Columbia International Affairs Online: Working Papers

CIAO DATE: 12/2009

Effectiveness and Ineffectiveness of the UN Security Council in the Last Twenty Years: A European Perspective

David Hannay

November 2009

Istituto Affari Internazionali


The fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War struck the UN, as it struck the governments of its member states, like a bolt from the blue. It had not been predicted, nor anticipated; and no thought had been given to its possible consequences for the UN, which had been, since its establishment forty-five years before, a victim of the frozen certainties of bi-polar international diplomacy. There had been no consideration of what the post-Cold War world would look like and of what role the UN might be expected to play in it. It truly was a watershed moment, and therefore a sensible one to take as the start of any analysis of the Security Council in the twenty year period that has since followed. In truth everything did change at the UN and no-one discovered that more rapidly than President Saddam Hussein of Iraq when he invaded Kuwait in August 1990 and found himself confronted by a Security Council whose five Permanent Members were united in their determination to reverse his act of aggression, if necessary by the use of force. But that willingness to stand up to what had, after all, been one of the hallmarks of the twentieth century, inter-state acts of agression, was by no means the only change to take place. Many of the old Cold War taboos disappeared almost overnight; no-go areas, as for so long had been the case in Cambodia, became the forum for substantial UN peacekeeping activity; proxy wars, in which the allies or clients of the two super-powers had been engaged with no risk at all of effective UN action being taken – as had been the case in El Salvador, in Angola and in Mozambique – were wound down under the UN’s aegis.