When Can Nations Go to War - Politics and Change in the UN Security System Academic Article uri icon


  • We found that the post-World War II international security system as provided for in the United Nations Charter has adapted to a variety of new tasks, but that it remains incomplete. We discovered that the UN Charter system as a means to restrain the use of force has perhaps developed more fully than the Charter system's ability to authorize and to enable states to use force in situations other than a clear cross border invasion of a member state. At the same time, we recognized that the existence of an international institution like the United Nations has fundamentally changed the character of international politics in two ways. First, the fact that international institutions are based on assumptions of sovereign equality affects the relative power of states, thereby providing all states (whether small or large) both a voice and a part in the decision-making process. Second, after a half century, international institutions have emerged as new forms of political authority. Which side of the argument is right? Is it the side that argues the responsibility of power to act, if necessary unilaterally, to protect those who are being victimized? Or is it the side that argues that, however compelling the case, states today cannot act on the basis of their own conclusions and judgment without direct provocation or international authorization? And if the United States acts without Security Council authorization, does that spell the end of the nearly sixty-year-old UN security system? Are we reverting to the unregulated use of force as an instrument of state policy in existence prior to the advent of the League of Nations and the United Nations? We do not yet know, but each step taken outside of the UN framework, particularly by the most powerful member of the United Nations, raises a question about the ongoing relevance of that framework. How the question is answered, though, may be more significant in determining the UN's future than what the answer is.

author list (cited authors)

  • Ku, C.

publication date

  • January 1, 2003 11:11 AM