From paper tiger to international legislator: perspectives on the role of the United Nations Security Council

*Dynamism of a Cyclist– Umberto Boccioni (1882-1916).

-by Antonio Mariconda

The UN Security Council is one of the most debated organs among multilateral institutions It perfectly embodies the skepticism concerning the effectiveness of international law. It is composed of 15 members[1] (5 permanent and 10 elected for a two-year mandate by the General Assembly[2]) and it has primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security[3], through the measures laid down in Chapter VI, VII and VIII[4] of the United Nations Charter.

Failed interventions in world crises has led the public opinion to consider UN Security council useless and dominated by world powers, pursuing their national interests. This vision was enhanced by the frequent use of veto by the permanent members[5] to freeze Council’s activity on relevant issues[6]. For this reason, international law is often considered ineffective too, because of its lack of enforcement. Therefore, the “Realizable Utopia”[7] is to reform the Security Council, enforcing its decisions and making it the protagonist of a renewed international law, more meaningful and impactful.


[1] Current Security Council members are: 5 permanent (China, France, Russian Federation, United Kingdom, USA) and 10 elected (Belgium, Dominican Republic, Estonia, Germany, Indonesia, Niger, Saint Vincent and Grenadines, South Africa, Tunisia and Vietnam).The criteria followed for the election are: members contribution to the aims of the Organization and fair geographical representation.

[2] Conforti, Benedetto Diritto internazionale, edited by M. Iovane, Editoriale Scientifica, Napoli 2018.

[3] art.24 n.1 UN Charter: “In order to ensure prompt and effective action by the United Nations, its Members confer on the Security Council primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security, and agree that in carrying out its duties under this responsibility the Security Council acts on their behalf”. The United Nations, The Charter of the United Nations, 1945.

[4] Chapter VI (art. 33-38) is dedicated to the pacific settlement of disputes, the Council can help and encourage the parties of a dispute to find a pacific solution, by using several instruments; Chapter VII (art. 39-51) is about Council direct intervention in international crisis, it may be helpful to analyze specifically the core articles of the chapter (art. 39-42): art.39 states the discretionary of the Security Council in defining a situation as a threat to the peace or a breach of the peace and therefore in using artt.41-42 measures; art.40 foresees the possibility for the council to take provisional measures (ex. ceasefire), involving the parties of a crisis, without prejudice for them, before resorting to recommendations or art. 41-42 measures; art.41 allows the Council to take measures not involving the use of armed force (es. interruption of economical or diplomatic relations) and to call upon the UN states to apply such measures; art.42 enables the Council, if art. 41 measures didn’t work, to take measures involving the use of armed force; Chapter VIII (52-54) rules the capital relations between the system of collective security and the regional arrangements and organizations. The United Nations, The Charter of the United Nations, 1945.   

[5] art. 27 n.3 UN Charter states that the decisions of the Security Council on all non-procedural matters shall be made by an affirmative vote of nine members including the concurring votes of the permanent members. The United Nations, The Charter of the United Nations, 1945

[6] The Council rarely acted during the cold world because of the ideological division of the world in two conflicting blocks, represented by the contrast between URSS and USA. The breakthrough was in the 90’s, with the fall of many communist regimes, when the Council started to function as planned. The symbolical starting point of this new era is the condemnation of Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990. Boon, Kristen The U.N. Security Council: The Most Powerful Organ in History [article], in insights on Law & Society, Vol. 11, Issue 3 (July 2011).

[7] Cassese Antonio and others, Realizing Utopia: the future of international law, Oxford University press, Oxford, 2012.

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