Is The United Nations Totally Useless? We Take A Look

You are currently viewing Is The United Nations Totally Useless? We Take A Look

This page contains affiliate links. This means if you a follow a link and make a purchase, at no additional cost to you, Humanitarian Careers will receive a commission. Thank you for supporting the site.

The United Nations is the most important and influential international organisation. It was created after World War Two with the aim to improve dialogue between countries and work for global peace and security. However, many people now see the UN as ineffective and unable to resolve major crises facing the world. Son let’s ask, is the UN actually just useless?

The United Nations is not useless. It’s role in international diplomacy and peace building are vitally important to the world. The UN’s development and humanitarian work helps millions of people a year and its role in climate change, human rights and peacekeeping are all crucial.

Now we know the UN is far from useless, let’s take a look at why the UN isn’t a pointless organisation.

The UN Isn’t Pointless, Here’s Why

Although many people think the United Nations is a useless institution, it actually plays a vital role in global affairs. Let’s take a look at the some of the main things the UN does and why it is not totally pointless.

Firstly, the UN is the main global body for international dialogue and diplomacy. The aim of the UN is to allow nations to resolve their disputes through communication and not conflict. Although this doesn’t always happen, it is key to have an arena where nations can discuss their differences.

Simply being a place for nations to come together makes the UN vital in world affairs… and very far from useless.

The second main objective of the UN is to work towards international peace and security. This is crucial work and means the United Nations is definitely not pointless. We know the UN does not always achieve this aim, but by simply working towards a more peaceful and secure world, the UN is a valuable organisation.

Another hugely valuable thing the UN does is its international development work.

The United Nations runs a huge range of development projects assisting poorer countries to lift their populations out of poverty. From work on children’s education to water and sanitation, global health and community development, the UN’s development work makes a difference to millions of lives around the world and this proves the UN isn’t useless.

As well as development work, the United Nations is one of the most important humanitarian actors in the world.

Each year, UN agencies such as the UN’s High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), International Organisation of Migration (IOM), UNICEF and the World Food Programme (WFP) provide lifesaving aid to millions of people. This is hugely important work and further shows the United Nations is not useless.

The UN is the main global organisation that coordinates sanctions against countries that violate international law. This is another reason why it is not pointless. When countries break international law, or commit aggression or human rights abuses, it is important that there are repercussions.

The UN coordinates sanctions by member states and, although not always perfect, this is a hugely important role in the world.

A further point that highlights that the United Nations is not useless is its work on promoting human rights around the world. The UN is one of the most prominent organisations in the world working on human rights and this is hugely important globally. Although the UN’s human rights advocacy is also definitely not perfect, it is a vital role and shows the UN definitely isn’t pointless.

UN peacekeepers are deployed to monitor ceasefires, protect civilians, reduce conflicts and strengthen governments capacities to build peace.

With twelve active peacekeeping missions around world, the UN plays a vital role in ensuring peace in many former conflict zones. This is perhaps one of the biggest examples to show why the United Nations is not useless.

Finally, the United Nations is one of the leading global advocates on climate change. It helps coordinate the international response to the climate crises and provides vital assistance to poorer nations to reform their economies towards greener energy. The climate emergency is perhaps the biggest threat facing humanity and the United Nations plays a major role in combatting it. Again, this shows the UN is definitely not a pointless organisation.

United Nations Online Courses

If you want to learn more about the United Nations, and if the UN is totally useless, we highly recommend the online course Global Diplomacy: The United Nations in the World offered by SOAS in London. We think it provides one of the best overviews of the UN and its role in the current global order. SOAS is also one of the top universities in the world for international relations and courses related to the UN.

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) underpin all of the UN’s work. In order to fully understand the United Nations, and if the UN is pointless, you need a basic understanding of the SDG. We think the online short course The Sustainable Development Goals – A Global, Transdisciplinary Vision For The Future offered by the University of Copenhagen is one of the best introductions to the SDG.

The University of Leiden in the Netherlands offers an online short course on The Changing Global Order. It includes a specific look at how shifting international power dynamics are affecting the current global system and the United Nations. For those wanting to understand the challenges the UN faces, this online course is a must.

Why Does The United Nations Seem Completely Useless?

So, as we’ve seen, the United Nations is far from useless. However, many people have the view that the organisation is not fit for purpose, that it is outdated or that the UN simply isn’t effective. Let’s take a look at why so many think the UN is useless, even if it isn’t.

One of the main reasons people think the UN is useless is actually because they misunderstand the organisation and what it does.

Many people think the United Nations has control over member states, is a kind of world government or a global police force. This simply isn’t correct. In fact, the UN is entirely controlled by member states, which limits its power. It can still be effective, but many people think the UN has more power than it does.

Another reason why people think the United Nations is basically pointless is because they see the major failings the UN has had. We will look at these in more detail in a minute but essentially the UN has not been able to prevent many major conflicts and crises, and this makes people question its usefulness. However, the UN has also played a major role in preventing wars too, it just gets less credit for this.

A key reason people question whether the UN is really fit for purpose is because of its political deadlocks, especially on the Security Council.

The Security Council is the main body in the UN tasked with ensuring global peace and security. The issue is that the five permanent members of the Security Council – UK, USA, France, China, and Russia each have veto powers that can prevent the Council from passing resolutions they don’t agree with. This can really block progress in solving crises and is a big reason people think the UN is useless.

A further reason why people think the United Nations isn’t working is because they see it as an outdated organisation.

The UN was created in 1945 at the end of World War Two. Its structure was designed immediately after the war giving significant powers to the victorious countries. However, the world has moved on since then and many people feel the United Nations should be updated to better reflect the modern world.

The final reason why many people say the UN is useless is because of corruption. The United Nations has had a few major corruption scandals in recent years, and this has eroded peoples trust in the organisation. Although the UN is far from the most corrupt organisation in the world, some people feel it needs reform in order to tackle corruption and nepotism and improve its effectiveness.

When Has The United Nations Been Ineffective?

Although the United Nations is definitely not useless, there are some fair criticisms of it. Many people who argue against the UN sight some of the major times it has failed. So, let’s take a look at some examples of when the UN was less than effective.

The Syrian Civil War has raged since 2011. It has cost up to 160,000 lives and displaced up to 13.5 million people. The UN has been ineffective at stopping the war. The veto powers on the Security Council of Russia, a key alley of the Syrian regime has been sighted as a major reason for the UN’s inability to resolve the conflict. This is often given as a reason for reform of the UN.

Another example of a time the United Nations failed is the Rwandan genocide. In 1994, 1.14 million people were killed in Rwanda when ethnic violence engulfed the small African nation. The United Nations proved uncapable of stopping the crimes in Rwanda. The UN is far from useless, but its inaction over Rwanda is a key example of how it can fail.

Somalia has seen pretty much non-stop civil war since 1991. Three decades of fighting has left the country impoverished, with frequent famines and no end to the violence in sight. The UN has repeatedly proved ineffective in Somalia, being unable to end the civil war and bring lasting peace and stability to the country. Somalia is often sighted as another example of how the UN is currently effective.

In 2017, up to 700,000 Rohingya Muslims were forced to flee Myanmar into neighbouring Bangladesh following ethnic cleansing by the Myanmar military. Since then, the United Nations has repeatedly failed to find a solution to the crises that allows the Rohingya to return home. With no end in sight, the UN is often criticised for not being able to pressure Myanmar to reform and reincorporate the Rohingya back into the country.

A final, and often given example, of the United Nations failures is in Bosnia. Most famously, UN Peacekeepers failed to prevent the Srebrenica massacre where Bosnian Serb forces murdered over 8000 Bosnian Muslims. This failure of UN Peacekeeping did lead to reforms within the UN, but the high-profile failure of United Nations forces to protect civilians will never truly be forgotten.

If you want to learn more about the United Nations, and if the UN is useless, explore our list of the top UN online courses here.


Duncan is the founder of Humanitarian Careers. With over ten years experience in the aid industry across fifteen countries, Duncan set-up Humanitarian Careers to help people launch their own career in international aid.