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The insecurity engendered by the Security Council

By Stephen Cheleda - posted Friday, 19 September 2008

The Security Council’s primary responsibility is for the maintenance of international peace and security. It alone can determine the existence of any threat to peace, or act of aggression. So, the actions of any member of the Security Council, especially of its five Permanent Members, have an important influence on everyone’s security.

As part of the Charter of the United Nations, the Security Council was discussed at various stages before the end of World War II, and finally, it was looked at in great detail, at the conference in San Francisco in 1945 by 850 delegates (and their supporting staff) from 50 countries.

The Security Council, especially the veto powers conferred on it, were a contentious issue during that conference, and have been ever since. The smaller powers feared that when one of the “Big Five” menaced the peace, the Security Council would be powerless to act, while in the event of a clash between two states who are not members of the Security Council, the “Big Five” could act arbitrarily.


The smaller powers strove to have the power of the veto reduced. But the great powers (the USSR being the main instigator and most adamant on this issue at Yalta) insisted on this provision as vital. Eventually, the smaller powers conceded the point in the interests of setting up the world organisation. This and other vital issues were resolved only because every nation was determined to set up, if not the perfect international organisation, at least the best that could possibly be made.

The fears of the smaller powers at the San Francisco conference were vindicated. To the original misgivings could be added that any of the “Big Five” could act arbitrarily against lesser nations, or the “Big Five” are unable to act when a state is deliberately ill-treating its minorities.

The Permanent Members of the Security Council are the USA, Great Britain, France, Russia, and since 1971, The People’s Republic of China. (Previously, the Nationalist government in Taiwan represented China.)

Let us consider some examples of how the security of everyone is affected by the actions of the Permanent Members:

During the Suez crisis in 1956, two of the Permanent Members, France and Great Britain, contrived to invade the Suez canal-zone. The USA, and the USSR, viewed this action with alarm, and together with members of the General Council, halted the invasion. This brief conflict incurred considerable damage to the canal-zone, and to the Egyptians. It also emboldened the USSR to crush the popular uprising in Hungary in November 1956.

The Cuban missile crisis in 1962 when the USSR and the USA were engaged in a dangerous nuclear poker game, everyone was in suspense. The whole world was at the mercy of the two protagonists and their common sense.


In 1965 the USA got embroiled in Vietnam. The USA feared a “domino effect”, and persuaded some of the other nations to support its action. (The “domino effect” implied that if a small country should be allowed to fall to communism, than others would follow.) The Security Council had no say in what was happening in Vietnam because of the veto of the USA. The Vietnamese people suffered considerable hardship in opposing the formidable power of the USA. (Another Permanent Member, the USSR helped the Vietnamese.)

In 1968 the USSR invaded Czechoslovakia because they had the “temerity” in wanting to be independent of the Russian’s influence.

In 1979 the USSR sent troops to Afghanistan, ostensibly to bolster a communist regime there, but in reality, wanting to expand their influence and control. Another Permanent Member, the USA, opposed the invasion, and successfully helped some of the Afghan tribes to oust the Russians. Afghanistan had no chance ever since to develop a stable economy, as it has been caught up in seemingly unending turmoil.

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About the Author

Stephen Cheleda was born in Budapest in 1938 and has lived in the UK since December 1956. After working in industry, he became a teacher of Mathematics in 1971. Stephen did an MA in Peace Studies at the University of Bradford. He retired in 2003.

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