Security Council

The original concept behind the UN Charter was that the Security Council would have an army to deal with enforcement against aggression.  This was not realised due to the Cold War.

In practice, during the Cold War, the permanent members blocked the Security Council from determining the existence of any threats to peace, breach of the peace or active aggression.

The Council is to make recommendations or decide measures.  The Council has taken a broad view of the threat to peace. It has been prepared to embrace internal conflicts, such as where there is a refusal to act against terrorism.


The Security Council is authorised to decide measures to give effect to decisions.  During the Cold War, the only instances of comprehensive embargoes were in relation to Rhodesia and South Africa.

Since the end of the Cold War, sanctions have become much more common.  Sanctions are now more tailored, targeting those responsible for decisions.

The Security Council may take measures including complete and partial interruption of economic relations of rail, sea, air, post and telegraph, radio or other means of communications, severance of diplomatic relations. In civil wars, arms embargoes are commonly imposed promptly by the Security Council.

Deployment Troops

The Charter contemplated that the UN would have an army to take measures, including armed forces.  States were to make troops available to the Security Council who would take action by air, sea, and land, including forces as may be necessary to maintain and restore international peace and security.

However, the contemplated agreements were not entered. States did not make troops available for this purpose, and a standing army was not created, due largely to the Cold War.

Armed forces were deployed in Korea in 1950 following the North Korean invasion. Under the auspices of the Security Council, it recommended States to intervene to assist in repelling the attack and secure the restoration of international peace and security.  This was only possible because the Soviet Union withdrew in protest and the non-recognition of the Communist China government.

Gulf Wars

The next UN-authorised action was over 40 years later after the end of the Cold War. It followed the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990 and authorised member states to use force to secure the withdrawal of Iraqi troops.

Although the UN has specifically authorised force on a small number of occasions, more controversially, some States have sought to rely on implied authority from the Security Council without express authority.  In particular, the UK and USA claimed breaches of earlier Security Council resolutions and alleged violations of the 1991 ceasefire to justify the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

The results were based on Iraq’s alleged development of weapons of mass destruction and violation of international obligations to disarm. An attempt to obtain express authority failed.  The 2003 intervention was based on breaches of earlier resolutions requiring access by weapons inspectors.

It was further argued that the resolution action could be based on the earlier 1991 resolutions, which required disarmament after the cease-fire after the 1991 Gulf War. Ultimately, the intelligence relied on proved extremely faulty, and no weapons of mass destruction were found.

Peacekeeping Missions

The UN provided peacekeeping forces, although it is not expressly contemplated by the Charter.  This developed in response to the absence of the more comprehensive interventions originally contemplated by the Charter.

Major Cold War protagonists did not generally participate in peacekeeping forces.  Peacekeeping forces have remained in place for prolonged periods, such as in Kashmir, Cyprus and in the Middle East.

After the Cold War, a significant number of peacekeeping missions were undertaken. They were more ambitious than the earlier operations.  Some have sought to go further than peacekeeping and humanitarian intervention and have sought to re-establish effective government and reconciliation.

Peacekeeping Forces are generally lightly armed and impartial and do not use force except in self-defence.  They act with the consent of the State involved.

The above principles were modified in the context of the conflict in the former Yugoslavia in the early 1990s.  The mandate was altered successively by resolutions., ultimately giving the power to use force to deliver humanitarian aid, enforce no-fly zones and provide safe havens.

Regional Action

The UN Charter provides that there may also be UN action, supplemented by regional action under the auspices of regional arrangements and agencies.  The enforcement action should be authorised by the Security Council.

The UN has recognized the African organization, the African Union, the Organization of American States, the Arab League and various other entities.

Regional organisations have been better resourced.  UN and regional forces have combined in certain operations. Regional peacekeeping requires no Security Council authorisation, but regional enforcement does so require. This can lead to differences in classification.


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