COURSE: The UN Security Council: Political dynamics and diplomatic practice

Course content

The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) is a microcosm of international society and a prism for understanding the political dynamics and diplomatic practice of world politics. It is power politics and intrigue served on a horseshoe table in New York.

This course aims at providing a comprehensive discussion and understanding of the Security Council and its role in the larger UN system. The bulk of the course will focus on diplomatic practice in and around the Council, and will be inspired by diplomatic practice theory. In addition to theory, this will mean an approach that includes accounts from diplomats working with the Council and close readings of key documents. Questions will include how diplomats work, position themselves and conduct negotiations. Attention will be given to contemporary fault lines and contentious issues in the Council - e.g. reform, the future of peace operations, the Responsibility to Protect and (lack of) interventions - including with a view to assessing their impact on the Council’s ability to manage international peace and security in the 21st century. Case studies will be used to exemplify classical negotiations on intervention such as Libya, and the latest developments in attempts at preventive diplomacy in Burundi.


  1. Questions of legitimacy and legality in world politics: Rationales and criticisms of the UN (SC) from standard IR theory

    1. Course structure, learning objectives, and expectations for exam

  2. Situating the UNSC: The broader UN system and its peace architecture

  3. Diplomatic practice theory & the life and (self-)image of a diplomat at the UNSC

  4. Tracing power politics in procedure: The UNSC’s organization, people, rules, and available tools

  5. Case work: Intervention in Libya vs. non-intervention in Syria

  6. Inside/outside and layering: Turf wars between permanent, elected and non-members

    1. Half-way evaluation and brain-storm on synopsis ideas

  7. Human rights, protection of civilians, Responsibility to Protect: Who gets protected, by whom and why?

  8. Diplomacy in practice II: Drafting and negotiating resolutions

  9. Reform initiatives: Impetus for change in a status quo institution

  10. Diplomacy in practice III: The role of the UN Secretariat and NGOs

  11. Peacekeeping operations: Translating mandates into peace soldiering on the ground

  12. Case work II: The primacy of politics and preventive diplomacy from Rwanda (1994) to Burundi (2015)

  13. Non-military security issues and the UNSC: What the Council can do on climate change and epidemics and what they do to the Council

  14. The future of the UNSC: What relevance for security in the 21st century?

    1. Course evaluation and exam preparations


Elective course in the specialization "International Relations, Diplomacy and Conflict Studies"


Bachelorlevel: 10 ECTS

Masterlevel: 7,5 ECTS



Learning outcome

At the end of the course, the student will have gained or strengthened her ability to:

  • Apply IR theories to cases of multilateral negotiations on security politics

  • Critically reflect on the role of international organizations, particularly the UNSC, in security politics

  • Discuss contemporary diplomatic practice

  • Evaluate actors and outcomes in diplomatic conduct

  • Analyze and assess internationally negotiated documents

  • Analyze the legal and institutional set-up of the UNSC

The course presupposes a good command of the standard International Relations (IR) theories, e.g. from the mandatory bachelor course in IR. Broad knowledge of contemporary conflict situations and international politics is an asset, but not a requirement.

The course will employ a mix of lectures, group work in class, student presentations, close readings, case-based teaching, and possibly guest lectures.

Preliminary literature examples:

Adler-Nissen, Rebecca, and Vincent Pouliot. “Power in Practice: Negotiating the International Intervention in Libya.” European Journal of International Relations, 2014,


Adler-Nissen, Rebecca. “Conclusion: Relationism or Why Diplomats Find International Relations Theory Strange.” In Diplomacy and the Making of World Politics, edited by Ole Jacob Sending, Vincent Pouliot, and Iver B. Neumann, 284–308. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015.


Babbitt, Eileen F. “Preventive Diplomacy by Intergovernmental Organizations: Learning from Practice.” International Negotiation 17, no. 3 (January 1, 2012): 349–88.


Barnett, Michael N. “The UN Security Council, Indifference, and Genocide in Rwanda.” Cultural Anthropology 12, no. 4 (1997): 551–78.


Bellamy, Alex J., and Paul D. Williams, eds. Providing Peacekeepers: The Politics, Challenges, and Future of United Nations Peacekeeping Contributions. Oxford University Press, 2013. [excerpts]


Genser, Jared, ed. The United Nations Security Council in the Age of Human Rights. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2014. [excerpts]


Hurd, Ian. “International Law and the Politics of Diplomacy.” In Diplomacy and the Making of World Politics, edited by Ole Jacob Sending, Vincent Pouliot, and Iver B. Neumann, 31–54. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015.

Jackson, Robert H. The Global Covenant: Human Conduct in a World of States. Oxford ; New York: Oxford University Press, 2000. [excerpts]

Morris, Justin. “Libya and Syria: R2P and the Spectre of the Swinging Pendulum.” International Affairs 89, no. 5 (2013): 1265–83.


Neumann, Iver B. “Returning Practice to the Linguistic Turn: The Case of Diplomacy.” Millennium-Journal of International Studies 31, no. 3 (2002): 627–51.


Pape, Robert A. “When Duty Calls: A Pragmatic Standard of Humanitarian Intervention.” International Security 37, no. 1 (2012): 41–80.


Paris, Roland. “The ‘Responsibility to Protect’ and the Structural Problems of Preventive Humanitarian Intervention.” International Peacekeeping 21, no. 5 (October 20, 2014): 569–603.


Riles, Annelise. “Infinity within the Brackets.” American Ethnologist, 1998, 378–398.


Neumann, Iver B. Ross, Carne. Independent Diplomat: Dispatches from an Unaccountable Elite. Crises in World Politics. Ithaca, N.Y: Cornell University Press, 2007.


Sending, Ole Jacob, Vincent Pouliot, Iver B. Neumann, and Barkawi, Tarak, eds. “Diplomacy, War, and World Politics.” In Diplomacy and the Making of World Politics, 55–79. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015.


Tharoor, Shashi. “Security Council Reform: Past, Present, and Future.” Ethics & International Affairs 25, no. 04 (2011): 397–406.


Weiss, Thomas G. “The United Nations: Before, during and after 1945.” International Affairs 91, no. 6 (2015): 1221–35.


Wiseman, Geoffrey. “Diplomatic Practices at the United Nations.” Cooperation and Conflict, 2015.


Also, a number of official documents will be part of the required reading, including a resolutions, reports, policies, as well as excerpts from the Charter of the United Nations and the Provisional Rules of Procedure of the Security Council

7,5 ECTS
Type of assessment
Oral examination
Marking scale
7-point grading scale
Censorship form
External censorship
Criteria for exam assessment
  • Grade 12 is given for an outstanding performance: the student lives up to the course's goal description in an independent and convincing manner with no or few and minor shortcomings
  • Grade 7 is given for a good performance: the student is confidently able to live up to the goal description, albeit with several shortcomings
  • Grade 02 is given for an adequate performance: the minimum acceptable performance in which the student is only able to live up to the goal description in an insecure and incomplete manner

Single subject courses (day)

  • Category
  • Hours
  • Class Instruction
  • 28
  • English
  • 28