The Security Council's Crisis of Legitimacy and the Use of Force

Nicholas Wheeler

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The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) is at the heart of the world's collective security system. It is upon this body that rests 'primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security' (UN Charter, Article 24). In this article, we examine the current debate regarding the legitimacy crisis facing the UNSC. We consider its most usual manifestation, namely that the Council faces a crisis of legitimacy because of its inability to constrain the unilaterally inclined hegemonic United States. But we also examine the converse argument that it is the whole UN collective security mechanism (rather than just the Council) that is in crisis. According to this, it is the failure to recognize the unique dangers immanent within the contemporary security environment and the inability of the UN security system to tackle these which is the cause of the current crisis of legitimacy. International society, this position continues, must acknowledge these, and vest in the hegemon the powers it requires in order to meet its global responsibilities. Acknowledging the implications of both of these positions, we argue that the resolution of the current crisis of legitimacy is to be achieved through a more expansive interpretation of the Security Council's extant powers, accompanied by a commitment on the part of the United States to reinvest in the multilateral machinery upon which global order is founded.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)214–231
JournalInternational Politics
Publication statusPublished - 2007


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