But the U.N. can pass binding resolutions . . .
More fascinating details of my boring interests . . .
In a previous post on international law in which I talked about Joseph Nye's classic political-science text, Understanding International Conflicts: An Introduction to Theory and History, I both quoted and noted.
Here's the quote:
[T]here is an oddity about the General Assembly that makes states unwilling to have it pass binding legislation. U.N. General Assembly resolutions are just that: resolutions, not laws. (162)
Now for the note:
Interesting. This means that in ignoring a U.N. resolution, a state breaks no laws.
This 'note' wasn't quite correct. Let me explain. In further reading of Nye, I've come across this statement:
The [U.N.] Security Council is able to pass binding resolutions under Chapter VII of the [U.N.] Charter. (167)
Let's see what Chapter VII has to say. Here's the chapter title:
Action with Respect to Threats to the Peace, Breaches of the Peace, and Acts of Aggression
Sounds like serious business. And its first article shows that it is:
Article 39: The Security Council shall determine the existence of any threat to the peace, breach of the peace, or act of aggression and shall make recommendations, or decide what measures shall be taken in accordance with Articles 41 and 42, to maintain or restore international peace and security.
We need to look at these two articles:
Article 41: The Security Council may decide what measures not involving the use of armed force are to be employed to give effect to its decisions, and it may call upon the Members of the United Nations to apply such measures. These may include complete or partial interruption of economic relations and of rail, sea, air, postal, telegraphic, radio, and other means of communication, and the severance of diplomatic relations.
This means isolation. Serious, but it gets even more serious:
Article 42: Should the Security Council consider that measures provided for in Article 41 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. Such action may include demonstrations, blockade, and other operations by air, sea, or land forces of Members of the United Nations.
The "other operations" can mean war, and this threat of war is what backs up the Security Council's resolutions and gives them the force of international law.
So, it's not true that the U.N. cannot pass binding resolutions. It can do so, but only through the Security Council, not in the General Assembly.
But as Nye points out:
The Security Council can be seen as a nineteenth-century balance of power concept integrated into the collective security framework of the U.N. (167)
This is the hard-power reality behind the U.N.'s soft-power aura, and it's grounded in balance-of-power Realpolitik.
Thus, as noted above, U.N. Security resolutions have the force of law. But do they have the status of law?
They have this status because the states belonging to the U.N. have all signed the U.N. Charter, which is (I assume) equivalent to signing an international treaty. Every U.N. Security Council resolution thus is legally binding on members of the U.N., has legitimacy derived from the generally recognized legitimacy of the U.N., and has the force to back its legitimate, legal demand.