THE UN GENERAL ASSEMBLY AND THE MAINTENANCE OF INTERNATIONAL PEACE
Under the UN Charter, the Security Council holds the primary responsibility for international peace and security. But it is well established in international law that this responsibility is not exclusive. The UN General Assembly – which comprises all 193 UN member states and, as such, is the UN’s only truly representative institution – also has a responsibility for international peace and security. It is often described as a ‘secondary’ or ‘residual’ responsibility.
The UN Charter allows the General Assembly to consider and make recommendations on matters of international peace and security. There are restrictions in the Charter on the extent to which the General Assembly can encroach upon the Security Council’s primary responsibility for international peace and security, but these restrictions have been whittled away over time – by the practice of the General Assembly, and rulings of the International Court of Justice. Today, the most substantive legal restriction on the General Assembly’s competence is that its recommendations are not binding on member states.
In the past, the General Assembly has acted upon its powers to recommend a wide range of measures to states. It has recommended sanctions, arms embargoes, the suspension of diplomatic and other relations, and even the use of military force. It has also on occasion established or strengthened the mandate of UN peacekeeping missions, and it has frequently made recommendations to the Security Council.
In recent years, General Assembly resolutions have re-affirmed the ‘role and the authority of the General Assembly … on questions relating to international peace and security’, and recognised the need for the Assembly to ‘fully play its role as set out in the Charter’.