Within the UN, the end of the cold war has had its most immediate effect on the work of the Security Council. The Council has been able to make notable progress in peace-making and peace-keeping tasks which had languished during the cold war—for example, in Namibia, Afghanistan, the Iran–Iraq War, Cambodia, Central America, and Western Sahara. Now the Iraq–Kuwait crisis, to which the UN has made an unprecedentedly firm and united response, is putting to the test, as well as raising questions about, the concept of collective security itself.

The United Nations has so far not provided a system for peace and security so much as a last resort, or safety net. Sometimes it was able to mount a peace-keeping force as a kind of sheriff’s posse when things had already got out of hand. The question is whether, in the new international climate, the nations of the world are capable of the effort—and expenditure—to create and maintain a system based on vigilance, consensus, common interest, collective action, and international law. Ideally such a system would keep a permanent watch on international peace and security around the world, preempt or prevent conflict, mediate disputes, assure the protection of the weak, and deal authoritatively with aggressors or would-be aggressors.

This is a very large order. It requires, first of all, a return to the provisions of the UN Charter that were the distillation of the terrible lessons of the Second World War and of the events that led up to it, including the failure of the League of Nations.

But the creation of a reliable system for international peace and security involves more than reacting, however forcefully, to a crisis that has already happened. It requires both the creation of conditions in which peace can be maintained, and the capacity to anticipate and to prevent breaches of the peace. It requires respect for, confidence in, and, if necessary, the capacity to enforce, the decisions of the Security Council and the findings of international law. That respect and confidence were eroded in the forty years of the cold war, as has become very clear in Iraq’s response to the Security Council in the present crisis. It will take time and effort to restore respect and to make sure that confidence in the Security Council is shared by the UN members generally. Governments will also have to be prepared to support and put adequate resources behind both global and regional security systems. Peace-keeping, particularly, has until now had to be run on a shoestring.

Apart from dynamic diplomatic action, and an increasing effort to apply legal norms where these are relevant, two kinds of operational activities are required to give reality to the Security Council’s decisions. They are peace-keeping, which may be compared to the work of the police in a nation-state, and enforcement, which corresponds to the work of the military. Until recently, popular emphasis and interest lay mainly in peace-keeping, an original creation of the United Nations. The Iraq crisis has highlighted the necessity of also maintaining the capacity for enforcement and of linking the two activities.

Obviously the outcome of the Gulf crisis, whatever it is, will have an immense impact on the international system, and especially on the future of the Security Council and the UN. Even before we know that outcome, the crisis provides some useful lessons for the future.

Between August 2 and November 29, 1990, the Security Council adopted twelve resolutions on a variety of aspects of the Kuwait crisis. It imposed sanctions and an embargo, and finally authorized the use of force if Iraq did not comply with its resolutions by January 15, 1991. This decisiveness and sense of urgency were unique in the Council’s history.

Already on August 25, in Resolution 665, however, the Council, in asking states with maritime forces in the Gulf area to monitor shipping, had begun to depart from the letter of Chapter VII of the Charter (Action with Respect to Threats to the Peace, Breaches of the Peace and Acts of Aggression). Articles 46 and 47 clearly imply that enforcement measures under Chapter VII would be under the control of the Council and its Military Staff Committee (the Chiefs of Staff of the five permanent members), but no such control was provided for. On November 29, in Resolution 678, the Council went further down this divergent road in authorizing “member states cooperating with the Government of Kuwait…to use all necessary means”—i.e., the use of force—after January 15, 1991.

This tendency to diverge from the procedures of Article VII was inherent from the beginning of the crisis. While the Council acted quickly and forcefully in early August, it was not in a position to assure the security of other states in the region against possible Iraqi attack. Thus a parallel operation, under Article 51 of the Charter—which provides for the inherent right of individual or collective self-defense—and independent of Security Council decisions, was mounted under the leadership of the United States to protect Saudi Arabia. When this deployment of forces began it was the accepted wisdom among the Security Council members that sanctions and the embargo were to be the means of securing Iraq’s withdrawal from Kuwait, and that it might well be six months or longer before they began to have a serious impact on Iraq. Later, however, when the defensive buildup in Saudi Arabia was so great as to acquire offensive capacity—particularly after the decision of the US administration on November 9 to deploy larger numbers of American forces—it began to be said that sanctions were too slow, and that if Iraq did not speedily withdraw, force would have to be used to drive Iraq out of Kuwait. This tendency culminated in Resolution 678 of November 29, setting the January 15, 1991, deadline.


The wisdom of moving from a defensive action to an offensive buildup, with a stated deadline, as opposed to relying on sanctions for a longer period, will certainly remain a matter of debate. But there were practical reasons for the divergence from the course of action set out in the UN Charter. Forty years of cold war have meant, among many other things, that the steps outlined in the Charter for providing the Security Council with standby forces to enforce its decisions have never been taken. No agreements have been concluded with member states under Article 43 to make assistance and facilities available to the Council armed forces. The Military Staff Committee, which was to assist the Council in the application of armed force, has conducted purely token meetings throughout the cold war period, and, despite recent Soviet suggestions for its revival, it is still a largely inactive body.

The very idea of a United Nations command under the Security Council, though traditionally accepted for peace-keeping operations, was never seriously considered for enforcement operations in the Gulf. Suggestions that naval or military forces in the Gulf should come under the Security Council and the Military Staff Committee were apparently regarded as unrealistic or unacceptable by the main participants in the military build-up in Saudi Arabia—even though Article 47, Section 3 of the Charter states,

The Military Staff Committee shall be responsible under the Security Council for the strategic direction of any armed forces placed at the disposal of the Security Council.

These same powers apparently never considered the possibility that the Security Council should work out arrangements for the command of forces in the Gulf, as Article 47.3 also suggests. Although in Korea in 1950 the Security Council, during the brief absence of the Soviet Union, designated the United States as the Unified Command, the Council members evidently believed that in the Gulf the designation of a command structure by the Security Council, or even the discussion of such a thing, would impede the effectiveness of the operation.

The goal of Chapter VII is action short of force, if possible. The Charter therefore places an important condition on the ultimate use of force. Article 42 states,

Should the Security Council consider that measures provided for in Article 41 [sanctions] would be inadequate or have proved to be inadequate, it may take such action by air, sea or land forces as may be necessary to maintain or restore international peace and security.

No determination about the inadequacy of sanctions has ever been made by the Council.

On November 29, 1990, the Council authorized the use, after January 15, 1991, of “all necessary means” by “member states cooperating with the government of Kuwait” to enforce its previous decisions. The Council thus married the resolutions it had adopted on the Gulf crisis and the forces that were gathered in Saudi Arabia under Article 51, for a future enforcement action under the political and military leadership of the United States. A main, if unspoken, objective of the Council’s authorization of November 29 was, in legitimizing forceful action, to preserve the coalition represented by military contingents to Saudi Arabia. It remains to be seen how effectively this objective will be achieved if the war is long and becomes highly destructive.


In the Iraq–Kuwait case collective security has turned out to mean war on a large scale. In the present state of military technology, this is a sobering phenomenon which points urgently to the need to develop other effective methods for rolling back, or preferably preventing or preempting, aggression.

The Gulf crisis also raises many broad issues which are becoming a part of the wider concept of international security. These issues will have to be faced squarely if the present generation of international organizations is to evolve into a reliable and effective system of international security.

The most obvious of these broader issues is the urgent need for progress on arms control, on the flow of arms to sensitive regions, and on the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. With the world’s annual arms bill running at about one trillion dollars a year, and with vast accretions of the most sophisticated weapons in regions as volatile as the Middle East, and elsewhere, the sudden indignation in the West about Saddam Hussein’s buildup of arms seems, at best, naive. In fact several of the industrial nations now arrayed against him were his suppliers only months ago. Will the Gulf crisis be enough to put serious and urgent purpose into some of the most important objectives of the Charter—into multilateral arms control and restraint on the world trade in arms—as well as into regional security arrangements that provide equitable security for all states? If it does not, talk about a “new world order” will remain largely rhetorical.


The most vivid image of the Gulf crisis at the moment is the picture it conveys of the face of modern war. Perhaps what we are able to see on television is misleading, for it naturally concentrates the eye on the efficiency of the coalition’s tanks, infantry, aircraft, and sea power—which attest to the wonders of modern high technology. Because the cameras do not show what happens when the bombs and missiles fall, television gives a far less vivid idea of the range, horror, and destructiveness of missiles or bombs. Nor does television give much idea of the likely ecological, political, economic, social, or other consequences of an all-out war.

One of the consequences of World War II was the general conviction, reflected in the United Nations Charter, that disarmament was essential for a peaceful and stable world. Perhaps the Gulf War will serve to remind us of the need for arms control and the dangers of the proliferation and the flow of arms, especially to the more volatile regions of the world. The war also obviously points to the urgent need for far better considered, long-term, worldwide energy strategies, including the future of oil.

The Gulf crisis is a reminder, moreover, that throughout the world there are borders, largely a legacy of the age of colonialism, that are still controversial and may well be major sources of conflict in the years to come. This is particularly true in regions where the borders do not correspond to ethnic, economic, or social realities. The nature of this widespread problem must be an important element in our thinking about ways to strengthen and develop mechanisms for anticipating and mediating future threats to peace.

The persistent gulf between rich and poor is already being claimed, speciously, as one justification for Iraq’s aggression against Kuwait. It is undeniable, however, that widespread poverty, especially when juxtaposed with enormous wealth, is a breeding ground for extremist movements, instability, and conflict. Rapidly increasing migrations of people from poorer to richer economies are now a worldwide phenomenon, and an urgent problem for virtually all the successfully industrialized states. The political, social, and economic implications of these migrations are vast and have contributed a poignant element to the Gulf crisis. When the present conflict is over, the disparity between rich and poor, along with the pressures of an ever expanding population, will remain potentially our biggest and most explosive long term-problem.

With the collapse of Marxism there is a rush of nations to join the industrialized, so-called “North.” These include the Soviet Union, the countries of Eastern Europe, and, to some degree, China. In present circumstances, this can only mean a widening of the gulf between rich and poor. The residual “South,” holding more of the world’s population and with little immediate hope of overcoming poverty and despair, will command less and less attention. The new buzzword “marginalization” is unfortunately all too appropriate to these poorer parts of the world. The concentration of international attention on the Gulf crisis has tended to heighten this feeling of being marginal in many regions of the world.

The world’s population has doubled since 1945 and will probably double again in the next fifty years. In large parts of the developing world poverty is endemic and growing worse. A vast economic migration is pressing into the industrialized world. Matters are further complicated by more immediate global problems—natural disasters, drugs, mortal diseases such as AIDS, and terrorism.

Our technological precocity, moreover, combined with the population explosion, has inadvertently produced a terrifying assault on our natural environment, and for the first time in history the life-support system of the planet itself is threatened. Sustainable development, in the words of Gro Harlem Brundtland, chairman of the World Commission on Environment and Development, is “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” One of the most important questions of our time is whether sustainable development on a worldwide scale is attainable. That in turn will depend on our success in achieving a reasonable degree of international peace and security.

It is not only the end of the cold war, but the unusual clarity of the Iraqi aggression against Kuwait, that has made possible the speed and unanimity of Security Council action in the current crisis. Future challenges are unlikely to present such clear grounds for the Council’s action. It is therefore urgently necessary to consider what system of collective security will be best suited to the conflicts and forms of dangerous instability that are likely to arise in the future, especially since the removal of the constraints of the cold war.

We are entering a period of great instability, characterized by longstanding international rivalries and resentments, intense ethnic and religious turmoil, a vast flow of arms and military technology, domestic disintegration, poverty and deep economic inequities, instantaneous communication throughout the world, population pressures, natural and ecological disasters, the scarcity of vital resources, and huge movements of population.

In such a situation, no one nation, or even a partnership of two or three powerful nations, is going to be able to assume the role of world arbitrator and policeman, even if we suppose the other nations would accept it, which they are most unlikely to do. The United Nations, therefore, must be brought to maturity to take that role.

If we are to talk seriously of a “new world order,” the world’s disputes and conflicts should all be a concern of the United Nations, daunting as the prospect may seem. In the current crisis in the Gulf, we have seen the tremendous effort and resources required to mount a convincing response to just one situation of conflict, admittedly a particularly flagrant act of aggression in a particularly sensitive part of the world. A credible international security system, or “new world order,” will have to respond with appropriate collective action, through either regional or global organizations, to the vast range of disputes, threats to, or breaches of the peace, or even acts of aggression, which are likely to occur in the aftermath of the cold war. It is no longer acceptable that international action is taken only when a situation threatens the interests of the most powerful nations. Indeed this is one of the main criticisms now being made of the action in the Gulf. A system of international peace and security must be comprehensive and universal, and it must protect the interests of the weak as well as the strong. All nations should participate according to their means. Is this a dream, or is it practical and political common sense?

The basic principles of such a system are already set out in the Charter. Its necessary elements are also clear.

—The mechanism for political coordination and consultation among governments needs to be far more effective and inclusive than any previous arrangement. The Security Council, the General Assembly, the secretary-general, and the corps of permanent national representatives to the United Nations provide a working basis for such a mechanism. Their procedures and functioning will have to become far better informed, more active, more consistent, and more universal.

—If the word “security” is to acquire real significance, the UN must find a way to keep a continuing, systematic watch on destabilizing developments all over the world, socioeconomic as well as political and military. Special attention must be given to dangerous buildups of armaments beyond what Mr. Shevardnadze has called “criteria of defense sufficiency,” and to potential threats, especially to the weaker nations.

—Necessary action to anticipate, preempt, or correct dangerous situations should be taken as a matter of course by the Security Council. Again this should include a far more dynamic approach to the flow of arms and military technology, to proliferation and to means of regulating the sale and supply of arms.

—The mechanisms for carrying out the decisions of the Security Council need to be developed and made more systematic. These include:

Pacific Settlement (sometimes called peace-making), including mediation, concerted diplomatic activity, conciliation, good offices, etc., and legal recourse on matters of a justiciable nature. Here the secretary-general and his senior colleagues should continue to play a central role. The International Court of Justice should be used more often and more imaginatively. (It might have considered, for example, some of the matters in dispute between Kuwait and Iraq.) The activities of regional arrangements and agencies should be strengthened, and coordinated with the work of the Security Council. (The Arab League might have shared its preoccupations over tension between Iraq and Kuwait with the Security Council.)

Conflict Control (sometimes called peace-keeping). The methods, the financing, and the logistical support for peace-keeping all need to be much strengthened. Training in peace-keeping should be incorporated into military establishments throughout the world as part of their regular responsibilities. More countries should create standby units available for international service. Different methods of financing peace-keeping forces—including subventions by large multinational corporations and other interests that benefit from peace-keeping—should be urgently studied. Peace-keeping units should be regarded not as an abnormal expense but as a routine and indispensable feature of the “new world order.” They should be deployed in dangerous areas, if possible in advance of crisis. (Iraq’s claims on Kuwait and Saddam Hussein’s propensity for invading his neighbors had been well known for many years. Some international peace-keeping presence on the Kuwait–Iraq border would at least have served as a warning and a tripwire.)

Enforcement Capacity and Collective Security. Although Chapter VII was originally considered to be the most innovative part of the Charter, largely because of the effects of the cold war less attention has been given to its implementation than to any other part of the Charter. This has become glaringly obvious during the Gulf crisis. The Security Council should be far better prepared to meet the next threat to the peace or act of aggression. There should be, among other things, far better analysis of how sanctions can be applied more effectively and what their impact is.

In case enforcement measures again become necessary, the Military Staff Committee of the Security Council should as soon as possible work out possible agreements both for the provision of forces under Article 43 of the Charter and for their strategic direction and command. The committee should be required to study and report on the extent to which the provision of forces under Article 43 is still a practical option in present conditions.

The Charter envisaged the gradual conversion of the existing military setup into a worldwide system of common and collective security. The Military Staff Committee was also supposed to advise and assist the Security Council on “the regulation of armaments, and possible disarmament” (Article 47.1), a task closely related to the basic task of conversion. The Military Staff Committee should now be instructed to embark on an extensive study of how to convert modern military technology, including the various means of deterrence, to the needs of an international system of common security in this highly unstable world.

The present composition of the Military Staff Committee is, to some extent, an anachronism. To achieve wider confidence and cooperation, the Security Council should invite other strategically and politically important states to take part in the MSC’s planning and work.

Unconventional Situations. There is a strong case for giving the Security Council more practical means to deal with terrorism, hostage-taking, and various forms of international blackmail. The Soviet Union has suggested a multidisciplinary expert group to advise in such cases, as well as a UN rapid-response force on the lines of the SAS or Delta force, and new norms of international law for the severest forms of terrorist threat.


The key to the effectiveness of a future system of peace and security will be the combination and interaction of all these elements. Thus the Security Council should be informed as a basis for action by a stronger UN mechanism that will keep a constant watch on threats to peace. (The tensions between Iraq and Kuwait in the summer of 1990 were exactly the kind of situation, in a sensitive part of the world, that should have been closely monitored by the Security Council.)

The Council should meet regularly to survey the condition of international peace and security throughout the world, not, as in the past, just to deal with particular crises or to react to a conflict which has already started. It should provide the center for a new process of continuous political and diplomatic consultation on the problems of regional and global security. Regional arrangements should be more closely linked to the Security Council, and should in principle (according to Article 52 of the Charter) be the first resort in regional disputes.

The aim in future should be to prevent as many disputes as possible from degenerating into actual violence. In places where the danger of conflict is imminent, such as parts of the Middle East today, the Council should deploy peace-keeping missions to report on the situation and try to contain it while diplomatic and pacific solutions are being sought. If these peace-keeping efforts fail, they should have the function of a tripwire which would set in motion, after suitable warnings, preplanned enforcement action under Chapter VII of the Charter. The actual existence, through the preparatory work of the Security Council and the MSC, of a system of enforcement or deterrence, and a general agreement that in certain prescribed circumstances enforcement measures would come into play, would provide a strong deterrent to aggression.

Such a system would be a giant step forward from the belated and improvised efforts to which the United Nations has so far been limited. It entails a new degree of commitment to the United Nations. It can only work if governments, especially the more powerful ones, genuinely accept, and cooperate in, the basic aim of converting both the present diplomatic and the military system into a system of common security. Governments, if they want the United Nations to be respected and taken seriously, will also have to respect its decisions and make decisions that can if necessary be enforced. Such changes in attitude would be the best practical test of a commitment to a “new world order.”

February 7, 1991

This Issue

March 7, 1991