The Legalizing and Legitimizing Function of UN General Assembly Resolutions

AJIL Unbound, 18 July 2014

Bonn Research Papers on Public International Law No 8/2014

10 Pages Posted: 14 Oct 2014

See all articles by Stefan A. G. Talmon

Stefan A. G. Talmon

University of Bonn, Institute of Public International Law

Date Written: October 14, 2014


Larry Johnson recently called for more thought to be given to "innovative and inventive non-use of force measures which the UN General Assembly could employ in situations where the Security Council has been blocked". This paper considers the possible impact of such resolutions given the limits of the General Assembly’s powers. It questions whether resolutions recommending non-use of force collective measures could have any permissive effect and, in particular, whether they can legally justify measures by Member States that would otherwise be contrary to international law.

After exploring several possible legal justifications, it concludes that collective measures recommended by the General Assembly are limited by the existing treaty and customary international law obligations of Member States. General Assembly resolutions cannot legalize conduct that is otherwise illegal.

The paper further suggests that the legitimizing function of General Assembly resolutions should not be overestimated. The weight or force of a resolution will depend on the circumstances of its adoption, including the number of States voting for its adoption. It also concludes that even if a resolution has a legitimizing function, the justification of a measure as being "illegal but legitimate" must be seen as deeply troubling and totally unsatisfactory.

Keywords: United Nations, General Assembly, Resolutions, Uniting for Peace Resolution

Suggested Citation

Talmon, Stefan A. G., The Legalizing and Legitimizing Function of UN General Assembly Resolutions (October 14, 2014). AJIL Unbound, 18 July 2014. Available at SSRN: or

Stefan A. G. Talmon (Contact Author)

University of Bonn, Institute of Public International Law ( email )

Adenauerallee 24-42
D-53113 Bonn

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