Book Review: The Procedure of the UN Security Council

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Oct. 29, 2014 – The fourth edition of this comprehensive text, first published in 1975, continues in the tradition of its previous versions by combining an exhaustive account of the practice of the Security Council with examples and anecdotes to illustrate how the Council works, and how it doesn’t.

This new edition of The Procedure of the the UN Security Council, by Loraine Sievers and Sam Daws, is the first update since 1998 and retains, for the sake of continuity, much of the historical material of previous editions but has several new sections including on the Council’s relationship with regional bodies and other organs such as the International Criminal Court.

The book also surveys various proposals to reform the Security Council, which invariably involve increasing the number of members from the current arrangement of five permanent and ten non-permanent. The authors note that under the current two-year term for non-permanent members, some countries elected on an enlarged Council may not get the opportunity to serve as president – by virtue of its alphabetical assignment – depriving them of a full Council experience and the educative and leadership functions associated with holding the Council’s presidency, a role which is thoroughly discussed in Chapter 3.

On a more “poignant” note, Sievers and Daws remark that an outcome of an enlarged Council “would be the probable retirement of the Council’s present horseshoe table, which has so much history.”

In their concluding reflections, the authors examine the current debate and tension between Council members and non-Council members over improving working methods and increasing transparency and accountability of the Council. As a note of caution, they write that “it is vitally important that the debate on the necessity for reforming the Security Council to make it more representative, accountable and transparent does not cast a pall over the legitimacy of the actual decisions taken by the Council which could be exploited by recalcitrant states or parties.”

They add, however, that “to secure its own effectiveness, it is in the best interests of the Security Council to enhance the Council’s interactivity with Member States and to engage proactively with them in discussing improvements to the Council’s working methods.”

For a 744-page book that deals with procedure, it is a highly readable tome written in a non-scholarly fashion that combines the rigor of an academic text with the prose of a journalist. The material in the book is current as of Jan. 1, 2014 and a corresponding website, maintained by Sievers, who worked for the UN for over thirty years, incorporates recent relevant developments on the Council’s procedures and working methods.

-Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz