30 March 2021

The Impact of UN Security Council Resolutions on the Law of the Sea

Interview with Alejandro Villaverde on his PhD thesis, which studies how UN Security Council resolutions modify the law of the sea. 

How did you come to choose your research topic – the way UN Security Council resolutions affect the law of the sea?

Instead of choosing the topic, I’d say I came across with it. Every time the Security Council adopted a resolution related to the law of the sea or that was applicable on the sea, it called my attention; I wanted know about this topic and I found that almost nothing was written on this, so it was almost natural to choose this topic but adapting it to the necessary academic requirements. 

Can you describe your thesis questions and methodology?

The main question the thesis explores is whether the Security Council, when taking biding measures, may or may not create a lex specialis, that is to say, a particular norm to be applied at sea, a new legal regime that abrogates, derogates, suspends, modifies or alters in some way the law of the sea in normal circumstances, either temporarily or permanently. 

The methodology used was clearly inductive, as I made general conclusions (what that lex specialis is) from particular examples (the resolutions of the Security Council). And in doing that I did not chose the most important or relevant resolutions, or randomly. I analysed every resolution susceptible of being applied at sea.

What are your major findings?

In most of the cases I was able to confirm that the Security Council creates new norms of the law of the sea for the moment the crisis lasts; however, what was most surprising is that I found a case in which that lex specialis became a lex generalis, a new law of the sea not for a special circumstance but in general. That is part of a controversial topic, as is whether the Security Council has legislative powers. 

Can you give an example of a topical issue on which your thesis might help shed a new light?

It was interesting to note that due to Security Council or other State Members’ interests or concerns, drafting resolutions may lead to large inconsistencies in terms of legal implications. In the case of piracy and armed robbery off the coast of Somalia, for example, the Security Council expressly stated that the authorisation to combat piracy in the territorial sea of Somalia would not be a basis of customary international law, something that, it may be said, is rather obvious. 

What could be the policy implications of your thesis? 

The thesis highlights several patterns in the action of the Security Council. I expect stakeholders in maritime affairs – from the shipping industry to navies, and of course States themselves – may gain from these patterns some certainties regarding how the legal framework that regulates their conducts is modified in times of international crises leading the Security Council to intervene.

What are you doing now?

I did my PhD research in my late forties. I’ve been a legal officer of the Argentine Navy for 22 years now and Public International Law professor, and by now, I’ll continue doing the same!

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Alejandro Villaverde defended his PhD thesis in International History in December 2020. Professor Zachary Douglas presided the committee, which included Professor Marcelo Kohen, thesis Director, and Judge Tomas Heidar, Vice-President of International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, Hamburg, Germany.

Full citation of the PhD thesis:
Villaverde, Alejandro. “The Law of the Sea in the Context of the Security Council Action.” PhD thesis, Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, Geneva, 2021.
Good to know: members of the Graduate Institute can download Dr Villaverde’s PhD thesis from this page of the Institute’s repository.

Interview by Nathalie Tanner, Research Office.
Banner picture: excerpt from an image by Andrea Izzotti/