A Necessary Voice: Small States, International Law, and the UN Security Council

Security Council meeting on The promotion and strengthening of the rule of law in the maintenance of international peace and security.

The international rule-based order has come under threat on multiple fronts. If it continues to deteriorate into an older model based on power politics, small states—by definition vulnerable in a world where only might makes right—are most at risk. This makes them natural defenders of the international order that protects them.

How can small countries serve as effective champions of the rule-based order and international law? This paper explores this question by looking at the role of small states on the UN Security Council. The council, with its five veto-wielding permanent members, is perhaps not an obvious place to look at the role of small states. Nonetheless, it presents critical opportunities, as well as difficult challenges, for small states.

This paper concludes that small states on the Security Council are well-placed to provide an important, credible voice with moral authority to remind all member states of their obligations under international law, reaffirm normative commitments to compliance, and advocate for a recommitment to a multilateral, rule-based international order. Perhaps not since the founding of the United Nations has that voice been more necessary for all to hear.