Crisis and Change at the United Nations: Non-Amendment Reform and Institutional Evolution

88 Pages Posted: 9 May 2024

See all articles by Oona A. Hathaway

Oona A. Hathaway

Yale University - Law School

Maggie Mills

Yale Law School

Heather Zimmerman

Yale Law School

Date Written: May 5, 2024


The Security Council's inaction in response to the wars in Gaza and Ukraine has once again put a spotlight on structural problems at the United Nations. Security Council paralysis-particularly the (mis)use of the veto power afforded to the permanent five (P5) members of the Council-has long prompted calls for reform. Yet the same veto power prevents nearly all of the efforts to reform the organization through the formal amendment process provided in the United Nations Charter. This Article argues that there is an alternative way forward: what we call "non-amendment-reform." Rather than seek formal amendments that are unlikely to survive the veto of the P5 members, advocates of change should support change through evolving interpretations of the Charter. Non-amendment reform can provide a way for the United Nations (U.N.) to act in the face of a veto threat. Indeed, thanks to an earlier non-amendment reform, the Uniting for Peace Resolution, paralysis of the Security Council during the wars in Gaza and Ukraine has not prevented the United Nations from acting. Although non-amendment reform has been overlooked by scholars, it has long been critical to the capacity of the U.N. to respond to crises. This Article demonstrates that a four-stage process-trigger, proposal, contestation leading to a new interpretation, and consolidation-has led to non-amendment reform at key moments throughout the U.N.'s history. Learning a lesson from the past, today's advocates of change should channel their efforts towards nonamendment reform to enable the U.N. to meet the challenges of the moment. This Article outlines four current opportunities to do just that.

Keywords: United Nations, Security Council, international law, veto, Gaza, Ukraine

JEL Classification: K33

Suggested Citation

Hathaway, Oona A. and Mills, Maggie and Zimmerman, Heather, Crisis and Change at the United Nations: Non-Amendment Reform and Institutional Evolution (May 5, 2024). Michigan Journal of International Law, 2025, Yale Law School, Public Law Research Paper Forthcoming, Available at SSRN:

Oona A. Hathaway (Contact Author)

Yale University - Law School ( email )

P.O. Box 208215
New Haven, CT 06520-8215
United States
203-432-4992 (Phone)
203-432-1107 (Fax)

Maggie Mills

Yale Law School ( email )

127 Wall Street
New Haven, CT 06510
United States

Heather Zimmerman

Yale Law School ( email )

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