The Politics of the United Nations module (PO31012)

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Module code


Module Details

This module will place the United Nations in the broader perspective of international organisation/institutions and will guide students towards an understanding of both the impact and the limitations of the United Nations in relation to the post-1945 international system. The aims will be to illustrate the role of the United Nations in key events in the post-1945 world and to place the United Nations in the context of alternative theories of international behaviour and to elucidate the interplay between national interest and multilateral cooperation in the context of a global organisation.  To illustrate the spectrum of United Nations activities across the range of global security, legal developmental and environmental concerns.


The module will be delivered through weekly lectures and weekly seminars over 11 weeks giving a total of 33 hours.


This module is assessed as follows:

  • Presentation (15%)
  • Essay (35%)
  • Final Unseen Examination (50%)

Presentation:  Should relate to one of the weekly themes

Evaluation: Is a written exercise which will access the work and effectiveness of one of the UN's specialized (or "functional" agencies).  It should be a maximum of 1,000 words.

Indicative Content

This module will explore the following key areas:

  • Origins: the precursors to the UN and early planning,
  • The UN and international theory,
  • Structure and leadership,
  • The UN and peace: collective security, peacekeeping and arms control,
  • Law: the ICJ and global justice,
  • The UN and North-South relations,
  • The UN and the global environment,
  • UN reform and the future.

Intended Learning Outcomes

Having successfully completed this module, students should have:

  • A fundamentally more profound understanding of the nature of the contemporary international system.
  • The capacity to place the United Nations amidst contending theories of international behaviour,
  • Gained confidence in their capacity to make pronounce and pass judgements on the successes and failures of the United Nations system since its inception.
  • Acquired a detailed knowledge of the evolution of the United Nations system and the range of its activities.
  • Acquired skills in the identification, retrieval and evaluation of a range of sources materials relevant to the study of the United Nations.
  • An enhanced capacity for both individual and group pursuit of set tasks.


30 credits


This module is available on following courses: