Security Council and Conflict Resolution

The Security Council is authorized by the United Nations Charter to intervene in domestic wars when they threaten, or their continuation is likely to threaten, the maintenance of international peace and security. Its main goals include curbing the flow of weaponry, fighting organized crime, and drastically lowering all types of violence globally. Twenty-seven of the forty-four civil wars between 1989 and 2006 were the subject of 617 Security Council resolutions. These resolutions made 1,988 demands to feuding factions. Throughout this time, the Council's procedures significantly changed. In the first eighteen years after the end of the Cold War, the Security Council fundamentally altered how it applied its responsibility to uphold international peace and security to cases of internal conflict.

The Security Council switched from a position of disengagement from civil wars to one of engagement between 1989 and 2006. When it did intervene, the Security Council did not just work to stop hostilities; instead, it took more active steps to persuade the parties to civil wars to come to agreements on political and governmental structures that would ensure peace and avoid a resurgence of hostilities. However, the development of the Council's practice over time was different.

Security Council's Role in Conflict Resolution

The United Nations Security Council is the organization's primary organ for ensuring international peace and security. The Council operates under the "collective security" idea. This notion considers a state's aggression against another state to constitute an attack on all UN member states. It authorizes the Security Council to take action against the aggressor only if five of its permanent members (all major powers) - the United States, the Soviet Union, France, China, and the United Kingdom - agree. These are known as the P5 states. Any negative vote (known as a veto) will prevent such action. Any veto will put an end to the notion of collective security. During the Cold War, the Council was paralyzed by the frequent exercise of veto power (1945-1991).

To ensure some action in the event of a veto by one of the P5, the General Assembly (GA) passed the "Uniting for Peace" Resolution during the Korean War in 1950. If the Security Council's plans were vetoed, the General Assembly might convene within 24 hours to decide what action to take, including military involvement if required. In such instances, the Assembly would require a two-thirds majority to decide. Again, this new norm was not put into the UN Charter. The USSR, who had more vetoes than any of the P5 members, consistently maintained that a Security Council veto should precede a General Assembly resolution. Nonetheless, the Assembly behaved this way on several occasions, rejecting Soviet Union opposition.

The Security Council altered its approach to resolving civil wars while simultaneously increasing the scope of its engagement with such conflicts. It increased its willingness to make complex sets of demands of the parties to a conflict between 1989 and 2006. Compared to the early 1990s, the Council was adopting fewer—yet more complicated—resolutions by 2006. The average number of specific demands made to civil war parties in each resolution grew by six times between 1989 and 2006. After 1993, the Security Council approved more resolutions dealing with governance challenges in nations experiencing or recovering from civil war than resolutions addressing the military actions of the conflict parties.

The Security Council's demands to civil war parties shifted to include questions of governance and internal political relations at the same time that it became more involved in the post-conflict stage of peace efforts. It issued 96% of all demands to civil war parties before a conflict was resolved immediately after the Cold War. Nearly half of these demands were being made in post-conflict contexts by the middle of the 2000s.

Responsibilities of the Security Council under the United Nations Charter

By approving a resolution, the Security Council establishes a peace operation. Both the purpose and scope of that mission are specified in the resolution. The Security Council regularly reviews the progress of UN peace operations, partly through reports from the Secretary-General that are issued regularly and partly through special Security Council meetings that are held to evaluate the progress of particular operations.

The Security Council may approve mission mandates for extension, modification, or termination. All UN members commit to accept and implement Security Council decisions under Article 25 of the Charter. The UN Council is the only body with authority to adopt decisions that Member States must implement, whereas other UN bodies can only make recommendations to Member States.

Security Council Strategies and Tools for Civil War and Conflict Resolution

The Security Council has created a wide range of civil war response tactics since the conclusion of the Cold War. The Council eventually modified its toolkit to match the unique circumstances of civil conflicts by borrowing from and expanding upon its prior experience in interstate battles. The Security Council has continuously worked to support developing peace initiatives, particularly by accepting most of its demands within the framework of continuing peace negotiations between the parties to the conflict. Nearly half of the requests made of civil war participants in Security Council resolutions asked them to behave following a course of action to which they had already formally agreed in peace agreements.

Monitoring the adherence to its requests by civil war participants was one of the duties regularly carried out by peace operations. The Security Council also delegated authority to other institutions, including other international organizations, to oversee their behavior.

As it works to establish, maintain, and advance peace in nations with ongoing civil war, the Security Council must overcome various shifting obstacles. In addition to climate change creating new societal pressures that could spark armed conflict, the Security Council is increasingly confronted by new conflict drivers, including organized crime's growing ties to civil unrest in places like Haiti, West Africa, and Afghanistan. For the Security Council's future efforts to handle the issues that lie ahead, it will be essential to have a clear grasp of the areas and ways in which it has been able to influence the behavior of conflict parties in the past.


The United Nations Security Council began to deliberately work towards resolving internal conflicts, which account for more than seven out of ten military conflicts since 1945, with the end of the Cold War. The Security Council gradually—yet significantly—changed how it carried out its responsibility under the United Nations Charter to uphold international peace and security during the first two decades following the Cold War.

Twenty-seven of the forty-four civil wars raged when the Council enacted 617 resolutions between 1989 and 2006. For the Security Council's efforts to be more successful and legitimate in addressing the problems ahead, it will be essential to comprehend where and how it has recently influenced conflict parties' behavior.

Updated on: 13-Mar-2023


Kickstart Your Career

Get certified by completing the course

Get Started