A new Cold War? Not judging by the Security Council

The Security Council chamber (UN Photo)

The Security Council chamber (UN Photo)

By David Bosco

Earlier this month, the UN’s Department of Political affairs put out a survey of Security Council activity in 2014. The report contains several interesting nuggets, but the most consequential might be evidence that the Council’s activity levels increased actually last year, at least as measured by meetings and resolutions. Even as relations between Western members and Russia, in particular, have soured, the Council has kept up a healthy pace.

The Council met a combined 430 times during the year, the most since 2010. It passed 63 resolutions, the highest total since 2011. (Just over half of these resolutions employed Chapter VII of the Charter.) Permanent members employed only two vetoes (related to Syria and Ukraine) during the year, and the vast majority of resolutions passed unanimously. Those two nyets (both involving Russia) ended a year long run without vetoes, but the total was not a departure from post-1990 trends; there were two or more vetoes in 2012, 2011, 2006, 2004, and 2003. During the year, the Council authorized one new peacekeeping mission–in the Central African Republic–and tweaked the mandates and structure of several others. Per usual, Africa dominated the Council’s agenda; more than 50 percent of meetings were devoted to issues on that continent.

The Ukraine crisis, tension over Syria, and jostling between China and others in East Asia has produced plenty of speculation that a new Cold War (or multiple Cold Wars) are brewing. The real Cold War had a dramatic impact on the Council; vetoes were frequent and the Council’s activities were severely constrained. If current activity levels are a meaningful indicator, tensions are nowhere near that level. For all their differences, the P5 have maintained cooperation on a wide range of security issues. The enormous increase in Council activity that the end of the Cold War prompted continues, with no sign that it will end anytime soon.

About David Bosco

Assistant Professor at American University's School of International Service. Contributing editor at Foreign Policy magazine. Author of Rough Justice: The International Criminal Court in a World of Power Politics and Five to Rule Them All: The UN Security Council and the Making of the Modern World
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