When the UN was founded, the threats to peace and security were seen primarily as military conflicts between states. Today, almost 70 years later, the concept of peace and security has gained a wider meaning. Civil wars and ethnic conflicts within states have become more common. Nor is it purely military conflicts that are considered threats to international security.
Environmental disasters, poverty, overpopulation, famine, serious diseases and serious human rights violations have increasingly been recognized as threats to world security and stability. Organized crime and terrorism have grown in scope over the past decade. Not least after the terrorist attack on the United States on September 11, 2001, the countries of the world have opened their eyes to terrorism as a threat to peace and security.
To prevent and resolve conflicts
According to the UN Charter as listed on beautyphoon, conflicts between states must primarily be resolved by peaceful means. As long as a conflict is not considered to threaten international peace and security, the Security Council can only propose solutions and encourage the disputants to seek peaceful reconciliation. Chapter VI of the Charter provides a number of examples of how this reconciliation can take place, for example, an investigation can be carried out to obtain facts in the case or an independent party, often the Secretary-General or someone appointed by him, can try to mediate.
The Secretary-General may himself, or on behalf of the Security Council or the General Assembly, offer his services as a neutral party to a dispute. The Secretary-General has often appointed special representatives who have been sent to hotspots.
Both member states and UN staff emphasize the importance of strengthening the UN’s work to prevent conflicts. The organization has traditionally acted only when a conflict has worsened and the parties have resorted to violence. But since the early 1990’s, the Secretary-General has been actively working to try to find strategies for how the UN can intervene more early and prevent the outbreak of armed conflict.
The fight against poverty, illiteracy, overpopulation, environmental problems and various forms of oppression have increasingly come to the fore as an opportunity to deeply prevent conflicts by tackling their causes. Efforts to promote the building of democracy, protection of human rights and a functioning judiciary can also prevent conflicts.
If a state violates the UN Charter’s ban on the use of force by invading another state, the collective security system enters. This means that all member states must come to the rescue of the affected country. The system will thus deter states from attacking each other. However, according to Article 51 of the UN Charter, a Member State may use military force in self-defense until the Security Council has intervened. This article also approves that several countries act in so-called collective self-defense, for example through military defense alliances such as NATO.
The Security Council may decide on coercive measures in accordance with Chapter VII of the Charter, if a situation is considered to threaten international peace and security. There are two forms of coercive measures: non-military and military. Decisions based on Chapter VII are binding on UN member states.
An important principle of the UN Charter concerns the sovereignty of the Member States. The UN or individual member states shall not interfere in a country’s internal affairs unless the country in question has given its approval. However, this principle of non-intervention can be set aside if a situation is considered to threaten international peace and security.
In recent decades, the principle has become increasingly relaxed. So-called humanitarian interventions have been implemented within states to protect civilians (Kosovo and East Timor 1999) and to ensure that humanitarian aid can reach those in need (Somalia 1992).
UN members agreed at the 2005 summit that there is an obligation for the states of the world to intervene to protect the people of a country from genocide, ethnic cleansing, war crimes and crimes against humanity. This in principle gave the go-ahead for the UN to intervene if those in power in a country have failed to protect, or even use force against, their own people. However, such intervention by military means requires the approval of the UN Security Council under Chapter VII.
A special UN office to provide advice and an early warning when it came to protecting a population and preventing genocide was set up a few years later.
During the 2000’s and 2010’s, however, the UN has repeatedly been criticized for not acting to protect civilians in difficult conflicts. This has not least been the case of the severe conflict in Sudan’s Darfur province in the twentieth century (see Sudan), when around 200,000 people were killed and two million displaced, and the civil war in Syria in the 2010’s (see Syria). In both cases, the Security Council has been paralyzed by opposition from China, and in the case of Syria, Russia.