This chapter examines the ways in which the Security Council has responded to changes in the incidence and character of war, looking at different types of Council-endorsed operations, the scope of its action and unintended consequences of its missions. 

The Security Council has been involved in an extraordinary range of activities relating to war, from monitoring and mediation to the use of force and long-term reconstruction of political and social institutions after conflict. It has operated in a period in which there have been profound changes in the incidence and character of war, to which it has itself sometimes contributed, and to which it has had to adapt and respond with innovative measures.

In brief, five propositions can be advanced about changes in the incidence and toll of war since 1945:

  • The death toll from inter-state war has been lower than in earlier periods.
  • There has been a decline in the incidence of inter-state war since the mid 1970s.
  • Colonial wars, as fought by European countries in their overseas possessions, declined dramatically following the demise of the European empires in the period from 1945 to the 1970s.
  • Since 1945, and especially since the 1970s, a principal form of armed conflict has been civil war or other conflict in which at least one of the parties is not, or not yet, a state. In cases where outside powers become directly involved in such wars, these conflicts can be described as ‘internationalised’ civil wars.
  • The incidence of civil war has declined since the mid 1990s, after peaking after the end of the Cold War and the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the former Yugoslavia.  
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Adam Roberts is a senior research fellow in the Department of Politics and International Relations, Oxford University and Emeritus Fellow of Balliol College, Oxford. He was Montague Burton Professor of International Relations at Oxford University from 1986 to 2007. His books include United Nations, Divided World: The UN’s Roles in International Relations, 2nd ed. (Oxford University Press, 1993, editor with Benedict Kingsbury) and Documents on the Laws of War, 3rd ed. (Oxford University Press, 2000, editor with Richard Guelff).

Dominik Zaum is a lecturer in international relations at the University of Reading. He was previously a research fellow at Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford. Author of The Sovereignty Paradox: The Norms and Politics of International Statebuilding (Oxford University Press, 2007), he has published articles in Review of International Studies, International Peacekeeping and other journals.

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