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United Nations

The Power of the UN Security Council to Authorize Military Force

Americans believe the UN Security Council has the right to authorize the use of force for a wide range of contingencies including acting against governments that commit aggression, support terrorist groups, seek to acquire weapons of mass destruction or commit severe human rights abuses.

Americans strongly affirm the right of the UN Security Council to authorize the use of force to defend a country that has been attacked. In the 2006 Chicago Council poll, 83% said it should have this right. Nearly as many (77%) held this view in the Chicago Council's 2004 poll.[1]

Consistent with this attitude, 74% of respondents agreed that "the UN did the right thing´┐Ż when it authorized the US and its allies to drive Iraq out of Kuwait in 1991" (WPO/KN December 2006).[2]

A large majority believes that the UN Security Council should have the right to authorize the use of force to stop countries from supporting terrorist groups. When asked by the Chicago Council in 2006, 3 out of 4 respondents (76%) agreed the UNSC should have the right, nearly unchanged from 2004.[3]

Support is quite strong for UN having the right to authorize force to prevent proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. The Chicago Council poll found 62% saying that the UN should have the "right to authorize the use of military force to prevent a country that does not have nuclear weapons from acquiring them." Only 33% said the UN should not have the right. These responses were largely the same as when the Chicago Council asked this question in 2004. A January 2003 PIPA/KN poll also showed a majority (76%) felt that the UN "does have the right" to prevent a country from acquiring nuclear weapons, while just 19% said that the UNSC does not have the right to authorize force in this case. [4]

A modest majority also supports the right for the UN Security Council to authorize the use of force to prevent a country from developing nuclear fuel that could eventually be used to produce nuclear weapons. The Chicago Council poll found 57% affirming this position, with 39% opposed.[5] This represents a significant development as there is no international treaty that suggests the UN would have this right.

A relatively modest majority also supports the UN Security Council having the right to authorize military force to restore democratic governments. Asked by the Chicago Council in 2006 whether the UNSC should have the right to authorize the use of force “to restore by force a democratic government that has been overthrown,” 57% said it should, while 38% said it should not. In 2004, 60% said the UNSC should have the right, while 33% said it should not.[6]

Americans strongly support the right of the UN to use force to prevent genocide and other human rights violations. Asked in July 2004 and 2006 by the Chicago Council and whether the UNSC should have the right to authorize military force "to prevent severe human rights violations such as genocide," more than 4 in 5 respondents said it should have this right (83% in 2006, 85% in 2004). Support was also considerable for a country having the right to use military force without UN approval in this situation: 70% said a country should have the right to use force to prevent severe human rights violations, while just 24% said it should not (Chicago Council July 2004).[7]

As further evidence, a November 2003 PIPA/KN poll shows that although Americans tend to feel that countries should have UN approval as a rule to act against a government that is committing severe human rights violations against its citizens, most say it has the right to do so in extreme cases without UN approval. Respondents were asked “under what conditions you think countries have the right to overthrow another government that is committing violations of the human rights of its citizens.” A plurality (41%) said that a country should act “as a general rule, only with UN approval, but when the violations are large-scale, extreme and equivalent to genocide, UN approval may not be necessary,” A further 27% said that a country could act “whenever a government is committing substantial violations of the human rights of its citizens.” Together, support for action against governments committing large-scale human rights violations without UN approval if necessary extends to 68% of respondents. Only, 23% believed that action should occur “only when the UN reviews the evidence of such violations and approves military action,” while another 5% felt a country should never take action for this reason.[8]

A large majority also believes that the UN Security Council has the responsibility to authorize the use of military force to prevent severe human rights abuses. Asked by the Chicago Council in 2006 whether the UN Security Council had this responsibility to protect people from severe human rights violations, “even against the will of their own government,” 72% said it did have the responsibility, with only 22% saying it did not.[9]

When asked specifically about the situation of the Darfur region of the Sudan, a somewhat lower number says the UN has such a responsibility. In the July 2006 Chicago Council poll, 48% said that the UN Security Council has the responsibility to authorize intervention, while another 35% said that it has "the right, but not the responsibility to authorize intervention." Just 10% said that the UNSC does not have the right to intervene.[10]

 

 

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