The United Nations and terrorism : a long term assessment of changes and continuities

  • Johannes-Alexander Muller

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis (PhD)


Although terrorism continues to retain its localised nature in some respects, the threat has taken on an international character for some time now. Consequently, national efforts to curb terrorism are not sufficient in dealing with the threat, underscoring the importance of multilateral counterterrorism cooperation. The United Nations (UN) is perhaps the most visible and predominant international organisation for security issues and has thus built the prime case study for this research endeavour. The aim of this thesis has been to examine how the UN’s response to terrorism has changed since the 1970s. In doing so, the project has provided an empirical overview of 50 years of UN counterterrorism efforts and has analysed the empirical data to identify patterns, continuities, and disruptions in the UN’s response. The findings suggest that the United Nations has seen both change and continuity in its efforts to quell terrorist violence and it has been demonstrated that, while multilateral counterterrorism cooperation is possible at the UN, it is cumbersome and progress is best done away from the political limelight. The obstacles that have prevented swift action when the UN General Assembly first took up the issue in 1972 have remained remarkably consistent and are unlikely to be solved quickly. The step-by-step criminalisation of certain offences through treaty-making has however allowed the Assembly to make some progress. Following the Cold War, the Security Council has — although not spared from definitional short-comings — responded to terrorism in a more assertive (e.g. sanctions) and at times forceful manner. Finally, it has been highlighted that the politised nature of terrorism can greatly limit counterterrorism responses. Therefore, it has been suggested that future academic inquiry must explore the extent to which less politised organisations, those that are technical and regional in nature, might be better suited to address terrorism within their framework.
Date of Award28 Jul 2020
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of St Andrews
SupervisorKieran Joseph McConaghy (Supervisor) & Bernhard Blumenau (Supervisor)


  • Terrorism
  • United Nations (UN)
  • Multilateral counterterrorism cooperation
  • Multilateralism
  • Counterterrorism

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