Columbia International Affairs Online: Working Papers

CIAO DATE: 12/2009

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

John Van Oudenaren

November 2009

Istituto Affari Internazionali


The origins of the UN Security Council go back to the Congress of Vienna and the peacemaking process that followed the Napoleonic wars of 1799-1815, when the distinction between the great powers and all other powers first was enshrined in the practice of international diplomacy. The great powers were said to be those powers with interests general to the European system and thus by implication a stake in the system as a whole, in contrast to lesser powers, which had merely local or regional interests.1 This distinction carried over into the peace-making process after World War I and was formalized in the Covenant of the League of Nations, which identified the Principal Allied and Associated Powers as the permanent members of the League Council. The distinction lived on in the United Nations Organization and the UN Charter, which assigned responsibility for the maintenance of peace to the Security Council, in which the five states defined as great powers were given a permanent veto.