the central task of securing peace. It has also been shown that although the United Nations has been the most important forum for addressing the North-South Conflict since the 1960s, progress in alleviating the disputes between the industrial and developing nations has been moderate.

The frequently mentioned point of criticism linked to the widely branching system of the United Nations concerning the failure to coordinate activities and the resultant poor working efficiency has surfaced at several times. As the largest subscription payer, the USA has continually attempted to exercise pressure by not paying its subscriptions, not least because of this, which draws our attention to a further difficult problem of the United Nations: the notorious financial scarcity.

Contributions to the Ordinary UN Budget

(in percent)



















Great Britain



























Other nations



In total, an enormous chasm opens up between the aims and the principals of the UN Charter and political reality, as the pointed comparison by Gareis and Varwick demonstrates in the following table. To burden the UNO with the responsibility for these deficits alone would be missing the real point. The United Nations is a classical international organisation, with a membership made up of states. Like any international organisation, the United Nations is only as strong as its members allow. The will towards multilateral problem-solving on the part of its member states - and in particular the most powerful of them - decides on the success or failure of its work.

This needs to be considered when a suitable image of the United Nations is to be formed. Part of the criticism of the world organisation is actually due to the supporting states. Another aspect needs to be added here, which is also suited to relativising the exaggerated criticism, namely that of the unrealistic expectations of the United Nations. Some critics of the work of the organisation appear to assume falsely that the United nations is a type of world government.

Aims and Principals of the Charter

Political Reality

Sovereign equality of all member states

Strong division of power between states and regions

Realisation of the obligations entered into in the UN Charter

Refusal to pay contributions or subscriptions depending on national position of interest

Commitment to the peaceful settlement of disputes

Omnipresent violence in the international system

General ban on violence

Practiced right of individual states to the unilateral use of violence

World peace and international security as the collective duty of all member states

Dominance of interest of the industrial states and forgotten conflicts in developing countries

Ban on interfering in the internal affairs of member states

Globalisation of fundamental problems forces the erosion of national sovereignty

[taken from: Sven Gareis/Johannes Varwick, Die Vereinten Nationen. Aufgaben, Instrumente und Reformen; Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung Schriftenreihe Band 403, Bonn 2003, P. 302]

Following a short essay on the history of the world organisation, Volger comes to the conclusion that, "If the United Nations had and has problems in securing peace and providing solutions to other global problems, this did and does not lie in the structure of the United Nations - it has proven itself to be flexible and effective enough -, but in the disunity of the member states and their lacking readiness to implement the appropriate political and economic measures."

[taken from: Helmut Volger, Zur Geschichte der Vereinten Nationen; in: Aus Politik und Zeitgeschichte 42/1995, Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung Bonn, P. 12]

Despite this, - and this is a further problem with which the United Nations has to contend - it also needs to be stated that the world organisation has nearly quadrupled its membership and its range of duties since its foundation without fundamental amendments to the Charter being made. As before, it reflects the world-political (emergency) state at the end of the Second World War and appears increasingly anachronistic

The UNO has moved "from being an organisation, which should principally outlaw war as a means of politics ... to a global forum where all fundamental world problems are discussed and brought some way towards a solution. In international politics ... broad consensus exists on the United Nations being reformed, because structures and procedures no longer correspond to the world political reality of the 21st Century. At the same time, it is expected increasingly from the United Nations, that it fill the regulatory gap in the globalised world, and this contradiction between the real opportunities and the high expectations creates a climate of excessive pressure and often results in unfair evaluations of the important work of the United Nations."

[taken from: Johannes Varwick, Vereinte Nationen; in: Wichard Woyke (Hg.), Handwörterbuch Internationale Politik, 8. Auflage, Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung Schriftenreihe Band 404, Bonn 2000, P. 496]

More sections within the framework of Basic Course 5

Of course, it is not possible to go into detail on all the problems and reforms addressed here. We want to limit ourselves to comments on the following important aspects, all of which are linked closely to one another:

bulletFINANCES: The United Nations' Financial Crisis
bullet PEACE: The Crisis of Securing Peace through the United Nations
bulletEFFICIENCY: Problems with Coordination and Work Efficiency
bullet REFORMS: Fundamental Reform Plans and the Problems Associated with their Implementation

[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



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