SOAS University of London

Centre for International Studies and Diplomacy

History and Future of the United Nations

Module Code:
Taught in:
Term 1

“There is no alternative to the UN. It is still the last best hope of humanity.” (Kofi Annan 1997). Former Secretary General Kofi Annan’s words poignantly illustrate the importance of the United Nations (UN) to international affairs.

The module aims to provide students with a comprehensive understanding of the UN and the UN system. It examines the context provided by situating the UN within other International Organisations (IOs). Understanding the heritage, operation, and goals of the UN and its constituent parts will add breadth and depth to the student experience.

The module starts by examining the ways in which International Organisations came into being and how they evolved into the United Nations Organisation in 1945. A theoretical foundation is then given, before the rest of the module concentrates on the ways in which the UN system has changed in recent years, and asks what the short and medium-term effect of these changes are likely to be. Particular attention will be given to peacekeeping and collective security, and human rights. An important sub-theme throughout will be the changing role of the state in the contemporary global system and how this has had an effect on the working of the UN.

An understanding of the UN and the UN system within the appropriate context of international organisations will complement the student’s knowledge and understanding of International Studies and Diplomacy. Understanding the heritage, operation, and goals of the UN and its constituent parts will add breadth and depth.

This module is available to all CISD students. Lectures take place at 11am.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

The module aims to give students:

  • an excellent ability to comprehend both conceptually and empirically the United Nations, and the UN system within the conceptual framework of Global International Organisations
  • comprehensive understanding of, and ability to critically review the relevant literature
  • aptitude in constructing and applying an appropriate analytical approach to issues relevant to the subject matter
  • capacity to source, integrate, analyse and summarise relevant research and data in the submission of assessments
  • the relevant skills to propose, debate and appraise feasible issues relevant to the subject


The module will be taught over 10 weeks with 2 hour seminars followed by 1 hour tutorial per week.

Method of assessment

  • Assignment 1, 3500 Words, 85%
  • Assignment 2, 1500 Words, 15%

Suggested reading

  • Taylor & Groom, The United Nations at the Millennium, London, Continuum, 2000
  • Whittaker, David, The United Nations in Action, UCL Press, 1995
  • Peter R. Baehr and Leon Gordenker, The United Nations at the End of the 1990s, London, Macmillan, Third ed., 1999
  • Archer, C,  International Organizations, 3rd ed., Routledge, 2001
  • Roberts, Adam, and B. Kingsbury (eds.), United Nations, Divided World, Oxford, 1992
  • Bourantsonis D. and J. Wiener (eds.), The United Nations in the New World Order: The World Organization at Fifty, Macmillan, 1995
  • Baehr P R & Gordenker L., “The United Nations at the End of the 1990s”, Macmillan, Basingstoke and London, 1999.
  • Hancock G., “Lords of Poverty: The freewheeling lifestyles, power, prestige and corruption of the multibillion dollar aid business”, Mandarin, London, 1991.
  • Maitland, D., “International Order in the 21st Century: the role of the UN”, International Relations, Vol.14, No.6, Dec 1999, pp.53-62.
  • Morris, J., ‘UN Security Council Reform: a counsel for the 21st Century, Security Dialogue, Vol.31, No.3, Sep 00, pp.265-277.
  • Thakur R (ed.), “Past Imperfect, Future Uncertain”, Macmillan, Basingstoke, 1998.
  • Barnett, Michael "Partners in Peace? The UN, Regional organizations, and peace-keeping", Review of International Studies, Vol. 21, No. 4, October 1995, pp. 411-434.
  • Williams, Andrew, Failed Imagination?: New World Orders of the Twentieth Century, Manchester University Press, Manchester, 1998.


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules