Global Policy Forum

The Security Council and the Rule of Law


Review by James A. Paul

Reviewed 1996

Mohammed Bedjaoui, President of the World Court, has written an important book called The New World Order and the Security Council (Dordrecht, 1994). He shows that the Security Council has interpreted its powers as being above the law -- that is beyond any system of legal limits. Whatever the Security Council does is, according to the council's own view, legal. Surprising as this may seem to most people -- accustomed to legal limits imposed on governments by constitutional law or international law -- Bedjaoui makes it absolutely clear that the Security Council rejects any legal limits on its powers. He makes his point through extensive and rather chilling quotation from leading political figures and from council debates and decisions.

The book opens with a blunt statement in US Secretary of State John Foster Dulles' memoirs War or Peace (1950). Dulles wrote: "The Security Council is not a body that merely enforces agreed law. It is a law unto itself." Dulles goes on to say, "No principles of law are laid down to guide it; it can decide in accordance with what it thinks is expedient."

Bedjaoui asks whether the Security Council should be allowed to operate without any respect of the provisions of the UN Charter or the rules and principles of international law. He points out that this issue was debated at the time of the founding of the UN and has been raised in many other controversies since. He thinks the issue has become even more urgent since 1990, in light of the council's increased activity and its great number of resolutions, sanctions and other forceful measures in the international system.

Bedjaoui argues finally that a kind of judicial review of the Security Council's acts could be undertaken by the World Court. He also discusses the value of limits on the Council being imposed by the General Assembly.

This tome contains a fairly brief main text -- clear and well-argued -- supplemented by a large bibliography and nearly four hundred pages of documents. The Non-Elected ("Permanent") Members of the Security Council are firmly opposed to Bedjaoui's views, but a majority of UN member states favor his ideas, as do many practitioners and theorists of international law. Anyone interested in the Security Council should read this important work.




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