How Effective is the UN Security Council

Cite this


The UN Security Council is responsible for maintaining international peace and security in the world (Malone 2004). The composition of this most powerful organ of the united nations include five rich and influential countries in addition to ten other elected states with a term of two years which is renewable. Member states meet on regular basis in order to discharge its mandate which include organizing military operations, imposing sanctions, facilitating inspection of weapons and arranging for election observers to member countries. A representative from the constitutive countries of the United Nations must be present at the Security Council headquarters during its proceedings. The council explores peaceful means to resolve disputes whenever a complaint is made regarding threats to international peace.

The council is led by a president of a member state. The presidency alternates from one country to another according to English alphabetical order. The five permanent countries of the UN Security Council include China, Russia, United Kingdom and United States. These countries are privileged to have veto powers on any issue which remains controversial in the international arena (Claude 1988). The current headquarters of the Security Council are based in New York although meetings have been held in other cities such as Addis Ababa and Paris. The permanent status of the veto-privileged nations positions them above other countries and their voting pattern has been a subject of controversy especially with regard to sanctions and military interventions.

Roles of the Security Council

After this initial step, the council proceeds to investigate and arbitrate conflicts in pursuit of peace. The Security Council actually does this by appointing special officials such as the Secretary General to mediate in restoration of peace and resolving disputes diplomatically. The Security Council is equally mandated to define terms and conditions in order to guide peace deliberations with the purpose of settling disputes in accordance with its standards and principles (Weiss 2005). There are situations where conflicts escalate to war compelling the council to end the dispute with tough considerations that may include sanctions.

It is worth noting that the council has made some progress in facilitating ceasefire in conflict-stricken regions thereby preventing a stalemate. The atmosphere in regions with conflicts also demands for the deployment of peace-keeping forces which then restore calm and conducive environment for the ceasefire to take place. The forces are equally mandated to keep rival parties in a dispute apart until their grievances are dealt with to a peaceful conclusion. In the event that no amicable solution is arrived at in a dispute, the council is empowered by the UN charter on which it was founded, to impose sanctions as well as veto military interventions in restoration of sustainable peace.

The sanctions include trade embargos as well as mobilizing member states to abstain from diplomatic and economic engagements with a state under investigation by the Security Council (Fasulo 2009). Such a member state could also suffer from further penalties including suspension from membership privileges and rights by the General Assembly on recommendation by the council. The general assembly may also punish a member state which has repeatedly violated the core values of the UN charter by expulsion as directed by the Security Council. Non-member states could be invited to participate in the deliberations by the council if it is part of the dispute. The council then defines the terms of engagement involving non-member states which include absolving them from voting.

Countries which are not members of the Security Council do not participate in the important decision making process unless they are a subject of the deliberations. The immense political, military and cultural powers that United States of America possess in the world have equally compromised the effectiveness of the Security Council in discharging its mandate (Daws& Weiss 2007). The original purpose of a collective approach in drafting resolutions and making important political decisions has been overtaken by shadowy coalition schemes by friendly partners keen to remain powerful and relevant internationally.

It is worth noting that military activities have been decided by member states singularly without the approval of the United Nations Security Council veto. However, the Security Council has a widespread mandate to restore tranquility during war as well as intervene with sanctions and military action in cases where there is imminent threat to international peace. Recommendations made by the Security Council to that effect are not binding to the rest of the member states but facilitates the process of restoring justice in the community of nations. The council can actually refer cases to the international criminal court even on matters where the court lacks the authority to adjudicate.

In the recent past, the council directed the international court of justice to investigate cases of genocide and crimes against humanity in Darfur, Sudan, even though the country is not a signatory to the Rome statute (Bedjaoui 1994). The council therefore exercised its powers to protect humanity against situations that could lead to genocide, violation of human rights and civil abuse during war. Whether, the Security Council has been effective in maintaining peace and international security is a subject of debate. The council has often been accused of making far reaching recommendations during its sessions without tangible results.

Legitimacy of the Security Council

The club of five most powerful countries in the world has remained permanent at the Security Council even with waning influence in the global arena. For instance countries such as France and Britain do not command international esteem at the moment they way they did when the council was being formed. There are equally developing countries with remarkable record of success in their governing and economic institutions such as India, South Africa and Brazil who should be integrated in the Security Council as well. Another powerful nation, Japan which also contributes immense financial resources to the UN body deserves a seat at the Security Council (Hilaire 2005).

The legitimacy of the Security Council is therefore wanting with respect to the global political dynamics. As such, the Security Council needs urgent reform in order to be more legitimate and effective in discharging its duties. The United States of America being at the focal point of the sensitive organ of the UN should therefore lead in the process of reforming the Security Council particularly with regard to membership. The reforms should equally be done in an intelligent manner so as not to dilute the influence of elite club of influential powers in the world (Hurd& Russett 1997). The elite have been quite useful in reaching consensus on delicate matters regarding international security, nuclear nonproliferation and humanitarian assistance to conflict-stricken countries.

The UN charter and the Veto

The structure of the United Nations is equally in need of reform with suggestions to incorporate a “timeline perspective” where important matters are negotiated in the short term after which controversial issues which take time to resolve being negotiated in the long-term (Wet 2004). Reforms that target representation adopt alternatives to the current membership of five permanent states and ten rotating countries to an overall twenty four. The first option as suggested by the former secretary general, Kofi Annan, adopts a structure where six new states are integrated into the Security Council with three more permanent countries. The other alternative explores a structure where eight more nations become part of the membership in addition to one more permanent state in the so called “Larger freedom” representation.

The charter on which the United Nations was founded described its mandate and the need to reinforce the shortcomings of the League of Nations. The president of the council presides over meetings, sets the agenda as well as spearheads the process of resolving disputes in consultation with council members. By making declarations of intent to the council members, the president actually defines the roadmap towards a peaceful world. The veto is a decisive tool in making important decisions by the council (Parsons 2008).

The voting process

The UN charter defines the voting procedure by the Security Council whereby important matters of international magnitude requires an affirmative vote of nine council members to be validated. When one of the permanent members votes contrary to the affirmative vote, the whole vote is nullified despite of the veto from the nine states. Abstaining from the voting process does not give the veto of a member state the benefit of doubt since it is disregarded. Despite of the importance of the veto in deciding the outcome of important resolutions, proposals and endorsements, it is not applied to legitimize proceedings of the Security Council. Deliberations can therefore continue as normal but their outcomes need to be validated through the veto of both the permanent and non-permanent members (Malone 2004).

There are states which have abstained from the voting process for a long period of time despite of having the veto. A closer look at the voting patterns at the security council reveal that Russia and United States have vetoed resolutions at the council on 123 and 82 occasions respectively while others such as china (6), France (18) and UK (32). The resolutions made the council have far-reaching consequences and do not just apply to the members of the United Nations but the entire community of nations.

Reform in the voting procedure at the Security Council

There has been a discrepancy to the manner in which the council has exercised its powers with respect to the various articles and treaties outlined by the United Nation. This has led the council to be at loggerheads with other member states especially on occasions where it has overstepped its mandate in voting on substantial resolutions. It is therefore a necessity that the decisions made by the Security Council which are in conflict to the mutual understanding of the member states to receive a constitutional interpretation under judicial terms. However, this does not compromise the legal mandate given to the council to protect lives by maintaining international peace and restoration of justice during disputes (Weiss 2005).

The legality of the resolutions made by the council with respect to military action, diplomatic intervention to domestic crises and resolving political disputes also need the constitutional interpretation of individual countries. This therefore calls for urgent reform of the Security Council. The suggestion that membership of the permanent members should be increased beyond the nuclear powers is relevant especially in addressing the inequalities that are brought about by their veto with respect to non-nuclear countries. It is also important that the whole concept of permanency at the council be abolished in order to add more teeth to its mandate in resolving crises in a legitimate and justified manner.

It equally defeats logic for the permanent members to enjoy such supremacy veto such that it could nullify any resolution whether militarily or diplomatic by other members (Fasulo 2009). The permanent states have actually been glorified above the Security Council in terms of who matters. As such, they even meet independent of the other council members only to appear and present binding resolutions to the rest of the council. The elite club of permanent members have therefore vetoed in pursuit of selfish interests as illustrated by the manner in which the United States has protected the disputed Israel sovereignty.

Since the permanent members are the major financiers of programs at the Security Council, they have taken advantage of their veto to protect their national interests from any opposition. As such, the underlying principle of equality in United Nations charter gets sabotaged as well as compromises its credibility and democratic credentials. All the member states in the United Nations are not equal partners due to the skewed representation and voting procedures.

As a result, competing national interests override matters of international interest with regard to the mandate given to the Security Council (Claude 1988). This has been manifested in the manner in which the council intervened in the oil-rich Kuwait’s conflict versus the poor Rwanda’s genocide where tribal cleansing left thousands of innocent civilians dead. The voting procedure equally regulates member states from participating in voting on matters which they are directly involved. Politics of power have therefore compromised the effectiveness of the council with respect to the underlying legal framework on which it was founded (Daws& Weiss 2007). The permanent states have taken advantage of their veto immunity to amend the United Nations’ charter that defines the mandate of the Security Council in order to ensure that it conforms to their national agenda.

Reform at the crucial council is therefore necessary especially in uniting the permanent and the non-permanent members towards creating a common platform for making tangible resolutions. It is important that the veto privilege bestowed upon the permanent nuclear rich states be reviewed by either increasing the membership of the elite club or revoking it altogether. The interests of the powerful nations of the world should not bypass the democratic interests of the entire community of nations especially when matters of international security and peace are involved.

Consequently, the veto power currently a privilege of the rich countries is a hindrance to international peace since its applicability remains in the domain of the permanent members (Bedjaoui 1994). There are other states such as Brazil, India, Germany and Japan which are also major financiers of the Security Council in addition to the military support they have continuously provided. Permanent membership at the council should therefore include these countries in order to reform it as well as sustain their contributions to the council. African countries equally need to be represented at the council in order to present their genuine interests properly.

Security Council and Iraq Case study

The council is mandated to facilitate military action for restoration of international peace including the process of disarming authoritarian regimes of nuclear weapons and arsenal which could result in mass destruction and deaths (Hilaire 2005). The resolution by the Security Council to prohibit and regulate weapons of mass destruction followed the invasion of Kuwait by Iraq. As much as Kuwait was rescued from the coalition forces, the council resolved to prevent further conflicts by organizing measures to contain the development of nuclear weapons within responsible states. The decision was meant to prevent the development of weapons of mass destruction for whatever purposes towards the promotion of international peace.

The underlying concern was the indiscriminate action by Iraq to use its chemical and ballistic missiles against its neighbors (Iraq and Kurds) as well as the United States and Israel. There was need to prohibit the proliferation of such weapons for the mutual benefit of the neighboring countries and the world at large. However, Iraq has continued to protect its interests with respect to the chemical and ballistic missiles question including non-cooperation with the council on matters of investigation (Hurd& Russett 1997).

As a result of Iraq’s resistance to the disarmament process, it has been a subject of controversy creating further conflict with the United States and the Security Council. The council desperate to compel Iraq to comply with the inspection and disarmament process led to the adoption of force especially with the support of the permanent members leading to war in 1998. Even though the council applied force to restore the disarmament process, the legitimacy of the military action was in dispute since diplomatic means for conflict resolution were not fully utilized.

There was also the element of the influence and pressure exhibited by the permanent elite club of countries which sidelined the basic principles and objectives of the Security Council (Wet 2004). When the resolution to abolish chemical and biological weapons in Middle East was discussed, the permanent states took the centre stage in demanding that Iraq be apprehended through tough measures that target its oil-rich reserves. Britain was categorical in demanding for a total ban on the development of the weapons of mass destruction. The United States take a firm position demanding that the entire development of chemical and biological weapons in Iraq be brought under the watch of the International Atomic Energy Agency (Parsons 2008).

The other three permanent countries; France, China and Russia insisted that the ban on nuclear programs should not be applied selectively with respect to Iraq since Israel was potentially capable of acquiring the weapons. Their position underscored the need to abolish development of weapons of mass destruction in the entire Middle East. As a result the United States of America brought forward a suggestion to lift the oil embargo on Iraq as a bargaining tool to discourage her from nuclear proliferation programs. This was later adopted as a resolution by the Security Council since it was successfully adopted by the permanent states and Iraq (Malone 2004).

The resolution then defined the role to be played by Iraq as well as the United Nations. Iraq was under obligation to allow inspectors to access its nuclear development sites and locations without any conditions. The resolution actually compelled Iraq to declare its nuclear locations, nature and amount of biological and nuclear weapons in addition to the strict commitment to destroying the facilities under the watch of the international community. Iraq officials were under obligation to reveal all equipment and machinery used in the development of weapons of mass destruction.

The Security Council on its part instituted a special commission to oversee the whole exercise in terms of verifying declarations made by Iraq, inspecting the nuclear facilities in order to destroy them and finally monitoring Iraq with a view to check whether she complies with the resolution (Weiss 2005). Periodic and impromptu inspections were therefore permitted under the guidelines of the council in all the prohibited sites in order to evaluate whether proliferation of the weapons had resumed in Iraq. There was also a strict inspection of imports and exports in order to oversee transit of any weapons of mass destruction in Iraq as prescribed by the council.

Despite of the agreement between Iraq and the Security Council, the Iraq government failed to cooperate consistently as required since 1991. The regime, sort to shortchange the council on its resolutions by citing its sovereignty and national security, in order to prevent a successful inspection to be carried out in sensitive sites. This led to the extension of the entire exercise for more than ten years with no tangible results. Since the leaders of the teams on the ground from the Security Council had complained of lack of cooperation, the coalition forces made up of US and UK ignored the council and attacked Iraq in 1998 (Fasulo 2009).


The council was therefore not consulted before military intervention by the permanent members was launched at the disguise of weapons of mass destruction. At the time of invasion, Iraq had not expelled inspectors from its sovereign territory; however, the coalition forces were already positioned for war without even the approval of the entire Security Council on such a serious matter. As a result, innocent civilians died and fundamental infrastructure to the economy destroyed at the altar political hegemony. This is actually in contravention to the mandate bestowed upon the council to protect lives in restoration of peace and resolving conflicts.

This illustrates the extent to which politics of power and the veto factor by the permanent members of the council have compromised its integrity, credibility and democratic credentials (Claude 1988). The voting patterns at the Security Council are therefore in desperate need of reform in line with greater representation and legal amendments. The council can therefore be more effective if it responds to the urgent demand for reform by the community of nations. The legitimacy of the council is therefore pegged on these issues in view of the case study into Iraq’s disarmament exercise and the subsequent war.

Reference list

Bedjaoui, M., (1994).The new world order and the Security Council: testing the legality of its acts. Berlin: Martinus Nijhoff Publishers.

Claude, L. I., (1988). States and the global system: politics, law, and organization. Washington: Macmillan.

Daws, S. & Weiss, T., (2007).The Oxford handbook on the United Nations. London: Oxford University Press.

Fasulo, L., (2009). An Insider’s Guide to the UN: Second Edition. New York: Yale University Press.

Hilaire, M., (2005).United Nations law and the Security Council. New York: Ash gate Publishing, Ltd.

Hurd, I. & Russett, M.B., (1997).The once and future security council. Pal grave Macmillan.

Malone, D., (2004).The UN Security Council: from the Cold War to the 21st century. Michigan: Lynne Rienner Publishers.

Parsons, A., (2008). The Security Council: an uncertain future. Michigan: David Davies Memorial Institute.

Weiss, G. T., (2005). Overcoming the Security Council reform impasse: the implausible versus the plausible. Amsterdam: Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung,

Wet, D.E., (2004). The chapter VII powers of the United Nations Security Council Washington: Hart Publishing.

Cite this paper

Select style


DemoEssays. (2023, January 5). How Effective is the UN Security Council. Retrieved from


DemoEssays. (2023, January 5). How Effective is the UN Security Council.

Work Cited

"How Effective is the UN Security Council." DemoEssays, 5 Jan. 2023,


DemoEssays. (2023) 'How Effective is the UN Security Council'. 5 January.


DemoEssays. 2023. "How Effective is the UN Security Council." January 5, 2023.

1. DemoEssays. "How Effective is the UN Security Council." January 5, 2023.


DemoEssays. "How Effective is the UN Security Council." January 5, 2023.