Law and Practice of the United Nations


The first edition of this book appeared in 2008, based heavily on the material underpinning the New York University School of Law seminar class “UN Constitutional Law,” taught for half a century by the late, great Thomas M. Franck. His co-authors, Simon Chesterman and David M. Malone, each taught this course with him over a number of years. We probably learned even more from Tom than the students did.

The volume turned out to be the last of Tom’s thirty-one books, an extraor­dinary contribution to public international law that will continue to reso­nate with students and practitioners for decades. But even as we produced the first edition, Tom warned that we would have to remain current. When teaching, we and the many professors who adopted the book supplement the work with current examples from the United Nations, often taken straight from the headlines. Eight years later, however, it is clearly time for a more thorough reassessment of the work, both in terms of content and structure.

To contribute to this effort, Ian Johnstone joins Simon and David. Tom had long admired Ian’s work at Columbia University and in the office of the UN Secretary-General. He delighted in the fact that Ian ultimately chose an academic career at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, where he has thrived. Tom would have been pleased to see Ian bring his own perspective to bear on the questions and issues raised in these pages.

This edition, like the first, is designed to provoke “conversation” (one of the cornerstones of human civilization, as far as Tom was concerned). The intention is for topics to be briefly introduced and then use selected read­ings to engage students in discussion to test their interpretation, ideas, and reasoning.

Although conceived within a law school, the volume has also been adopted in graduate schools of international relations and of public policy as the issues covered lie at the core of contemporary global governance and international affairs. Experience in using the material with graduate stu­dents lacking prior legal study has confirmed to us that it serves them well in learning to master and interpret primary material, and reason on the basis of ideas that, although seemingly arcane at times, are often at the heart of negotiations in international organizations and arising in the conduct of wider diplomacy. Indeed, there is considerable “international relations” and “politics” relevance built into the ensuing chapters, as well as material reflecting the challenges of public administration and policy development in the sphere of international organizations.

This second edition of the book preserves the approach and structure of the first edition, but updates the material and introduces new features that reflect the changing global context. Since the first edition was published, great power relations have deteriorated, new actors (including nonstate actors) have emerged on the scene, and enthusiasm for multilateralism has diminished. Although the United Nations is still at the center of global order, regional organizations and ad hoc arrangements have become more active in areas that used to be dominated by the United Nations and its agencies, such as peacekeeping, climate change, and global health.

[From the Preface to the Second Edition]

Advance praise

“The second edition of Law and Practice of the United Nations is even better than the indispensable first. It packs into one (large) volume the key primary documents while adding thoughtful commentary by both scholars and officials. This volume demonstrates how the UN Charter is living law, disputed in interpretation and employed in policy-making.”

Michael W. Doyle, University Professor, Columbia University

“Humanity is going through a metamorphosis to create a peaceful and equitable world. Anyone who wants to understand the mechanics and dynamics of this process has to understand the United Nations, the epicenter of global governance, where law and policy interact and evolve. Building on the pioneering work of Tom Franck, this is a superb textbook by three eminent scholars and practitioners that should be a must in every international law or international relations program.”

Mohamed ElBaradei, Nobel Laureate and Director-General Emeritus of the International Atomic Energy Agency

“The United Nations is as much practice as law, as illustrated by peacekeeping, one of its most important responsibilities, which is not mentioned in the charter and is a creation of practice. This book is an indispensable reference for anybody who wants to understand how the UN really works.”

Jean-Marie Guéhenno, President and CEO of the International Crisis Group, former UN Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations

“[A] volume entirely devoted to the United Nations for scholars of both international law and international relations, in an accessible format with challenging issues at every turn.”

Anne-Marie Slaughter, President and CEO of the New America Foundation

Purchase the book

United States:

Britain: Oxford University

Singapore: Oxford University PressKinokuniya

Australia: Oxford University Press • Readings