Many argue that the United Nations Security Council has lost relevance because it has not been able to prevent member states from taking action on their own when there is not a mandate authorizing force. Doubts about the Council’s effectiveness resurface every time the institution fails to reach a consensus or deal successfully with a crisis (Somalia, Rwanda, Bosnia). However, major powers still choose to work through the Council before they attempt any other strategy. Why is that? Bosco argues that they seek the legitimacy provided by the Security Council’s resolutions. Malone adds to that the fact that the council provides a mechanism for burden-sharing of expenses and risks.
Bosco’s main examples of member states taking action without a mandate from the Security Council include the NATO intervention in Kosovo and the U.S. invasion of Iraq. In both cases the United States, seeking the legitimacy provided by a Security Council’s resolution, tried to work through that institution before proceeding on its own. Perhaps the Iraq case is the one that better illustrates Bosco’s point. The United States was already determined to invade Iraq before bringing the case to the Council. However, it wanted as much domestic and international support as it could get, and the best way to do it was to get the support of the Security Council. Britain was on the same page. When it was clear that France was going to veto the military action, American and British diplomats started an intense campaign to get the votes of the non-permanent states. “Nine votes in favor of authorizing war stopped by a French veto would give Washington and London a ‘moral victory’.”
In both the Kosovo and Iraq cases, the United States sought to retroactively legitimize its actions through the Security Council. Bosco argues that the U.S. wanted to confer international legitimacy and legality to the missions. After invading Iraq, Secretary Powell worked through diplomatic channels to get a new council resolution, which ended recognizing the troops occupying Iraq as the temporary authority and a key player in the establishment of a new Iraqi government. Malone argues that the U.S. also sought the legitimacy from the Security Council to get international company for its policies and initiatives. The U.S. realized that with the legitimate recognition from the Security Council also came a mechanism to burden-share the expenses and risks of the mission in Iraq.
These examples show that the legitimacy provided by the Security Council is still relevant for the major powers. It may not always prevent them for taking action on their own, but it certainly encourages them to work through the Security Council to get more support both domestically and internationally. As Bosco argues, many Europeans view the Security Council approval as a prerequisite to the legitimate use of force. This was in Blair’s mind when he insisted that the United States seek additional resolutions from the council before the invasion of Iraq. After the United States’ traumatic experience there, major European leaders reaffirmed their view that the use of force without the Council’s authorization is unacceptable and unwise.
The Security Council is far from being a perfect institution and has serious limitations to solve the world’s problems. However, as Bosco argues, it remains relevant because it provides a space where the major powers can meet routinely and have institutionalized consultation and cooperation. In addition to that, it gives them the incentives of legitimacy and burden-sharing. The fact that the powerful countries send their best diplomats to the Security Council shows their interest to continue working through this institution.