The United Nations Charter explicitly states within Article 2 that the organization is based on the "sovereign equality" of all its members. Among its foundational principles, it further states in that:

  • "All Members should settle their international disputes by peaceful means in such a manner that international peace and security, and justice, are not endangered."
  • "All members should refrain in their international relations from the threat or the use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state..."
  • "Nothing contained in the present Charter shall authorize the United Nations to intervene in matters which are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any state or shall require the Members to submit such matters to settlement under the present Charter..."

It seems to me that the 1953 Iranian coup d’état was not a peaceful resolution of a dispute and used quite a bit of force -- the Iranian Prime Minister was sent to military jail, and many of his former associates and supporters were tried, imprisoned, tortured, or even executed. Since he was elected democratically, his reign was within the "domestic jurisdiction" of Iran. Furthermore, Iran was admitted into the UN in 1945, so Iran itself was presumably as equally sovereign as the US and the UK under the Charter.

The UN is an organization that is founded upon peaceful international relations and state sovereignty -- it says this in its very principles. It seems to me that the UN only really gets its power if other states recognize the authority of its branches (e.g. the International Court of Justice, and even the General Assembly, which is comprised of 193 states). If the US could go and overthrow a democratically-elected leader and get off scot-free, it seems to me that there is less incentive to trust the UN with international authority.

Is there a reason why this was not a violation of the foundational principles of the UN?

  • 4
    Much like animals, all countries are sovereign, but some countries are more sovereign than others. Also, there was a lot of blowback at the time. Commented Jul 25, 2017 at 7:30

2 Answers 2


Why wasn't the 1953 Iranian coup d’état considered [by the UN Security Council] to be a violation of United Nations Charter?

It doesn't seem to have come up.

Resolutions adopted by the Security Council in 1953

  • S/RES/103 (1953) International Court of Justice
  • S/RES/102 (1953) International Court of Justice
  • S/RES/101 (1953) The Palestine Question
  • S/RES/100 (1953) The Palestine Question
  • S/RES/99 (1953) International Court of Justice

Source: UN

So far as I can tell, none of these mention the coup d'etat in Iran.

If the subject was raised, it didn't result in any resolution.

Unfortunately the online minutes of their meetings don't go back that far.

There is no record of any veto being exercised in the UN Security Council by the US or UK in 1953

29 March 1954      The Palestine question              USSR
22 January 1954    The Palestine question              USSR
19 September 1952  Admission of new Members Cambodia   USSR
19 September 1952  Admission of new Members Laos       USSR

Source: UN

A search of the official records of the UN security council didn't turn up anything relevant on Iran in 1953.

We can speculate a little.

From what little I've read, the US acted through the CIA, who provided funding to groups in Iran, created propaganda against Prime Minister Mossadeq and advised & encouraged the Shah in various ways. It doesn't seem that there was an overt use of US miltary force.

Article 2 of the UN charter could arguably be interpreted as mainly prohibiting the use, or threat of, of military force by one state against another. Perhaps it could be argued that advice, propaganda and money are not (military) force.

If the matter had been raised in the UN Security Council, the US or UK could have used their veto powers to block any resolution.


Not all members of the UN Security Council have veto powers. There are fifteen members, but only the five permanent members (CN, FR, RU, UK & US) have a veto. Wikipedia, UN.

  • Likely? Why speculate? Composition of all member of UN Security Council has veto powers. Guess who sits in the UN Security Council? I thought you are here to look at history. Why don't we stick with facts?
    – J Asia
    Commented Jul 25, 2017 at 21:29
  • @JAsia: That is exactly my point. The facts are recorded in the minutes I mentioned. I don't currently have access to those. Note that the purpose of comments in SE is to provide authors with information to help improve questions or answers, not to conduct debates in the form of rhetorical questions. I realise that politics.SE often falls short but I'd like to aim higher. Commented Jul 25, 2017 at 21:48
  • How am I getting into a debate, but you are providing "facts"? I provided the text (admittedly only excerpts) but you have provided a list of Security Council resolutions without text (because you don't have access?). Let me be clear. Stick to facts. Your answer is a red-herring designed to confuse the issue.
    – J Asia
    Commented Jul 25, 2017 at 22:01
  • There's no need to get shirty with the man. @RedGrittyBrick basically gave the same answer you did, except he provided sources instead of getting excited
    – Ne Mo
    Commented Jul 26, 2017 at 11:11

Because the United States of America is "special". It does not need to (want to?). Why? Presumably because they are special!.

First, because they plotted the coup (and also because they have never followed public international law -- commentary of Professor Murphy below).

So, because of this:

CIA Confirms Role in 1953 Iran Coup

Documents Provide New Details on Mosaddeq Overthrow and Its Aftermath

National Security Archive Calls for Release of Remaining Classified Record

National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 435

Posted – August 19, 2013

Edited by Malcolm Byrne

SOURCE: The National Security Archive (The George Washington University)

Foreign Policy has a short write-up. Here's an excerpt:

TPAJAX was the CIA’s codename for the overthrow plot, which relied on local collaborators at every stage. It consisted of several steps: using propaganda to undermine Mossadegh politically, inducing the Shah to cooperate, bribing members of parliament, organizing the security forces, and ginning up public demonstrations. The initial attempt actually failed, but after a mad scramble the coup forces pulled themselves together and came through on their second try, on August 19.

Why the CIA finally chose to own up to its role is as unclear as some of the reasons it has held onto this information for so long. CIA and British operatives have written books and articles on the operation — notably Kermit Roosevelt, the agency’s chief overseer of the coup. Scholars have produced many more books, including several just in the past few years. Moreover, two American presidents (Clinton and Obama) have publicly acknowledged the U.S. role in the coup.

SOURCE: CIA Admits It Was Behind Iran’s Coup (2013/08/19)

Additional information requested (from comments - see below).

The United States and the International Court of Justice: Coping with Antinomies

(page 2)... the United States operates on the basis of conflicting principles with respect to whether states should be treated as equal sovereigns or as units characterized by inescapable power differentials. While the United States historically has articulated a desire for cooperation with other states as co-equal sovereigns — and, indeed, has been in the vanguard in many respects in the promotion and development of international law and institutions built around the concept of sovereign equality — the United States has innate historical and cultural characteristics that push it toward an attitude of “exceptionalism” in its foreign policy, claiming itself entitled, formally and informally, to be treated differently from other states.

(page 55) For Europeans, the concept of a supra-national court reaching decisions that directly affect the lives of individuals is nothing new; the European Court on Human Rights has existed for almost fifty years, and has handed down hundreds of cases that reach deeply into the national legal systems of EU member states. Likewise, the European Court of Justice reaches directly into national legal systems in various ways. Regional human rights courts in the Americas and now in Africa have a less strong pedigree, but nevertheless, for states adhering to their jurisdiction, the concept of such supra-national adjudication as having effects on internal decision-making is understood. For Americans, however, there is no such tradition of allowing intrusion into the U.S. legal system (for example, the United States has never accepted the jurisdiction of the InterAmerican Court of Human Rights).

SOURCE: Sean D. Murphy, The United States and the International Court of Justice: Coping with Antinomies in THE UNITED STATES AND INTERNATIONAL COURTS AND TRIBUNALS (Cesare Romano, ed., 2008)

Professor Murphy is professor of Public International and U.S. foreign relations law at George Washington University. Article available (pdf).

  • 4
    I'm having trouble seeing how this provides an explanation of why the UN did not consider the coup a violation of the UN Charter? Are you saying the UN did not consider it a violation because they were unaware of external involvement by one of their members? Commented Jul 25, 2017 at 19:14
  • 3
    This explanation is not sufficient because Iran most certainly knew about the involvement of the US. The coup led to an increased anti-American sentiment in Iran, particularly after the Shah fell in 1979. Unless you're implying that there's a legal reason why this wouldn't have gone to the ICJ? Commented Jul 25, 2017 at 19:27
  • @SydneyMaples - Implying? Why is there a need to imply anything? Because they are not honest, i.e. dishonest. They go around the world providing sermons about respecting human rights but this is REALLY what USA is. Feel free to ask for more violations. I'm more than happy to answer.
    – J Asia
    Commented Jul 25, 2017 at 20:46
  • 2
    Even allowing that all this is true, how does it answer the OP's question? The question isn't "What was the US involvement in the Iranian coup d’état?" or "Is the US dishonest?". The question is simply "Why wasn't the coup considered to be a violation of UN Charter?". Commented Jul 25, 2017 at 22:15
  • @sempaiscuba Ok. I take it as face-value you are asking this question sincerely. So, I will provide a straight answer. 1) UN Charter is a document (that's all) 2. States are signatory (i.e agree to be bound by it). 3) If states fail to act according to charter, they will be sanctioned. 4). UN sanctions via Security Council resolution 5) If all member of UN Security Council does not vote Yes, there is no sanction. 6)If USA did not agree to proposal to sanction itself in UN, then there is no violation (i.e no resolution to declare a breach of UN Charter). I hope this helps.
    – J Asia
    Commented Jul 25, 2017 at 22:22

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