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Cover Cassese's International Law

15. The Role of the United Nations  

Paola Gaeta, Jorge E. Viñuales, and Salvatore Zappalà

This chapter discusses the role of the United Nations (UN), covering the grand design of the post-Second World War period, the ideals of the primacy of international law, the goals and structure of the new organization, the principal achievements and failures, and the current role of the UN, particularly in light of the adoption in 2015 of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)—a new Agenda in which all UN goals tend to come together. The chapter describes the functions and roles of the principal organs of the UN and the interplay between them. It argues that since the UN came into existence it has often failed in three areas: maintenance of peace and security, disarmament, and bridging the gap between industrialized and developing countries. On the other hand, progress was made in the area of self-determination of peoples and in promoting human rights, while in the area of economic co-operation, despite some progress, much more remains to be done. However, for all its deficiencies and in spite of the lack of vision of some of its Secretaries-General, the primary failings of the UN must be traced back to the States behind it, chiefly the Great Powers.