THE Security Council is the organ of the United Nations primarily responsible for the maintenance of international peace. Its very name suggests the question which comes first to the minds of Americans as they examine the structure and the potentialities of this new international body: to what extent does it in fact promise "security"? In the new world now being disclosed by science to our startled gaze, the word has a vastly expanded connotation. Security for the United States no longer merely implies a set of circumstances in which we would probably be able to defeat an enemy in the event of war. To our minds today it has significance chiefly in so far as it promises freedom from war -- freedom from the necessity of wielding the terrible two-edged weapons of modern scientific destruction. Security is no longer a static concept. It is the most dynamic idea in the world; it is now synonymous with life itself.

What will be the immediate threats to our national security when the enemies we have now beaten have been disarmed? There will be two: the possibility of a resurgence of Germany or Japan; and the possibility of a breach of unity among the three greatest Powers, the United States, the Soviet Union and Great Britain. Obviously, the problems presented by these two dangers are intimately related. The result might in either case be the establishment of hegemony over Europe by a Power hostile to us, so that it might be impossible for us to have normal political, economic and social relations with any European nation. A similar result is possible in eastern Asia. East or west, a closed continent would be a signal that war was likely.

The most significant political facts of the new world emerging from this global war are that there are just three Powers of the first magnitude and that there are no irreconcilable factors in their relations. All three are located outside western continental Europe (for centuries the center of world power), and none is directly contiguous to Germany or Japan. Moreover, their industrial areas are widely separated from each other. If none of the three seeks to extend its "security zone" immoderately; if the strategic interests of each are clarified and mutually recognized; if they consult with one another on all matters affecting the security of any one of the three; and if they then proceed to act jointly in the solution of such issues as may arise, they can keep peace anywhere in the world. The conditions indicate the scope of the political problem.

France and China, the other two of the so-called Big Five, are today essentially regional Powers. France, of course, has important interests outside of Europe; but her influence, like that of China, is not strictly world-wide. It is to be hoped that the respective policies of France and China will be directed not only toward the continued disarmament of Germany and Japan, but also toward strengthening the forces in Europe and Asia which are opposed to expansion. In such event their efforts will be harmonious with those of the Big Three.

Since the Moscow Declaration in October 1943, it has been acknowledged more and more generally that "the fundamentals of our future security are essentially political rather than military." [i] Every strategic concept is being altered by the dramatic technological revolution. Future wars will be increasingly waged between laboratories and factories; and the control of these will be less strictly military and more in the hands of statesmen. The principal political problem will be whether the major Powers will continue to collaborate in the discharge of their joint responsibility. It is necessary for us to consider first, then, how the Security Council can help to promote such collaboration.

We should note that for the present the control of the enemy states will be handled outside the Council.[ii] The Charter makes specific provision for this. There certainly will be a considerable period of military occupation of Germany and Japan by forces assigned by agreement among the three Powers. The declared purposes are to bring about the disarmament and demilitarization of those countries and the elimination or control of all industry which they could use hereafter for military production. As foreshadowed in the Cairo Declaration and the Potsdam Report, there will also be territorial adjustments. Whatever the precise final terms, it is hardly likely that Germany and Japan will be able for the next few years to threaten the peace of the world by their own arms. Probably the crucial period in which Germany might make a new bid for hegemony in Europe would be around 1960. In the Orient, the test of our controls over Japan may well come later.

The responsibilities which the Security Council may have with respect to the enemy states are left for exact determination at a later date. For the time being, the Axis states will not have the right of recourse to any of the United Nations organs. But before any of them is again in a position to threaten their neighbors and the rest of the world, we may hope that the Great Powers will have demonstrated their ability to work together. In such case it would seem logical to deal with the new threats through the Security Council.

Measures taken under the treaties against the Axis states already entered into by the Soviet Union and certain other Powers are likewise exempt for the present from the necessity of prior approval by the Security Council. The core of what might be called this secondary defense system is the Anglo-Soviet Pact of May 26, 1942. Similar treaties have been concluded by the Soviet Union with France, Czechoslovakia, Poland and Jugoslavia. They are designed for instantaneous operation when one of the parties becomes "involved in hostilities" with Germany or, in the case of the treaty between Russia and the United Kingdom, any of the states "associated with her [Germany] in acts of aggression in Europe."

The fact remains that when the Powers are consulting in pursuit of common objectives with respect to the enemy states, they will be following a course which will lead them directly to the Security Council, especially since defense pacts and the enforcement of surrender terms are the concern of all the United Nations. An early test of Great Power collaboration will thus lie in their handling of the enemy states. In the very act of dealing with the problems involved they will have the opportunity to set the Security Council on a firm footing.

In the following pages we shall examine, first, the principal executive functions of the Council and certain of the problems which will come before it; second, the question of military sanctions; and third, the relationship of the Great Powers to the middle and small states. Throughout, we shall center our attention on the development of the Council as a political instrument rather than as a police agency. Only its development in this direction can be expected to promote the international unity which is essential for the maintenance of an enduring peace.


The permanent members of the Security Council are China, France, Great Britain, the U.S.S.R. and the United States. Six other states will be elected for two-year terms by the General Assembly at its first session, due regard being paid to the contribution of members to the maintenance of peace and security "and to the other purposes of the Organization, and also to equitable geographical distribution." Later on, a retiring member will not be eligible for immediate reëlection.

The Charter directs the Council as soon as possible to negotiate agreements by which member states are to make available the armed forces, assistance and facilities, including rights of passage, necessary for the maintenance of peace and security. The Council will also be responsible for formulating plans to be submitted to the members of the United Nations for the regulation of armaments. Another responsibility, and one which the Council may have to assume shortly after the Charter comes into force, will be to consider such trusteeship agreements for strategic areas as may be submitted to it for approval by the states directly concerned. The Council will have many other duties under the Charter, some of them not directly related to the maintenance of peace and security, which need not be dwelt upon here.

States which are parties to a dispute are obligated under the Charter to seek a solution by negotiation, inquiry, mediation, conciliation, arbitration, judicial settlement, resort to regional arrangements or other peaceful means of their own choice. They are obligated to refer their differences to the Council if they themselves fail to settle them; when necessary, the Council is to call on them to settle their disputes by pacific means. The Council is empowered to recommend terms with a view to such settlement when it sees fit. In other words, it is expected to intervene only by carefully graduated stages.

Some of the questions to come before the Council first will probably involve the liberated states. Thus the dispute between Greece and Jugoslavia relating to Macedonia could properly be referred to the Council. Middle Eastern problems such as the Syrian affair or the control of the Dardanelles may come up for consideration. Since the Charter empowers the Council to investigate "any situation which might lead to international friction or give rise to a dispute," it can take jurisdiction even before a dispute comes to a head. Thus it might discuss the status of Tangier, since that involves the security of the Mediterranean basin and the strategic interests of several member states.

Each member of the Council will have one vote; and decisions on procedural matters, and as to whether to call a general conference to review the Charter, are to be made by an affirmative vote of any seven members. The Council's participation in the election of judges of the International Court is by majority vote. It was settled at San Francisco, after heated debate and tense negotiation, that the Council's decision whether or not to discuss a given subject is to be treated as a procedural matter, that is, the veto of the Permanent Members shall not apply. Some may have thought that the question assumed a symbolic importance beyond what the issue itself justified. Nevertheless, completely free discussion within the Council may well prove to be one of its most useful activities; while the fact that in the end the dispute was satisfactorily resolved is evidence that the Powers can work harmoniously when they are in agreement on major objectives. It also demonstrates what a powerful effect world opinion can have on the policies of even the greatest states.

Decisions of the Council on all other issues are to be made by an affirmative vote of seven members, including the concurring votes of the permanent members, with the proviso that in reaching decisions for the pacific settlement of disputes a party to the dispute is to abstain from voting -- a welcome instance of the acceptance of the principle that no nation should be a judge in its own cause. Members without Council seats may participate in the discussion when their interests are especially affected, but may not vote. Even a state which is not a member of the United Nations may participate in the discussion if it is a party to a dispute.

The Security Council is required to determine the existence of any threat to the peace, breach of the peace, or act of aggression. The extent to which it actually chooses to assume this responsibility will probably depend upon the availability of the contingents of armed forces to be provided by member states, under the agreements discussed below; but its authority will exist from the beginning.

The Council will decide what measures which do not involve the use of armed force shall be taken to give effect to its decisions. Where appropriate, its recommendations may involve more than the mere attempt to settle a dispute by peaceful means. Before making recommendations, the Council is empowered to call upon the parties concerned to comply with such provisional measures as it deems desirable. These are not to be regarded as preliminary sanctions, but simply as measures to prevent deterioration of a situation pending a definitive recommendation or action by the Council. If the Council decides upon measures not involving the use of armed force, it may call upon the members of the United Nations to apply them; in turn, all members agree in the Charter to accept and carry out the Security Council's decisions. No such provision was contained in the Covenant of the League of Nations. Here is a most significant step forward in the direction of establishing collective security. It can begin to be effective as soon as the Organization starts to function.

The Council's measures short of the use of armed force may include the 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. Also, on its recommendation, the General Assembly may suspend or expel a member. Thus the Council's functions are broad and its powers extensive. The mere possibility that it will invoke economic sanctions may lead to a prompter and more effective use of the peaceful methods which Senator Vandenberg has referred to as the "real genius" of the Charter. The Council may make its point merely by showing a lively interest in a dispute.

It should be noted that when the Council is determining whether or not there is a threat to the peace, and when it is applying enforcement measures, a permanent member will vote even though it is a party to the dispute. This is a feature of the Charter which cannot properly be judged by the standards and traditions of our domestic policy and private law, but with an eye to the current realities of international politics. It is a necessary recognition of the responsibilities which attach to power. The responsibilities assumed by the Great Powers are so heavy that it would be naïve to expect any one of them to promise to act in consequence of a decision in which it had not concurred.

In San Francisco much discussion was devoted to regional arrangements and their relation to the Security Council. Little need be said on the subject here. The inter-American system is to be formalized by treaty. The Council is to utilize such regional arrangements as the inter-American system or the new Arab League for enforcement action "where appropriate." It also is directed to encourage the pacific settlement of local disputes through regional arrangements. However, the Council's authorization is required before enforcement action under such arrangements can be taken. The only exceptions to this rule are those mentioned above -- action taken or authorized against any state which, during the current war, has been an enemy of any signatory to the Charter, or action taken by regional agencies against the renewal of an aggressive policy by any such state.


The ability of the United Nations Organization to use military coercion in enforcing its decisions has been referred to as the "teeth" of the Charter. Probably its provisions to this effect have been discussed more than any other of its sections. Though they are indeed important, many who have studied the matter closely believe that the political significance of the fact that armed contingents are in existence will prove greater than their stark military importance.

The signatories of the Charter are committed to the principle that they must "give the United Nations every assistance in any action it takes in accordance with the present Charter." They agree to "join in affording mutual assistance in carrying out the measures decided upon by the Security Council." They specifically undertake to make armed forces (and rights of passage for such forces) available on the Security Council's demand.

Obviously, any limitations on the area in which the forces could operate, or any restrictions on the authority of a state's representative to act with dispatch, would weaken the Council. An effort to write such limitations into the legislation implementing our membership in the United Nations will be regarded by many people as a thrust at the heart of the Charter. In this they would be quite correct, since the Charter emphasized that the armed forces to be provided shall include "national air-force contingents," and that these are to be held "immediately available" for urgent enforcement measures. What effect the new atomic bomb will have on this provision cannot be foretold, any more than the future of armies and navies can be told. It apparently lies in our power to make available to the international Organization an irresistible weapon with which to threaten aggressors. Here is final evidence that the world's crucial questions are political.

In any event, speed and flexibility are essential in international enforcement measures. It is not proposed to set up an international police force. There will, however, be available to the Council a Military Staff Committee, composed of the Chiefs of Staff of the permanent members of the Council, to make plans for the application of force when needed. This Committee will advise the Council "on all questions relating to the Security Council's military requirements," including "the employment and command of forces placed at its disposal, the regulation of armaments, and possible disarmament." The Committee will be responsible for "the strategic direction" of the forces. Presumably a single officer would be placed in command of contingents assigned to a specific task.

The contingents to be provided in accordance with these agreements will not be designed to conduct large-scale warfare but rather to prevent the occurrence of small incidents or to keep little wars from becoming big ones. Once the Council has sufficient forces at its disposal, it may decide, whenever it determines that a threat to the peace exists or that a breach of the peace or an act of aggression has occurred, to take the necessary action by air, sea or land to maintain or restore peace and security. Before so acting, of course, the Council would have concluded that measures not involving the use of armed force have been or would be inadequate.

The Charter does not call on its signatories to renounce force; rather, it seeks to bring force under control by registering agreement on certain purposes and binding the contracting parties to refrain from the threat or use of force in any manner inconsistent with those purposes. One such purpose is "to maintain . . . security, and to that end: to take effective collective measures for the prevention and removal of threats to the peace." If, despite the preparations taken, an armed attack occurs, the right of individual or collective self-defense remains unimpaired until such time as the Security Council has acted to restore peace. Since the United States looks upon encroachment in any part of the Western Hemisphere as a threat to its own security, such reasonable forces as it maintains to defend the hemisphere will be entirely consistent with the spirit of the Charter, irrespective of the size of the contingents which it is to provide under the special agreements. Beyond these various considerations, however, the Council is responsible, as we have seen, for formulating plans for the regulation of armaments, and all member states are obligated not to use "security" as a pretext for aggression. Thus the Powers are committed to work both in and out of the Council to avoid an armaments race.

It seems to this writer that the most important aspect of the commitment to supply armed contingents is the unifying effect which the agreements when actually made will have within the Security Council and among the United Nations as a whole. Unanimity within the Council will discourage aggressors more than will the actual military power of the forces subject to its call. And if the Council members are unanimous, the potential military power of the Organization is almost limitless. In such circumstances, the mere fact that the threat of military sanctions exists should give added strength to the Council's less extreme measures.

The Charter provides that the parties to the Moscow Declaration (plus France, which was not a signatory) shall consult with one another and with other members of the United Nations if joint action becomes necessary before the special agreements on military contingents have come into effect. President Truman at Potsdam referred to this provision in urging Generalissimo Stalin to join in suppressing Japan's aggressive war in the Pacific. The Council is not relieved of its responsibility for dealing with matters threatening the peace during the transitional period; but responsibility is also placed squarely upon the Great Powers, because they alone will have the necessary military strength. Indeed, the end of the Pacific war makes it logical for the Great Powers to proceed at once to earmark forces for joint police action. The size and nature of forces thus set aside (over and above the forces assigned to occupy the enemy states) might provide some indication of what forces should be supplied under the special agreements still to be fashioned; and the action in itself would make continued collaboration among the Big Five easier by making it seem more natural. In the final analysis, it is wholly in the interest of the Big Five to induce the Council to assume full and overriding responsibility. Only so will the small and middle states be committed to share in the burden of enforcing peace and security.


The United Nations Organization is not a super-state, but a political institution possessing specified powers and responsibilities established by treaty among sovereign nations. It is not primarily a military agency. It is not an alliance, although the explicit commitment of members to work jointly, in conformity with agreed principles and in compliance with specific decisions in certain situations, makes it appear to have some of the features of an alliance. Nor is it a judicial organ, though the principles by which it will be bound include those of justice and international law.

In its early sessions the Security Council will probably be occupied largely with the problems of its own organization. It may be expected to move rapidly to the negotiation of the special agreements under which member states are to supply armed forces, assistance and facilities to the Council. It also should undertake to formulate plans for the regulation of armaments, including the use of scientific inventions. The first session of the General Assembly will probably offer recommendations to the Council for action on various matters relating to peace and security. If the Council shows an ability to deal effectively with the problems which come before it, member states will then be inclined to find solutions among themselves for such disputes as may have developed at this stage, recognizing that the Council would be strong enough to impose a settlement. Success in disposing of the first dispute referred to it would invest the Council with even greater strength to meet new situations.

The Council will be the executive organ of the United Nations. All its members will be represented at all times at the seat of the Organization, and it will function continuously. In addition to remaining in regular session, it will hold periodic meetings at which each member may be represented by a cabinet officer or some specially designated official. Presumably foreign ministers will ordinarily attend such meetings; but in certain cases there may be good reason for the presence of prime ministers or heads of governments. The character of the representatives selected by the Great Powers to sit regularly on the Council will have much to do with establishing its prestige. President Truman has set a high standard in naming Mr. Stettinius, not only because he was so closely identified with the successful formulation of the Charter and is personally so well qualified for the task, but also because he has occupied the highest post in the Cabinet.

The Council's influence will also depend in part upon the importance of the situations referred to it by members of the Organization. Here again the Great Powers will give the cue. One of the reasons for the collapse of the League of Nations was the failure to make full use of its facilities. The Conference of Ambassadors in Paris, the Washington Conference of 1921-22, the Naval Conferences at Geneva in 1927 and at London in 1930, and the discussions leading to the non-intervention agreement with respect to the Spanish Civil War, all dealt with problems properly within the purview of a world security organization. Unless the Powers now show a disposition to discuss major current issues within the framework of the Council, the organ which they have labored to establish will atrophy.

The Moscow Declaration of 1943 departed from the traditional practice of exclusiveness in diplomacy and put consultation definitely on a multi-party and continuing basis instead of leaving it to occasional spectacular conferences. The Charter formalized and broadened the commitment. Consultations on security matters may be expected to proceed at short intervals and at many levels. The Potsdam Report stated, in fact, that periodic consultations of the foreign secretaries of the Big Three are to continue and that the newly-established Council of Foreign Ministers would meet regularly.

Consultation among three or more Powers is usually more fruitful than direct interchanges between two foreign offices. Where a Power is in a strong moral position it is likely to enlist quickly the support of other consulting states; and when such a position has been clearly stated and is firmly held by two or more states, the opposition is apt to weaken more quickly than it would in a bilateral negotiation. Furthermore, national suspicions are less likely to be aroused when there are more than two parties to a conversation. For these reasons, unanimity seems more likely to be achieved among the Big Three if Britain and the United States avoid attempting to come to separate and preliminary understandings, notwithstanding the common traditions of the two English-speaking democracies and their strategic interdependence. The chances of arriving at an agreement with Soviet Russia will probably be improved if they are scrupulous to consult simultaneously with her in all matters relating to security.

World attention will focus on the Council's meetings and world opinion will judge its successes and failures. While Council deliberations will not, of course, be open to the press, the results will be made known and Council reports to the Assembly will be published. All this means that the activities of the Council, and of the auxiliary consultations of its permanent members, will come under much more detailed scrutiny and will awaken much more pointed comment than would ever happen with the relatively inconspicuous conversations and correspondence of traditional diplomacy. The effect will be to make the governments concerned more responsive to the popular will. San Francisco confirmed the value of negotiating on vital security questions with an awakened world conscience in full play.

It seems reasonable to suppose, then, that the effective development of the Organization will depend very largely on the willingness of the Powers to utilize it for purposes of consultation with one another in all matters affecting peace and security. The Charter definitely requires that these problems be considered by the Council, and the unity of the Big Three will be promoted rather than damaged by joint discussions there. The more consultation in the Council the better, even on matters which are not strictly the concern of the Organization.


At San Francisco it was frequently argued that the Big Five were trying to limit the power of the middle and small states. The argument had force when the form of the Organization itself was in debate, but it probably will be heard less frequently after the Organization starts to function. Divisions on concrete problems affecting peace and security are unlikely to develop between states on the basis of their size or because the disputants have permanent or elective membership in the Council. The realities of power will in practice reduce differences to their proper proportions. Various middle and small states may seek election to the Security Council because they desire to be the spokesmen for this or that group of members -- the Latin American republics, the Arab League, or a western European bloc. Since they will endeavor to gain the support of the Big Five and of other members for the fulfillment of their ambitions, they doubtless will regulate their policies accordingly. But the very fact that many Powers will have to be satisfied will tend to discourage extreme demands and will make agreements easier to reach. A fair rotation of the middle and small powers on the Council is likely.

Similarly with the voting formula, the subject of such intense discussion at San Francisco. Tests in the Council are not likely to take the form of a line-up of the six elected members against the five permanent members. Nor is it easy to visualize a situation in which four of the permanent members and three or more elected members, differing from the fifth permanent member, would permit the question at issue to come to a vote. The mere fact that such a vote might be forced, however, would exert an impelling influence toward agreement.

A state not represented on the Council cannot be asked to provide armed forces unless it is given an opportunity to participate in the decisions which would put those forces to use. Moreover, any member not permanently represented on the Military Staff Committee must be called in "when the efficient discharge of the Committee's reponsibilities requires the participation" of that member in the Committee's work. Presumably, this means that a state must receive an invitation to sit with the Military Staff Committee whenever its forces, facilities, or other forms of assistance are to be employed. If preventive or enforcement measures against any state are taken by the Security Council, any other state (whether a member of the United Nations or not) which finds itself confronted with special economic problems resulting from these measures, shall have the right to consult the Council about their solution. Such problems are easy to imagine. They might be caused by the imposition of a blockade against a state with which another nation had enjoyed extensive trade relations, or by the grant of the right of passage to United Nations forces across a member state, with consequent dislocations in the economy of that quite innocent state.

The middle and small states are making many concessions in terms of freedom of action. They are doing so, however, with a clear sense of gain. The six elected members of the Security Council will have an opportunity to play a far greater rôle in the discussion, and therefore in the determination of world policy, than they would ever be able to do in other circumstances. The smaller nations are not, in fact, apprehensive of the joint enforcement of security by the Great Powers. The great danger for them lies, not in the likelihood that the Great Powers will act together, but in the possibility that they will fall apart. The wisest of their statesmen perceive this. As Richard Olney wrote: "When great states agree among themselves as to the international relations of other and weaker states, they at the same time put restraint upon themselves. They virtually check the ambition and aggressiveness of all parties to the agreement and thus furnish a guarantee of the propriety and sincerity of their purposes impossible to be furnished by a single state in the same position." [iii] The ratification of the Charter by the small states will be evidence of their belief in the necessity, from the point of view of their own safety, of preserving the wartime coalition.

If the leaders of the states which do not hold permanent seats on the Security Council are wise, they will make full use of all the educational resources of the General Assembly and will direct their own work in the Council and other United Nations organs toward promoting agreement among the Great Powers. They should avoid forms of debate and tactics which would tend to sharpen the differences among the Great Powers on vital issues. It ought to be possible for them to pursue this objective without in any way renouncing their valuable right of freedom of discussion, and to promote, at the same time, an ever widening acceptance of those standards of international behavior which carry the best promise of a lasting peace.

The reasonable conclusion from the foregoing is that the Security Council is a political mechanism of great promise. If the Great Powers decide to make full use of it, and if they and the other members conduct their negotiations there and in the General Assembly sincerely and with a decent respect for world opinion, it will be able to promote unity within the United Nations and thereby contribute substantially to world stability in general and American security in particular. The prestige and power of the Council will directly depend, it should be stressed again, upon the degree to which that sense of unity is achieved. The Big Five demonstrated in San Francisco the effectiveness of multilateral consultation. The world's longing for peace, the evident dangers of another war, were enough to ensure that, once Great Britain, the United States and the Soviet Union had been placed in a position of joint negotiation among themselves and with the other states of the United Nations, their conflicting minor interests would give way to their overwhelmingly important mutual interest. Is it an exaggeration to say that since that Conference ended we have received evidence that the danger is a thousand times greater than we at that time supposed? If, impelled by this realization, the Great Powers do in fact set their faces in the direction of sincere consultation, the Security Council will become an effective instrument for peace.

[i] Grayson Kirk, "National Power and Foreign Policy," FOREIGN AFFAIRS, July 1945.

[ii] The Big Three agreed at Potsdam to establish a Council of Foreign Ministers to draw up treaties of peace with Italy, Rumania, Bulgaria, Hungary and Finland, and to deal with other specified objects. Other matters may also from time to time be referred to it. The three Governments invited China and France to adopt the text and join in the establishment of the Council; but this invitation was issued without prejudice to the agreement entered into at the Crimea Conference that there should be periodic consultation among the foreign secretaries of the three leading Powers.

[iii] Richard Olney, "The Development of International Law," American Journal of International Law, April 1907, quoted by William T. R. Fox in "The Super-Powers," Harcourt, Brace, 1944.

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  • R. KEITH KANE, Special Assistant to the Secretary of the Navy; Naval Adviser to the U. S. Delegation at the San Francisco Conference
  • More By R. Keith Kane