After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the UN Security Council-with the US at the helm-radically expanded its powers. Through two resolutions in the Security Council1373 and 1540they practically wrote legislation about what measures other countries must take to combat terrorism and the spread of weapons of mass destruction. Anette Ahrnens shows that the US, the only remaining superpower, used the UN and its Security Council in this way to achieve quick results and create legitimacy for the country’s own security policy. And the strategy succeeded:
“Especially immediately in the wake of September 11, a large majority of UN member states saw the action taken by the Security Council as legitimate, since they agreed that the threat of terrorism was so great that there was a great need for effective measures,” says Anette Ahrnens, who maintains that the perceived threat eliminated all reservations about any lack of legality and violations of legal principles.
The traditional approach was thus not seen as satisfactory since it took far too much time.
“It can take many years to reach unity about new rules of international law. This can be followed by further waiting for a sufficient number of ratifications for a convention to enter into force, and this in turn is binding only for those countries that ratified it,” explains Anette Ahrnen.
But by adopting legally binding resolutions, the UN Security Council has challenged the legislative monopoly of countries and moreover revolutionized the process, since the new rules are immediately binding for all 192 member nations.
“With time, more and more protests have been lodged against the expanded use of the Security Council as a legislative body,” says Anette Ahrnen. Critics maintain that human rights, the principle of the sovereignty of nations, and other traditional principles have been bent.
And thus far no new resolutions of the same nature as resolutions 1373 and 1540 have been adopted, which indicates that the general sense of legitimacy does play a role.
However, Anette Ahrnens’ study clearly shows that legitimacy-also in the context of international law-is not entirely contingent upon legality in a legal sense, but can also be formulated in more political terms, like consent and efficiency. The fact that political factors can be seen to some extent as outweighing legal factors entails not only a potentially new and stronger role for the Security Council: as Anette Ahrnens sees it, it also entails a potential shortcut for great powers whose resources often make it easier to manipulate consent and efficiency than more static factors like legality and principles of law.
Anette Ahrnens thesis is titled “A Quest for Legitimacy: Debating UN Security Council Rules on Terrorism and Non-proliferation”.