This chapter argues that in the post-Cold War period the UN has tackled an array of issues relating to the management of force: the expansion of peacekeeping, both quantitatively and qualitatively; the international administration of territories emerging from misrule and conflict; recognition of a greatly expanded range of threats; and the application of the laws of war.

In operating in a manner which has differed in certain respects from the scheme envisaged in the UN Charter, the Security Council has often acted creatively. This tendency, which began during the Cold War years, has been particularly striking since the end of the Cold War. Among the Council’s most important and controversial innovations to address the problem of war have been the expansion of the number and scope of peacekeeping operations, the administration of post-conflict territories for a transitional period, the expansion of the category of security threats, and attempts to secure compliance with the law of armed conflict. These innovations are discussed below. A further innovatory element has in turn affected each of these changes: the emergence of a multi-faceted and varied relationship between Security Council action and that of a number of key regional institutions.

The large quantity and varied character of the Council’s post-Cold War activities has added new dimensions to the question of selectivity. The sheer amount of business with which the Council has been continuously confronted, particularly during the early 1990s, and the difficulty of meeting increased public expectations, has troubled both officials in the UN Secretariat and diplomats working on Council-related matters at the UN. Indeed, the number of conflicts and crises that the UN has been expected to handle simultaneously has resulted in a UN version of the ancient problem of imperial overstretch. The Council itself, and UN member states more generally, have continuously been confronted with questions about which operations they should initiate and take part in; whether a given problem is best addressed by UN forces or by the forces of states and regional bodies; whether to view such challenges as international crime and climate change as proper parts of the Council’s remit; and whether to assist in the arrest and trial of suspected war criminals.

Online Access & Digital Download £23.50
Product variations
Online Access & Digital Download £23.50 (Inc VAT if applicable)

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.

Back to content list