On the Relevancy of the Security Council

Ivo Daalder and Robert Kagan (who are informal foreign policy advisors to presidential hopefuls John McCain and Barack Obama, respectfully) team up in a Washington Post op-ed to argue for the irrelevancy of the Security Council. The council, says Kagan and Daalder, is too beset by competing national interests to suffice as the ultimate arbiter for authorizing humanitarian interventions. Rather, a “concert of democracies” should take on that role.

Matthew Yglesias offers an excellent retort, “to survey the wreckage in Iraq, and conclude that despite the lessons seen there we can’t defer to the UN…on the grounds that the UN might sometimes say no is very weak tea.”

Agreed. I would also add that contrary to popular perception, the Security Council frequently authorizes foreign military intervention on humanitarian grounds. We just don’t hear about them. In spring 2006, for example, when rioting in East Timor forced some 100,000 people to flee their homes, the Security Council authorized the rapid deployment of Australian troops to restore order. Similarly, in May 2000 when a fragile peace deal in Sierra Leone was on the verge of collapse, the council authorized a deployment of British Special Forces to fight off spoilers.

The fact is, not authorizing military intervention is the exception to the rule at the Security Council. The debates over Iraq and Kosovo are the only two instances over the last eight years in which the Council failed to authorize the use of force when one or more of the P-5 democracies wanted it to. There are eighteen other examples to the contrary. (I would not lump Darfur in the “failure to act” category because no member state has recommended that the council permit a multi-national force to invade Sudan on behalf of the Darfuris. Also, the council first authorized a traditional peacekeeping mission there one year ago.)

Foreign troops are helping to keep the peace in the most forlorn stretches of the globe today precisely because the Security Council is willing and able to act. From 1998 to 2003 some four million people are thought to have perished as a result of war in the Congo. Thanks to Security Council’s deployment of some 18,000 troops there, the fighting has largely subsided.

My point is, the perception that that the Security Council is too overcome with competing national interests to permit humanitarian intervention is not in tune with reality.