By the very act of joining the UN, all members "confer on the Security Council primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security and agree that in carrying out its duties under this responsibility the Security Council acts on their behalf" (italics added). They also consent "to accept and carry out" the decisions of the council on any peacekeeping action that may be required. Under Article 39 of the charter, the Security Council's powers to take such enforceable decisions come into effect only when a definite "threat to the peace," an actual "breach of the peace," or a particular "act of aggression" has occurred. Only if the council decides that one of these circumstances prevails may it invoke its power to take a course of enforcement action that constitutes a legally binding commitment on all UN members. With regard to disputes between states that, in the opinion of the council, have not yet led to a definite threat to the peace or do not constitute an actual breach of the peace or an act of aggression, it may simply recommend measures for a peaceful settlement.
The extreme caution with which the founders of the UN assigned governmental prerogatives to the Security Council is reflected in the fact that its peacekeeping powers are set out in two quite separate chapters of the charter. Chapter VI establishes the council's advisory functions in assisting the peaceful settlement of disputes. Chapter VII defines the kind of action that it may take in the event of threats to the peace, breaches of the peace, and acts of aggression.
Under Chapter VI of the charter, the parties to any dispute "the continuance of which is likely to endanger the maintenance of international peace and security" are enjoined to seek a settlement of their own accord by peaceful means, including "negotiation, enquiry, mediation, conciliation, arbitration, judicial settlement, or resort to regional agencies or arrangements…."When can the Security Council itself intervene? On this point, the charter is as unrestrictive as possible. By no means does every "situation" of conflicting interests lead to an actual dispute. Yet the council need not wait until a situation has given rise to friction before taking action. It may take the initiative of investigating any dispute, or any situation that might lead to international friction or give rise to a dispute, in order to determine whether the continuance of the dispute or situation is likely to endanger the maintenance of international peace and security. Moreover, any nation, whether a member of the UN or not, has the right to bring any dispute or threatening situation before the Security Council (or before the General Assembly). Should the parties to a dispute fail to settle their differences by peaceful means of their own choice, they are bound under the terms of the charter to refer the problem to the council.
Once the council has decided to intervene in a dispute, it can take several courses of action. It may recommend one of the methods of settlement listed in the charter; it may itself determine and recommend other "procedures or methods of adjustment" that it deems appropriate; or, if it considers that the continuance of the dispute is likely to endanger international peace and security, it can decide to recommend substantive terms of settlement.
If, in its opinion, there is a threat to the peace, the Security Council has the duty to maintain peace and security by preventing the outbreak of actual hostilities. If there has been a breach of the peace or an act of aggression, its duty is to restore international peace and security.
The Security Council is empowered by the charter to call upon the parties to comply with any provisional measures that it deems necessary or desirable. Such immediate instructions to the quarreling states are intended, without prejudice to the rights of the parties, to prevent an aggravation of the conflict. For example, the council may demand the immediate cessation of hostilities and withdrawal of the forces from the invaded territory. If either or both parties do not comply with these demands, the council "shall duly take account" of the failure to comply. In this event, the farthest-reaching prerogative of the Security Council can come into play—namely, its right to institute sanctions against the recalcitrant state or states.
Here again, the discretion of the Security Council is very wide. When the council finds that a threat to the peace, breach of the peace, or act of aggression exists, it is authorized, though not compelled, by the charter to invoke sanctions. Even if its first provisional demands are not heeded, it may continue to press for peaceful settlement or take various other actions, such as the dispatch of a commission of inquiry, short of sanctions. On the other hand, the Security Council is free to invoke whatever enforcement measures it may consider necessary under the circumstances. It need not begin with the mildest but may, as in the Korean conflict, immediately start with the severest type of sanction—namely, the use of military force—if it considers that less drastic measures would be inadequate.
Types of Sanctions. The charter does not provide an exhaustive list of sanctions that the Security Council may invoke, but it mentions two types: sanctions not involving the use of armed forces, and military sanctions.
Sanctions not involving the use of armed forces may be of two kinds. One is the severance of diplomatic relations with one or more of the belligerent states. The other is economic sanctions, including partial or complete interruption of economic relations and communications, such as rail, sea, and air traffic, postal and telegraphic services, and radio. The purpose is to isolate the country or countries against which they are directed, physically, economically, and morally. For example, a would-be aggressor that is denied certain strategic materials may be compelled to cease hostilities. If successful, such measures have great advantages over military sanctions. They impose fewer burdens on the participating countries and fewer hardships on the population of the areas of conflict. They also avoid the danger that once military action on behalf of the UN has been taken, war may spread.
Military sanctions, the charter stipulates, may include demonstrations by air, sea, or land forces; blockade; or "other operations by air, sea, and land forces," the latter including actual military action against the offending country or countries.
Once the Security Council has decided on specific sanctions, all members of the UN are under legal obligation to carry them out. The council may, however, at its discretion, decide that only certain member states shall take an active part, or it may demand that even nonmember states participate in economic sanctions to make them effective. The charter also stipulates that before any member state not represented on the Security Council is called upon to provide armed forces, that country must, upon its request, be invited to participate in the council's deliberations, with a right to vote on the employment of its own contingents.
The Security Council has invoked its powers to impose sanctions judiciously.
In December 1966, the council imposed mandatory economic sanctions against the illegal Smith regime in Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe).
The council instituted a voluntary arms embargo against South Africa in 1963 on the grounds that arms supplied to that country were being used to enforce its policy of apartheid. In November 1977, it imposed a mandatory arms embargo against South Africa. Although the General Assembly requested the Security Council to consider mandatory economic sanctions (in 1977) and a mandatory embargo on oil and oil products (in 1979), the council did not act. (The General Assembly passed a resolution calling for a mandatory oil embargo and economic sanctions against South Africa at its 44th session in 1989.)
On 6 August 1990, in response to Iraq's invasion of Kuwait, the Security Council, in its Resolution 661, imposed tight sanctions: a full trade embargo barring all imports from and exports to Iraq, excepting only medical supplies and humanitarian food aid. The Security Council further indicated its resolve by passing Resolution 665 on 25 August 1990, authorizing member states to use force to block shipments of goods to Iraq. Finally, on 25 September, it passed Resolution 670 mandating a complete air transport blockade of Iraq.
In 1991, at the request of the foreign minister of Yugoslavia, the Security Council imposed its first mandatory arms embargo in Europe in an effort to quell the rising tide of insurrection between ethnic groups in that country. By 30 May 1992, Yugoslavia had dissolved into four states: Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro). At that time, Slovenia, Croatia, and Bosnia-Herzegovina were admitted to UN membership. The Security Council, in Resolution 757, imposed mandatory trade sanctions against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, excepting only shipments of food and medicine for humanitarian purposes.
On 31 March 1992, the Security Council adopted an arms and air traffic embargo on Libya (Resolution 748) in response to requests by France, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Those countries sought to force Libya to extradite two Libyan nationals indicted in those countries for the 21 December 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, in which 270 persons died, and the bombing of UTA Flight 772 on 19 September 1989 in Niger, in which 171 persons died. On 11 November 1993, the Security Council voted to widen those sanctions (Resolution 883) to include freezing Libyan bank accounts, closing the offices of Libyan Arab Airlines, and prohibiting the supply of materials for construction and maintenance of airports. The sanctions also banned the supply of pumps, turbines, and motors used at export terminals and oil refineries.
On 16 June 1993, the Security Council adopted wide-ranging economic and trade sanctions (Resolution 841) against the military regime in Haiti which had unseated Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 1991. President Aristide had been elected to office in a UN-supervised election. The council acted in conjunction with similar sanctions imposed by the Organization of American States. In brief, the Security Council directed members not to sell oil, weapons, ammunition, military vehicles, military equipment, and spare parts to Haiti. In addition, it authorized members to blockade the country to prevent those items from being delivered to Haiti. It also authorized member countries to freeze Haitian funds. The sanctions were briefly lifted when negotiations produced the Governors Island agreement of 3 July 1993, in which the military regime agreed to restore President Aristide with the assistance of a UN peacekeeping mission (called the UN Mission in Haiti or UNMIH). On 11 October 1993 the first deployment of UNMIH was prevented from landing at Port au Prince and the sanctions were reinstated three days later. On 6 May 1994, the Security Council adopted an expansion of sanctions (Resolution 917) against Haiti. Multinational forces were peacefully deployed in Haiti on 19 September 1994, and President Aristide returned shortly thereafter. On 29 September 1994, the Security Council suspended the sanctions (Resolution 944).
On 30 May 1993, in its Resolution 918, the Security Council imposed an arms embargo on Rwanda. It imposed the embargo in an effort to protect its UN Assistance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR) and other international humanitarian relief workers, as well as the civilian population, from the rampant lawlessness and violence that had broken out in connection with the resumption of that country's civil war between ethnic Hutu and Tutsi factions. In May 1994, violence broke out between the factions, and killings were widespread. In July 1994, the Security Council established a commission of experts to investigate violations of international humanitarian law (Resolution 935), and an International Tribunal was established on 8 November 1994 (Resolution 955) to prosecute persons responsible for the genocide.
On 8 October 1997, in its Resolution 1132, the Security Council imposed a petroleum and arms embargo on Sierra Leone. It did this following the military coup of 25 May 1997 led by the army in conjunction with the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), to address the violence and loss of life that surrounded the coup, and to demand the military junta relinquish power, restore the democratically elected government, and return to constitutional order. In June 1998, the Security Council established the United Nations Observer Mission in Sierra Leone (UNOMSIL), after the democratically elected president, Alhaji Dr. Ahmed Tejan Kabbah, was returned to power in March of that year. Fighting continued, however, and the Security Council established the United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL) on 22 October 1999, a new and larger mission with a maximum of 6000 military personnel. In 2000 and 2001, the numbers of military personnel involved in the mission increased to 11,100 and 17,500 respectively. In order to stop the flow of rough diamonds from Sierra Leone other than those controlled by the government, the Security Council passed Resolution 1306 on 5 July 2000, extended by Resolution 1385 on 19 December 2001. This action was undertaken due to the link between the diamond trade and human rights abuses, in particular in the case of the RUF, which committed killings, amputations, abductions, and torture of civilians.
On 31 March 1998, the Security Council placed an arms embargo on the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (Resolution 1160), to resolve the crisis in Kosovo, between Serbian forces and ethnic Albanian Kosovars. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) launched air strikes against Serbian targets beginning on 24 March 1999, and lasting until 10 June of that year, to stop the practice of ethnic cleansing of the Albanian Kosovars by the Serbs. On 10 June, the Security Council established an international civil and security presence in Kosovo (Resolution 1244). In October 2000, Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic was voted out of office. On 10 September 2001, the Security Council terminated the prohibitions preventing the sale of arms and related material to the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, by adopting Resolution 1367.
On 15 October 1999, the Security Council imposed a limited air embargo and funds and financial assets embargo on the Taliban regime in Afghanistan (Resolution 1267). With Resolution 1333 passed on 19 December 2000, it placed an air and arms embargo on the country, placed restricted travel sanctions on it, and froze funds of Osama bin Laden and his associates in Afghanistan. Following the defeat of the Taliban by the US-led coaltion in November 2001, the Security Council lifted restrictions imposed upon Ariana Afghan Airlines (Resolution 1388) on 15 January 2002. And on 16 January (Resolution 1390), the Security Council modified its sanctions on the Taliban, Al-Qaeda, and Osama bin Laden, holding that all states should freeze the economic resources of these this individual, organization, and former regime, prevent their entry into or transit throught their territories, and prevent the supply, sale, and transfer of arms and related material to them.
In response to the war between Ethiopia and Eritrea that began in 1998 as a border dispute in the region around Badme claimed by both countries, the Security Council on 17 May 2000 placed an arms embargo on the two countries, and established a sanctions committee to address the situation (Resolution 1298). Once there was a cessation of hostilities in June 2000, the Security Council established the UN Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE), sending 4,200 military personnel to monitor the ceasefire and assist in ensuring observance of security commitments.
With Resolution 1343, the Security Council on 7 March 2001 applied an arms embargo on Liberia, blocked Liberian diamond sales, and restricted international travel by top Liberian officials, in response to fighting between the Liberian government and armed insurgents, which began in the remote northern Lofa County in 1998 and intensified during 2000. The sanctions were applied due to international condemnation of Liberian President Charles Taylor's trafficking in illicit diamonds from mines in Sierra Leone, for destabilizing neighboring countries, and for widespread human rights abuses against local populations. With Resolution 1408 on 6 May 2002, the Security Council extended the sanctions on Liberia for another 12 months and established a panel of experts to address the situation.
The Security Council's previous reluctance to invoke its ultimate prerogatives is attributable to two main factors. There is a very strong argument that in most cases punitive measures are ineffective and may even harm chances for a peaceful settlement. The provisions on the UN security system make it clear that peace is to be preserved whenever possible without recourse to force. The second major factor is that, before the end of the cold war, one or two of the permanent members would take different positions from the other three or four, so that in most cases the council's sympathies were divided between the opposing parties. Not only did division between the permanent members preclude punitive measures against one side, but it also seriously inhibited definitive action of any kind. For example, the initial action of sending a UN command into Korea was made possible only by the absence of the USSR from the council at the time (in protest against the council's decision on Chinese representation). Had the Soviet Union been there, it would presumably have vetoed the necessary resolutions. An example of the reverse situation is the issue of South Africa's apartheid policies. Beginning in 1960, the African nations appealed regularly to the Security Council to institute mandatory economic sanctions against South Africa in the hope of forcing it to terminate the apartheid system. The former USSR frequently expressed itself in favor of such a move, but the Western permanent members—in particular, South Africa's major trading partners, the United Kingdom and the United States—were reluctant to impose economic sanctions.
In the post-cold war era of collegiality in the Security Council, the Russian Federation and the United States rarely found themselves on opposite poles of an argument, and imposing sanctions as a method to force other member states to comply with Security Council directives was much easier to accomplish.
Although the charter contains provisions to equip the Security Council with armed forces in case of need (the Covenant of the League of Nations contained no such provisions), these requirements have not been implemented. Under the charter, all UN members "undertake to make available to the Security Council, on its call and in accordance with a special agreement or agreements, armed forces, assistance, and facilities, including rights of passage, necessary for the purpose of maintaining international peace and security." These agreements were to determine the number and types of military forces to be provided by the nations, their degree of readiness, their location, and so on, and they were to come into effect only after ratification by the countries concerned according to their respective constitutional requirements. (With this provision in mind, the United States Congress in December 1945 passed the "UN Participation Act," authorizing the president of the United States to negotiate a special agreement with the Security Council on the detailed provision of United States forces; the agreement would then require approval by legislative enactment or joint resolution of the United States Congress.) The troops and weapons would remain part of each country's national military establishment. They would not become international forces, but they would be pledged to the UN and, at the request of the Security Council, would be placed at its disposal.
However, the plan to place armed forces at the disposition of the Security Council required wide international agreement on a number of steps before it could be put into operation. The charter provides for the establishment of a Military Staff Committee composed of the chiefs of staff (or their representatives) of the five permanent members to advise and assist the council on all questions relating to its military requirements. The first task that the council assigned the Military Staff Committee was to recommend the military arrangements to be negotiated with member states. The committee was never able to reach agreed positions that could serve as the basis for negotiation and at an early date took on the characteristics of a vestigial organ.
Peacekeeping operations are not mentioned in the charter, yet they, as opposed to enforcement measures, are the means that the Security Council has most frequently used to maintain the peace. It has dispatched observer missions and troops in several crises. (The council's major peacekeeping operations and those under-taken by the General Assembly are described in the chapter on International Peace and Security.) Although the arrangements for the provision of armed forces foreseen in the charter have not been realized, the UN has nevertheless been able to establish peacekeeping forces on the basis of voluntary contributions of troops by member states.
Until the end of the cold war, the formula had always been that the disputants themselves must expressly invite the council to take peacekeeping measures (the special situation of Korea being the only exception—see the chapter on International Peace and Security.) With the eruption of ethnic and nationalistic conflicts in Eastern Europe and Africa after the end of the cold war, the Security Council recognized that the increasing number and complexity of peacekeeping operations warranted review. In May 1993, it requested the Secretary-General to submit a report containing specific new proposals to improve the capacity of the UN in peacekeeping. The Secretary-General submitted his report on "Improving the capacity of the United Nations for peacekeeping" in March 1994. In response to this analysis, on 3 May 1994, the Security Council issued a statement setting forth factors to be considered in establishing UN peacekeeping operations. The factors to be considered in the establishment of new peacekeeping operations included:
The council also required an estimate of projected costs for the initial 90 days of a new peacekeeping operation, and for its first six months, and an estimate of the total annual cost, before authorizing any new missions. In the case of mission extensions, it also required estimates of the financial implications.
In both "An Agenda for Peace" (1992) and his March 1994 report, the Secretary-General proposed that a new mechanism had to be developed to enable a quick response to international crises. Under normal circumstances, the process of designing a mission, obtaining commitments for troops and equipment, establishing a budget, and obtaining approval for new peacekeeping missions could take as long as three months. The Security Council welcomed the Secretary-General's proposal to devise stand-by arrangements under which member states would maintain an agreed number of troops and equipment ready for quick deployment. A Stand-by Arrangements Management Unit was established to keep track of units and resources available for this purpose.