We're still listening in to the press briefing at the White House, where national security spokesperson John Kirby is talking to reporters hours after the UN passed a resolution calling for an "immediate ceasefire" in Gaza for the first time since the war began.

He says the US is "perplexed" by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's decision to cancel the visit of an Israeli delegation to the White House this week after the US abstained.

"It's a non-binding resolution, so there is no impact at all on Israel and its ability to go after Hamas," Kirby says, reiterating that it does not change the US's policy on the conflict.

Somewhat aside, a part of Netanyahu's statement:

"Regrettably, the United States did not veto the new resolution, which calls for a ceasefire that is not contingent on the release of hostages. This constitutes a clear departure from the consistent US position in the Security Council since the beginning of the war. [...]

But my Q is regarding Kirby's statement: is there such a thing as a non-binding UNSC resolution? And is this one?

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    He probably means that there is no authorisation of force in the resolution. That is, it doesn't permit other countries to invade Israel to compel compliance. (nor for other countries to invade Gaza to force Hamas to comply) But to be sure, you'd have to ask him.
    – James K
    Commented Mar 25 at 22:16
  • Probably what James said: see United Nations Security Council Resolutions : Resolutions by the Security Council are legally binding. If the council cannot reach consensus or a passing vote on a resolution, they may choose to produce a non-binding presidential statement instead of a resolution. OK, it is a PDF but it does look like one of their sites, so from the horse's mouth and all that. Looks more like PR wrt Israel, let's what other UNSC permanents think of this claim. Commented Mar 26 at 1:24
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    Also, arguably, the on Israel and its ability to go after Hamas, bit is true, once Ramadan is over - this is not a permanent ceasefire, though it expresses that it may lead to one. Commented Mar 26 at 1:28
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    related law.stackexchange.com/a/96538
    – Double AA
    Commented Mar 27 at 1:24

3 Answers 3


Take this as a resource list immediately relevant to the question:

The text of the resolution can be found here

The resolution "Demands" a ceasefire for the month of Ramadan, release of hostages, and a stop to blockage of humanitarian aid.

Here is the UN press bulletin

The enforceability of UNSC resolutions differs greatly between Chapter VI (peaceful settlement of disputes) and Chapter VII (threats to peace, crimes of aggression), with the latter potentially having more teeth.

This situation seems to be in the former category. Thus UNSC is, apparently, operating in its weaker mode.

On the other hand, there might be some distinction here between enforcability and obligation to comply:

Article 25 (from UN Charter, Chapter V) -- The Members of the United Nations agree to accept and carry out the decisions of the Security Council in accordance with the present Charter.

Finally, as to why Kirby would word his answer as he did - one can only guess, but what he said (in his capacity as national security spokesman for the Biden Administration) sure seems like it is trying to placate Israeli concerns rather than take the UNSC demand of a temporary ceasefire literally.

The same language - using the adjective "non-binding" when referring to this resolution - was used by US Ambassador to the UN in her statement [ approx 26:03 in video here: http://webtv.un.org/en/asset/k16/k162amm66u ].

The rest of the Ambassador's remarks emphasized condemnation of Hamas and steered clear of mentioning any impropriety by Israel. To me, the remarks sounded like the US does not expect that the parties will comply, and views it as reasonable for Israel not to comply before the hostages have been released.

  • Is the time right in the penultimate para? I didn't hear "non-binding". Commented Mar 26 at 9:32
  • @thegodsfromengineering - she just slips it in mid sentence. "As I said before, we fully support some of the objectives in this non-binding resolution...". Exact word is at 26:07
    – Pete W
    Commented Mar 26 at 18:18

Because a violation of a chapter 7 resolution can carry with it enforcement actions, such as a military enforcement. Essentially that means that declaring a war against a country which has violated a chapter 7 resolution does not itself amount to an act of aggression.

Chapter 6 resolutions are just expressions of opinions. It doesn't mean that the opinion is invalid just because it can't lead to enforcement. It becomes record and a valid UN view. But that's as far as it goes.

  • How do you know which chapter this one is under? Could be under article 40 AFAICT. "In order to prevent an aggravation of the situation, the Security Council may, before making the recommendations or deciding upon the measures provided for in Article 39, call upon the parties concerned to comply with such provisional measures as it deems necessary or desirable. Such provisional measures shall be without prejudice to the rights, claims, or position of the parties concerned. The Security Council shall duly take account of failure to comply with such provisional measures." Commented Mar 26 at 9:27
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    @thegodsfromengineering they would say that explicitly (like the declaration demanding Iraq withdraw from Kuwait did ). Commented Mar 26 at 13:44

From what I can gather John Kirby is wrong. The resolution is binding. What he perhaps meant is that the resolution wasn't adopted under Chapter VII so there is no threat of enforcement. But enforcement is orthogonal to bindingness. Here is what three legal scholars think about it.

Gaza war: is UN security council ‘demand’ for a ceasefire legally binding? Here’s what international law says by Amanda Cahill-Ripley:

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) addressed this question [of whether Chapter VI resolutions are legally binding] beyond doubt in the Namibia Advisory Opinion. The court considered security council resolution 276 ordering South Africa to withdraw from Namibia, after the UN determined in 1966 that the South African administration in what had formerly been known as South West Africa was illegal.

The court declared that article 25 is not confined to decisions in regard to enforcement action under chapter VII, but applies to “the decisions of the Security Council adopted in accordance with the Charter”. It also stated that all member states must comply with such decisions, including members which voted against it and members of the UN who are not members of the council.

Why Today’s UN Security Council Resolution Demanding an Immediate Ceasefire Is Legally Binding by Hannah Birkenkötter:

It has been established for several decades that resolutions not explicitly adopted under Chapter VII can just as well contain legally binding obligations. [...] There is thus both a textual and a systematic argument to be made that Article 25 UN Charter extends to all decisions of the Security Council. [...] In conclusion, the resolution is – despite statements to the contrary – legally binding

Legal Bindingness of Security Council Resolutions Generally, and Resolution 2334 on the Israeli Settlements in Particular by Dan Joyner:

Any decision of the Security Council is legally binding upon all U.N. member states, whether or not the text of the resolution explicitly references Chapter VII.

Rather, the key question for determining whether a particular provision of a Security Council resolution is legally binding on member states (i.e. whether the provision is a “decision” of the Security Council), including the specific addressee of the resolution, is whether the Council has chosen to use words within the provision indicating its intent to create a legally binding obligation.

And Article 25 of the UN Charter says:

The Members of the United Nations agree to accept and carry out the decisions of the Security Council in accordance with the present Charter.

The operative verb in the resolution is "demands" - not "calls", "requests", or "very nicely asks". As such it creates a legally binding obligation.

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