19 February 2019 • Gideon Wille
Spotlight on lesser known aspects of the UN
Over the next three years new appointed professor Alanna ‘O Malley will set up and lead the research group UN Studies: Peace and Justice. “I want to change the way people think about the UN. Often people say the UN doesn’t do enough, but I think it is an incredibly dynamic organization.”
In 1960 Ireland participated in a UN mission in Congo. During this first engagement of Irish peacekeepers in a UN mission some of the troops got killed. “This is one of the markers in our history of international participation”, tells Irish born Alanna who studied history in University College Dublin. “I came to history by way of wanting to understand how politics works. And it really got me thinking: what does the UN mean for small countries? It seemed obvious to me that history was the starting point for these discussions.”
Since 1 September Alanna is Professor at THUAS. Her special chair in UN Studies in Peace and Justice is shared between The Hague University of Applied Sciences (THUAS) and the Faculty of Governance and Global Affairs of Leiden University Campus The Hague. The chair was created by the city of The Hague to honor the work of former Mayor Jozias Van Aartsen.
Alanna: “I’m one day at THUAS and the other two days at Leiden Campus The Hague. There is no difference between the research I’m doing for the Chair at Leiden or THUAS. The Chair is supposed to be an umbrella that brings together people that are interested in the UN: lecturers, researchers and students from Leiden University and THUAS. The idea is that we create a research network. Ideally we integrate that network with the wider community of The Hague, such as the international institutions, the NGO community and different civil society actors that are involved in UN initiatives.”
Lesser known aspects
The overall theme of the research group is the ‘lesser known actors’ of the UN. Alanna: “When you read about the UN in the media it is always about the Security Council and humanitarian intervention. Obviously this is an important function of the UN, but it is not what the UN does well. It’s the things we don’t talk about they do well. I’d like to use this opportunity to develop research agendas on these lesser known aspects.”
“I want to change the way people think about the UN. I’m really driven by the idea that the UN is completely misunderstood by most people, including academics, who often think it is irrelevant or doesn’t do enough. But it’s not. The UN feeds millions of people around the world everyday throughout the World Food Program. And the UN Development Program has provided clean drinking water to 2.6 billion people around the world.”
Sense of ownership
“These are things the UN does very well but they are not controversial or political in the same way as the security agenda, so we don’t talk about this. But if the UN was able to do a better job at selling what it does well alongside being honest about what its challenges are, then we would create a sense of ownership among ordinary people. And if ordinary people feel a connection to the UN then it is more likely they will strengthen their national representation there and that will make the UN stronger and able to address the big questions more effectively.”
“I don’t think the UN is absolutely brilliant, but I do think it is time for a balanced look at it. That’s what I want to contribute to. A critical, balanced view of what the UN is and what it means. And then the way we can think about it differently, so not as an organization that’s an arm of the USA abroad, or something that is dominated by the great powers, or an organization that can’t do anything. But rather at looking at all these dynamic activities that happen all the time we gain a new perspective.”
For more information check the website.
The four legs of the Chair
The Chair has four legs, and each of these legs has a research agenda:
1) Challenging the Liberal World Order from Within, The Invisible History of the United Nations and the Global South, 1945-1981. These make up 2/3 of the membership of the UN. One research agenda will be a history project; charting how those countries have shaped the UN in different ways.
2) Beyond the Security Council: UN Diplomacy in Focus. How does this work in practice? What is the value of UN membership for a small country? How can we understand UN diplomacy outside the security council? This project is going to be including a series of events that are talking about these kind of issues for the next few years.
3) Women and Peacebuilding, A Multilevel Perspective.
What is the role of women in building sustainable peace? The project will identify and analyze the specific contribution of women to building sustainable peace from their role in conflict prevention, women as peacekeepers and post-conflict peacemaking capacities.
4) What Does the UN Mean to the Youth?
A project in association with the Van Aartsen Honours Program and the PRE-program of Leiden University.This project is focused on working with youth at two levels; in schools and in universities.
At the school level, it will work with youth in disadvantaged areas of The Hague. The main aim is to engage the youth in UN ideas and the concept of world citizenship by working with them in weekend workshops and class rooms on relevant topics of global governance, especially the Sustainable Development Goals, and Goal 4 – access to quality education.
At the university level, this project will connect with on-going initiatives among student associations, model UN groups and the Dutch Youth organization. There is a wide range of dynamic activities organized by these groups which can be connected around a joint platform relating to Goal 4 or Goal 16 (Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions). By fostering and promoting these ac-tivities, a network of cooperation will be formed, which will then develop a series of initiatives aimed towards the 75th anniversary of the UN in 2020.
Professor Alanna ‘O Malley: ‘I don’t think the UN is absolutely brilliant, but I do think it is time for a balanced look at it.’