The Security Council has primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security. Since the 1990s not only has the Security Council agreed to authorize humanitarian intervention, there have also been interventions without authorization from the Security Council such as the intervention in Northern Iraq, Somalia, Bosnia, Rwanda, Haiti, Yugoslavia/Kosovo and East Timor. These latter interventions have arisen as a result of a perception of the Security Council’s failure to act or ineffective action where there has been concern about the severe deprivation of human rights. For example, the failure of the UN to broker political peace in Somalia led to the US Operation Restore Hope in 1992, which for the first time in American history, saw American troops committed to a military operation for a cause completely unrelated to protecting their national interest. The operation’s goal was to open supply routes for food relief efforts and prepare the way for a UN peacekeeping force to preserve the security of these routes. The challenge, it seems, must be to leave open the option for humanitarian intervention in extreme cases of human suffering, where the reasons for action seem morally imperative and politically sound but the Security Council is unable to act, while at the same time to avoid jeopardising in a fundamental way the existing, hard-earned, international legal order, including the central role of the Security Council. ...
must be to leave open the option for humanitarian intervention in extreme cases of human suffering, where the reasons for action seem morally imperative and politically sound but the Security Council is unable to act, while at the same time to avoid jeopardising in a fundamental way the existing, hard-earned, international legal order, including the central role of the Security Council.1
The Security Council is bound by the Charter. However as the US has cogently argued the Charter is too narrow. It envisaged only those situations where a state might call on the help of the international community or where international peace was threatened. It did not take into account the situations observed since then in the killing fields of Cambodia, Rwanda and Srebrenica. In 2004, 10 years after the genocide in Rwanda, the Canadian Foreign Minister, Bill Graham was reported by the BBC to have said:
We lack the political will to achieve the necessary agreement on how to put in place the type of measures that will prevent a future Rwanda from happening2
Although the primary responsibility lies with the state, where a population is suffering serious harm, as a result of internal war, insurgency, repression or state failure, and the state in question is unwilling or unable to halt or avert it, the principle of non-intervention should lead to a larger principle, that of the international responsibility to protect3.
There are essentially 2 criticisms of the UN: its relevance and its structure. As can be seen from the US ignoring the UN over Iraq and the UN's admission of failing to act in time to the obvious threat in Rwanda, there are many reasons for questioning its relevance. Its structure goes back to 1945 where the victorious powers of World War II decided to stamp their