NEW YORK, 15 OCTOBER 1998
Lecture by Ambassador António Monteiro to the students of Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service, New York University The Security Council in 1998
"To maintain international peace and security"
This is the very first purpose of the United Nations, set out in Article 1, Chapter 1 of the United Nations Charter.
The world organization does, of course, have other purposes but it is this one, "the maintenance of international peace and security", that the founders of the United Nations felt was the number one goal of the new organization.
The founders were emerging from a devastating Second World War, or if you take the perspective of some, ending the second part of the First World War. The Allied victors were united in the goal of establishing an organization that could in future prevent or suppress aggression to avoid another global conflict.
And the point I just made about the second part of the First World War is relevant here. Many saw the failure of the inter-war years in preventing the rise of aggression in Europe, by Germany, and in Asia, by Japan, as a failure of the international system to control war. Earlier in the 18th and 19th centuries, the balance of power in Europe had been kept by the Concert of Great Powers. But in the 1920s and 1930s, the League of Nations was utterly incapable of doing this. So for the founding fathers of the United Nations, namely the Allied victors and in particular the United States and the United Kingdom, the new organization could not fall prey to the debilitating handicaps that had been left on the League of Nations.
President Roosevelts own concept of a world organization was definitely not an idealistic one. He saw the need for pragmatism and the new system was to be based on the rule of the strong and powerful, what he called "the four policemen" the USA, the Soviet Union, the UK and France. They would keep the peace and ensure that aggression was suppressed and that Germany and Japan would not again threaten war and destruction.
The four policemen, of course, became the permanent members of the Security Council, joined by China. And it was the Security Council that was to maintain international peace and security, acting on behalf of the United Nations.
II The Cold War
Of course, we all know what happened shortly after the establishment of the United Nations, which in effect altered the vision of postwar security held by the founders. The Cold War came to dominate the next forty years of the 20th century. And it did so by creating in itself a balance of power between two blocs each dominated by a superpower; a balance that effectively incapacitated the Security Council from fully exercising its functions.
The Cold War did have an interesting and ultimately beneficial effect on the status of the defeated Axis powers of the Second World War. The pressure to strengthen and consolidate spheres of influence led the West to include and eventually embrace both Germany and Japan, that went on to become the economic and political powerhouses of today instead of possibly following the same course that defeated Germany did after the First World War. What were the "enemy states" are now two of the largest contributors to the United Nations.
The Cold War also had another interesting effect relevant to our discussion today: the paralysis on the Security Council led to the development of an important instrument to maintain international peace and security, which today is almost synonymous with the United Nations: that is, peacekeeping.
Originally, the Charter foresaw that international peace and security would be maintained by the Security Council acting in concert and utilizing armed forces which had been put at its disposal under Articles 43 and 45. This mechanism was, however, never implemented. But the United Nations developed a capacity to provide interpositional forces to monitor cease-fires and permit negotiations to resolve the conflicts. This was and is peace-keeping, which has in the meantime developed further to provide the Security Council with other options such as preventive deployment operations, fully-fledged "nation-building" operations, such as those in Namibia and Cambodia, missions with a myriad combination of military, police, civilian and humanitarian components, as well as the classic peace-keeping operation itself. I will say more later about the instruments available to the Council.
III The End of the Cold War
With the end of the Cold War, the paralysis also ended and the Security Council finally took on a life of its own.
The enthusiasm for and genuine interest in using the United Nations to maintain international peace and security was evident in the late 80s and early 90s. Suddenly, the Security Council was meeting daily instead of monthly and was getting involved in resolving conflicts around the world, including those which had became resolvable after the end of the Cold War. A sharp, even dramatic increase took place in the number of resolutions adopted and peace-keeping operations deployed, culminating in over 80,000 UN peace-keepers deployed in 1993 in 17 peace-keeping operations throughout the world: including in Angola, Mozambique and Somalia, in Cambodia, in Bosnia, in Haiti and in the Middle East. Following the success of the coalition forces in the Gulf War, which acted through the Security Council, clearly and decisively, to roll-back the aggression of Iraq against Kuwait following this, it seemed that the United Nations and its Security Council were entering a new phase, which in effectively maintaining international peace and security was finally fulfilling the principal purpose of the Charter.
And I do believe that we are in a new phase, perhaps not as dramatically a "new world" as we thought but nonetheless a categorically different international system where the Security Council does play an important role.
The world is, however, a very different place than the one in which the framers of the Charter lived. Today, 185 states are members of the United Nations, an exponential increase from the original 51 states that signed the Charter in San Francisco. The overwhelming majority of these new states have emerged from the collapse of colonial empires, and most recently of the Soviet Union. While it could be said that the original 11 members of the Security Council were representative of the 51 members of the United Nations, it is almost impossible to claim that the current 15 members of the Council (which was increased in 1965) are representative of the currently 185 members of the UN. This situation, as well as some dissatisfaction with the inordinate privilege held by the 5 permanent members of the Council in their power of veto, has led to an, as yet unsuccessful, attempt to increase the size of the Council to make it more representative.
This process of reform of the Security Council has also been motivated by the pragmatic desire to include on the Council both Germany and Japan, two of the top UN contributors and seen to be a necessary realignment of power in the world today. We have, indeed, traveled a long way since the beginnings of the United Nations, established on the defeat of Japan and Germany, to today when those states are on the brink of joining the Security Council, while references to them as "enemy states" will be stricken from the Charter.
IV Inside the Security Council
I would now like to give you a closer look at the workings of the Security Council.
You all know that the Council takes decisions in the forms of resolutions, which are binding on Members States. This continues to be the principal form of decision-making in the Council. But recent developments have added other forms, which the Council can use to make its position known on a certain situation and even apply the necessary pressure to obtain compliance with its wishes. The Presidential Statement, an agreed text which is read by the President in a formal meeting, and more recently, the use of statements to the Press waiting outside the Council room, both of these are increasingly resorted to by the Council when varying degrees of response are required short of a full resolution.
Decisions of the Council are reached first during informal consultations and then confirmed in a formal meeting. Nowadays, the Council will meet regularly in informal consultations which are about as institutionalized as something can be which does not, strictly speaking, exist. While these consultations have no official character and are not even recorded, the truth is that the overwhelming majority of the work of the Council is conducted this way.
This is another of the Councils characteristics which is currently under discussion, namely should the Council exercise its functions in public as foreseen in the Charter or should it continue to meet behind closed doors without a summary record? There are pros and cons to this. On the one hand, it is more transparent and legitimate for the Council to work in public. On the other hand, Council members often need privacy in order to be able to negotiate and take difficult decisions. In fact, an unintended result of making all the work of the Council public could be to drive important negotiations elsewhere and, therefore, end up by diminishing the importance of the Council itself. But all these concerns are under discussion and we advocate a solution that would be based both on greater transparency as well as on keeping the Council effective.
In its work, the Council is today characterized mostly by its consensual decisions, while the veto is rarely used. This constant search for consensus reflects the new post-Cold War world, no longer divided into two opposing blocs. But this is increasingly under erosion as the overconfidence of the early 1990s is replaced by the reality of a multipolar world.
Nevertheless, there is one and only one superpower, and that is the United States. Within the Council, the United Kingdom generally supports the US in its policy objectives, while France may or may not go along. Russia and China are increasingly asserting themselves, particularly as the Russians try to find their bearings in foreign policy after the collapse of the Soviet Union. In fact, it is evident that Russia has already, by virtue of its permanent membership of the Security Council, far greater impact on world affairs than would otherwise be the case in view of their weak economic and political situation. China, on the other hand, a cautious member of the Council, seeks above all to curtail the involvement of the Security Council in any internal affairs of states, because of its own domestic and other problems.
The non-permanent members, or elected members as I like to call them, are only on the Council for a short amount of time and have thus limited opportunities to make a long-term impact. Nevertheless, some non-permanent members have contributed significantly to the work of the Council, including by developing new practices, which are then adopted as standard.
The regional distribution of the elected members is also important since it is this that gives legitimacy and representativeness to the Council. So, while the Council is acting with regard to a crisis in Europe, for example, in Bosnia or Kosovo, it is important to know that the entire membership of the United Nations is behind the Council in its decisions since the Latin American and Asian and African members of the Council have also given their full support to decisions taken.
V Instruments of the Security Council
According to Article 39 of the Charter, it is the Council that must determine if there has been a breach of international peace and security and, if so, to act accordingly.
The Council has available to it a number of instruments which are described in Chapters Six, Seven and Eight of the Charter. But even before the Charter is invoked by the Council in its action, the mere fact that the Council is discussing a situation can in itself apply sufficient pressure towards a solution.
Under Chapter 6 of the Charter, the Council can take decisions for the peaceful settlement of disputes. It can authorize the establishment of many kinds of missions to help achieve a political solution to the conflict in question. They can be fact-finding missions, observer missions, peace-keeping missions, preventive deployment missions, etc., their one common characteristic being that these missions are not authorized to use force in pursuit of the objectives established by the Council.
It is Chapter Seven that gives the Council specific responsibilities for the use of force if necessary to maintain or restore international peace and security. First, what the Charter calls "provisional measures" may be applied to permit the Council to determine if there has indeed been a breach of international security. If so, the Council can then adopt measures under Article 41, which covers sanctions. Finally, Article 42 allows the Council to take "such action by air, sea, or land forces as may be necessary to maintain or restore international peace and security".
Some peace-keeping operations of the UN have been adopted under Chapter Seven, such as those in Bosnia, in Somalia and in Angola, among others. This permits the use of armed peace-keepers. But peace enforcement itself, as envisaged in Article 42, described above, is generally not undertaken by the United Nations themselves but handed over to regional arrangements or organizations, as in the case of the Gulf War to the coalition forces and in Bosnia to NATO.
It is Chapter Eight that foresees the delegation of responsibilities to maintain international peace and security by the Security Council to regional arrangements and organizations. In this context, the forthcoming mission of verification by the OSCE in Kosovo is, therefore, a good example of how the Council can work, as envisaged by the authors of the Charter over fifty years ago.
In conclusion, I believe the Security Council is alive and well, and is actively seeking to define its new role in the international community. It is an integral part of the international system that exists to resolve conflicts and maintain peace and security. The Council is not, we know now, the solution to all problems as many of us imagined it would be after the fall of the Berlin Wall. But despite a certain retreat from that optimism, the Council is a fundamental piece of the emerging world order.
It is in helping to shape this new role for the Council that has been part of the experience of Portugal on the Council in 1997 and 1998. While we have actively exercised our responsibilities as a member of the Council with regard to all the matters that have come before it, we have also sought to contribute to the improvement in the way the Council works, in bettering its procedures to make it more transparent and, therefore, more legitimate, but without in any compromising the effectiveness of the Council.
The life of the Council is a dynamic one and is not static; it develops and evolves according to the way international relations are conducted. But one thing is certain: the Security Council will continue to be central to the questions of international peace and security in the next century.