This is a great question. Luckily, I took a couple classes on international law and the UN and the answer is simple. They can’t… collectively they can enact charters, treaties, sanctions (e.g. trade embargoes)… but, as we’ve seen with Iraq and Iran, some countries will let their economies fail and their people live in total indigence before submitting to the wishes of the UN. In other cases we’ve seen certain cases go to the International Criminal Court (ICJ; a fantastic governing body with some of the top minds in international law), but even after judgement is passed and all is said and done there really is nothing anyone can do to enforce punishment as a part of the decision. It’s sad, but it all boils down to one thing: The Treaty of Westphalia… or more simply put, Sovereignty. Don’t get me wrong, the UN is a fantastic forum for countries to get together under one roof after having signed a charter which signifies their intentions to operate as a part of the international “community…” but when all is said and done it’s hard enough to call it a “system” let alone a community… Btw, the first link I included below is an interesting example of someone trying their best explain that the UN has powers of enforcement when in fact it doesn’t. I hate to say but it is quite humorous.
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