The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) was established to uphold international peace and security. However, the evolving geopolitical landscape has introduced significant shifts in conflicts and global challenges. This research aims to explore major threats that the international community has encountered in recent times.
First, the paper examines the UNSC’s perspective on nuclear weapons, emphasizing its primary objective of safeguarding global peace by advocating for nuclear non-proliferation, disarmament, and the peaceful applications of nuclear energy. However, challenges persist as nuclear-armed states struggle to meet disarmament obligations while addressing proliferation threats within the framework of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Then, it analyzes the UNSC’s approach toward countering terrorism, arguing that the Council is not sufficiently equipped to confront new and existing terrorist threats. Moreover, it explores the role and efficacy of the UN’s peacekeeping operations, personified as Blue Helmets, which have faced hurdles due to resource limitations, mission effectiveness, and political barriers hindering its operations. The paper analyses instances where UN peacekeeping efforts fell short in preventing conflicts.
Additionally, the paper explores the Responsibility to Protect (R2P), a UNSC norm aimed at preventing genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and crimes against humanity. Despite its successes, R2P requires restructuring owing to limitations within the UNSC’s structure. The intervention in Libya serves as a case study highlighting the need for reform within both R2P and the UNSC to effectively manage contemporary military conflicts.
As state and non-state groups continue to employ diverse military strategies to pursue their political and economic interests, the Security Council takes on a crucial role for confronting 21st century threats to international peace and security. In light of rapidly evolving global security threats, a pertinent question arises: Is the UNSC adequately equipped to tackle twenty-first-century military challenges?
The Unwavering Nuclear Threat
The persisting threat posed by nuclear weapons remains one of the most pressing and intricate global issues. These weapons possess the capacity to unleash unimaginable levels of catastrophic damage, affecting not only involved countries but the entire world. The UNSC plays a crucial role in addressing and mitigating the risks associated with nuclear weapons in response to this peril.
Nuclear weapons stand out for their unparalleled destructive potential, capable of causing widespread devastation, enduring environmental ramifications, and immense human suffering. Their usage poses a direct threat to international peace and security, necessitating prioritized efforts for global stability.
The UNSC, mandated by the UN Charter to maintain international peace and security, undertakes several vital roles concerning nuclear weapons:
- Non-Proliferation and Disarmament: Seeking nuclear disarmament among possessing states and ratifying resolutions like the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. An instance from March 2023, when Russia intended to deploy nuclear weapons to Belarus, was met with UNSC concern, yet Russia’s status as a permanent member led to the swift denial of intervention.
- Resolution of Nuclear Crises: Intervening in nuclear crises or dangers to find diplomatic solutions and prevent escalation by addressing disputes and issues related to nuclear projects in various nations.
- Negotiations and Sanctions: Imposing sanctions on countries violating nuclear-related international laws while facilitating diplomatic negotiations to resolve conflicts peacefully.
- Monitoring and Verification: Ensuring adherence to disarmament agreements and preventing unauthorized proliferation of nuclear technology or materials.
However, despite the UNSC’s efforts, concerns about nuclear weapons remain strong. The existence of nuclear weapons heightens global tensions and increases the risk of accidental or intentional use. The proliferation risk is exacerbated by existing nuclear states coupled with emerging threats and technological advancements.
Frequent diplomatic deadlocks, particularly among the P5 with veto power, hinder decisive actions on critical nuclear-related issues. Addressing these challenges and strengthening global efforts against nuclear proliferation demands collective action, enhanced dialogue, cooperation, and multilateral negotiations.
The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), adopted by the United Nations in 2017 and effective since 2021, aims to outlaw all forms of nuclear weapons. However, notable nuclear-armed nations have refrained from ratifying the treaty due to security concerns and perceived shortcomings in addressing international security.
Preventing catastrophic nuclear conflict necessitates implementing confidence-building strategies, advocating nuclear risk reduction, and endorsing initiatives fostering mutual trust among nuclear-armed governments.
In conclusion, the looming threat posed by nuclear weapons underscores the imperative for the UN Security Council to shoulder the responsibility of addressing and mitigating this global concern. Collaborative diplomatic efforts, unwavering commitment to disarmament, and collective action by the international community are crucial in forging a safer and more secure world, free from the specter of nuclear weapons.
The Security Council and the Growing Threat of Terrorism
Terrorism, a historical scourge traced back by historians like Tito Flavio Giuseppe to the fall of the Roman Empire, continues to cast its shadow on the contemporary world. Despite its prolonged existence, defining terrorism objectively remains challenging, impeding cohesive global efforts to combat associated crimes (Larkin, 2013). The nature of these conflicts starkly contrasts with conventional wars, presenting a shift towards confronting an elusive and amorphous adversary. This shift challenges traditional norms and complicates global threat management.
In response to the escalating threat, Resolution 1373 emerged following the September 2001 attacks in the United States. This resolution mandated member states to refrain from supporting entities involved in terrorism, encompassing actions like freezing assets, blocking fund raising or transfers, and denying safe havens, passage, or material support. However, despite these measures, the lack of a precise and unanimous definition of terrorism within the UNSC has led to ambiguities, leaving room for compromise and differing interpretations among member states.
Before the events of 2001, the international community’s response to terrorism was inadequate. Historical instances, from the Cold War era to the 1970s, involving regions like North Korea, the Philippines, Basque, Afghanistan, Chechnya, Indonesia, and the United States, remained largely unchecked by the UNSC. Political complexities, including the Cold War tensions and regional disputes, often inhibited punitive actions.
Even during the 1980s and 1990s, the UN took measured steps against terrorism, issuing guidelines prohibiting certain forms of terrorist activities. However, the council avoided direct confrontations or military actions despite its capacity to do so. This restraint perpetuated a tolerable stance towards terrorism among states, driven by the fear of being targeted themselves.
The paradigm shifted significantly after the tragic events of 9/11 in New York and Washington DC, resulting in Resolution 1373 and the initiation of the War on Terror by the United States. The subsequent military interventions in countries harboring terrorist organisations aimed to eradicate terrorism, albeit while sparking debates about the legitimacy of the UNSC’s rules. The absence of UN-sanctioned repercussions for these actions by powerful member states raised concerns about unequal application of Council rules.
Terrorism, in several instances, has been exploited by governments to justify attacks on other nations. Greater diplomatic commitments by both the United States and the UN might have averted many past terrorist acts and conflicts. The tragic Munich incident in 1972 involving the terrorist group ‘Black September,’ targeting Israeli athletes during the Olympic Games, is a poignant example. The UNSC’s underestimation of the territorial conflicts in Palestine and a lack of proactive diplomacy potentially fueled the tragedy.
These observations don’t justify the targeting of innocents due to state misunderstandings. They also underscore the UNSC’s limitations in effectively managing international conflicts and terrorism due to double standards and internal Council issues. The unequal power distribution among member states often perpetuates these double standards, contradicting the very principles the organization was founded upon in 1945.
UN Peacekeeping: A Glimmer of Hope?
The iconic blue vests and helmets of United Nations peacekeeping forces are synonymous with their presence in conflict zones, aiming to facilitate peace and stability. Despite their noble mission, the effectiveness of these peacekeeping endeavors remains a subject of ongoing debate.
The United Nations Charter, finalized in 1945, stipulates the organization’s fundamental purpose: to preserve international peace and security. Since 1948, a total of 71 operations have been conducted, resulting in the loss of 3,800 troops’ lives. Notably, the deployment of UN Blue Helmet peacekeepers began almost 75 years ago, arising from the opportunity to maintain peace in the aftermath of the Israeli-Arab conflict.
UN peacekeepers are primarily tasked with establishing peace and a secure environment for civilians in conflict-ridden nations. They conduct patrols to deter violence and, when necessary, disarm groups. Collaborating with humanitarian organizations, they provide aid in conflict zones, safeguarding peace and assisting civilians. Additionally, their role extends to initiating negotiations and fostering logistical solutions to resolve conflicts.
Despite successful missions, the track record of UN peacekeeping has encountered significant failures, constituting more than one-third of their missions. These failures have eroded trust in many regions where they operate.
One prominent failure was witnessed in the UN peacekeeping mission in Rwanda in 1994, where the organisation faltered in preventing genocide due to insufficient resources. With a small contingent of only 2,500 soldiers, UNAMIR lacked the necessary troops to halt the genocide, exposing a critical flaw in the mission’s execution.
Another ongoing challenge confronts the UN peacekeeping mission in South Sudan. The organisation struggles to intervene effectively in the conflict, resulting in a humanitarian crisis characterised by food scarcity, displacements, and human rights abuses. Political interference, particularly the lack of collective political will among key conflict actors, hampers mission success and exacerbates violence, impeding the implementation of agreements.
It is crucial to acknowledge the subjectivity inherent in assessing the success or failure of UN missions, heavily contingent on individual circumstances. Political barriers, limited resources, and the intricate nature of conflicts significantly challenge the effectiveness of peacekeeping missions.
Peacekeeping operations, then, are a crucial tool for the international community in conflict zones. UN military personnel undertake various functions, ranging from safeguarding civilians and UN personnel to monitoring peace processes in post-conflict areas. One of the most important sources of impact is in its monitoring of disputed borders during conflicts.
In civil wars, peacekeepers strive to prevent the “contagion” of conflicts, curbing their spread to neighboring regions. They achieve this by securing borders, directly through deploying security and surveillance forces or indirectly by enhancing the local government’s capability to maintain control. Additionally, peacekeeping aims to stem the flow of arms and rebel support in and out of conflict areas (Beardsley, 2011).
Border security becomes even more critical in conflicts between states, especially in regions like the Israeli-Palestinian crisis. The UN’s involvement in the Middle East aims to ease tensions, interacting with involved parties and aiding affected residents. UNIFIL, a UN peacekeeping mission in Lebanon, comprises ground troops, civilian employees, and naval personnel along the volatile Israel-Lebanon border. Recent clashes have resulted in displacement and casualties on both sides, necessitating continued monitoring and guidance by UNIFIL for civilians in the area.
Over the past 80 years, the UN has conducted several border monitoring missions worldwide:
- United Nations India-Pakistan Observation Mission (UNIPOM): Monitored the India-Pakistan ceasefire except for Jammu and Kashmir, completing its mandate in 1966.
- United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP): Established in 1964 to prevent hostilities between Turkish and Greek Cypriot populations, expanded to oversee ceasefire lines and humanitarian operations post-1974.
- United Nations Protection Force in former Yugoslavia and United Nations Confidence Restoration Operation in Croatia: Replaced UNPROFOR in 1995, supervising ceasefire agreements and border crossings between Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Yugoslavia.
- United Nations Observer Mission Uganda-Rwanda (UNOMUR): Monitored the Uganda-Rwanda border to prevent military assistance to Rwanda, concluding in 1994.
Previous missions have demonstrated relative success, reducing harm to civilians and enhancing security in concerned regions, fostering peace and stability in post-conflict periods. Nonetheless, the UN’s peacekeeping capabilities remain constrained due to limited resources – a challenge requiring urgent attention for the UN to wield true influence in global affairs.
The UNSC and Israel-Palestine Conflict
The enduring conflict between Israel and Palestine stands as a persistent challenge for the UNSC. This section aims to highlight the historical context of this conflict and the UNSC’s responses over the years.
The complex nature of the Israel-Palestine conflict has often strained the UNSC’s ability to take decisive action. The relationship between Israel and the United States has played a pivotal role, resulting in multiple US vetoes concerning resolutions related to Israel and Palestine. Between 1991 and 2012, the U.S. cast 14 vetoes, largely influencing the UNSC’s stance on issues concerning Israel (Bouillon, 2016). Instances like the veto preventing condemnation of Israeli settlement activities underscore the deep divisions among nations.
Despite occasional UNSC actions, challenges persist. The UNSC adopted a resolution in 2000 condemning Israel’s excessive use of force during the intifada and called for an international inquiry. Subsequent resolutions balanced condemnations of terrorist actions against Israeli citizens with cautions against Israel’s use of force in Palestinian areas (Bouillon, 2016).
However, despite these efforts, the conflict remains unresolved. The UNSC’s diplomatic solutions, including resolutions condemning military activities that escalate conflict, often face hurdles due to U.S. support for Israel. This dynamic has contributed to several thousand casualties, predominantly Palestinians, and has left Gaza and the West Bank in dire conditions (Wijk et al., 2020).
Recent events reflect the ongoing struggle. In 2021, the U.S. opposed a UN Security Council call for a ceasefire during the Israel-Palestine conflict, citing concerns of alienating Israel (Hassan 2021). Subsequently, the UNSC failed to adopt a resolution for a humanitarian pause in the Israel-Hamas conflict in 2023 due to a US veto. This decision faced criticism as casualties mounted, particularly among Palestinian civilians (Wilson et al., 2023).
While the UNSC recently adopted a resolution calling for humanitarian pauses in Gaza, criticisms surfaced regarding the delayed response to the escalating crisis. There’s a growing consensus among human rights experts for immediate actions to protect civilians during conflicts and to address human rights violations (Hassan et al., 2021).
In order to address these ongoing challenges and protect human rights, there’s a call for binding agreements to ensure humanitarian pauses and ceasefires during conflicts. Limitations on veto power in grave humanitarian crises, especially regarding conflicts like Israel-Palestine, are being advocated to prevent recurring stalemates and prioritise human lives.
Monitoring and upholding international humanitarian and human rights law in the Occupied Palestinian Territory are also essential steps to reinforce international law and ensure the protection of basic human rights (Huber, 2018).
The UNSC and the Responsibility to Protect
The UNSC’s shortcomings in effectively deploying military force in the 21st century are notably illustrated through its failure to uphold the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) norm, evident in its response to the First Libyan Civil War.
The 1990s witnessed the UN’s inaction during the Rwandan genocide and the Srebrenica massacre in Bosnia, leading to a call for a standard approach to address humanitarian crises. The ICISS established R2P in 2005, defining it as an international norm to prevent mass atrocity crimes like genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and crimes against humanity.
R2P was structured into three components: Responsibility to Prevent, addressing root causes of conflict; Responsibility to React, responding promptly to ongoing conflict; and Responsibility to Rebuild, emphasising reconstruction post-intervention. However, the reliance on the P5’s decision-making in the UNSC introduced biases and self-interests, undermining R2P’s effectiveness (Chomsky, 1999).
The flaws of R2P became evident during Libya’s civil war in 2011. UNSC Resolution 1973, invoking R2P, authorised military intervention to establish a no-fly zone. NATO’s involvement evolved into supporting anti-Gaddafi forces, shifting focus from civilian protection to regime change. Despite NATO’s backing, the UN Human Rights Council accused anti-Gaddafi forces of war crimes (Green, 2019).
This intervention’s aftermath in Libya reveals the conflict between humanitarian objectives and state interests. Libya descended into chaos after Gaddafi’s fall and NATO’s withdrawal, witnessing increased internal strife and humanitarian crises. The intervention worsened the country’s situation, leaving it more unstable and vulnerable to genocide (Amnesty International).
To avoid such interventions, the UNSC needs structural reform, addressing biases inherent in its decision-making process. Equal distribution of power among states, especially the P5, is vital to prevent biased interventions. A clear and universally accepted agreement outlining R2P’s responsibilities is crucial to eliminate ambiguities and self-serving interventions.
Ensuring accountability for intervening countries and focusing on the neglected Responsibility to Rebuild pillar are essential. Hearing the voices of the affected populations and tailoring interventions accordingly is paramount for effective humanitarian action.
Without addressing power imbalances, self-interests, and the redefinition of R2P’s guidelines, its success remains in jeopardy. Reforms within R2P are pivotal for the UN to effectively utilize military force in the 21st century. Until such reforms materialize, the UNSC’s capability for intervention in conflicts remains inadequate.
In conclusion, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) faces a pressing need to recalibrate its approach in handling military force in the contemporary world. The current framework and operational strategies are grappling with inadequacies when confronted with new global dynamics and unconventional threats. Internal constraints within the Council often impede swift and effective responses, necessitating a comprehensive restructuring to ensure sustained efficacy.
To truly fortify the UNSC’s capacity in managing military force, proactive and concerted efforts are indispensable. The international community must collaboratively engage in redefining the Council’s operational methods, ensuring agility and relevance in addressing emergent challenges. The UNSC’s enduring role in fostering global peace and security hinges on its ability to embrace a modernized, all-encompassing, and adaptable approach in the face of the twenty-first century’s multifaceted challenges.
- Ahmed M. (2021) “Up to Six Million People: The Unrecorded Fatalities of the ‘War on Terror’ In: Byline Times, 15th September 2021. Available at: Link. (Accessed on 18th November 2023)
- Amnesty International. (2016). Aftermath of NATO Intervention in Libya.
- Beardsley, K. (2011). Peacekeeping and the Contagion of Armed Conflict.
- Bouillon, M. (2016). United Nations Security Council Resolutions in the Israel-Palestine Conflict.
- Chomsky, N. (1999). The United States and the Universality of Human Rights. International Journal of Health Services, 29(3), pp.623–626.
- Doubek, L. (2022). ”50 years ago, the Munich Olympics massacre changed how we think about terrorism” In: NPR (National Public Radio) 4th September 2022. Available at: Link. (Accessed on 19th November 2023)
- Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect. (2005). The Responsibility to Protect: Report of the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty.
- Green, M. (2019) To what extent was the NATO intervention in Libya a humanitarian intervention?, E. Available at: Link (Accessed: 25 November 2023).
- Larkin, E. (2013)”Why Can’t We Agree on a Definition of Terrorism?”, In:OpenMind Magazine,16th December 2013. Available at: Link. (Accessed on 21st November 2023)
- Luck E.C. (2004) “Tackling Terrorism” In D. Malone (ed). The Security Council from the Cold War to the 21st century. New York: Lynne Riener.