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NHSDLC Spring Tournaments Topic Briefing: The United Nations is no longer important. 联合国已经不再重要

John Harper

· Topics

Our topic for the Spring 2017 NHSDLC Season will be:

The United Nations is no longer important.

(Note that while we provide a translation of the topic to reduce confusion, in any case where there is ambiguity between the two versions the English version takes precedence.)

In this post we are going to give some background information on what the UN is and how it operates. Then we will discuss various reasons why it could be argued that the UN either is or is not important.

Background Information

The united nations was formed in 1945 after the end of the second World War to try and stop international conflicts in the future. Since then the role of the UN has expanded to cover a number of different areas, including promoting human rights, helping countries with economic development, protecting the environment and humanitarian aid.

How the UN is run

Decisions in the United Nations are made by two main bodies, the UN Security Council and the UN General Assembly.

The UN Security Council is made up of 5 permanent members: China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States, who have held those positions since World War 2. And 10 non-permanent members, who represent different regions of the world and rotate every 2 years. The permanent members have the power to veto any UN resolution, meaning that effectively all of them need to agree on something for it to happen. The decisions of the Security council must be obeyed by all countries in the UN.

The UN General assembly includes every country in the UN, and each of them has one representative and one vote, regardless of their size and power. This means that for example India (population approximately 1.3 billion) and the Island nation of Tuvalu (population: 10,869) have exactly one vote The General Assembly decides the overall budget for the UN and the various UN Agencies It also passes resolutions on various issues, which are not legally binding or enforceable but have symbolic and political authority.

The UN also has a permanent staff and organisation called the Secretariat, which is headed by the UN Secretary-General. And operates the International Court of Justice that resolves disputes between member countries.


One of the main ways the UN works to promote these goals is by sending peacekeeping forces provided by member states to conflict areas. The decision to send in peacekeepers is made by the UN Security Council and is organised by the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO). The original intent of this organization was to act as a police force and supervise peace agreements being made between two countries. But over time it expanded to include conflicts within countries, such as civil wars, genocide, etc. UN peacekeepers have been involved in a large number of conflicts including Congo, Rwanda, Kosovo, East Timor [now Timor-Leste], Liberia, Sudan, and Haiti.

One of the largest criticisms of the UN has been the failures and limitations of the peacekeeping forces. For example in Rwanda and Burundi where the UN forces were unable to prevent a lot of the violence from occurring, because they were not authorised to directly intervene, but just to defend certain areas. However, a larger role for the UN would raise problems with national sovereignty and make it more like a global government than the more limited organisation it was originally designed to be.

Other parts of the UN

There are also several Programs and Agencies founded by the UN, that work on specific issues. Such as the: United Nations Development Program (UNDP) which works to tackle poverty, improve governance and development; World Food Program (WFP), which aims to eradicate hunger and malnutrition; United Nations Environment Program (UNEP); Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR); United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF); World Bank; International Monetary Fund (IMF); World Health Organization (WHO); United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO); and several others. These vary in size and level of independence.

How to argue the topic

Note that this topic isn’t a question of whether to abolish the UN. The key to this topic is the issue of how exactly do we measure how important such a large and diverse international organization is. This means that having different frameworks and explaining the impacts of your harms and benefits will be an important factor in many debates.

Clearly, the UN is involved in a significant number of global issues, from solving and preventing conflicts between and within nations to increasing rates of literacy and education, and much more. As it turns out, the UN has made great strides and achievements in some of those areas and has arguably failed in others. Both sides of this topic will have to look towards the future of the 21st century and examine what areas pose the greatest challenges for the global community and ask themselves if the UN is up to the task.

Another major source of criticism towards the UN is that it is effectively controlled by a small number of powerful countries, in particular the security council. Thus, the UN has been unable to do anything about the nearly 6 year long bloody Syrian Civil War that has engulfed the region and made refugees of millions due to the fact that Russia has vetoed any resolution that demanded action against their Syrian allies.

The UN also suffers from administrative deadlock and bureaucracy, which makes taking any action extremely slow and requiring approval of a huge number of countries. Which means that the work it does might be better done by other organisations.

However, the UN also has a unique role in the world because of the fact that all nations, even those who are avowed enemies of one another, use it as a way of discussing and resolving issues. No other international organization has complete global participation that allows for countries to hear each others concerns and solve global issues. This international nature also allows it to receive funding and resources from countries across the world in a way that few other organisations can match.

Judges are not usually going to have a large knowledge base on the United Nations so make sure you explain the differences clearly and weigh the impacts various functions and roles of the UN carefully. Ask yourself what the most essential functions of the UN are and how would you measure the UN’s work with regards to those functions.

In the coming weeks we will be releasing research packets and sample cases on this topic. In the meantime we suggest you think about the issues involved and come up with your own ideas.

Good luck, and we look forward to seeing you at the tournaments!

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