What role should the UN play in international politics?
Fourth edition. February 2014.

The United Nations: Challenges and Change introduces students to the debates about the role of the UN in the world. Today, the United Nations is at the center of world affairs. With 193 member states and a vast network of global agencies, the UN’s work includes trying to end civil wars, most recently in Syria; enact environmental regulation; and coordinate efforts to alleviate poverty. Since Franklin Roosevelt led the creation of the UN, the United States has provided leadership and had unmatched influence within the United Nations. Today, as the international community debates changes to the UN, the United States must consider the role it will play within the organization and the role it should have in international affairs.


A series of readings trace the emergence of the League of Nations to the formation of the United Nations. Students will examine the UN’s role in the world through an evaluation of three areas of UN work: the Security Council, peacekeeping, and human rights. Each of these sections draws on case studies to foster thoughtful consideration of the UN’s achievements and shortcomings.

Preview this unit. Preview includes the Table of Contents for the Student Text and the Teacher Resource Book as well as a student reading excerpt and one lesson plan.


Power and Representation in the United Nations

Students consider issues of geographic representation and power on the Security Council, as well as Saudi Arabia's decision to reject a seat on the Council.

Writing a Charter

To comprehend the complexities of constructing a "founding document," students write a charter for a hypothetical high school sports conference.

Role-Playing a UN Decision

Students weigh in on possible responses to a hypothetical crisis and evaluate the UN decision-making process from multiple perspectives.

Role-Playing the Three Options

Working cooperatively to present different policy options to U.S. senators, students clarify and evaluate alternative U.S. policy recommendations.

Responding to Crisis

Students examine the crisis of the civil war in Syria and work in small groups to consider both the UN and U.S. response.

Supplemental Resources

Additional reference material for added context and support.


Emmerij, Louis, Richard Jolly, and Thomas G. Weiss. Ahead of the Curve?: UN Ideas and Global Change. (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2001). 280 pages.

Luck, Edward C. UN Security Council: Practice and Promise. (Abingdon: Routledge, 2006). 208 pages.

Moore, Jonathan. Hard Choices: Moral Dilemmas in Humanitarian Intervention. (New York: Rowman and Littlefield, 1999). 336 pages.

Power, Samantha. “A Problem from Hell”: America and the Age of Genocide. (New York: Basic Books, 2002). 610 pages

Weiss, Thomas G., David P. Forsythe, and Roger A. Coate. The United Nations and Changing World Politics. (Boulder: Westview Press, 2001). 334 pages.

Official website of the United Nations. Links to UN resolutions, reports, flow charts and member state homepages.
Official news site of the United Nations. Contains information about the UN’s work around the world.
Information on U.S. government policies at the UN.
Back to top