9.5.2 A Rules-Based UN

(This is a current page, from the Patterns of Power Edition 3 book contents.  An archived copy of this page is held at http://www.patternsofpower.org/edition03/952.htm)

The UN would have more credibility and legitimacy if it relied more on predefined law and less on politicians making decisions; national politicians always prioritise short-term national interests (  The dynamic decision-making of the UN – where the Security Council acts as legislature, judge and enforcer – is also unsound from a legal perspective.  It needs a clear separation of powers, similar to national law (5.2.8), which might be implemented as illustrated below:

The UN Security Council could act as the executive under a separation of powers, but it needs to be more clearly representative of the world’s population ( institutions would need to be strengthened for this concept to be workable.

  • Vetoes are currently being misused.  They are the antithesis of inclusive negotiation and should only be applicable in a few tightly-specified situations.  One option is to require two vetoes to block a resolution.  This would prevent Russia from shielding Syria, for example, and also prevent America from shielding Israel (7.4.4).
  • Security Council members who defy the UN should be accountable. Perhaps they should lose their seats for a period, say from 6 months to 5 years, depending upon the seriousness of the breach.  The International Court of Justice might be an appropriate body to determine the sentence.
  • There is already enough international law to form the basis of a legal framework, but it is insufficient ( It is suggested here that the UN Security Council could make requests for legislation as and when it can agree upon them.
  • The UN General Assembly could act as a legislature to make new laws, perhaps using voting rules which would allow countries’ votes to be partially weighted for population size.
  • Approved legislation would need to clarify the rules on aggression against other countries, and violations of “baseline” human rights, so that politicians know the rules before they commit crimes.
  • International courts ( are the appropriate bodies to decide whether the rules have been breached or not and agreeing whether proposed enforcement actions are appropriate. The International Criminal Court (ICC) was formed for that purpose, so supporting it is a priority.  There is also scope for increased use of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) for arbitration on territorial disputes (7.3.1) and on cross-border legal issues (5.3.4).
  • Any member of the UN Security Council should be able, without needing the agreement of other members, to refer cases to the existing ICC Prosecutor’s Office.[1]
  • Decisions to prosecute should be based on legal considerations rather than political bargaining. The ICC can determine whether it has to act or whether national courts can deal with an issue.
  • As with other courts, if the case is proven the court would decide upon an appropriate sentence – which for an international court might mean authorising the punishment of individuals or, in some cases, military intervention.
  • As at present, the UN Security Council would have to decide what enforcement resources to use – e.g. Interpol, NATO, Russia, China, the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), or national forces.  It is also part of the Executive’s enforcement role to agree measures for crime prevention.

This proposal differs from the current process mainly in that decisions to proceed on breaches of security would be taken by the ICC, not by the UN Security Council.  Enforcement of ICC decisions would be guaranteed, so that would-be law-breakers cannot try and play one Security Council member off against another – as Saddam Hussein did for so long.[2]

This framework of international law would need increased funding, which would have to be negotiated with all the countries concerned, but this would be more than offset by savings in national defence budgets.  It might also be desirable to reimburse the enforcers for the costs they incur, which would further increase the required funding but would enable costs to be shared more equitably than at present.

© PatternsofPower.org, 2014



[1] The ICC Prosecutor’s Office website was available in April 2018 at https://www.icc-cpi.int/about/otp  .

[2] Tony Blair gave a history of Iraq’s game of cat and mouse with the UN at the start of his speech in the Parliamentary debate on the decision to invade Iraq, on 18 March 2003.  The Hansard record of his speech was available in April 2018 at http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200203/cmhansrd/vo030318/debtext/30318-06.htm (columns 761-763).