Antonios Tzanakopoulos has written a powerful book in Disobeying the Security Council. It is a rich – at times very rich – piece of scholarship, covering a range of complex issues. The book makes two important arguments (and at that ones I agree with!). First (a point of course already made before), that it is states themselves which are the ultimate judges of the legality of the Security Council’s decisions. In a decentralized system lacking any compulsory and systematic means of judicial control and dispute resolution, self-help may turn out to be the only game in town. It is by choosing to openly disobey (or more frequently, very narrowly interpret) decisions of the Security Council that they regard as unlawful that states act as a check against the Security Council abusing its powers. Second (and relatedly), that much of the scholarly discussion regarding the legality of Security Council action tends to adopt a domestic public law mindset, whether quite consciously or at times uncritically, a mindset which is inappropriate when some of the underpinnings of domestic public law, such as compulsory adjudication, are lacking
In order to advance these arguments, and to offer a solution that would both provide a meaningful check on the UNSC’s powers and yet not suffer from the perils of domestic law-thinking, Antonios makes several crucial conceptual and doctrinal moves. It is with some of these that I have to part ways. Most importantly, he changes the focus from the validity of the decisions of the UNSC to the UN’s responsibility for illegal UNSC decisions as internationally wrongful acts, measured against the law binding on the organization. As always in the decentralized international system, states have the right of auto-determination, i.e. of deciding for themselves that the organization is responsible, and then have the right to take countermeasures against it, including disobeying its decisions and refusing to pay their allocated dues to it. In doing so, of course, states as always assume the risk that they might be wrong in their own assessment, and if they are they must suffer the consequences.
In essence, Antonios’ approach is very much one of classical international law, relying on established legal institutions and methods of this decentralized system such as responsibility and countermeasures, and avoiding the pitfalls of constitutionalization or domestic law-thinking generally. This critical effort is certainly a laudable one – but whether it ultimately succeeds is not as clear.