Friday, 14 March 2014

Security and International Relations Programme Seminar

United We Fall? The ‘Norm of Consensus’ in UN Security Council Decision-Making

Dr Jess Gifkins, University of Exeter

18:00, 20th March,
Westminster Forum, 5th Floor, 32-38 Wells St, University of Westminster, W1T3UW
All are welcome to attend; for further information please contact Dr Aidan Hehir (

The UN Security Council sits at the centre of UN infrastructure for international peace and security, making decisions that affect the lives of millions. Yet, its decisions are largely made behind closed-doors and there is often little indication of the process by which decisions are reached. This paper will explain and illustrate a key feature of the Security Council’s decision-making process: the norm of consensus. The UN Security Council was explicitly designed not to require consensus – to overcome the limitations of the League Council. Yet, so far this century, over 91% of resolutions voted on by the Security Council have passed with the unanimous support of all fifteen members. In this paper I will outline both behavioural and rhetorical evidence to suggest that this trend has become a ‘norm’ of decision-making in the Council. This can be seen both in voting patterns and in statements given after a resolution is voted on. The shift to consensus based decision-making affects not only the process of reaching a decision, but also the decisions which are possible. This norm can actually lead to decisions which are difficult to implement, as members find language they can agree to, rather than agreeing on the essence of a decision. As such, the norm of consensus can shape decisions in ways which limit the capacity of the Security Council to address crisis situations.