"The Security Council Is All Talk and No Action."
Not true. The 15-member U.N. Security Council (UNSC) that has responsibility for maintaining international peace and security has actually been very busy lately. In the last 20 years, its five permanent and 10 rotating members have authorized more than a dozen peacekeeping missions, imposed sanctions or arms embargoes on 10 states, and created several war crimes tribunals to prosecute those responsible for genocide and crimes against humanity, including sittings heads of state. That makes the UNSC particularly important in desperate corners of the world -- think Darfur and the Democratic Republic of the Congo -- where blue helmets, U.N. mediators, and humanitarian aid convoys help shape realities on the ground. And while some recent council decisions, including the deployment of peacekeepers to Sudan and the imposition of sanctions on North Korea, took months of debate to sort out, the UNSC moves at a much quicker clip today than it did during most of the Cold War, when animosity between the superpowers often crippled any hope of compromise. In comparison, the Security Council has been a beehive of activity since Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in 1990.
True, plenty of the council's frenetic efforts have required tortuous negotiation, but as it turns out, talk is an important aspect of what the council does. Achieving consensus among the council's five veto-wielding permanent members -- the United States, Britain, France, Russia, and China -- is rarely easy. Each power has a unique set of interests and relationships that it seeks to protect. Even when the permanent five (P5) members can agree, they have to convince at least four of the elected council members in order to take formal action. Frustrating though it can be, that process -- of the major powers talking to each other day after day -- is one of the council's principal contributions to international stability. Through sheer repetition, the Security Council has instilled a culture of great-power consultation and compromise that may be as important to international peace as any peacekeeping mission, sanctions regime, or war crimes investigation.