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.”

united nations flag

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.”

Special chair

Alanna O'MalleySince 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.”

Balanced look

“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.”

Students and employees are invited for a small Kick off ‘The United Nations: From Blue Helmets to Blue Skies’ on the 6th of March. It is a presentation of the research agenda and will map out a series of events in this dynamic field for the next three years. Time: 15.00 – 17.00 hour, Speakers Corner. Entrance is free.