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International Organization & United Nations Studies

The United Nations and other international organizations play critical roles in every global policy field. The International Organization and UN Studies Specialization allows students to focus on how the policy field of their SIPA Concentration is affected by crucial international entities, including the United Nations, Bretton Woods institutions, and international non­governmental organizations. The specialization is composed of two focus areas: one that focuses broadly on international organizations, and another that focuses specifically on the United Nations. Students in both focus areas will be required to complete a core course in international organizations, and two additional three-credit courses. The content of this core course focuses particularly on the mandate of these organizations, their history, their governance structure, their funding sources and mechanisms, their key achievements and most serious challenges, and above all, their impact on the world around them. None of this is static – mandates change or atrophy, power shifts, funding fluctuates, influence waxes and wanes.

Background and purpose

In international affairs, the nation state is still seen as the essential building block of political and social organization, which defines how the world interacts globally. Yet, this perception is to some extent an illusion: people function at many levels simultaneously -- in their family, in their community, in their nation, in their region, and globally -- and the scope of the issues addressed varies accordingly, from the choice of a family physician, the selection of a school board or the establishment of fair taxation rates, all the way to the broadest concerns about nuclear threats and the implications of climate change. And at each functional level, there are matching institutions that allow for joint decision making.

The International Organization focus area of the specialization intends to provide students with a mental map of the international organizations that shape public policy and determine global action at a level beyond the nation state. Such a mapping exercise is useful for all SIPA students, as each of the concentrations and regional specializations requires clarity about the institutions that influence the developments in their area of study, be it the large global structures of the United Nations system or the Bretton Woods framework, regional actors such as the African Union, non-governmental behemoths like World Vision International, or specialized public-private partnerships, exemplified by GAVI, the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization. Insight into the nature and scope of such international organizations is key to understanding the decision making processes affecting economic development, human rights, the environment, international security and social policy. Since many of the most influential international and regional organizations have a representation in New York, options for internships and research abound. During the academic year, events will be organized featuring these organizations, their leadership and their programs.

The UN Studies focus area of the specialization is designed for students who want to specifically focus on role the UN and its many departments, funds and agencies play in international affairs. The UN is the largest international organization, and arguably the most complex and influential. The UN and SIPA are “twin sisters,” having been founded one year apart in the same city, with the same overarching mission of facilitating international understanding and fostering dialogue to obtain peace and maintain security in a multifaceted world. Teaching focuses first and foremost on theories of international organizations; second, on the management of the UN system; and third, on the UN’s functional areas such as peace operations and development coordination. In addition to the core course on international organizations, students enrolled in the UN Studies focus area will be required to take two courses on the UN and its work in the areas of international security, human rights, or development. The UN Studies academic course load is supplemented by fieldwork and research opportunities, as well as programming intended to give SIPA students access to the UN. These include trips to the Security Council, high-level panels with UN staff, Working Lunches with UN Ambassadors, and networking opportunities such as “A Day at the UN”.

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