The Security Council and the Great Powers
This is a pre-print version of a chapter published in V. Lowe et al (eds), The United Nations Security Council and War, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008, 133-153
25 Pages Posted: 25 May 2014
Date Written: May 22, 2008
This chapter seeks to shed light on the relationship between the UN Security Council and its permanent members, the great powers. It looks, in particular, into how instrumental and constraining roles are connected: into how using the Council as a tool requires accepting significant (and perhaps increasing) constraints and over time also leads to limits on acting outside the Council framework. The chapter begins by sketching how the exceptionally dominant institutional position of the great powers in the Council has been established, defended and informally even extended over the last decades (section I). It then turns to the limits on instrumentalizing the Council that can be observed in its practice (II). In a third step, it asks why the great powers are willing to accept these constraints and thus outlines the benefits great powers derive from using the Council, as compared to action outside the Council framework (III). All this necessarily remains sketchy, but it may at least provide some glimpses into the dynamic interplay between the power-reinforcing and power-limiting characteristics of international institutions.
Keywords: United Nations; Security Council; great powers; hegemony; international institutions
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