The Legitimacy of the UN Security Council


The United Nations Security Council is widely considered to be the most powerful international institution in the international system. But how legitimate is the Council’s power? The bulk of the literature on that topic remains conceptual or theoretical as scholars tend to make legitimacy assessments with reference to objective standards (usually derived from democratic theory). As a result, we do not know how actors perceive the Council’s legitimacy. To address this gap this project examines evaluative statements that UN member states makes about the Councils legitimacy in UN General Assembly debates. The project asks three questions: (1) How legitimate or illegitimate is the Council in the eyes of UN member states? (2) What are its sources of legitimacy? Do states care primarily about the Council’s compliance with its legal mandate (legal legitimacy), its procedures (procedural legitimacy) or its performance (output legitimacy)? (3) Are specific state characteristics systematically associated with more (or less) support of the Council’s legitimacy? In brief, our analysis of 1,500 evaluative statements (1991-2009) first shows that the Security Council suffers in fact from a legitimacy deficit. Second, the Council’s legitimacy deficit results primarily from states’ concerns regarding the body’s procedural shortcomings and much less from misgivings regarding shortcomings in performance. Whether or not the Council complies with its legal mandate has failed to attract much attention at all. Third, the (preliminary) results from a non-linear regression analysis suggest likelihood to support or criticize the Council is best explained by membership in the Council, affinity with the US and the attachment to the principle of state sovereignty.



The Legitimacy of the UN Security Council: Evidence from Recent General Assembly Debates, in: International Studies Quarterly 2014 (online first).

Who (de-)legitimates the UN Security Council? An analysis of evaluative statements in General Assembly debates. Martin Binder and Monika Heupel Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Political Science Association, Washington, D.C., August 28–31, 2014.