UN Security Council

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  • UNSC
    • Role
      • Enforces global peace and security. It passes binding resolutions that can impose economic sanctions, authorise peacekeeping missions and approve military action against a nation state for aggression towards another UN member.
    • Strengths
      • By vesting the power of veto in five permanent members, the UN is provided with clarity of leadership.
      • Since its membership is so small, UNSC can be quickly convened in response to an international crisis.
      • Requiring unanimity for military action ensures the case for military action must be absolutely convincing. In 2003 the UNSC was unconvinced by the Anglo-American case for war in Iraq and refused to endorse military action.
      • If it was enlarged to include more veto-wielding states, it would be even more complicated to decide on military action.
    • Weaknesses
      • Vetoing means that decisions to take military action have to be unanimous. UNSC has often failed to agree on military action.
      • Permanent membership represents the balance of power in 1945 rather than today.
        • The interests of emerging countries aren't sufficiently recognised by the UNSC. Its legitimacy is questionable as it's not accountable to world opinion.
      • Unable to deploy a body of permanent standing troops. By the time 'blue helmet' peacekeepers have been donated by member states, many lives may have already been lost.
      • Often powerless to make decisions due to permanent member rivalries and clashes of interest, e.g. during the Cold War.
      • Gives too much power to very powerful states, so is undemocratic.
      • Lack of permanent members from S. America, Africa and Asia.
      • Hard to reform as permanent members must agree to the changes.
    • What evidence is there that the UNSC doesn't acknowledge the new realities of where power lies in global politics today?
      • The power of veto of the Permanent Five makes decision-making difficult.
      • A lack of permanently deployable military force undermines its relevance.
        • Kofi Annan: 'It is rather like telling the mayor [of New York]: we know you need a fire-house, but we'll build you one when the fire occurs'.
    • Potential reforms
      • Emerging powers like Brazil, India, Japan and Germany could be represented on the UNSC to provide it with contemporary legitimacy.
      • Voting on the council should be by a qualified majority. Eliminating the veto would make it quicker and easier to implement military action in a security emergency.
      • By enlarging membership, it would better represent global opinion.
      • By establishing its own rapid reaction force, the UNSC would be able to intervene more quickly in emergencies.


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