The Power of the Weak: How Informal Power-Sharing Shapes the Work of the United Nations Security Council

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To what extent can minor states constrain great powers? Do institutional practices shape state behavior? This study presents the argument that great powers engage in informal power- sharing in international organizations to attain unanimity, which enhances the signaling e ect of these institutions. The pursuit of unanimity lends weight to additional votes beyond those needed for decision-making under the formal rules. In turn, informal power-sharing to attain unanimity enables minor powers to exert more influence than they could if only material power and formal rules were decisive. A mixed-methods analysis of the UN Security Council tests this argument. It identifies several power-sharing practices. Design-based causal inference and a case study reveal that minor powers have disproportional influence over the deployment of UN peace operations. Their influence is particularly pronounced during crises, when great powers are most eager to secure small states’ votes through power-sharing, and while minor powers preside over the Council.

Discussants: Ebenezer Azamati and Evgenija Kroeker