Publication: Selective Security: War and the United Nations Security Council since 1945
30 June 2008
Selectivity in all these forms affects everything the UN Security Council does, as well as how it is perceived. An exploration of the implications of this selectivity must start with an overall appraisal of the Council, the performance of which is the subject of sharply differing interpretations. Some have seen the Council as a failure – and there is no denying that it has fallen short of the goals set for it in the Charter. Others have seen it primarily as a success – because of the diminution in inter-state war, for instance, and the Council’s role in assisting great-power collaboration, however limited and flawed this may be. Yet it is possible to make a more fine-grained and evidence-based judgement than the classic ‘glass half-empty’ versus ‘glass half-full’ debate might suggest.
Our summary of the weaknesses and strengths in the Council’s record is necessarily imperfect. It is not always easy to distinguish the effects of Council action and inaction from the role played by other factors in world politics, or indeed from the effects of other UN agencies, particularly the General Assembly. Moreover, aspects of the Council’s record are deeply ambiguous and hard to categorise as either strengths or weaknesses.
Despite the ambiguities, it is clear that for many policymakers, the role of the Council remains pivotal. As the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty put it in 2001: ‘There is no better or more appropriate body than the United Nations Security Council to authorise military intervention for human protection purposes. The task is not to define alternatives to the Security Council as a source of authority, but to make the Council work better than it has.’ This view was echoed by both the High-level Panel in 2004 and the Secretary-General’s reform proposals of 2005. These statements reflect a desire to maintain the Council’s status within international society, and to avoid any further erosion of the social capital it draws upon to encourage the cooperation of UN member states.