The United Nations, European Union And Nato International Law Essay

The purpose of this paper is to discuss three organizations: The United Nations, the European Union, and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). The paper will discuss their history, their organizational structure, and will discuss both the purpose and the legitimacy of each of these organizations while highlighting each of their strengths and weaknesses in both of these areas.

United Nations


The United States President Franklin D. Roosevelt gave the official name to the United Nations on January 1 1942 during World War II, when 26 nations came together to fight Nazi Germany and the Axis powers. Before the UN, there was the League of Nations which was created in 1919 under the Treaty of Versailles “to promote international cooperation and to achieve peace and security.” However, after failing to prevent World War II, the League of Nations stopped its activities (

On June 26, 1945 the United Nations Charter was created and signed in San Francisco by representatives of 50 countries. At the time, Poland which was not originally represented at the conference signed the charter later and became one of the original 51 member states. On October 24, 1945, when the Charter was ratified by the United States, China, France, the United Kingdom, the Soviet Union and a majority of the other signatory members, the United Nations officially came into existence (


General Assembly

According to the UN’s website, “The General Assembly is the main deliberative organ of the UN and is composed of representatives of all Member States. The work of the United Nations year-round derives largely from the mandates given by the General Assembly.  A revitalization of the Assembly is under way to enhance its role, authority, effectiveness and efficiency” (

Security Council

The Security Council has primary responsibility, under the UN Charter, for the maintenance of international peace and security and the authority to act on behalf of all members of the United Nations. It is comprised of both five permanent and ten nonpermanent members. The five permanent members are the United States, the UK, France, Russia, and China. Each country has its own respective veto power. The ten nonpermanent members are elected by the Generally Assembly for staggered two year terms. Each of the seats are divided by region with five going to Africa and Asia, two to Latin America and Western Europe, and one goes to Eastern Europe (Karns & Mingst, 110).

Economic and Social Council

“The Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), established by the UN Charter, is the principal organ to coordinate the economic, social and related work of the United Nations and the specialized agencies and institutions.  Voting in the Council is by simple majority; each member has one vote” (

International Court of Justice

The International Court of Justice, located at the Hague in the Netherlands, is the principal judicial organ of the United Nations.  It shares responsibility with the other major organs of the UN for ensuring the principles of the charter are followed. It also settles legal disputes between states and gives advisory opinions to the UN and its specialized agencies.  Its Statute is an integral part of the United Nations Charter (

Trusteeship Council

The Trusteeship Council was established in 1945 to provide international supervision for eleven trust territories, and ensure that adequate steps were taken to prepare the territories for statehood. The council’s activities included reporting on the people’s status of the territories, making annual reports, and visiting the territories. Currently, it exists because of the difficulty in amending the original charger, but the council does not hold annual sessions (Karns & Mingst, 126).


The Secretariat is comprised of 8,900 staff members that are based around the world. Its primary function is to carry out the daily work of the Organization.  It services the other principal organs and carries out tasks such as administering peacekeeping operations, surveying economic and social trends, preparing studies on human rights, among others (


According to Article 1 of the UN Charter there are four purposes of the United Nations:

To maintain international peace and security, and to that end: to take effective collective measures for the prevention and removal of threats to the peace, and for the suppression of acts of aggression or other breaches of the peace, and to bring about by peaceful means, and in conformity with the principles of justice and international law, adjustment or settlement of international disputes or situations which might lead to a breach of the peace; To develop friendly relations among nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples, and to take other appropriate measures to strengthen universal peace;

To achieve international co-operation in solving international problems of an economic, social, cultural, or humanitarian character, and in promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion; and

To be a centre for harmonizing the actions of nations in the attainment of these common ends (Purposes).

As far as purpose is concerned, there are both pros and cons to the UN charter and the UN’s overall purpose. First and foremost when the UN was first established the purpose behind it was to create a more stable world, to maintain peace and security, and in doing so it helped decolonize the world. Also, since the charter was signed by representatives of governments, it allowed the sovereignty of member states to remain intact. It also allowed for self-determination to the citizens of participation nations and it created a human rights regime and paved the way for international law.

However, there are some issues as well. The first issue lies in a member state’s sovereignty and how to allow them to maintain full sovereignty because a country’ accession to the UN demonstrates a willingness to trade sovereignty for other advantages (Karns 46-47). Additionally, the UN sometimes runs into the issue of noninterference in another country’s issues if the citizens of that country genuinely support a system or law that goes against the principles of democracy for cultural or religions reasons. An example of this would be Sharia law in countries such as Saudi Arabia where flogging and amputating limbs is an accepted punishment.

More issues arise when it comes to the history of the UN and how it was designed. The desire for worldwide peace was outlined in 1941 under the Atlantic Charter in that it promoted the hope to “see established peace which will afford to all nations the means of dwelling in safety within their own boundaries and will afford assurance that all the men in all the lands may live out their lives in freedom from fear and want.” Although the purpose outlined highlights a very legitimate reason behind the UN, the issues arise when it comes to the equality among member states, which is an issue still facing the UN today. According to Juergen Moosleitner, “Legal scholars of the inter-war period had come to realize that an assertion of absolute equality among states was not only incompatible with the reality of power distribution among countries but also potentially obfuscatory” (15).


Recently the legitimacy of the UN has come under scrutiny with issues such as the oil-for-food program and the conflicts in the Balkans. In 2003, the Iraqi government under Saddam Hussein was accused of pocketing $10 billion of $64.2 billion in oil sales. The concern that arose was that senior officials at the UN were aware of what was going on and took advantage of the organization with it being preoccupied with the Iraq war. There were accusations that UN members had profited illegally and taken bribes (Zweifel, 59).

Additionally, there are some that question the authority behind the UN’s agenda at any given time. In August 2003, following the bombing of the UN headquarters in Baghdad, there was the idea that some in the Muslim world view the UN a puppet of US interests rather than a neutral party. Lastly, reports of abuses such as the rape accusations in 2005 in the Congo and other parts of the world in addition to the recent allegation that UN troops were behind the spread of cholera in Haiti, further hurt the UN’s legitimacy in the outside world (Zweifel, 74).

There are also other recent political events that have challenged the legitimacy and caused some to call for major reform within the UN. First, in a post cold-war era, the proliferation of rogue and failed states has brought into question the “concept of sovereignty as the grounds for sovereign non-interference upheld by the UN (Muhlen-Schulte, 131).” Second, following the September 11 attacks and subsequent US invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq, the relevancy of the UN has been threatened. This is because the US directly tested both the institutional and legal flexibility of the UN. Third, the UN failed to prevent both intrastate conflicts/genocides as in the case of Rwanda and the Balkans, and also interstate conflict such as the US invasion of Iraq. The war in Iraq drew particularly sharp criticism since the UN failed to uphold its prime mandate. (Muhlen-Schulte, 131).

Regardless, the UN has done some things to strengthen its legitimacy throughout the world. The UN is comprised of many agencies that work to improve the world. Over the years, the UN has been behind numerous peacekeeping operations throughout the world, the World Bank provides lending for developing countries, the Universal Postal Union provides mail to and from austere locations safely and effectively, world hunger is addressed by the World Food Program and International Fund for Agricultural Development, the International Atomic Energy Agency addresses and regulates nuclear energy and overseas its peaceful uses, and lastly the UN Environment Program, Development Fund for Women and UNICEF address humanitarian issues. Lastly, the UN won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2001 which also helps strengthen the UN’s legitimacy in the world’s eyes (Zweifel, 61).

European Union


On September 19, 1946, Winston Churchill called for a United States of Europe thus planting the idea for the EU. Originally, the EU was established with the intent of ending the frequent and costly wars between European countries. Additionally on May 9, 1950, the French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman proposed a European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) which begins to unite European countries economically and politically in order to secure lasting peace. The six founders: Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands sign the treaty on April 18, 1951, formally establishing the ECSC. This sets the stage for the European Economic Community (EEC), or ‘Common Market’ which was formally established on March 25, 1957. During the 1960s, European countries stop charging each other custom duties during trade and agree on joint control over food production. On January 1, 1973, Denmark, Ireland and the United Kingdom join the European poorer areas. In 1981, Greece becomes the 10th member of the EU and Spain and Portugal follow five years later. In 1987 the Single European Act is signed. This is a treaty which provides the basis for a vast six-year program aimed at sorting out the problems with the free-flow of trade across EU borders and thus creates the Single Market. On November 9, 1989, the Berlin Wall falls reunifying Germany. The 1990s marks the passing of two treaties, the gaining of three more new members: Austria, Finland and Sweden, and the ease of communication with the rise of mobile phones and the internet. And in 2004, more than ten new countries join the EU (


European Parliament

The 758 member European Parliament is the voice of the EU citizens and is elected every five years by voters in the member states. Their primary duty is to pass laws based on proposals presented by the European Commission. This responsibility in addition to approving the EU’s annual budget is shared with the Council of the European Union. Lastly, the European Parliament has the power to dismiss the European Commission

European Council

The European Council is comprised of the heads of state from governments of the member states and the President of the European Commission. Its primary duty is to set the policy agenda for the EU. The European Council is led by a president who is elected for 2 ½ year terms. The European Council meets several times a year and its decisions are usually taken by consensus.

European Commission

The European Commission is the executive body of the EU. It represents and upholds the interests of Europe as a whole. It proposes new laws, represents the EU in international trade, and draws up the budget. The commission also enforces EU laws and has the ability to initiate legal action in the European Court of Justice against those that break it. The Commission consists of 27 members which come from each member state. The president of the Commission is chosen by EU governments and elected by the European Parliament. The president and members of the Commission are elected for five year terms.

The Court of Justice

The responsibility for interpreting and enforcing EU law falls on the European Court of Justice located in Luxembourg. It has the power to interpret the EU treaties, rule on the constitutionality of EU law, and settle disputes. The European Court of Justice is comprised of 27 judges elected by member states for six-year terms.


According to Article 2 of the Treaty on European Union the EU has the following objectives:

1) To promote economic and social progress and a high level of employment and to achieve balanced and sustainable development, in particular through the creation of an area without internal frontiers, through the strengthening of economic and social cohesion and through the establishment of economic and monetary union, ultimately including a single currency in accordance with the provisions of this Treaty,

2) To assert its identity on the international scene, in particular through the implementation of a common foreign and security policy including the progressive framing of a common defence policy, which might lead to a common defence, in accordance with the provisions of Article 17,

3) To strengthen the protection of the rights and interests of the nationals of its Member States through the introduction of a citizenship of the Union,

4) To maintain and develop the Union as an area of freedom, security and justice, in which the free movement of persons is assured in conjunction with appropriate measures with respect to external border controls, asylum, immigration and the prevention and combating of crime,

5) To maintain in full the acquis communautaire and build on it with a view to considering to what extent the policies and forms of cooperation introduced by this Treaty may need to be revised with the aim of ensuring the effectiveness of the mechanisms and the institutions of the Community.

6) The objectives of the Union shall be achieved as provided in this Treaty and in accordance with the conditions and the timetable set out therein while respecting the principle of subsidiarity as defined in Article 5 of the Treaty establishing the European Community. (

There are some pros and cons with the purpose of the European Union. As far as strengths are concerned, it allows member countries the freedom of movement and enterprise without worrying about steep tariffs, it provides a single currency, provides for a greener environment and has allowed for more economic stability and cohesion.

Some potential drawbacks of the purpose is that although it allows countries to work together to establish peace and prosperity, it may cause issues when it comes to military action, constitutional reforms, and other negotiations. Differing viewpoints and lack of consensus from member countries could potentially stall further progression. Also, by not having a unified military it relies on NATO for the common defense. However, it also runs into the issue of “neutral” member states such as Finland questioning the compatibility of their neutrality with military intervention if and when the EU decides to build a unified military. By not having a unified military force, they do not have the ability to “assert its identity on the international scene.”


According to recent Eurobarometer polls and low voting turnouts in recent elections, citizens of the EU may feel that legitimacy is lacking. Additionally, there are numerous signs of limited democracy: there are no European parties or political leaders, no media for open debates and there is no competition for European offices. Additionally, there are a multitude of societies and cultures in which there are at least 20 official languages, and lastly the EU does not have an official constitution (Zweifel, 133).

As far as the multitude of societies and cultures are concerned and its relation to the EU’s legitimacy crisis, Mette Jolly believes that it can be attributed to the lack of demos-not a people, not a nation. She states that the “Shortage of democratic legitimacy is said to be caused partly by the polity’s lack of a demos which makes it unsuitable for majoritarian decision-making” (12).

Caitriona Carter and Andrew Scott also agree with this argument. They believe that a shared history and common culture help define a modern democratic state. That “there can be no governance unless there is a pre-existing demos defined in ethno-cultural terms: the nation is the pre-requisite of the state” (436).

There are other issues that are affecting the legitimacy and cohesion of the EU as well. Carter and Scott note that there are three such issues. The first is the loss of a unifying adversary when the Soviet Union collapsed. The second is the emergence of alternative and radical politics in the form of right-wing parties in response to immigration issues; and third is the lack of growth of material prosperity and rise in unemployment (434).



The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) is an international alliance comprised of 28 countries of Europe and North America created to ensure the peace and security of the North Atlantic region. NATO was formed on April 4, 1949, following the signing of the Washington Treaty. Initially NATO was little more than a political organization and did not have an established command structure. However, following the start of the Korean War the member nations realized the importance of defending Europe from the looming Soviet threat and worked to establish a command structure with General Dwight D. Eisenhower as the first commander. In May 1955 West Germany joined NATO. In response the Soviet Union formed the Warsaw Pact that same year. In 1958, France began criticizing NATO for it being dominated by the United States and in 1966 subsequently withdrew from the military command structure. However, France continued to adhere to the North Atlantic Treaty in case of future aggression by the Soviet Union. Following the Cold War, NATO began to focus more on cooperative security rather than deterrence. In 1995, NATO began staging airstrikes against Bosnian Serb positions and in 1999 it launched a massive air campaign against Serbia and Slobodan Milosevic in an attempt to stem the mass genocide against Muslim Albanians. Following the September 11 attacks, NATO has shifted its focus to nuclear proliferation and world terrorism (NATO).


NATO was founded to fulfill its goal of safeguarding the freedom and security of its members by way of political and military means. NATO’s members consult together to address security issues of concern and work jointly to take whatever action is necessary to defend against threats. One principle that guides NATO is the policy that an attack against one member is considered an attack against all members. On September 12, 2001, this principle of collective defense was acted on after the terrorist attacks against the United States, when NATO invoked Article 5 of the NATO treaty, declaring the attacks to be an attack against all of the NATO member countries.

NATO’s fundamental goal is to safeguard the Allies’ freedom and security by political and military means. NATO remains the principal security instrument of the transatlantic community and expression of its common democratic values.NATO enlargement has furthered the U.S. goal of a Europe whole, free, and at peace.

Article 5 of the Washington Treaty — that an attack against one Ally is an attack against all — is at the core of the Alliance, a promise of collective defense. Article 4 of the treaty ensures consultations among Allies on security matters of common interest, which after 60 years have expanded from a narrowly defined Soviet threat to the critical mission in Afghanistan, as well as peacekeeping in Kosovo and new threats to security such as cyber attacks, and global threats such as terrorism and piracy that affect the Alliance and its global network of partners.

In addition to its traditional role in the territorial defense of Allied nations, NATO leads the UN-mandated International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan and has ongoing missions in the Western Balkans, the Mediterranean, and Iraq; it also conducts extensive training exercises and offers security support to partners around the globe, including the European Union in particular but also the United Nations and the African Union.

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