The Security Council is the most powerful UN organ. Much of this power derives from its ability to order military action or impose sanctions to maintain or restore international peace and security. But how does the Council decide when to order such “enforcement measures”? Answers to that question and many more can be found in the Repertoire of the Practice of the Security Council, a publication little known to the general public but probably one of the most popular non-fiction tomes (and websites) among Council members, students of the UN and IR geeks in general.
The Repertoire is the only official, comprehensive publication covering the work of the Security Council since it began operation in 1946. Its scope ranges from the purely procedural, such as who can be invited to participate in meetings, to the deeply substantive, such as how the Council interprets its role in resolving conflicts worldwide pursuant to Chapter VI of the Charter, or how the Council takes action under Chapter VII of the Charter, including by authorizing the use of force.
The Repertoire also contains in-depth information on the mandate and work of subsidiary organs, such as peacekeeping and special political missions, and sanctions committees. In addition, the Repertoire contains extensive information on other bodies, such as commissions and investigative bodies and international criminal tribunals.
Regarding the use of force or the imposition of sanctions, the Repertoire recalls how before adopting these measures, the Council determines the existence of a threat to the peace, breach of the peace or act of aggression. The Repertoire lists the range of situations which the Council has determined as giving rise to threats to the peace since 1946, which includes inter- or intra-State conflicts or internal conflicts with a regional or sub-regional dimension. For example, looking up the period 2014-2015 in the Repertoire reveals that the Council adopted then six resolutions and issued one presidential statement determining the existence of new threats to “regional” and/or “international peace and security” (see below).
The Repertoire is produced by the Security Council Practices and Charter Research Branch of the Security Council Affairs Division in the Department of Political Affairs. The first volume of the Repertoire, covering the years 1946 to 1951, was published in 1954. Eighteen other volumes (also known as supplements) have been published since, covering the years 1952 to 2013. The 19th and 20th volumes, covering the years 2014 to 2017, are scheduled to be published during the course of 2018, with the 19th volume already available in its advance form on the website of the Repertoire.
Title picture: Security Council in 1956. UN Photo/MB