Publication: Selective Security: War and the United Nations Security Council since 1945
30 June 2008
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.