Chapter VIII of the UN Charter: What it is and Why it Matters


  • 2014•08•26

    Luk Van Langenhove

    Peackeepers and NGO aid workers

    UN Photo/Marco Dormino

    Chapter VIII of the United Nations Charter “provides the constitutional basis for the involvement of regional organizations in the maintenance of international peace and security for which the Security Council is primarily responsible”. The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) defines itself as a regional security arrangement under Chapter VIII of the UN Charter. What does that mean? Could it mean more?


    When the United Nations Charter was being drafted, some favoured a centralized security organization, others preferred a regionalized structure. In the end, when the Charter was finalized in 1945, the universal approach prevailed.

    Nonetheless, an entire chapter — Chapter VIII — was devoted to regional arrangements and the terms of their relationship with the UN in the field of peace and security.

    Few invocations of Chapter VIII’s provisions were made during the cold war period. But when the bipolar world system collapsed and spawned new global security threats, the explosion of local and regional armed conflicts provoked a renewed interest in regional organizations and their role in the maintenance of regional peace and security. The United Nations was forced to acknowledge its inability to solely bear the responsibility for providing peace and security worldwide. It started to contemplate potential opportunities to develop collaborative relations with regional organizations.

    United Nations Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali gave the initial impetus, when he spoke to the UN General Assembly on 18 December 1992 of a new era of opportunity for regional arrangements. “Regional action […] could not only lighten the burden of the (UN Security) Council but also contribute to a deeper sense of participation, consensus and democratization in international affairs,” he said.

    Since then, the UN has taken various initiatives to enhance regional and global security partnerships. Secretaries-General have hosted high-level meetings and retreats for regional organizations including the OSCE. The UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1631 on the cooperation between the UN and regional organizations in maintaining international peace and security in 2005, after holding several debates on the topic.

    These developments lead me to make three observations.

    First, despite UN efforts since the cold war to strengthen ties with regional organizations, formalized and systematic cooperation between them remains limited.

    Second, progress in increasing cooperation is sporadic. One of the reasons for this is that the process is driven by the UN Secretaries-General and the UN Security Council. The strategic directions of the latter are heavily affected by its rotating membership, and experience has shown that it is often non-permanent Member States who advance the debate.

    Third, since regional organizations are very diverse and not all of them are mandated or capable of performing peacekeeping, peacebuilding or mediation operations, the debate has somewhat shifted from a comprehensive to an ad hoc one.

    But while pragmatism can be valuable, the challenge remains how to weave the often disparate purposes and objectives of regional organizations into a global multilateral governance perspective.

    The only way forward seems to me to be to create a forum of trust-building between the different regional organizations and the UN at the highest level. This could be done by creating a global mechanism of learning transfer from one organization to another or from one case to another. Each regional organization operates in a specific context, but they are all faced with similar challenges and issues. They therefore have an interest in exchanging information and sharing their respective experience and best practices in implementing their mandate.

    The OSCE has already since 1999 its own Platform for Co-operative Security, on the basis of which it offers itself as a coordinating framework for organizations working for security in its area.

    The Inter-Regional Dialogue on Democracy, organized by the Stockholm-based International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, an intergovernmental organization of 25 states from every part of the world, offers another global platform for open exchange among regional organizations, a model that could be expanded to other areas such as conflict management and mediation.

    The UN is increasingly working together with regional organizations in their mediation engagements. It could continue to strengthen the role of mediation in the peaceful settlement of disputes, conflict prevention and resolution by taking the lead in creating a global interregional dialogue on mediation bringing together the UN and regional organizations. This would help to reveal the potentials of regional organizations to help the UN in dealing with the complex security challenges of today’s world.


    This article originally appeared in the 2/2014 issue of Security Community, the Magazine of the OSCE.

    Copyright OSCE. Republished with permission.

    For further reading on this topic see: Luk Van Langenhove et al., “The UN and regional organizations for Peace: Tracking a Slippery Partnership” in The United Nations and the Regions (Dordrecht: Springer, 2012).