The Challenge of Great Power Politics within the United Nations

Bachelor Thesis, 2015

29 Pages, Grade: 1


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. The Development, Structure, Goals and Principles of the United Nations
2.1 Historical background
2.2 The Fundamental Political Problems of the UN
2.3 An Overview of the Structure of the United Nations
2.4 Goals and Peacekeeping Principles of the UN
2.4.1 Main goals of the UN
2.4.2 Peacekeeping Principles of the UN
2.4.3 Article 2 of the Charter of the UN

3. Case Study I - NATO’s military operation against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia during the Kosovo war in 1999
3.1 A Brief history of NATO’s military operation in the Kosovo war
3.1.1 North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)
3.1.2 Events Arranged in Chronological Order
3.2. Consequences of NATO’s War on Yugoslavia

4. Case study II – a non-combat military operation in Syria
4.1 A Brief History of the Syrian crisis I
4.1.1 The Arab Spring
4.2 A Brief history of the Syrian crisis II
4.3 Consequences of the Syrian civil war

5. Discussion of two case studies
5.1 The Same Situations with Differing reactions
5.2 Violation of international law
5.3 Great powers within the Security Council




1. Introduction

After the Second World War, Europe was demolished. Over 60 million people were killed, industry was destroyed, and above all the war induced deep moral degradation. While the World struggled to recover from the desolation of the War, a new global organization, the United Nations, was established, its main purpose was and still is to ensure peace and security within the international community and chiefly to avoid a third world war.

Over the past decades, the United Nations and its humanitarian interventions have been an interesting and important theme, hence more literature is being written on this topic. However the effectiveness of the Security Council at executing international peace through humanitarian interventions seems to be a relatively neglected area, therefore this field is the focus of my dissertation. The importance of the United Nations on the global stage is indeed a popular topic which has undergone much research. Nevertheless, the mismatch of attitudes between the great powers within the Security Council concerning different humanitarian interventions but with similar origins still has not been sufficiently explored. In this dissertation, I intend to fill a gap in this area of research, which is not only a globally important issue, but also a topic that has been under-researched.

The aim of this dissertation is to shed light on challenges that the United Nations faces, with an emphasis on the ethics of humanitarian intervention. In order to find an appropriate answer to this question, I will examine two case studies, which have been chosen as examples of two different UN reactions to a crisis. The first case study is NATO’s military operation against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia during the Kosovo war in 1999, the second is a non-combat military operation in Syria. While considering these two case studies, it is also crucial to constantly keep in mind the motives and ideas that lead to the development of the UN and what the UN is supposed to represent. In order to understand this, I will first provide a brief history of the UN, and detail how it is structured, and most notably, the Charter of the UN as a source of right. Possible limitations of this project could be an inability to come to the right conclusions and find a universal solution to these kinds of crises.

Research Question

The main purpose of this paper is to answer the following question:

"How effective is the United Nations Security Council at executing international peace?"

Research Objectives

The specific objectives underpinning this research are:

1) to review the history and the structure of the United Nations
2) to present the United Nation’s main goals
3) to examine two case studies to assist in presenting the information
4) to draw parallels between the Security Council’s different reactions in similar situations regarding these two cases

2. The Development, Structure, Goals and Principles of the United Nations

2.1 Historical background

The forerunner of the United Nations (UN) was the League of Nations, which was created after the First World War, its main function was to prevent future wars and thereby to maintain world peace in the international community. “Those who want peace, it is said, prepare for war. Those who are already at war prepare for peace.” (Luard 1982, p. 3.) In order to introduce a brief history of the United Nations I used the first two chapters of a book by Evan Luard, which gave me a fundamental basis of events that led to the establishment of the United Nations.

The League of Nations ceased to function after failing to prevent the Nazi invasion in Europe. Before the end of the Second World War, among the general public and the international community, there began a debate about establishing a new organization. The message was crystal-clear, the new international organization must learn from its previous mistakes in order to achieve peace and security as well as promote cooperation among nations. United States President, Franklin D. Roosevelt first suggested the name “United Nations” and an idea of a postwar system with great power domination. Explicit discussion about the planning of the Charter of the United Nations began in 1943 and after thorough consideration the final draft was created and signed at the San Francisco conference in 1945, by representatives of 51 countries. After this, the United Nations was founded and the entire international community believed that this organization would be a tool for providing global peace, encouraging social and economic development, maintaining a secure and better living standard, as well as promoting human rights.

Today, this organization comprises 193 member states and its work reaches every corner of the globe (Luard, 1982).

2.2 The Fundamental Political Problems of the UN

In this paragraph I tackle just the fundamental political problems of the UN, which are useful for my further work. In the UN’s first period of existence, the political division between two superpowers, the USA and Russia (at that time the Soviet Union), demonstrated by the Cold War, represented the organization’s fundamental political problems. This division of power is apparent even today. Rarely can these two superpowers find common ground.

In recent history, the UN has become increasingly critical of the “role of elite nations” or the five permanent members of the Security Council. They wield with veto vote, which gives them superiority over the other members, veto from any permanent powers can block any action that the Security Council may take, even if other members agree with it. The struggle between rich and poor countries is more and more apparent, and the gap between them is hardly resolved (Luard, 1979).

2.3 An Overview of the Structure of the United Nations

In order to better understand how the United Nations works and what it does, it is imperative to briefly explain the structure of this global organization. It consists of 6 main bodies, in addition to a few sub bodies and multiple programs and funds. The overriding body for my work is certainly the Security Council and special attention will be paid to the veto rights of the five permanent members of this body. The book How it Works and What it Does written by Evan Luard and the Charter of the UN assisted me greatly when writing this paragraph.

1) General Assembly

The General Assembly is the main deliberative assembly of the United Nations. It comprises all 193 members and it is a meeting place where the representatives of different regions meet together to discuss common problems, like parliaments within states. It is important to mention that the General Assembly is representative of governments. The representatives are not elected directly by the people. The Assembly is responsible for policy-making although its power of decision is small. (Luard 1979, chap. 2)

2) The Security Council

Among the six principle organs, the Security Council is responsible for maintaining world peace and international security. It consists of five permanent members (Russia, China, the USA, France, and the UK) and ten non-permanent members, and each member has one vote. The permanent members are afforded veto rights. The Security Council possesses the power to decide whether to “declare” a situation a “threat” or “violation of peace” and is in charge of important measures, for example, economic sanctions.

How the voting system works?

Article 27 of the UN Charter states (used second and third points): 2. “Decisions of the Security Council on procedural matters shall be made by an affirmative vote of nine members.” 3. “Decisions of the Security Council on all other matters shall be made by an affirmative vote of nine members including the concurring votes of the permanent members” (Charter of the United Nations, Chapter 5).

What will happen if any of the five permanent members cast a veto vote? “It was agreed by the drafters that if any one of the five permanent members cast a negative vote in the 15-member Security Council, the resolution or decision would not be approved” (United Nations Security Council: Voting System and Records).

Further on in my dissertation I will rely on the veto right and on its exemptions.

3) The Economic and Social Council

The Economic and Social Council represents one of the ‘principal organs’ of the UN, its main task is to supervise the UN system’s economic and social activities. Articles 55 and 57 of the Charter of the UN give a clear indication of the areas this council covers: health, education, economic, social and cultural issues and the promotion of human rights and fundamental freedoms for all (Luard 1979, chap 3). Articles 55 and 57 of the Charter of the United Nations, Chapter 9).

4) The Secretariat

The Secretariat is headed by the Secretary-General, and it is the body which runs the organization. The Secretary-General has the power to raise matters which he believes should receive the organization’s attention. He is in charge of recognizing any situation which may lead to violence or war (Luard 1979, chap. 5)

5) The International Court of Justice

“International society, like other society, has needed to develop rules to govern behaviors among its members, and judicial machinery for interpreting and developing these rules” (Luard 1979, p. 72). The international Court of Justice represents the primary judicial organ of the UN. It is located in The Hague and it consists of 15 judges who each serve a 9 year term, and they are not representatives of governments. Its primary tasks are to resolve legal disputes submitted by member states and provide advisory opinions (Luard 1979, charter 4)

6) Trusteeship Council

The UN Trusteeship Council was founded to supervise and to help ensure that trust territories were managed in the best interests of their citizens and of international peace.

2.4 Goals and Peacekeeping Principles of the UN

As a means to better understand and to give a clear introduction for further research, it is imperative to keep in mind the UN’s main goals and to connect them with their peacekeeping principles, which will be present in the following paragraph.

2.4.1 Main goals of the UN

According to Chapter 1 of the Charter of the UN, the UN’s 4 main purposes are:

1) “To maintain international peace and security, and to that end: to take effective collective measures for the prevention and removal of threats to the peace, and for the suppression of acts of aggression or other breaches of the peace, and to bring about by peaceful means, and in conformity with the principles of justice and international law, adjustment or settlement of international disputes or situations which might lead to a breach of the peace;
2) To develop friendly relations among nations based on respect;
3) To achieve international co-operation in solving international problem;
4) To be a center for harmonizing the actions of nations in the attainment of these common ends”

(Charter of the United Nations, Chapter 1).

To link the UN’s theoretical rules with real cases is not so easy. In order to do this and to understand how some superpowers violated international law, I will include below some parts of the UN’s principles.

2.4.2 Peacekeeping Principles of the UN

Peacekeeping missions represent the central element of international reaction to conflict both within countries and between countries. They aspire to provide the conditions for standing peace in the regions affected by conflict. These missions are comprised of military, police, and civilian. Presently, there are 16 peacekeeping operations globally with more than 110.000 troops.

There are three peacekeeping principles that serve the UN as tools for maintaining international peace and security. The third principle is of great importance for understanding the point of my work and it will assist me in answering my research question.


1) “Consent of the parties: UN peacekeeping operations are deployed with the consent of the main parties to the conflict. This requires a commitment by the parties to a political process. Their acceptance of a peacekeeping operation provides the UN with the necessary freedom of action, both political and physical, to carry out its mandated tasks.
2) Impartiality: United Nations peacekeepers should be impartial in their dealings with the parties to the conflict, but not neutral in the execution of their mandate.
3) Non-use of force except in self-defence and defense of the mandate: UN peacekeeping operations are not an enforcement tool. However, they may use force at the tactical level, with the authorization of the Security Council, if acting in self-defense and defense of the mandate” (The United Nations, Principles of the UN peacekeeping).

2.4.3 Article 2 of the Charter of the UN

I would like to emphasize Article 2 of the Charter of the UN, which outlines more thoroughly the purposes and principles of the UN. I will underline just the parts of the article that represent the basis on which I will rely my case studies.

“Article 2 (4) of the Charter prohibits the threat or use of force and calls on all Members to respect the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of other States.

Article 2 (5) of the Charter states that Members shall assist the United Nations in any action taken in accordance with the Charter, and refrain from giving assistance to a State against which the United Nations is taking preventive or enforcement action.

Article 2 (7) states that the United Nations has no authority to intervene in matters which are within the domestic jurisdiction of any State” (The United Nations/ Repertoire of the practice of the Security Council).

To fully evaluate how effective the UN is at executing international peace and security in accordance to the principle in the charter, I will move on to the 2 case studies I have chosen – covered in the next paragraph.

3. Case Study I - NATO’s military operation against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia during the Kosovo war in 1999

Before I discuss the first of two case studies, it is important to mention that I chose these studies for two reasons:

If we look at cases from the position of the Security Council, we should highlight that the Security Council rejected humanitarian interventions in both cases. Nevertheless in case study I, intervention was carried out, but in case study II, intervention was not conducted.

When I have finished detailing both cases, I will be able to answer my research question more effectively, which is: "How effective is the United Nations Security Council at executing international peace?”

To carry out the research about my first case study, the book, Ethics of Humanitarian Interventions by Georg Meggle (Ed.) was helpful as well as the several official websites, which I will indicate in the next section.

3.1 A Brief history of NATO’s military operation in the Kosovo war

The Federal Republic of Yugoslavia was created on 27 April 1992, after the breakdown of the Social Republic of Yugoslavia, as a common country between the Republic of Serbia and the Republic of Montenegro. NATO’s military operation against Yugoslavia was conducted between 24th March and 10th June 1999. Originally it was planned to last only several days, and would involve a limited number of military targets, but it in fact lasted ceaselessly for 78 days. The official code name for the operation was Operation Allied Force, in the USA it is known as Operation Nobel Anvil, and in Serbia it is known by the name “Milosrdni andjeo” “Merciful Angel” (in English) or NATO aggression. It was NATO’s second air campaign in the region of former Yugoslavia; the first operation was in 1995 known as Operation Deliberate Force, located in Bosnia and Herzegovina with the purpose of eroding the military capability of the Bosnian Serb Army.

Kosovo was a southern region of the state of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, today known as Serbia. Citizens of Kosovo attempted for years to claim their independence from the state of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, but their independence was constantly denied. Therefore NATO pronounced that the conflict between the Albanians and the Serbs in Kosovo was becoming unmanageable. In order to better understand the situation in Kosovo before and after the NATO interventions, it’s essential to outline the proportion of Albanians and Serbs in that region. According to ECMI (European Centre for Minority Issue) the ethnic division of Kosovo was the following:


Excerpt out of 29 pages


The Challenge of Great Power Politics within the United Nations
University of Vienna
The United Nations
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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The United Nations, NATO, NATO bombing of Yugoslavia, Syria, The Security Council, Veto vote
Quote paper
Bernarda Ivankovic (Author), 2015, The Challenge of Great Power Politics within the United Nations, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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