This course analyzes the role of the United Nations (UN) in constituting and reconstituting world order. Founded in 1945 to address the challenges of international armed aggression associated with World Wars I and II, the UN has grown and evolved in significant ways since its establishment and is now charged with confronting a wide range of threats, including mass atrocities, poverty, hunger, disease, and climate change. This international organization — simultaneously a forum for countries to pursue their national interests and a mechanism for fulfilling collective goals — has become the centerpiece of world order, playing a preeminent role in promoting international peace and security, economic development, and human rights and humanitarian efforts. The UN is now at a crossroads: While the need for a global institution to manage burgeoning problems remains, other shifts in global power challenge its authority and capabilities — namely, the rise of a multipolar world, the growth of nationalism, and the retreat of democracy. What will the role of the UN be? Will it merely coordinate relief and the management of vulnerable populations, or is the organization capable of providing leadership on development, peace, and justice?
The class builds a conceptual foundation and then applies it in examining key historical moments and contemporary practices. In early sessions, social scientific parameters of study and the major theoretical approaches are outlined. The class then surveys the historical and political contexts that shaped the birth, behavior, and performance of international organizations — the early interstate system, the 19th century, and the wars and interwar epoch of the early 20th century. The spotlight on the UN begins by tracing and evaluating its work during the formative Cold War period and changes initiated during the post-Cold War era. The class devotes considerable attention to probing current dynamics, such as those stemming from the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the global financial crisis of 2007-2008, the Arab Spring of 2011, the unveiling of the Sustainable Development Goals in 2015, the COVID-19 pandemic, and the 2022 invasion of Ukraine. Over the course of the class, students will investigate the nuts and bolts of the UN system (including reviewing major organs and specialized agencies), develop their ability to analyze UN policies and practices, and connect the evolution of the UN to patterns of change and continuity in international affairs.
Format and Approach
Lectures/seminars meet twice a week; each session lasts three hours. If the program is online, sessions will take place through Zoom. The course incorporates the other components of the core curriculum, and class sessions include elements of both lectures and seminars. The lectures build on materials students
have read before each session. Students are strongly encouraged to participate in the seminar portions, ask questions as needed, and offer relevant comments. There will also be discussion groups to promote deeper probing and foster debate.
The UNSS course develops the skills necessary to pursue a career in international affairs by providing scholarly and practitioner training. Students become fluent in academic discourse and versed in analysis and learn practice-oriented speaking
- The United Nations and World Order: Social Science and Policy Landscapes
- Paradigms of World Order and Analytical Prisms on the United Nations
- Sovereignty, Antecedent World Orders, and the Founding of the United Nations
- Collective Security and United Nations Peacekeeping During the Cold War
- The "New Wars" of the 1990s and Post-Cold War United Nations Peace Operations
- Terrorism, Weapons of Mass Destruction, and Global Security Since 9/11
- 21st-Century Security Threats, the United Nations, and World Order
- International Human Rights, Law, and Advocacy
- International Humanitarian Law, Humanitarian Action, and Humanitarian Intervention
- Economic Development, International Financial Institutions, and the United Nations
- The North-South Gap, Development Goals, and the United Nations
- Natural Resource Management, the Environment, and the United Nations
- The "Third UN," Civil Society, and Non-Governmental Organizations
- The Challenges of Change: United Nations Reform and the Revolution in World Order