In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section UN Security Council

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Nature and Effect of UN Security Council Resolutions
  • UN Security Council Veto in Practice
  • UN Security Council as a Legislator
  • UN Security Council as a Monitor and an Enforcer of Human Rights
  • UN Security Council and the Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)
  • UN Security Council’s Counterterrorism Regime
  • Reform of the UN Security Council
  • New Responses: Responsibility to Protect (R2P) and Responsibility While Protecting
  • Evaluation and Future of the UN Security Council

International Relations UN Security Council
S. R. Subramanian
  • LAST REVIEWED: 28 April 2016
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 April 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199743292-0170


The United Nations Security Council was envisioned as the most powerful body in the UN system, consistent with its primary responsibility to maintain world peace. Its importance stems from the mandate that, if it is the mission of the UN to “save succeeding generations from the scourge of war,” it is the Security Council that is chiefly tasked with working toward achieving that goal. Moreover, it is the Security Council that translates into effect the principle of collective security, one of the foundational pillars upon which the UN was founded. In addition, the primacy of the Security Council in matters of the use of force and the veto power wielded by the permanent members has further strengthened the global stature of this institution. However, in practice, it is also the most heavily criticized institution, some even prompting to speculate that it could destroy the UN. In fact, numerous reasons can be cited for such deep frustrations regarding this towering institution. Decision- making in the Security Council, especially during the Cold War, was largely impacted by the differences between the opposing ideological blocs of East and West; thus, it was often paralyzed in taking action. Since the 1990s threats to world peace have assumed new dimensions. Serious concerns have grown of security threats posed by non-state actors, international terrorism, and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Consequently, the Security Council has tended to assume far greater powers, ostensibly with less concern for the values upheld by the UN (such as human rights, nonintervention in domestic affairs, and the rule of law) that it is supposed to cherish, leading to a further wave of criticisms. Scholars have increasingly questioned the legality and legitimacy of several actions of the Council and its assumption of quasi-legislative and quasi-judicial powers with fewer, or no, limitations. At times, the Security Council is even accused of contributing to, or ignoring violations of, human rights. Also, in view of the changed realities of the world that touch upon political, economic, and strategic areas and given the rise of different expectations and perceptions between the Global North and the Global South, demands have been made for an expansion of the Security Council. However, in retrospect, it should be noted that, since the establishment of the UN, reform of the Security Council has never been attempted, except for certain minimal changes in the membership in 1965. Moreover, in recent years, the new, emerging norm of the “responsibility to protect” has been suggested as a solution to overcome the stalemate in decision- making in the Security Council; however, any changes have yet to prove forthcoming.

General Overviews

A number of studies provide general overviews of the functioning of the UN Security Council. Most often, officials and scholars with considerable practical or research experience have written on the subject. Bosco 2009 is one of the best introductions for the study of the UN Security Council, especially its historical evolution. White 1997 is an authoritative text on the structure, powers, and effectiveness of the Security Council in light of its mandate for maintenance of international peace and security. Wilson 2014 evaluates the existing legal framework and the recent practice of collective security under the auspices of the UN Security Council. On the other hand, Dedring 2008, Luck 2006, and Gharekhan 2006 are examples of the contributions made by former UN diplomats. While Luck 2006 is the ideal book to gain a practitioner’s perspectives on current practice and future challenges, Dedring 2008 is the best source for comparing the pre– and post–Cold War performance of the Security Council. Gharekhan 2006 represents the views of the non-permanent member of the Security Council. Sievers and Daws 2014 reads like a manual of practice on the procedure of the UN Security Council. Cronin and Hurd 2008 exposes the weaknesses of the domestic jurisdiction clause contained in the UN Charter with respect to the practices of the Security Council.

  • Bosco, David. Five to Rule Them All: The UN Security Council and the Making of the Modern World. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009.

    This volume provides an excellent account of the Security Council in action since its inception. Based on the author’s personal experience and interviews with serving and retired diplomats, this book makes reference to every important event and personality associated with the Security Council. Also well- illustrated with examples and pictures.

  • Cronin, Bruce, and Ian Hurd. The UN Security Council and the Politics of International Authority. New York: Routledge, 2008.

    This edited volume uses the concept of international authority to analyze the working of the Security Council. This book challenges the traditional assumption that in matters of domestic jurisdiction, no international organization will make an intervention. It is written by scholars of international relations and international law.

  • Dedring, Juergen. The United Nations Security Council in the 1990s: Resurgence and Renewal. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2008.

    Authored by a former UN career diplomat, this book portrays the changing role of the Security Council as it emerged from the clutches of the Cold War. It specifically addresses the situation in the Occupied Arab Territories, Tajikistan, and Sierra Leone as well as other pressing global issues of the decade.

  • Gharekhan, Chinmaya. The Horseshoe Table: An Inside View of the Security Council. Delhi: Dorling Kindersley, 2006.

    Written by a former Permanent Representative of India to the United Nations, this book provides an insider’s view of the Security Council. Besides the initial introduction to the practice and procedure of the Security Council, this book gives a personal account of the decision-making process during the important conflicts.

  • Luck, Edward. UN Security Council: Practice and Promise. New York: Routledge, 2006.

    Luck assesses the role played by the Security Council against its current practice and future challenges. He also examines the evolution of the four key tools of the Council—peace operations, military enforcement, sanctions, and empowering partners; includes reflections of the former UN official. It also has the very useful bibliographical essay.

  • Sievers, Loraine, and Sam Daws. The Procedure of the UN Security Council. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:osobl/9780199685295.001.0001

    This is a completely revised edition of a highly successful book. It is known for its comprehensive coverage of rules and practices relating to the Council proceedings, meetings, voting, decisions, etc. Also examines the Council’s subsidiary organs and its relationship with other organs and entities. Though primarily intended for diplomatic practitioners, it is also useful for researchers.

  • White, N. D. Keeping the Peace: The United Nations and the Maintenance of International Peace and Security. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 1997.

    This book examines the role of both the Security Council and the General Assembly in the maintenance of international peace and security, and it gives a comparative view of both of these organs in the performance of this crucial function. It provides a detailed overview.

  • Wilson, Gary. The United Nations and Collective Security. New York: Routledge, 2014.

    Wilson provides a comprehensive overview of collective security within the framework of the United Nations. He examines the evolution of the various tools to promote collective security such as diplomacy, nonmilitary sanctions, peacekeeping, and military enforcement action. The book takes an international law approach in treating issues.

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