International relations which was generally seen as relations among nations and entities in the international arena begets international organizations. An international organization is a union of actors in the international arena, formed to perform specified functions and/or solve identified problems for the members and/or non members.
The concept of an international organization can also be seen on the one hand as a logical progression in the evolution of political entities from the basic family or tribal grouping of pre- and early historic times to the feudal arrangements of early Europe which emerged following Peace of Westaphalia in 1648 (Imber 1984).
A second perspective on international organization is that as being something antithetical to the state in effect an external entity which may subsume or destroy the state. This latter view is held by many chauvinists and protectionists who find the economic, political and cultural mongrelization which they claim follows political regionalism an unacceptable outcome, (Fredland 1990).

International organizations could be global in scope, e.g. the United Nations; or regional, e.g. the African Union (A.U). It could be permanent, e.g. the European Union (E.U); or temporary, e.g. Allied Nations of the WWII. It could also be strategic, e.g. the NATO and the Warsaw. It could also be economic, political and socio-cultural.
Given that international organizations are basically a union of states, a careless conclusion might fall victim of elevation of international organizations to the level of a super entity. An informed study would be quick to point out the limitations of a typical international organization.
This study focuses on the identifiable limitations of the United Nations. It traced the historical background of the UN and also illuminated the functions of the global body. The concluding part toed the brighter side which highlighted how the organization turned those limitations that constituted stumbling blocks to stepping stones in the achievement of great successes.
The United Nations was founded in 1945 after World War II. It replaced the League of Nations as a result of its failure such as the lacked of universal acceptance, (U.S and the Soviet Union were absent in the league for different reasons), veto power was given to all nations large and small, members of the league never agreed on definition like aggression and the charter failed to define aggression as well.
The vast destruction, death toll and acquisition of new weapons sparked the renewed efforts to ensure world peace through the establishment of a powerful international organization. The founders of the UN were intent on rectifying the defects in the League collective security system. Effort was made to ensure that no potential member state would be excluded from the new organization unlike in the League.
The United Nations has different department or components, each with its responsibility in order to achieve success in the organization. The general Assembly was designed as a deliberate body in which all UN members would have an equal voice and an equal vote. Most importantly, is the creation of the Security Council by the UN charter entrusted with “primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security”, made up of five permanent members and ten non-permanent members.  The big five as they are being called were given the right to veto certain specified important matters such as the selection of the Secretary General, as well as proposed peacekeeping measures. Also, there are specialized agencies of the UN. Through the establishment of these specialized agencies, the UN played an important role worldwide disaster relief, resettlement of refugees, technical assistance in the areas of food and agriculture, health etc.
 The UN further promotes standard of living through agencies as the Economic and Social Council(ECOSOC), the United Nations international Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), Financial and developmental assistance has been extended to economically troubled states through the World Bank, International Monetary Fund and the United Nations Conference on Trade and development(UNCTAD).
1.      To save succeeding generations from the scourge of war.
2.      To reaffirm faith in the fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal right of men and women and of nations large and small.
3.       To maintain justice and respect for the obligation arising from treaties and other sources of international law.
4.      To promote social progress and better standard of life in larger freedom.
Unfortunately, the UN could not escape some of the problems that had plagued the League of Nations. Individual nations were simply not ready to commit themselves to the extent that the organization’s proper functioning required nor were they willing to surrender their sovereignty.
1.      Veto power and the Security Council- One of the limitations trailing the UN is the big five; the task of coordinating the effort to secure world peace permanent members of the Security Council comprised of United States of America, Russia, China, UK and France. These countries all have nuclear power often used as threat to antagonize each other hence creating a scenario of tension in the international system. The UN as a body has often found it hard to reach consensus on important issues relating to sanction on erring members or dictatorial regime. The crisis in Crimea between Ukraine and Russia is a good example; Germany, France, and Russia itself would not have approved the proposed sanction on Russia due to economic ties. This has led to the questioning of UN functionality and efficiency.  Also, the UN’s Security Council which does not reflect international representation has been accused of only involving itself in issues based on strategic interest and political motives; e.g. the protection of oil-rich Kuwait in 1991 versus the negligence of resource poor Rwandans in 1997. Although, the UN would have loved to do more but due to the limitation brought about by the Security Council members. According to John. J. Mearshiemer” since 1982, the U.S has veto 32 Security Council resolutions critical of Israel”. Another example is US and its NATO allies who have interfered in the Syria crises by asking al Assad’s regime to step down. But Russia and China have consistently blocked any UN resolutions that would impose sanctions on Syria to force al Assad out.
According to Deutsch (1989), the heart of UN’s capacity to act is in the Security Council. It seems, while the assembly merely debate, the council act- This can be found in Article 25, 27, 39, 41, 44 and 48. This constitutes a limitation.
2.      Hegemonic power in United Nations- Another major limitation of the UN is the hegemonic condition of unipolarity which currently exists in the international system. The UN drawing from its function and purposes of creation is meant to carry out the task of coordinating the effort to secure world peace through the contribution of members. However, we can see a trend whereby world powers (Hegemonic) or power blocs take up this role against the regulation and control of the UN- for instance, the United States and her allies invaded Iraq despite UN’s reservation. Indeed Jacques Formerand captured it more succinctly by stating that “The UN development work is evolving between the high ground of moral principles and values and the numbering realities of “Political Power”- A phenomenon which has threatened to hijack the roles and function of the United Nation.
Recently, third world countries have argued that such jurisdictional principles and the present system of international law do in fact cement the asymmetrical relationship between the developed and developing nations. They also argued that much of the UN laws are western laws, hence merely reflecting the hegemonic interest of western nations (Deutsch 1989).
3.      The problem of inequality- The reality of inequality in the world system is very much visible in the UN. Smaller nations are agitating the demand of equality with larger nations in international organizations. They contend that anything less would undermine the world in the rule of law and the concept of sovereignty it enshrines. By the same token, within the big powers they insist that military superiority and overall prowess must be reflected in special procedural arrangements, such as the veto power of the permanent members of the UN Security Council. Anything less they argued, would fail to recognize the actual distribution of power in the world. Some nations opt that nations with great powers have to be demoted to make room for new comers whose stars are arising. For instance, since the inception of UN in 1945, there has been only one change namely seating the People’s Republic of China (PRP) in Taiwan’s place. Germany and Japan has the largest economics in Europe and Asia yet they do not have a permanent seat in the Security Council. By the same token, since the break-up of the Soviet Union, Russia’s place in the rankings has fallen in all categories (although the Kremlin still commands a nuclear arsenal second in command only to America). Despite this contraction, Russia retains its veto in the Security Council. The failure of UN  sanctions against Iraq in the 1990’s  and the illegal US decision to invade Iraq in 2003 prompted the UN Secretary General Kofi Annan to create a Special High Level Panel “ to analyze the threats to peace  and security” facing the world today and to make proposal for reforms. The panels finding published in December 2004, proposed expanding the Security Council from 15-24 amending the UN charter to better deal with international terrorism and broadening the UN mandate to protect defenseless people from unprovoked mass violence.
4.      The problem of unity-The most successful international organizations in the past was based on a common enemy. The Holy Alliance, inspired by the fear of a resurgent France is a case in point.  Similarly, fear of the Soviet Union led to the creation of NATO alliance after World War II. Although the high point of unity by UN came in 1990-91 when most nations of the world joined the United States in opposing a common enemy based on the evil of terrorism in the Middle East.
5.      The problem of Sovereignty- Sovereignty of a state is indivisible. A nation has the last word in its own affairs. Thus, the creation of an effective world government would be possible only if existing government could be persuaded to surrender to surrender their sovereignty to a higher authority- a prospect most nation states consider too risky in a world where fear, prejudice and mistrust continue to permeate politics. Like the realist would say, we lived in a state of anarchy you can have allies but do not trust your allies because you don’t know their intension towards you.
6.      The problem of universality- The history of the UN illustrates-especially those with the capacity to disrupt world peace. The refusal to seat the People’s Republic of China after being excluded from the organization for two decades is an obvious case in point. Again, the republic of Taiwan denied its place in the UN when China was admitted in the early 1970’s and remained outside despite repeated efforts to gain readmission.
7.      The problem of legitimacy-The UN also battle with legitimacy from countries in general and individuals in particular. “By the end of 1970’s the United Nations had lost some of its prestige. It was clear that the two super powers, America and Russia would follow the foreign policy they wanted to regardless of what UN wanted’.(History Learning Site Op Cit) Countries especially from Asia, Africa and Arabian peninsula accused the UN of being undemocratic. They clamored for equal power and influence. Thus forming group such as;
The developing Nations
The Non-Align Movement
The Islamic Conference
The African Group
The Latin American Group
The Western European Group
The Arab Group (ibid)
Hence, the Nigerian afro-juju music maestro, Fela Anikulapo Kuti called them, “The Beasts of no Nations”.
8.      Failure of enforcement of law/sanctions- Member states are left to obey or disobey. The choice of disobedience has only being tagged a pariah state to risk.
It has been revealed that the pariah tag is only effective on developing countries given that big powers such as the USA and Russia had in one time or the other flagrantly violated the UN resolutions without qualms. For instance, America’s involvement in Vietnam could not be stopped. In the same vein, the UN has not been able to sanction any of the big five permanent member of the Security Council especially America because of partially its hegemony in military capability and acquisition of weapons and its largely financed to the UN budget. For example, the commercial, economic and financial embargo that US imposed on Cuba in 1962 communist revolution against the anti-communist dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista. The UN has denounced the US embargo on Cuba, all other nations have established normal relations with Cuba except US and they have not been sanction by the UN. Another instance is Russia’s invasion of Crimea and its alleged covet support for separatist rebels in Ukraine despite calls by the UN to desist has not compelled Russia to change its stance. China, Japan and South Korea have been locked in disagreement over the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands which has often turned violent. In October 1951, China forcefully incorporated Tibet into the People’s Republic of China. The irony of all it all being that the belligerent in all these cases are signatories to UN charter which are supposed to promote global peace, co-operation and stability.
9.      Non-compliance by the five permanent member of United Nations-The UN Security Council has hitherto been used as an avenue by the world powers to flex muscles on international issues and compete on military weapons among themselves; e.g. the crises in Syria has been exacerbated due to Russia and China’s continuous veto of any UN unilateral intervention. That the UN as organization hold very little power over these nations is evident in the high degree of non-compliance by states such as Russia, UK, US, China, Japan and France who are parties to such decisive documents like the ‘Kyoto Protocol and the Copenhagen Accord’. The years following the end of cold war and the disintegration of the Soviet Union. The United States has fought three wars (Iraq 1991), Kosovo (1999) and Iraq (2003). It also came close to war with North Korea in 1994.
10    Peace-making and peace-keeping- Nowhere in the 111 articles can the word ’peacekeeping’ be found in the UN charter. However, the justification lies in chapter four of the charter which stipulates that the Security Council can authorize military action. The first experience of the UN peace-keeping mission alludes to the limitation of the UN peace-keeping mission. It is important to note that the UN peace-keepers are primarily visible deterrent who must be invited so as to ensure the adherence to article of the UN which goes against sovereign jurisdiction encroachment. The UN Emergency Force (UNEF 1) mission which was deploy to the Sinai region of Egypt from 1956-1967 to ensure peace at the invitation of Egypt who questioned the invasion of Israel and the British and French paratroopers who were in Suez region to protect their national interest. In May 1967, the Egyptian government withdrew the invitation of UN peace-keepers-less than three weeks the war broke out again. A situation reflecting the limitation of UN peace-keeping mission in areas of conflict, the UN has limited power to resolve the underlying cause of crises as they are often accused of taking side.
11    National interest, bloc interest and fait accompli- It is important to note that national interest is the driver of foreign policy relation, hence, this has placed a great limitation on the roles and functions of the UN especially when it negate the interest of important strong members of the UN. The earlier mentioned proposed sanction Syria, the condemnation of Russia’s  annexation of Crimean peninsula and the U.S.S.R shooting down of Korean Air lines flight 007 in 1983. All these reflect interest of nations. Also, the practice of member states meeting privately or presenting regional interest at the UN General Assembly has placed a great limitation on the functionality and roles of the U.N. For instance, General Muhammed spoke the mind of most A.U member when he delivered that famous speech, “Africa has come of Age”.  Also, individuals like Gaddaffi has used the UN platform to express the ideology which some think will benefit the African continent.
12.  On Domestic Jurisdiction- According to Article 2, paragraph 7 of the UN charter, which reads “Nothing contained in the present charter shall authorize the UN to intervene in matters which are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any state or shall require the members to submit such matters to settlement under the present charter: but this principle shall not prejudice the application of enforcement measure under chapter 7”.
From the above, we can see a fundamental limitation, a situation which contains two different rules: one prohibiting intervention on the part of the organization in matter of domestic events, another released the members to submit such matters under the same charter. It is important to note that Article 2, paragraph 7 of the charter does not refer expressly to disputes, war or conflict situation but it says all ‘matters’. The reality of international dispute is such that it often involves domestic conflict which the UN charter limits itself from solving unless the members submit such matters for settlement. The case of Tutsi and Hutu tribal conflict in Rwanda present a case of negligence on the part of UN who watched on as clans and tribes engaged in genocide. Also, tyrant leaders have quoted this Article 2, paragraph 7 as an excuse to commit atrocities without the check of UN who is supposed to maintain global peace.
13.  Economic contribution to UN budget- According to Associated Press, during the latter part of Bush administration, after years of frustration with the performance and behaviour of the UN, the house voted to slashed U.S contribution to world body if it does not substantially change the way it operates. The vote which was 221-184 was seen as a clear signal from congresses to attempt to straighten out the UN. The legislation would withhold half of U.S dues to the UN’s general budget,” If the organization did not meet a list of demands”. Also, the U.S will refuse to support new peacekeeping mission. From the above example, one can see a clear limitation on the economy/budget of the UN, a situation whereby major donors to the UN arm-twist the body to do their bidding or support them due to their economic support.
Furthermore, former House Committee Chairman; Henry Hyde made a point on the UN’s lavished spending, it’s cuddling of rogue regimes, its anti-America, anti- Israel bias and the scandal such as the mismanagement of the oil-for-food program in Iraq and the sexual misconduct of peacekeeper. It is important to note that U.S provides about 22% of the UN $2billion annual budget. Hence, any threat or arm twisting can be logically said to work and affect the UN, thereby placing a limitation.
According to Jacques Formerand, the budget of UN for 2001-2002 slightly exceeds $2.5billion, an astonishing figure when compared to the $27million budget voted in 1946. From the peak of $1.1billion in 1992, the resources of the U.N.D.P plummeted to $740million in 1998. Voluntary contribution to the UN fell from $293million in 1996 to $268million in 1998. Funding for the world food programme shrank form $1.7billion in 1992 to $1.1billion in 1998.
Thus, expectation of UN must meet economic realities as states now cut financial contribution due to more important domestic needs. However, the key question about the UN’s developmental role which is tied to economic contribution is not what is permissible under the charter but what member states are ready to underwrite.
In conclusion, the list of the UN limitations is inexhaustive. From our findings, the limitations of the UN are not too different from the problems inherent in the defunct League of Nations or any other international organizations  based on the fact that national interest predominates every other form of relation among states in the international system. The main purposes for the creation of the United Nations is to ensure international peace and security where all nations are enjoin to be members irrespective of economic and military superiority to an extent has not been fully achieved by the organization.
Secondly, as a result of the veto power in the Security Council, some nations who have long been members of the UN have not been able to secure a permanent seat as the big five in the Security Council which does not give room for equality rather creating a wide gap between the powerful and the weak nations.
Thirdly, the non-compliance by the big five creates a lot of criticism on the UN. They are in control of the organization since it was founded by them and situated in their continent; they disobey the rule of law of the world including the UN charter in which they are part of the signatories. The charter itself is silent on some issues like aggression because it was written and agreed upon by only few powerful nations.
Furthermore, the UN budget is largely financed by these powerful countries especially America. The Security Council feared to give America sanction or any other of the big five whenever they go against UN rules, This in effect has resulted in a situation of mutual distrust especially between western powerful nation and developing nations who sees the UN platform as a mere tool in the hands of the powerful nations to solidify their hegemony, hence leading to mutual distrust and lack of corporation.
However, It is important to note that despite the inherent limitations of the UN, we cannot afford to throw away the baby with the bath water. The UN has been able to achieve huge successes in some key areas such as peace-keeping mission, health/drugs donation to developing countries and humanitarian services especially through the Red Cross, food and agriculture to refugees in countries where war drought has ravage, peaceful negotiation and mediation, financial assistance for project and developmental purposes to less developing countries through the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) etc. Finally, the world has changed in all areas since 1945 and the UN must change with it, this is easier said than done but the wave of global change must lead to the evolving of roles and function that will help the UN to overcome some of the above mentioned limitations.
Deutsch K.W (1989), The Analysis of International Relation. Vintage Publishers Int’l Ltd
Fredland R. (1990), A Guide to African International Organization. Han zell Publishers, London.
HansKelsen (1976), Limitations on the function of the United Nation. Yale law journal
Imber M.F (1984), The intellectual Basis of Functionalism. Atlanta Internationla Studies Association.
MearsherimerJ.and Walt S. (),The Israel lobby and U.S Foreign Policy KSG Faculty Research Working Paper Series, Harvard University.
Thomas M. Magstadt (2003),Nations and Government Comparative Politics in Regional Perspectives Fifth Edition. Clark Baxter Publisher, Canada.
Thomas M. Magstadt (2006) Understanding Politics: ideas, Institutions and Issues seventh Edition.
History Learning Site (2014), The United Nations and its Problems.;accessed
Fomerland J. (n.d) International Approaches to Development.;accessed
Associated Press. HHP/ Relations/
United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, World and Investment Report (1999): Foreign Direct Investment and the Challenge of Development (New York and Geneva: UN Publication.
UNDP, Human Development Report 1998, New York: Oxford University Press 1998 P. 37
UN Chiefs Blames Rich Nations For Failure of Trade Talks, The New York Times, February 13, 2000.

History of Aguleri simplified


  1. Germany is not a permanent member of UNSC and does not posses veto power. Its UK.