The United Nations and the Politics of Peace

Andrea Filipi

Emerging as the world’s direct response to the horrors of World War II, the United Nations Organization was founded in 1945 with the explicit purpose of saving “succeeding generations from the scourge of war”. Sadly, more than seventy years on, it is devastatingly clear that many parts of the world continue to be decimated by war or are otherwise engaged in the war enterprise. As such, it could be argued that the UN has failed spectacularly in achieving its founding mission. Indeed, it sometimes appears that the name of the UN is often invoked to address just about any wrong that afflicts this world; just as often, it is castigated for failing to do so. But to what extent can and should “the UN” be blamed for this seeming impossibility of attaining international peace? What do the efforts to maintain international peace mean in practice, and what do “peace” and “war” actually look like in the 21st Century?

In order to shed light on the academic and policy debates surrounding the above questions, this course examines in detail the international architecture for peace – its structures, functions, and possibilities, as well as its limitations (in-built or other), focusing on the UN as the primary vehicle through which the international community’s aspirations for peace are put in place. The various forms of intervention to break the cycle of war and peace (by the UN and others) are examined in detail, such as conflict prevention and mediation, peacekeeping, peacebuilding, humanitarian aid, development cooperation, human rights advocacy and international justice. In every case, both the dominant doctrine and practice, as well as their critiques, are interrogated. By so doing, the course aims to shed light on the international politics of peace. Grounding itself in both academic and practitioner/policy literature, the course will also draw heavily from the lecturer’s extensive direct experience as a UN staff in various peace operations. Real-world examples of the issues discussed will be provided throughout.

Intended Audience

This course will be of interest to any student, regardless of their academic background, who is keen to gain a better understanding of the world around them, particularly of issues that make up the bulk of international news headlines, insofar as those often centre on incidents in war, peace and security. For those with a background and deeper interest in politics and international affairs, the course will provide an opportunity to establish a strong understanding of the workings of the UN as the key multilateral institution of our era, and its role in maintaining, as well as challenging, the global order.

Previous Knowledge

No prior knowledge of either International Relations or International Politics is assumed or required.