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The Humdrum Use of Ultimate Authority: Defining and Analysing Chapter VII Resolutions

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image of Nordic Journal of International Law

Under Chapter VII of the Charter of the United Nations, the Security Council has the unique authority to make decisions that are binding on member states. However, the lack of a standard definition of what makes a Security Council resolution "a Chapter VII resolution" has caused disagreement regarding the status of several resolutions. This is unfortunate as the international community should never have to doubt whether a Security Council resolution is in fact adopted under Chapter VII or not. It is also unnecessary. This article addresses this problem by proposing a definition of Chapter VII resolutions, based on two criteria referred to as "Article 39 determinations" and "Chapter VII decisions". On the basis of the proposed definition, the article describes and analyses a dramatic increase in the use of Chapter VII during the post-Cold War era. It concludes that as Chapter VII has come to constitute the majority of Security Council resolutions in recent years, the resort to Chapter VII no longer signifies exceptional determination and resolve, which it did during the Cold War; instead Chapter VII today implies business as usual. An appendix lists all Chapter VII resolutions from 1946–2008.

Affiliations: 1: Department of Political Science, Umeå University, Umeå, Sweden


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