Meld. St. 33 (2011–2012)

Norway and the United Nations: Common Future, Common Solutions

2.2 The UN Security Council: legitimacy and effectiveness

The Security Council is the most powerful UN institution, and when a serious crisis occurs, this is the body to which the world turns. The Council’s main task is to maintain international peace and security. It has a broad set of conflict management tools at its disposal, ranging from diplomacy to the offensive use of force, and including mediation, political operations, peacekeeping operations, sanctions and military intervention.

The Security Council consists of five permanent members – the US, Russia, China, the UK and France – which have the power of veto, and 10 non-permanent members elected for two years at a time. However, the Council is only as effective as its 15 members allow it to be. The permanent members have a special responsibility by virtue of their veto power. Norway’s most recent term on the Security Council was in 2001–02, and we will again be a candidate for a non-permanent place for the period 2021–22. We intend to work hard to achieve this, and if we are elected we will put a great deal of time and effort into making a success of our time on the Council.

Figure 2.1 The UN Security Council.

Figure 2.1 The UN Security Council.

Source Photo: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

The new conflict patterns have challenged traditional thinking about security, and new items are being put on the Security Council agenda. The close links between security and development have been recognised, and the Council now discusses questions such as the protection of children in armed conflicts and women’s role in conflicts (see Box 2.1). The Council is an influential norm-setter in these areas. Other items on the Council’s agenda are climate change, health, and transnational organised crime such as smuggling, human trafficking and piracy.

Textbox 2.1 UN Security Council Resolution 1325 (2000) on Women, Peace and Security

Since 2000, the Security Council has unanimously adopted five resolutions on women, peace and security (nos 1325, 1820, 1888, 1889 and1960), all of which acknowledge the importance of women’s participation in peace operations, peace processes and post-conflict reconstruction. The resolutions require that girls and women are protected against abuse, and state that sexualised violence can constitute a war crime and a crime against humanity.

Norway has been actively involved in strengthening the implementation of these resolutions. The UN bodies that are intended to ensure international peace and security are obliged to mainstream a gender perspective and put women’s rights on the agenda in conflict situations. Peacekeeping and peacebuilding efforts have to address women’s needs and draw on women’s experience. This applies not only within the UN but also to other organisations tasked with peace operations, such as NATO and the African Union. In 2006 Norway launched an action plan for implementing resolution 1325, and in 2011 more targeted measures were included and a strategic framework was drawn up for its implementation.

2.2.1 The Responsibility to Protect – state sovereignty versus the international community’s responsibility

A cornerstone of the United Nations Charter is the principle of the sovereign equality of all its member states and the corresponding principle of non-intervention. However, the prohibition on intervening in the internal affairs of another state is qualified by the provisions of Chapter VII. Article 39 states that: “The Security Council shall determine the existence of any threat to the peace, breach of the peace, or act of aggression.” In such cases the Security Council has the authority to use force. However, in cases of lack of agreement in the Security Council on this issue, the international community has time after time stood helplessly by while genocide, ethnic cleansing and other gross abuses of civilians were being practised inside national borders. At the same time the idea of the fundamental human rights – inviolable and universal – is deeply rooted in the preamble of the UN Charter. As a consequence of the wars in the Balkans and the genocide in Rwanda, it was agreed at the High-Level Plenary Meeting of the General Assembly in 2005 that the two principles were not necessarily in conflict if the concept of sovereignty was interpreted as “sovereignty as responsibility”. In the Outcome Document the participants committed themselves to the principle of the Responsibility to Protect, which was later reaffirmed by the Security Council.

Figure 2.2 Zawiya, Libya. The one-year anniversary of the start of the anti-Gaddafi uprising.

Figure 2.2 Zawiya, Libya. The one-year anniversary of the start of the anti-Gaddafi uprising.

Source Photo: UN Photo/Iason Foounten

Textbox 2.2 The Responsibility to Protect

The principle of the responsibility to protect has a firm basis in international law. Norway supports the broad set of tools required to enforce the principle, especially preventive measures and the use of peaceful means. We advocate the view that the legitimate exercise of power depends on the safeguarding of citizens’ fundamental rights, and that preventive international intervention may be justified in the case of states that fail to safeguard these rights. However, Norway also believes that the use of armed force requires a mandate from the UN Security Council.

2.2.2 Reform of the Security Council: legitimacy versus effectiveness?

Reform of the Security Council is the single topic that more than any other influences the relations between the member states. The countries of the South are demanding that the membership of the Council should reflect more closely today’s geopolitical reality and not the world as it was in 1945. They feel that the existing composition of the Council weakens the Organisation’s legitimacy.

The issue is an underlying theme in much of the UN’s work, and in many cases creates a difficult negotiation climate in which the lack of Security Council reform is used as an argument to reject reform in other areas. India raised the issue as early as 1980, and most of the member states now agree that reform of the Security Council is necessary. However, intergovernmental negotiations are being blocked by strong disagreement on the composition of the new Security Council, and there is little sign of a breakthrough. The greatest difference is between the views of the G4 countries (India, Brazil, Japan and Germany), which are demanding a permanent place on the Council, and those of the United for Consensus Group (among which are Canada, Italy, Spain, Mexico, Argentina and Pakistan), which will only support an expansion consisting of non-permanent or semi-permanent members. The African countries are demanding both that Africa is given two permanent places and that the number of non-permanent places is increased.

Another central issue in the negotiations is the power of veto – whether the existing permanent members should renounce their veto power and/or whether new permanent members should be given such power. The existing five permanent members do not wish to renounce their veto and have made it clear that they do not consider that new permanent members should be granted veto power. The G4, especially India, is demanding a permanent place with veto power. The African countries consider that if the five permanent members retain their veto the new permanent members should also be given a veto.

Competition for the non-permanent places has always been stiff, and is becoming even stiffer. This applies particularly to the Western and Other States Group (WEOG), to which Norway belongs, and the Group of Eastern European States. The margins are often very narrow, and states have to submit their candidacy many years in advance.

Norway considers that the Security Council needs a fundamental reform. The main goal must be to ensure that it has the necessary effectiveness and legitimacy to address the threats to international peace and security, while at the same time reflecting the current division of power and having a more representative membership. Permanent regional representation is one possibility. As long as such fundamental reforms are not supported by the member states and the permanent members of the Security Council, Norway will continue to back the candidacy of individual states to semi-permanent or new permanent places without a veto. Norway considers it important that the model that is finally chosen does not compromise the Council’s ability and willingness to act when action is called for. We will promote discussion of the different reform models and will maintain close contact with influential countries.

Another central topic in the debate on reform is the need to ensure greater transparency in the work of the Security Council. Norway has played an active role in these discussions. We support measures to increase transparency and involvement of non-members in the Council’s work, for example by strengthening the dialogue with the General Assembly, open monthly briefings by the Presidency, more information to non-members on peacekeeping operations, and closer dialogue with countries deploying police and military personnel in operations. We support the proposal that the five permanent members should explain their reasons for exercising their veto, and that they refrain from exercising it if this would block decisions to prevent or halt genocide, war crimes or crimes against humanity.

Since 2005, Norway has supported the not-for-profit organisation Security Council Report, which makes information on the Council’s work available to member states. The organisation publishes reports that reach a broad public and makes a valuable contribution to transparency and debate on the Council’s activities.

Textbox 2.3 Sanctions as a tool

Many member states are sceptical about the use of sanctions. It is claimed that they affect innocent third parties and constitute intervention in internal matters. However, a distinction must be made between the actual effects of implementing sanctions and whether imposing sanctions will achieve the political goal in question. There is a need for better understanding of how the different mechanisms can be used to achieve the different goals and for a global dialogue on the subject, for example on how the economic repercussions of sanctions should be dealt with, especially when energy issues are involved.

The Government will

  • work for reform of the Security Council to make it more legitimate and effective,

  • support efforts to improve the Council’s working methods and make them more efficient,

  • seek to enhance cooperation between the Security Council and other parts of the UN system.