The Justification of Responsibility in the UN Security Council: Practices of Normative Ordering in International Relations, 1st Edition (Paperback) book cover

The Justification of Responsibility in the UN Security Council

Practices of Normative Ordering in International Relations, 1st Edition

By Holger Niemann


248 pages | 11 B/W Illus.

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The UN Security Council has been given the primary responsibility for maintaining international peace and security. The precise meaning of this responsibility, however, is contested. This lack of clarity is frequently criticised as a source of incoherent and selective decision-making, undermining the legitimacy of the Security Council. In case studies of the Security Council’s controversies on Iraq and Syria, this book instead reveals contestation and competing interpretations of responsibility as crucial conditions for the constitution and negotiation of normative order. The case studies also underline the importance of public Security Council meetings as dynamic sites for coping with a plurality of normative orders and how their symbolic and material manifestations shape processes of collective legitimation. This book concludes that these processes demonstrate the crucial role of justification and critique as practices of normative ordering in the Security Council.

The Justification of Responsibility in the UN Security Council argues that normative orders in international organisations are constructed by multifaceted processes of questioning, reaffirming and coordinating claims of normativity and legitimacy. Connecting research on norms and legitimacy in international relations with pragmatist sociology, the book provides an account of the complexities and inconsistencies of decision-making processes and their normative foundations in international organisations. This book will be of interest to scholars and students of international organisations, international relations theory and global governance.


"This book is an excellent contribution to the field of International Political Sociology. The application of pragmatist sociology to the proceedings of the UN Security Council produces new insights and surprising interpretations of the social interactions within the UNSC. Conceiving normative controversies not as a pathology or "problem" but as a permanent feature of social interactions provides the reader with a highly original outlook on the everyday work of the UNSC. Holger Niemann's study provides a thorough analysis of the complexities and dynamics of processes of legitimation and de-legitimation within international organizations."Anna Geis, Helmut Schmidt University, University of the Federal Armed Forces, Germany

"In his excellent analysis, Holger Niemann tellingly demonstrates the constitutive role of normative controversy for the constitution and maintenance of order in the UN Security Council. By introducing concepts and premises from the pragmatist sociology of critique, the book is an important contribution to a better understanding of the complex roles of norms and legitimacy in international organizations. This comprehensive book provides valuable and novel insights into practices and programmatic developments of the Security Council, which will be also of great interest for scholars in IR and international political sociology."Tobias Debiel, Käte Hamburger Kolleg / Centre for Global Cooperation Research, University of Duisburg-Essen, Germany

"Holger Niemann’s book lands at an auspicious time. It explores how contested ideas about global security are represented, defined, and fought over at the Security Council in the United Nations. The Council has tremendous power to act on behalf of international security but only the vaguest guidance on what that means. Niemann shows how the Council has filled that ambiguous term with specific meaning - and meanings - over the years at the service of various interests."Ian Hurd, Professor of Political Science, Northwestern University, USA

Table of Contents

List of figures and tables

List of abbreviations


1. Introduction

2. The changing meaning of Security Council responsibility

3. Approaching normative controversy

4. The moment of justification: pragmatist sociology and the turn to practice

5. Practices of normative ordering during the 2002/2003 Iraq crisis

6. Practices of normative ordering during the 2011/2012 Syria crisis

7. Public Security Council meetings from a practice theory perspective

8. Conclusion


About the Author

Holger Niemann is a researcher at the Institute for Peace Research and Security Policy at the University of Hamburg (IFSH). He is also an Associate Fellow of the Institute for Development and Peace at the University of Duisburg-Essen (INEF) and holds a PhD in political science.

About the Series

Routledge Global Cooperation Series

The Routledge Global Cooperation series develops innovative approaches to one of the most pressing questions of our time – how to achieve cooperation in a culturally diverse and politically contested global world?

Many key contemporary problems such as climate change and forced migration require intensified cooperation on a global scale. Accelerated globalisation processes have led to an ever-growing interconnectedness of markets, states, societies and individuals. Many of today’s problems cannot be solved by nation states alone and require intensified cooperation at the local, national, regional and global level to tackle current and looming global crises.

We favour books that take an interdisciplinary approach and appeal to an international readership comprised of scholars and postgraduate students.

To submit proposals, please contact the Development Studies Editor, Helena Hurd ([email protected]).

Series Editors:

Tobias Debiel, Dirk Messner, Sigrid Quack and Jan Aart Scholte are Co-Directors of the Käte Hamburger Kolleg / Centre for Global Cooperation Research, University of Duisburg-Essen, Germany. Their research areas include climate change and sustainable development, global governance, internet governance and peacebuilding. Tobias Debiel is Professor of International Relations and Development Policy at the University of Duisburg-Essen and Director of the Institute for Development and Peace in Duisburg, Germany. Dirk Messner is Director of the Institute for Environment and Human Security at the United Nations University in Bonn, Germany. Sigrid Quack is Professor of Sociology at the University of Duisburg-Essen, Germany. Jan Aart Scholte is Professor of Peace and Development at the School of Global Studies, University of Gothenburg, Sweden.

Patricia Rinck is editorial manager of the series at the Centre for Global Cooperation Research.

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Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
POLITICAL SCIENCE / International Relations / General
SOCIAL SCIENCE / Developing Countries