The Role of the United Nations in a Complex and Global World: A study of the Sustainable Development Goals and the challenges of the United Nations

Cecilie Bresson

Student thesis: Master thesis


The world’s current international systems, including, among others, the United Nations, was established and build in the era following the Second World War. But the world has changed a lot since then making it relevant to question whether our international systems are fit to address the 21st century and its challenges. This project explores and explains the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and whether they can be used to improve and redefine the United Nations, researching the effect and influence of the Sustainable Development Goals on the challenges of the United Nations. At first, the project presents relevant literature regarding the challenges of the United Nations taking point of departure in the book “What is wrong with the United Nations and how to fix it” by Thomas G. Weiss (2016), which is used as the theoretical framework. The project also briefly describes how the United Nations is structured, including a presentation of the 2030 agenda. Through an analysis of the Sustainable Development Goals and how they relate to the challenges of the United Nations, I discover the goals most relevant for solving the challenges of the United Nations and how these goals are making progress in regard to national sovereignty, artificial grouping, lack of coordination, and excessive bureaucracy and limited leadership. Conclusively I consider and discuss how the Sustainable Development Goals co-align with the purpose of the United Nations. Moreover, the increasing power of the third United Nations, global players such as international corporations and nongovernmental organizations, is discussed by including Sustainable Development Goal 17 about partnerships. Lastly, I discuss and reflect on the theoretical and methodological consequences. The result of this project is that the Sustainable Development Goals are relevant in responding to the challenges of the UN, especially goals 5, 10, 13, 16, and 17. SDG 5 brings attention and progress to the United Nations’ gender imbalance. SDG 10 shift the attention of the United Nations from states to individuals. SDG 13 requires for the member states to disregard national interests and agree on needed climate reforms. SDG 16 calls for changes to the United Nations’ organizational structure, improving its coordination. 4 | P a g e Furthermore, the Sustainable Development Goals presents a more universal framework compared to the former Millennium Development Goals, by including goals relevant to all member states of the United Nations. The 2030 agenda marks a shift from the traditional model of development, providing a more transformative vision that goes beyond the narrow vision of the Millennium Development Goals. The thesis discovers that partnerships are important forthe United Nations and that the third United Nations, including multinational corporations and nongovernmental organizations, must be more involved and better integrated in the United Nations’ system for the United Nations to maintain its legitimacy as an international institution. Finally, it concludes that the Sustainable Development Goals can be used to improve and redefine the United Nations, but that a definitive answer is impossible as the deadline for the 2030 agenda is 11 years away, making it unclear whether the goals will be reached or if important development goals and targets will be left behind.

EducationsMSc in Business, Language and Culture - Business and Development Studies, (Graduate Programme) Final Thesis
Publication date2019
Number of pages82
SupervisorsLisa Ann Richey