Side-Lining Subsidiarity in Collective Security

22 Pages Posted: 30 Jun 2014

See all articles by Isobel Roele

Isobel Roele

Queen Mary, University of London

Date Written: June 23, 2014


The UN Security Council's 'quasi-legislative' activity in the field of chemical, nuclear and biological weapon proliferation was both challenged and legitimated using the logic of subsidiarity. Non Security Council member states were worried that the unrepresentative, opaque and selective Council was attempting to govern their domestic spheres. In response assurances were given by the sponsors of resolution 1540 (2004) that a) the implementation strategy would involve the tools of development such as capacity building and technical assistance and not the tools of enforcement such as sanctions and military intervention and that b) individual states retained a broad latitude of interpreting their obligations in the process of implementation.

This paper disrupts this reading of the quasi-legislative resolution 1540 (2004) by viewing it through the lens of Michel Foucault's concept of disciplinary power. This lens reveals that since resolution 1977 (2011) the 1540 Committee charged with facilitating the implementation of the resolution has significantly strengthened its use of disciplinary practices, tactics and mechanisms of prescription, surveillance and correction. The paper argues that below the level of formal state consent and binding norms, individual states' latitude to interpret their obligations is systematically and continually diminished. While most nations are in a position to resist such disciplinary power relations, states which lack capacity either in terms of resources or savoir faire are not. This has serious implications for both the principle of sovereign equality among nations and for the democratic self-authorship of the citizens of developing countries.

Keywords: Foucault, disciplinary power, United Nations, Security Council, collective security, quasi-legislation, non-proliferation

Suggested Citation

Roele, Isobel, Side-Lining Subsidiarity in Collective Security (June 23, 2014). Available at SSRN: or

Isobel Roele (Contact Author)

Queen Mary, University of London ( email )

Lincoln's Inn Fields
Mile End Rd.
London, E1 4NS
United Kingdom

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