Essay Writing Help on The Role of the United Nations in Third-World Countries

The Role of the United Nations in Third-World Countries


The UN, a successor of the failed League of Nations, was formed principally to maintain international peace and manage relations between nations within the international arena in a bid to prevent the outbreak of another world war. Although the founders of the UN hoped that it would be more effective than the League of Nations, the UN faced the same challenges that had bedeviled its predecessor making its success uncertain. The UN was founded on two diametrical approaches – the ‘Concert of Europe’ tradition and the ‘Peace Project’ tradition –, which are antithetical in their approach to the definition of state relations (Brown and Ainley 144). The Concert of Europe “notion emerged in the nineteenth century … The idea of the concert was that the Great powers would consult and, as far as possible, co-ordinate policy on issues of common concern (Brown and Ainley 145). In contrast, the Peace Project was steeped in Kantian ideology, and presumed that “in order to overcome the scourge of war, the states of Europe would form a kind of parliament or federal assembly, wherein disputes would be solved (Brown and Ainley 145). The Concert of Europe approach eventually became preeminent in the operations of the UN, with the Security Council, which has five veto wielding permanent members having a disproportionate influence on the policies, resolutions, and activities of the UN. It is in this light that the role of the UN in third world countries will be examined, cognizant that there exists an imbalance of power relations in the international arena, with industrialized western nations wielding greater power and influence in the international arena compared to the third-world countries.


After the Second World War, “the idea of development assistance (foreign aid granted expressly to hasten material advance in the recipient country) was originally proposed by the United States in 1949” with the express intention of hastening the redevelopment of a Europe that was devastated by the war (Eberstadt 151). The idea was borrowed and endorsed by the UN, which instituted a ‘technical assistance program’ that helped to entrench a new instrument of finance and diplomacy in the international arena. “The UN system helped to secure worldwide acceptance for the proposition that massive state-to-state resource transfers in the name of growth and progress for low-income areas should be a regular feature of the modern international order” (Eberstadt 151). The flow of capital has been one way, mostly from the industrialized nations in the west and North America to third-world countries. In addition to state actors within the UN framework, there have been a number of bilateral and multilateral programs that have emerged since the 1950s, which have worked to augment the flow of ‘aid’ to third world countries. However, despite the proliferation of such programs and agencies, the UN still remains the major provider and facilitator of official development assistance (ODA) at present.

At its inception, the UN technical assistance was focused on development of human capital to increase the capacity of poor countries to handle their economic and developmental needs (Jeong, 224). In working towards the realization of this goal, the UN established the Expanded Program of Technical Assistance (EPTA), which was to be funded by voluntary contributions from the industrialized nations. Although the program did not have fulsome support from the industrialized nations at the beginning, it was later embraced and led to large-scale assistance to developing nations through the aegis of the UN. The belief was that if the industrialized nations transferred skills, knowledge, and technology to the developing nations, they could achieve economic emancipation within decades (Jeong 224). Therefore, experts were seconded to these nations while scholarships and study grants were given to citizens in the developing world to study in the developed countries and learn the intricacies of management and application of knowledge in ameliorating the situation in their countries. However, an analysis of the efficacy of the technical assistance approach showed that it had failed to achieve its aims and an integrated approach of using long-term low-interest loans to finance badly needed investment in enabling infrastructure like schools, hospitals, and equipment, in addition to experts could be more effective.

The idea of channeling financial aid through the UN was opposed by developed nations, which argued that international lending activities were the sole responsibility of the World Bank, and hence there was no need for duplication of roles (Jeong 225). Eventually, there was a compromise and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) in 1965 as a coordinating agency for ODA, facilitating the disbursement of aid from the developed to the developing countries. Although the idea behind the formation of the UNDP was noble, it was based on the false premise that the Marshall plan that had raised Europe from the ashes of the Second World War to prosperity could be replicated in Third-World countries. However, due to diversity in the cultural backgrounds of third-world countries and the ideological struggle between communism and capitalism, the efforts of the UNDP were futile. The 1980s saw stagnation in growth of most third-world countries as well as negative capital flows as aid disbursed to the third world countries was repatriated back to the first world by kleptocratic rulers and bureaucrats.

The interventionist UN approach to economic development of the third world has reduced significantly over the decades and the centrality of the UNDP to the disbursement of development aid has been eroded by bilateral aid arrangements. In addition, third world countries have led a debate on the structure of international relations, arguing that for such countries to succeed and industrialize, it needs more than aid. Third-world countries have advanced the opinion that international relations require a consultative approach and that there needs to be greater involvement of the developing countries in the international decision-making process, based on the Razali plan, which

calls for regularly-scheduled, open meetings allowing direct expression of opinions by concerned states and organizations; regular consultations between the Council, the other organs, and “affected” countries; regular briefings to all member states; open debates to orient the Council before taking decisions; clear delineations on what matters are “procedural” and not subject to a veto; greater use of the International Court of Justice for advisory opinions; and more consultations with regional actors under Chapter VIII of the UN Charter.  (Cox 104).

The gradual paradigmatic shift in the nature of North-South relations has led to the steady decline in the influence of the UN in the economic activities of third-world countries, with the organization currently relegated to a largely advisory role.


Third-world countries face many governance challenges and there are conflicts that arise as communities compete for scarce resources. In addition, third-world governments tend to be inherently unstable and face many existential challenges that make it difficult for governments to efficiently manage and discharge their responsibilities. Third-world countries also have weak institutional capacity to resolve conflict. Hence, there is a tendency for conflicts to quickly escalate into armed conflicts that can even lead to genocide if not diffused in time, for example in Rwanda, where “Belgium explicitly warned the U.N. Secretary General of impending genocide on February 25, 1994, but Belgium’s plea for a stronger U.N. peacekeeping force was

Rebuffed by members of the U.N. Security Council” (Stanton 8). Most of the world’s intractable conflicts are in third-world countries, where ethnic fuelled disputes and scramble for resources expose populations to the specter of violence. The Rwandese genocide was a watershed moment in the UN’s approach to conflict resolution, considering that the genocide could have been prevented if early warnings had been heeded and a stronger UN peacekeeping force sent to the country. However, “The international community … failed to prevent or suppress this atrocity and largely stood by while hundreds of thousands died in one of the most rapidly perpetrated and deadliest of genocides in history” (Beardsley, n. pag). It is important to note that peacekeeping was not in the original tasks that the UN was to perform, and the growth of the UN peacekeeping role has been largely as a response to the increase in armed conflicts. In addition, there is an obligation for humanity to act decisively and forcefully in some instances to safeguard human life that is at threat from organized violence.

Most of the UN peacekeeping missions are currently in third world countries, where they enforce peace agreements and act as deterrent to violence by de-escalating tensions and where need arises, using force to stop purveyors of violence. The UN peacekeeping missions have differing mandates on the amount of force that they are allowed to use in containing situations. However, after the Rwandese fiasco, where the international community failed the Tutsis and moderate Hutus, the threshold that is needed before decisive force is used by UN peacekeepers has been considerably lowered. UN peacekeeping missions have helped to pacify communities in many third-world countries and have helped to increase peaceful coexistence while reducing armed conflict. In addition, the UN peacekeeping missions have helped to increase the capacity of third-world armies to deal with conflicts as well as enhance their professionalism. This is because third-world countries are some of the largest troop contributors to the UN peacekeeping missions, surpassing the developed nations, which mainly pay for the peacekeeping missions. The participation of the third-world armies in UN peacekeeping missions has helped to increase the influence of these countries in the international arena.

Food Security

The UN plays a critical role in the enhancing the food security of millions of people in the third world, where extreme levels of poverty and armed conflicts have led to the exposure of millions of people to hunger. The UN formed a number of institutions in response to the needs of the third world, especially as pertains to the improvement of agricultural productivity to increase food safety. Some of the agencies and funds formed by the UN to address food security include International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), United Nations Institute for training and Research (UNITAR), and the World Food Program (WFP) (Jeong 228). The WFP has been instrumental in distributing emergency food aid to distressed communities, which are in danger of starvation due to conflict, famine or other natural disasters. Third-world countries usually host the largest proportion of refugees and internally displaced persons due to their proximity to the conflict centers. These countries do not have the capacity or resources to feed these refugees, who are usually housed in crowded camps that are ”located in desert areas with the most extreme weather conditions, without access to water, food, shelter or medical support” (Beardsley, n. pag). Such persons depend solely on the support of the UN and other aid agencies to subsist through the food rations it distributes.


The UN faces many challenges, including the legitimacy of its decision-making process, considering that the industrialized nations have a huge influence on the activities of the UN, principally due to their political, economic, and military might. However, despite the challenges and the failure of the UN system to assure world peace as originally envisaged in its charter, the organization plays a critical role in the stabilization of third-world countries. The UN and its many agencies have endeavored to ameliorate the living conditions and economic situation of third-world countries through many initiatives and programs. Although the success of most of these initiatives is debatable, the UN’s role in facilitating peace, security, and stability in the third world cannot be ignored.

Works Cited

Beardsley, Brent. “Learning from the Rwandan Genocide of 1994 to Stop the Genocide in Darfur – Part 1.” Canadian Military Journal. 14 August 2008. Online. 2 April 2015 < >

Brown, Chris and Kirsten Ainley. Understanding International Relations 4th edn Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. 2009. Print.

Cox, Brian. “United Nations Security Council Reform: Collected Proposals and Possible Consequences,” South Carolina Journal of International Law and Business 6.1(2009): 89-128. Print.

Eberstadt, Nicholas. The United Nations’ “Development Activities”: What Impact on Third World Development? World Affairs 159.4 (1997):151-157 Print.

Jeong, Ho-Won. The Struggle in the UN System for Wider Participation in Forming Global Economic Policies in: Alger, Chadwick (Ed) Future of the United Nations System, The; Potential for the Twenty-First Century. New York: United Nations University Press. 1998. Print.

Stanton, Gregory H. “The Rwandan Genocide: Why Early Warning Failed,” Journal of African Conflicts and Peace Studies, 1.2 (2009): 6-26.

Wills, Siobhan. Protecting Civilians. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2009. Print.