Latest News

ND ReSource: U.S. should improve, not undermine, UN

Author: Arts and Letters


In advance of United Nations Day on Oct. 24 (Monday), a University of Notre Dame political scientist says the United States should focus on improving the UN, not undermining it, because the organization does things for Americans that they can’t do, or can’t do as well.

Robert Johansen is a senior fellow at Notre Dame’s Joan B. Kroc Institute of International Peace Studies. He has spent decades studying global governance, and is convinced that the UN is the most effective way to resolve some of the United States’ most pressing problems.

“Like all political institutions, the UN needs to be watched carefully to prevent corruption and to make it more effective,” Johansen said. “Yet, despite its flaws, the UN enables us to do much more than we could do without it.”

He gives three examples.

“First, the UN gets other countries to share the burdens of fighting disease, building schools, and enforcing international laws against terrorism, war, and gross violations of human rights,” Johansen said. “Burden sharing expands by 20 fold what the United States could do alone.”

UN peacekeeping is highly cost effective, he noted. “The cost of just 10 days of the U.S. military campaign in Iraq would have paid for all UN peace operations for an entire year. And more than two-thirds of UN peacekeeping costs are paid by other countries.”

Second, the UN establishes legitimacy for policies that protect U.S. security,Johansen said. Many policies would be doomed to failure in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia if they were seen as an effort by the United States to impose its will, rather than as the product of a UN process.

Third, Johansen said, “some global law-making is necessary for a peaceful world.” Security Council decisions to enforce peace are legally binding on every country in the world, while actions demanded by the United States alone are binding on no one.

“To stop the spread of nuclear weapons will require establishing worldwide limits on those weapons and worldwide inspection to ensure that obligations are kept,” Johansen said. “This would need to be done by the International Atomic Energy Agency, which is part of the UN system.”

Contact: Professor Robert Johansen is available for further comment at 574-631-6871 or The preceding comments are for use in whole or part.

Originally published by Dennis Brown &Julie Titone at on October 20, 2005.