Everyone loves the party game/icebreaker “two truths and a lie.” 

The 74th session of the UN General Assembly opens today. Can you identify which of the following is NOT true about the United Nations? 

  1. The UN has no mechanism to ensure adherence to its own charter.

  2. The UN has maintained world peace since WWII.

  3. The UN Security Council has been imposing sanctions on North Korea since 2006.


Despite the grand ideals of its charter, the United Nations is only held together by a variety of agreements. It does not have any way of requiring adherence to its charter since it has placed itself in an unprecedented position–an international organization uniting the nations of the world. Without a whisper of accountability measures, the UN has repeatedly violated its own charter. It welcomed Stalin’s Soviet Union as a founding member and today includes North Korea and Venezuela as members, despite the failure of these states to uphold the principles of the United Nations. 

The United Nations has created a reputation for itself which places the organization in a position of global arbiter of justice.  But it lacks a mechanism to police its own actions, without which it can, and does, act without check or balance. 


In part because of the timing of its establishment, the United Nations is often credited with maintaining the peace following World War II.  Often overlooked, however, is the fact that the conflicts that have arisen in the meantime have been between permanent members of the Security Council. Whether between the U.S. and the Soviet Union in the form of the Cold War, or the tension with China, these issues tie the hands of the UN and it is powerless to address them.  With the power to veto Security Council resolutions, these members create a gridlock that prevents any motion on the issue. 

The U.S., in contrast, has worked tirelessly to maintain peace and order. By donating one-fifth of the UN’s budget, the United States largely bankrolls the organization and provides a physical headquarters in Manhattan, despite frequent opposition to U.S.-led resolutions in the General Assembly.  The UN claims the helm of peace, despite the fact that the U.S. won the Cold War and the U.S. is the one that continues to address the threats to peace and security, often from other UN member states. The bulky, bureaucratic system of the United Nations more often impedes U.S. initiatives than helps. 


The UN sanctions on North Korea provide the perfect example of the inefficiency and ineffectiveness of the organization.  The United Nations has been imposing sanctions on its member state, North Korea, since 2006. China, however, is supposed to uphold these sanctions and has failed to do so, for the last thirteen years.  The UN has continued to renew the sanctions, to no avail, as China continues to avoid action and North Korea has now amassed a nuclear arsenal. 

In contrast, the U.S., Japan, South Korea, and the European Union have all managed to effectively sanction North Korea, spurred by its many violations of international agreements, including human rights violations. The UN, however, despite championing human rights across the globe, is unable to take any true action. 

In a time where global politics grow increasingly tense, it is vital that Americans understand the United Nations and the role of the U.S. in the organization.  IWF’s foreign policy fellow Claudia Rosett covers the topic of the UN more broadly in our September Policy Focus.

Click here to read the Policy Focus in its entirety.