“Crisis and Change at the United Nations” with Oona Hathaway on Feb 28

Wednesday February 28, 2024
12:00 PM - 1:45 PM

Crisis and Change at the United Nations: Non-Amendment Reform and Institutional Evolution

The Department of Political Science is excited to welcome Oona Hathaway of Yale University to UBC to deliver the 2024 Mark Zacher Lecture. Professor Hathaway will deliver a separate talk to the Department’s faculty members and graduate students on February 28, before the public lecture in the evening.

Lunch will be served at 12pm in Buchanan C403. The lecture will start at 12:15pm in Buchanan Penthouse and wrap up by 1:45pm.

Details for joining by Zoom will be made available to those who RSVP.


The Security Council’s inaction in response to the wars in Gaza and Ukraine has once again put a spotlight on structural problems at the United Nations. Security Council paralysis—particularly the (mis)use of the veto power afforded to the permanent five (P5) members of the Council—has long prompted calls for reform. Yet the same veto power prevents nearly all of the efforts to reform the organization through the formal amendment process provided in the United Nations Charter.

This Article argues that there is an alternative way forward: what we call “non-amendment-reform.” Rather than seek formal amendments that are unlikely to survive the veto of the P5 members, advocates of change should support change through evolving interpretations of the Charter. Non-amendment reform can provide a way for the United Nations (U.N.) to act in the face of a veto threat. Indeed, thanks to an earlier nonamendment reform, the Uniting for Peace Resolution, paralysis of the Security Council during the wars in Ukraine and Gaza has not prevented the United Nations from acting.

Although non-amendment reform has been overlooked by scholars, it has long been critical to the capacity of the U.N. to respond to crises. This Article demonstrates that a four-stage process—trigger, proposal, contestation leading to a new interpretation, and consolidation—has led to non-amendment reform at key moments throughout the U.N.’s history. Learning a lesson from the past, today’s advocates of change should channel their efforts towards non-amendment reform to enable the U.N. to meet the challenges of the moment.


Oona A. Hathaway is the Gerard C. and Bernice Latrobe Smith Professor of International Law at Yale Law School, Professor of International Law and Area Studies at the Yale University MacMillan Center, Professor of the Yale University Department of Political Science, and Director of the Yale Law School Center for Global Legal Challenges. She is also a non-resident scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for Peace. In 2014-15, she took leave to serve as Special Counsel to the General Counsel at the U.S. Department of Defense, where she was awarded the Office of the Secretary of Defense Award for Excellence.


Note: This talk is for UBC Political Science faculty members and grad students only. For more information about the public Zacher lecture on February 28, please go here.