Academic journal article Global Governance

Assessing the UN Security Council: A Concert Perspective

Academic journal article Global Governance

Assessing the UN Security Council: A Concert Perspective

Article excerpt

This article distinguishes between the UN Security Council's "governance" and "concert" functions and argues that the latter is important in assessing the body's diplomatic value. It presents data suggesting that serving together on the Council deepens diplomatic linkages between permanent members. It also argues that Council membership may offer several benefits for managing relations between the permanent members. Specifically, the Council provides a mechanism through which permanent members have slowed the pace of crises that might threaten their relations, used ambiguity to produce exits from potentially dangerous situations, and mitigated diplomatic humiliation. The article contends that many proposals for Council reform pay little attention to this concert function and, if adopted, may unwittingly diminish a key benefit of the institution. KEYWORDS: United Nations, diplomacy. Security Council.


THE UN SECURITY COUNCIL HAS BEEN MORE ACTIVE IN THE PAST TWENTY years than during any other phase of its existence. The Council has met more frequently, authorized more peacekeeping and observation missions, and enacted more sanctions regimes and arms embargos than in its first four decades. The Council's move toward the center of international politics has intensified efforts to assess its role. Yet the metrics for doing so are not always clear, and a central challenge in analyzing the performance of international organizations is clarity about what is being evaluated. (1)

Most scholarly attempts to assess the Council have focused on its broad external impact or judged the effectiveness of certain Council "products," including peacekeeping operations and sanctions regimes. (2) In this article, I seek to shift the focus to intra-Council dynamics and, in particular, to comity between the Council's Permanent Five (P5) members. Specifically, I distinguish between two methods of assessing the Council. I briefly define governance and concert approaches, with the former focused on the maintenance of international peace and security and the latter on fostering major-power comity. I argue that the P5 in key respects represents a concert of major powers and that assessing its impact accordingly is appropriate. I then present data suggesting that serving together on the Council deepens high-level diplomatic contacts between P5 members. Through illustrative historical examples, I outline some benefits that the Council structure offers to its permanent members in managing their own relations. By providing an alternative approach to assessing the impact of the Security Council, this article offers a new perspective on how the Council should be used and reformed.

The Governance Vision

The UN Charter provides a straightforward metric for measuring the Council's effectiveness: the "maintenance of international peace and security." (3) The Charter outlines a collective security structure in which the Council should respond promptly to threats or breaches of the peace and acts of aggression anywhere in the world. In so doing, the Council can meet immediately and draw on the resources of all UN members, with the permanent members coordinating any UN military operations. The Charter makes no geographic or qualitative distinction between potential disruptions to the peace and makes clear that the Council can investigate any dispute it deems dangerous to peace and security. As Inis Claude argues, collective security in its ideal form "purports to provide security for all states, by the action of all states, against all states which might challenge the existing order by the arbitrary unleashing of their power." (4) The Charter therefore tasks the Council with a critical, if rudimentary, governance function: providing the international community with security and order.

The content of this governance role has varied considerably over time. The UN's founders and many early commentators focused almost exclusively on the threat of renewed interstate aggression. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.