Free «The United Nations and International Security Challenges» Essay Sample

The United Nations, as an organization with transnational recognition and composition, is responsible for curbing the new faces of threats to international security. These threats may include organized crime, terrorism, disease, poverty, hunger, weapons of mass destruction, environmental degradation and inter and intra-state wars like in Mali and Syria. The United Nations as a system comprising of many departments dealing with specific aspects of international security has so far come a long way in building the necessary capacity for it to achieve its objective of attaining world peace. The UN system has a silo structure and each threat is dealt with by a specific division of the institution. For example, hunger issues are dealt with by the World Food Program while environmental issues are dealt with by the United Nations Environmental Program and children are covered by the United Nations Children’s Fund.  The United Nations plays a major role in international security as a whole and this is defined in the UN Charter. In this charter, the UN Security Council has the powers to investigate any possible threats to global peace, recommend procedures for peaceful conflict resolution measures, call for and impose sanctions whenever necessary, enforce decisions by military or any other means as deemed necessary, promote cooperation amongst member states and avoid conflicts at all times.

The UN has a basic responsibility that is to protect the world populations from war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocides. This responsibility is in the spirit of attaining world peace and to fulfill it, the institution has various bodies under its umbrella to deal with the specific factors affecting the path to global peace (Clark 247). Human rights were a fundamental issue in the formation of the UN and the UN Human Rights Council is charged with creating a transnational legal framework for acting on complaints about violation of human rights. Each organ of the UN has an objective to reverse a particular situation of a violation of human rights like hunger, illiteracy, diseases, armed conflict among others. These are the basic factors affecting international security and each impediment to international security presents a unique set of challenges for the UN. This paper examines these challenges and seeks to make recommendations for overcoming them so as to meet the millennium development goals and secure the world as a whole.

Challenges Faced By UN in Addressing Transnational Security Issues

The UN has within its mandate a responsibility to protect the world’s populations from things like terrorism, transnational organized crime, climate change, and weapons of mass destruction. To do this efficiently and effectively, a coordinated response is required by the UN at the global, regional, national and local levels. This means that the international institution requires a lot of cooperation from the constituent bodies and the member states in order to achieve its objectives. The main challenges faced by the UN can therefore be classified as either internal or external depending on where the problem is.

Internal Challenges

Some of the transnational security issues require cooperation between a number of relevant divisions under the United Nations. Given that some of these operate as independent bodies (like the World Health Organization), absolute cooperation and coordination has been hard to achieve. The fact that the UN operates in a silo structure makes it hard to coordinate the different bodies and steer them towards achieving the same goal. In separating security, development, human rights, humanitarian assistance, environmental management and other issues, the UN fails to deal with these issues because the solutions usually cut across more than one of these frontiers. For example, a country or region grappling with interstate conflicts suffers a great deal from the armed conflict, hunger, human rights violations, child abuse, sexual abuse, migrations, poverty and diseases. To alter this situation positively, the UN would need to bring together the Human Rights Council, the Security Council, and the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) so as to effect the necessary remedial measures through agencies like the World Food Program (WFP), the World Health Organization (WHO), The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the UN Development Program (UNDP), the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), among others. Ordinarily, these agencies operate independently of each other and bringing them together can prove to be quite a challenge. Although both the UN Security Council and the General Assembly have been dealing with transnational threats by legislating international reactions, each threat calls for different reactions from different actors and different interests at specific times and places, and can therefore not be solved by a universal ‘one fits all’ approach.

The UN as a whole can cut through its institutional silos and carry out coordinated, strategic interventions by mobilizing adequate political will in the leadership. An example of this happening was when UNAIDS (United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS) was formed, bringing together the World Health Organization (WHO), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the World Food Program (WFP), the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the International Labor Organization (ILO), the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), and the World Bank. This was made possible by creating a two-year Unified Budget and Work plan which has provided a framework of strategically coordinated and clearly allocated resources, responsibility and authority, and a joint Performance Monitoring and Evaluation Framework that allows for accountability and continuous tactical adjustments in the programming.

The inadequate inter-institutional coordination and cooperation in the UN system is however not entirely to be blamed on the UN organs and agencies. A deficit of resources normally results in competition for the existing resources among the many existing organizations. This causes the organizations to focus on fulfilling their core mandate and maintain limited connectivity to other organizations that could be working on other aspects of the same challenge. The fact that most voluntary donors earmark the UN agencies and causes that they wish to fund leaves very little flexibility for a necessity-based program planning with related institutions.

Each threat to international security poses a unique challenge to the UN system. While funding is not entirely a problem, some programs receive much more resources than they need while others are left to run on the little they can get. This is because the UN allows its donors to earmark the programs for which their donations are meant and this means that the donors are given the freedom to fund programs that are of interest to them thus leaving other vital interventions to fail due to a lack of adequate resources. While exercising donor freedom is in itself an incentive for donors, the UN should create a system that enables not just an equal sharing of resources amongst the required projects, but allocation of resources based on the needs of the program that is to be carried out.

Transnational security challenges are mostly thematic and cross-cutting in nature and this often threatens to be a cause for conflicts between UN organs. In defining their jurisdictions, these organs make it hard for necessary interventions by other relevant organs thus resulting in turf wars. These hinder cooperation amongst the UN organs and make it almost impossible to achieve the desired outcome of peace as not all aspects of the insecurity are thoroughly addressed.

Another major challenge faced by the UN in dealing with issues of international security lies in the UN Charter itself. In granting veto power to the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, the UN Charter undermines a democratic operation especially on security issues. A good administrative system should operate under executive, legislative and judicial arms but the veto power phenomenon gives all these responsibilities to the Security Council where the permanent five (US, UK, China, Russia and France) have abused their privileges in many occasions. For example, China and Russia have recently used their veto power to protect Syria from sanction threats under Chapter 7. France also threatened to use veto in support of Morocco’s role in the Western Sahara conflicts, and US has used its position in the permanent five to support Israel over Palestine. This means that the veto power is used to provide diplomatic cover for the allies of the permanent five in the Security Council.

The subject of Veto power has caused a lot of mistrust among member states as most of resolutions passed have to be unanimously approved by the permanent five. This simply means that before tabling a resolution at the UN Security Council meeting, the other members of the Security Council need to seek the approval of the permanent five so as to ensure that the resolution will be passed. Failure to obtain their approval means automatic failure thus the resolutions have to be in the interest of the permanent five. This has absolutely undermined the whole UN system by slowing down and sometimes even totally blocking important international interventions that would have remedied or prevented a serious crisis. This has been simply because the proposed interventions would not serve the interests of the permanent five either individually or collectively. The UN as a transnational institution should not have five countries and their allies dictating the affairs of the whole world thus the caution applied by member states when permitting multilateral interventions by the UN in their jurisdictions.

In order to maintain international security, the UN needs to under take preventive measures or enforcement actions in the affected areas. Such actions require a unanimous approval from the permanent five as well as a majority of the Security Council members. In most cases, the permanent five choose to either not support the resolution or remain absent from the vote. This results in a delayed response by the UN and sometimes it totally stops a well intended intervention from being carried out. In doing this, the permanent five prevent the UN from carrying out its mandate and this ends up creating worse transnational security crises.

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In the transnational security issue of Small arms and light weapons, these permanent five countries have been named amongst the top seven countries that export the largest consignments of arms globally (Axworthy 19-23). It therefore doesn’t come as a surprise that the issue of small arms and light weapons is far from being resolved in the UN Security Council. While this is just an allegation that none of the involved states are willing to accept, it is a relevant assumption based on the fact that these five countries operate as super powers governing the entire world from their permanent seats at the UN Security Council. With a membership of over 190 states, having five countries that are not necessarily the strongest democracies of the present day at the helm of power is not practical at all as these powers are used to hold the world at ransom.

External Challenges

The UN faces a major challenge in exercising its mandate in many states as they are reluctant to have the social affairs controlled by an external institution. Most transnational security issues are as a result of social behaviors like inciting speeches on terrorism, and consumer tendencies on environmental degradation. These are all hidden behind national territories that are beyond the reach of the UN without the full cooperation of the state authorities. This is basically a major set back for the UN’s involvement in eliminating these transnational security threats. The main reason for this ‘territorialness’ among states is the need to be culturally and politically autonomous even in today’s global village. Most states try to conserve their jurisdictions and react differently to the idea of being interfered with by a transnational institution. The reaction always depends on what aspect of the political or cultural identity will be touched by that particular response, thus some states are okay with an international intervention in the regulation of SALW while others strongly insist on handling it locally to protect the freedom of civilians who are in possession of firearms.

It is in the same way that some states consider multilaterally established norms and implementation procedures as the vital measures for an effective response to deal with terrorism, while other states cite an intrusion by the very multilateral procedures on delicate domestic issues like infringing on political freedoms, religious extremism and unresolved local conflicts, which are usually cited as the underlying reasons for terrorism.Yet, states are very willing to cooperate with multilateral data collection and situation analysis processes when their basic national interests are touched, for example in matters involving illicit trafficking of nuclear and radioactive materials. Most states are willing to provide any available information required on subjects of importance to their own national security as well, and not the kind of information requested by the UN sanction committees (Ambrosetti 439-450).

Today’s geopolitical context has seen a lot of mistrust between the global North and the global South and this is a barrier to cooperation and a major challenge to the UN’s response to transnational security issues. Hidden agendas and the dominance of the US in defining the international security policy agenda have led to a strict definition of sovereignty among some states and this has hampered effective multilateral reactions to transnational security issues.


The UN deals with transnational security issues that are cross cutting and require immense cooperation for successful intervention and remedial measures. In order to deal with these, the institution needs to break the system of institutional silos that is categorical of its operations. The various organs of the UN have to be able to integrate and work towards achieving a common goal of world peace. In order to do these, a number of remedial or mitigating measures have to be considered and undertaken. These include:

I. Joint Program Planning Involving All Relevant Agencies

The successful formation of the UNAIDS showed that with enough political will, the separate organs of the UN can work together effectively and efficiently to produce the desired effect. It is in the same spirit of political will that future programs encompassing various organs should be undertaken. The first major step towards institutional cooperation is creating a framework that provides for clear allocation of responsibility, resources and authority. This is in order to prevent turf wars and power wrangles. The framework should also provide for a mechanism of joint evaluation and performance monitoring in order to encourage accountability and team work amongst the involved agencies.

II. Rationalized Mandates For The UN Organs

The various organizations formed under the UN have enjoyed exclusive mandates in dealing with the international security issues that they were purposed for. This approach creates the illusion that every aspect of international security can be dealt with individually and independently of the other aspects. This is however not so as most threats to international security cut across multiple domains that may include poverty, hunger, human rights violation, armed conflicts, illiteracy, child abuse, gender based violence, among others. In order to formulate practical interventions, the UN has to rationalize the mandates of these organs so that they can recognize the need for cooperation and coordination in order to achieve success in their laid out agency and general institutional objectives (Caroline 168). By recognizing that a program can be under taken successfully by more than one organ of the UN, there will be reduced conflicts and turf wars and more energies will be focused on implementing the jointly designed programs and the interventions will be successful.

III. Necessity Based Allocation Of Resources

Rather than allowing donors to decide which programs to fund, the UN should regulate the allocation of funds such that the neediest cases get the required funding as opposed to the earmarking system where donors fund whichever cause that best serves their interests. Allocating resources based on the urgency of the matter at hand ensures that timely interventions are made and even preventive measures are made possible in order to avert transnational security crises like international wars, intra state conflicts and even cases of preventable or curable pandemics.

IV. Focus on future threats

Rather than creating policies based on the mistakes of the past, the UN should focus on analyzing any future threats and formulating preventive or mitigating measures so as to avert the crisis where possible. Basing resolutions on past mistakes doesn’t hold any relevance as there are usually different challenges emerging at all times and they too need consideration thus the past is not of much help in dealing with the security challenges of tomorrow. So rather than analyzing the mistakes of the past, resources should be focused on examining the future threats to international security so as to reduce the cost of dealing with unexpected occurrences (Martin & Owen, 23).

V. Improved Capacity For Strategic Analyses

By improving the capacity for strategic analyses, more threats will be dealt with efficiently and effectively before they become uncontainable full blown crises. Following a thorough strategy is one way of ensuring that an intervention gives the desired results. And having a good strategy makes it easy to carry out a relevant course of action. The UN should invest more in analyzing its action plans to ensure that resources are not spent on wasteful measures that do not solve the problem in question.

VI. Multi-Stakeholders Coalitions

In its capacity as a transnational authority, the UN is in a position to form multi-stakeholders coalitions that can be vital in discussing and coming up with strategies to mitigate or eliminate a threat. These coalitions can include governments as well as the private sectors and they bring with them their expertise in specific fields like environmental degradation, refugees, poverty eradication among other international security issues.

VII. Increased Capacity For The Secretary General’s Management Strategies

There are quite a number of threats to transnational security and the UN is responsible for protecting the world’s population against all of them. Having to tackle such wide spread issues requires a strategic management system that is just as wide. This means that other than forming so many agencies to carry out its mandate through specialization, the UN also needs to create a system that enables the Secretary General to manage all these agencies and ensure their cooperation and coordination. This is not an easy task and it will require a lot of political will. Opposition from the permanent five can easily be triumphed over by skillfully making use of the powers of the UN General Assembly which has the final say on matters that are meant to restore international peace and security.

By increasing the Secretary General’s capacity for management strategies that cut across all organs of the institution, it will be easier to have coordinated operations within the various agencies under the UN as they will all be under the Secretary General’s management. By having the holder of this office as the chief administrator of all the constituent agencies, there will be cooperation thus better responses to international threats.

VIII. Enhanced legitimacy of the UN Security Council

At present, the UN Security Council is considered as a charade being run by the permanent five member states and their allies. It is not considered as a legitimate council whose sole mandate is to ensure that the threats to international security are eliminated or mitigated for the good of the global citizens. The council has been taken over by the permanent five member states that are no longer relevant in this day and age. The current permanent five are not necessarily the most stable or powerful nations in the world. Their powers were recognized during the formation of the UN but have now lost relevance due to the numerous developments that have taken place over time. The five permanent member states have therefore held the UNSC to ransom since they have the veto powers and this cannot be changed without their unanimous approval according to the UN Charter. This has caused other member states to loose their trust in the capability of the UNSC to protect the smaller nations from these ‘big five’ who are constantly looking out for their interests and those of their close allies.

In order to change this perception and make the council a legitimate arm of the institution, several damage control measures must be undertaken. The first one would be to do away with the veto power. In order to do this however, Article 108 and 109 of the UN Charter stipulates that the permanent five must approve any modifications that are made to the Charter before these amendments can be recognized. It is therefore highly unlikely that these five states would agree to being stripped of their veto power (Roberts 87). The UN Security Council can therefore try to limit the use of veto power only to matters of national security, and to require the consensus of multiple member states for the veto power to be recognized.

A third option would be to use the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) to over rule these vetoes whenever necessary. The UNGA has final powers over the UNSC as according to A/RES/377 A that was adopted in November of 1950 declaring that the UNSC cannot stop the UNGA from taking any necessary actions in a bid to restore and maintain international peace and security. In using the UNGA every time the UNSC permanent five use their veto power to slow down or stop a timely intervention to restore or maintain transnational peace and security, the UN will restore trust among its member states and therefore the sovereign walls currently created by member states will become a thing of the past and the operations of the UN will be left to run smoothly even across state boundaries.

IX. Structural Reforms Within The Organs To Allow For Joint Operations

The UN is a very large institution with very many different divisions each handling a specific mandate. These organs can be taken through structural reforms in order for them to have a working policy that encourages cooperation with other agencies to increase their impact on whatever field they operate on and also to stop the turf wars. Working together ensures efficient use of the available resources and it also optimizes the chances of a program’s success since accountability is highly emphasized. A good example of how effective structural reforms can be to a program is in the counterterrorism program where all of the twenty-four organs of the UN system charged with counterterrorism responsibilities were repeatedly studied and structural reform proposals written.These proposals clearly provide for reforms that if implemented will go a long way to ensure that there is cooperation and coordination amongst the involved bodies so as to have an effective and efficient counterterrorism program. Despite the relationship between these 24 bodies having improved lately, none of the written proposals have been improved to date since the UN Security Council and the UN General Assembly are still fighting over control of the counterterrorism program (Newman 90).

X. Review Of Membership Commitments

With over 190 member states, it would be a good idea for the UN to review its membership and weed out the non-compliant member states in order to enforce the terms and conditions of membership to the fullest. In the face of new threats to international peace and security, the UN needs to attain the membership of all world governments in order to protect all the citizens equally. This is because cooperating with the state authority is the best way to ensure the security of an individual. Currently there aren’t any severe repercussions to discourage violations of the UN Charter by member states (Axworthy 348-349). Most of the proposed sanctions are usually blocked by the permanent five who either use or simply threaten to use their veto powers to protect themselves or their allies. By seeking to renew the membership commitments of all its member states, the UN will encourage new membership thus less powers to the permanent five who can then be silenced through the UN General Assembly. Having more members will build the trust accorded to the UN and also promote the peace keeping efforts, not to forget increasing the donor base and the vastness of areas enjoying peace and security as a result of its efforts.


After many years as a transnational institution responsible for restoring and maintaining world peace and security, the UN can boast of a number of successes that have been highly appreciated. It has also had its fair share of failures that have been as a result of bad resolutions, and selfish interests of the permanent five who have veto power and choose to use it to slow down or at times even stop a timely intervention that could have well prevented an international security crisis like an inter-state conflict or even a terrorism act. These permanent five, usually regarded as the ‘super powers’ in the UN have been known to use their veto powers to protect their interests and those of their allies against any interventional resolutions that would affect these interests negatively. This however does not mean that the veto power is the cause of all failures registered by the UN since its formation. There have been numerous challenges that were both external and internal and these proved to be quite tasking for the UN administration. Rather than just learn from the past mistakes, the UN needs to take a pro-active role in curbing threats to international security (Bastian 415). 

This means that while focusing on eliminating chances of a repeat in historical insecurities, the institution needs to analyze the current situation and seek to mitigate or eliminate any factors that are likely to pose a threat to the security and peace of the world citizens. The UN also needs to create a framework that will encourage cooperation and coordination between its constituent organs so as to ensure success of its programs and international intervention. In order to bring down the sovereign walls created by member states, the UN needs to build trust by ensuring that there are no special powers accorded to a few countries based on their historical superiority. The UN needs to be a neutral body that oversees the harmonious co existence of all humanity and not be used by powerful nations to colonize the developing world. By dealing with its internal challenges such as the institutional silos, the UN will have created a capacity for efficient system management and this will heighten the success levels of UN missions across the globe. It is therefore important for this transnational body to recognize its mistakes and correct them accordingly so as to remain relevant and effective especially in the face of new threats to international security and peace. Despite its many challenges however, the UN has so far made the world a much better place to live in in terms of peace and international security.


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