U.N. Security Council

United Nations Security Council

UN Security Council chamber in New York
Org type:Principal Organ
Head:Security Council President (rotating)
October 2007: Ghana

The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) is the organ of the United Nations charged with the maintenance of international peace and security. Its powers, outlined in the United Nations Charter, include the establishment of peacekeeping operations, the establishment of international sanctions regimes, and the authorization for military action.[1] Its powers are exercised through United Nations Security Council Resolutions.

The Security Council consists of five permanent members (the People's Republic of China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States), which have veto power over any resolution, and ten temporary members, which are elected for two-year terms by the United Nations General Assembly. The Presidency of the Security Council is an office which rotates among the members of the Council monthly in alphabetical order.

The implementation of sanctions regimes are usually overseen by a Committee of the Security Council which consists of all the members of the Council, but with different rules of procedure. Authorized peacekeeping mandates usually submit reports back to the Council for discussion. Most Security Council meetings have transcripts which are made public.


The Security Council held its first session on 17 January 1946 at Church House, London.

Since its first meeting, the Council, which exists in continuous session, has travelled widely, holding meetings in many cities, such as Paris and Addis Ababa. For the most part, however, it has remained located at UN Headquarters — first at Lake Success in New York and then at its current home in New York City.

Significant changes in the Council’s composition have occurred on three occasions. In 1965, amendments to articles 23 and 27 of the Charter came into effect, increasing the number of elected members from six to ten.

In 1971 the General Assembly voted to remove the representative of the Republic of China and seat the delegate from the People's Republic of China as the legitimate representative of China. Because the issue was presented as one involving which delegation would properly represent China rather than that of an admission or expulsion of a member, this issue required only action by the General Assembly and circumvented the inability of the Assembly to expel a member of the Council without the Council’s endorsement (subject to veto), or the lack of an amendment to article 23 specifying the identity of the permanent members.

Similarly, there was no amendment to article 23 following the collapse of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics in 1991. In much less contentious circumstances the Russian Federation acceded to the former Soviet seat.


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The Security Council as of 2007, showing permanent members and current elected members.
The basis structure of the UNSC is set out in Chapter V of the UN Charter.

Security Council members must always be present at UN headquarters in New York so that the Security Council can meet at any time. This requirement of the United Nations Charter was adopted to address a weakness of the League of Nations since that organization was often unable to respond quickly to a crisis.

The role of president of the Security Council involves setting the agenda, presiding at its meetings and overseeing any crisis. It rotates in alphabetical order of the members' names in English.

There are two categories of membership in the UN Security Council: permanent members and elected members.

Permanent members

The Council seated five permanent members who were originally drawn from the victorious powers after World War II: Two of the original members, the Republic of China and the Soviet Union, were later replaced by recognized successor states, even though of the Charter of the United Nations has not been accordingly amended: Since the stalemate of the Chinese Civil War, there have been two states claiming to represent "China" and thus both officially claim each other's territory. In 1971, the People's Republic of China was awarded China's seat in the United Nations by UN General Assembly Resolution 2758, and the Republic of China (which had lost mainland China and was limited to Taiwan since 1949) soon lost membership in all UN organs. In 1991, Russia acquired the seat originally held by the Soviet Union, including the Soviet Union's former representation in the Security Council.

The five permanent members of the Security Council are the only nations recognized as possessing nuclear weapons under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, although it lacks universal validity, as some nuclear nations have not signed the treaty. This nuclear status is not the result of their Security Council membership, though it is sometimes used as a modern-day justification for their continued presence on the body. India, Pakistan and North Korea possess nuclear weapons outside of the anti-proliferation framework established by the Treaty. It is generally believed that Israel possesses nuclear weapons as well. In 2004, four of the five permanent members were also the world's top four weapons exporters when measured by arms value; China was seventh.

Each permanent member has the power to veto any substantive resolution. (See Veto power, below.)

The Permanent Representatives of the U.N. Security Council permanent members are Wang Guangya, Jean-Marc de La Sablière, Vitaly Churkin, John Sawers and Zalmay Khalilzad.[2]

Elected members

See also:
See also:
See also:
Ten other members are elected by the General Assembly for two-year terms starting on 1 January, with five replaced each year. The members are chosen by regional groups and confirmed by the United Nations General Assembly. The African bloc chooses three members; the Latin America and the Caribbean, Asian, and Western European and Others blocs choose two members each; and the Eastern European bloc chooses one member. Also, one of these members is an Arab country, alternately from the Asian or African bloc.[3]

The current (2007) elected members, with the regions they were elected to represent and their Permanent Representatives, are:
Country Regional Bloc(s) Ambassador
BelgiumWestern Europe and OtherJohan Verbeke
Congo-BrazzavilleAfricaBasile Ikouebe
GhanaAfricaNana Effah-Apenteng
IndonesiaAsiaMarty Natalegawa
ItalyWestern Europe and OtherMarcello Spatafora
PanamaLatin America and CaribbeanRicardo Alberto Arias
PeruLatin America and CaribbeanOswaldo de Rivero
QatarAsia, ArabNassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser
SlovakiaEastern EuropePeter Burian
South AfricaAfricaDumisani Kumalo

Until 2000 Israel was not a member of any regional group and so could not be elected to the Security Council or become involved in many consultative UN bodies. Israel would normally fall within the Asia group but many Arab states blocked Israel's inclusion in this group. In 2000 Israel was granted temporary membership in the Western European and Others Group (WEOG) and this was extended indefinitely in 2004. Israel is limited in the activities that it can undertake as part of WEOG.[4]

New elected members will replace Congo-Brazzaville, Ghana, Peru, Qatar and Slovakia at the beginning of 2008. Currently elected replacements are:

Country Regional Bloc(s) Ambassador Replacing
Burkina FasoAfricaMichel Kafando Congo-Brazzaville
Costa RicaLatin America and CaribbeanJorge Urbina Ortega Peru
CroatiaEastern EuropeMirjana Mladineo Slovakia
LibyaAfrica, ArabGiadalla Azzoz Belgasem Ettalhi Ghana
VietnamAsiaLê Lương Minh Qatar

Veto power

Under Article 27 of the UN Charter, Security Council decisions on all substantive matters require the affirmative votes of nine members. A negative vote, or veto, by a permanent member prevents adoption of a proposal, even if it has received the required number of affirmative votes. Abstention is not regarded as a veto despite the wording of the Charter. Since the Security Council's inception, China (ROC/PRC) has used its veto five times; France 18 times; Russia/USSR 122 times; the United Kingdom 32 times; and the United States 81 times. The majority of Russian/Soviet vetoes were in the first ten years of the Council's existence. Since 1984, China has vetoed three resolutions; France three; Russia/USSR four; the United Kingdom ten; and the United States 43.

Procedural matters are not subject to a veto, so the veto cannot be used to avoid discussion of an issue.

Status of non-members

A state that is a member of the UN, but not of the Security Council, may participate in Security Council discussions in matters that the Council agrees that the country's interests are particularly affected. In recent years, the Council has interpreted this loosely, enabling many countries to take part in its discussions or not depending on how they interpret the validity of the country's interest. Non-members are routinely invited to take part when they are parties to disputes being considered by the Council.

Role of the Security Council

Under Chapter Six of the Charter, "Pacific Settlement of Disputes", the Security Council "may investigate any dispute, or any situation which might lead to international friction or give rise to a dispute". The Council may "recommend appropriate procedures or methods of adjustment" if it determines that the situation might endanger international peace and security. These recommendations are not binding on UN members.

Under Chapter Seven, the Council has broader power to decide what measures are to be taken in situations involving "threats to the peace, breaches of the peace, or acts of aggression". In such situations, the Council is not limited to recommendations but may take action, including the use of armed force "to maintain or restore international peace and security". This was the basis for UN armed action in Korea in 1950 during the Korean War and the use of coalition forces in Iraq and Kuwait in 1991. Decisions taken under Chapter Seven, such as economic sanctions, are binding on UN members.

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U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell holds a model vial of anthrax while giving a presentation to the United Nations Security Council in February 2003. Foreign ministers and heads of government often appear in the UNSC in person to discuss issues of great importance.
The UN's role in international collective security is defined by the UN Charter, which gives the Security Council the power to:
  • Investigate any situation threatening international peace;
  • Recommend procedures for peaceful resolution of a dispute;
  • Call upon other member nations to completely or partially interrupt economic relations as well as sea, air, postal, and radio communications, or to sever diplomatic relations; and
  • Enforce its decisions militarily, if necessary.
The United Nations has helped prevent many outbreaks of international violence from growing into wider conflicts. It has opened the way to negotiated settlements through its service as a centre of debate and negotiation, as well as through UN-sponsored fact-finding missions, mediators, and truce observers. UN Peacekeeping forces, comprised of troops and equipment supplied by member nations, have usually been able to limit or prevent conflict, although sometimes not. Some conflicts, however, have proven to be beyond the capacity of the UN to influence. Key to the success of UN peacekeeping efforts is the willingness of the parties to a conflict to come to terms peacefully through a viable political process.

The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court grants the Security Council the power to refer cases to the Court, where the Court could not otherwise exercise jurisdiction.[5] The Council exercised this power for the first time in March 2005, when it referred to the Court “the situation prevailing in Darfur since 1 July 2002”;[6] since Sudan is not a party to the Rome Statute, the Court could not otherwise have exercised jurisdiction. Australia and New Zealand have called on the Council to refer Robert Mugabe's alleged crimes to the International Criminal Court.


UN Security Council Resolutions
1 to 100 (1946-1953)
101 to 200 (1953-1965)
201 to 300 (1965-1971)
301 to 400 (1971-1976)
401 to 500 (1976-1982)
501 to 600 (1982-1987)
601 to 700 (1987-1991)
701 to 800 (1991-1993)
801 to 900 (1993-1994)
901 to 1000 (1994-1995)
1001 to 1100 (1995-1997)
1101 to 1200 (1997-1998)
1201 to 1300 (1998-2000)
1301 to 1400 (2000-2002)
1401 to 1500 (2002-2003)
1501 to 1600 (2003-2005)
1601 to 1700 (2005-2006)
1701 to 1800 (2006-present)
The legally binding nature of Security Council Resolutions has been the subject of some controversy. It is generally agreed that resolutions are legally binding if they are made under (Action with Respect to Threats to the Peace, Breaches of the Peace, and Acts of Aggression) of the Charter. The Council is also empowered to make resolutions under Chapter VI (Pacific Settlement of Disputes); most authorities do not consider these to be legally binding. The International Court of Justice suggested in the Namibia case that resolutions other than those made under Chapter VI can also be binding,[7] a view that some Member States have questioned. Others have asserted that Chapter VI resolutions are non-binding, but may contain binding sections.[8] It is beyond doubt however that those resolutions made outside these two Chapters dealing with the internal governance of the organization (such as the admission of new Member States) are legally binding, where the Charter gives the Security Council power to make them.

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. These are adopted by consensus but often involve similar behind-closed-doors wrangling. They are meant to apply political pressure — a warning that the council is paying attention and further action may follow.

Press statements typically accompany both resolutions and presidential statements, carrying the text of the document adopted by the body and also some explanatory text. They may also be released independently, after a significant meeting.

Criticisms of the Security Council

There have been criticisms that the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council (who are all nuclear powers) have created an exclusive nuclear club whose powers are unchecked. The lack of true international representation in the United Nations Security Council, as exists in the General Assembly, has led to accusations that the UNSC only addresses the strategic interests and political motives of the permanent members, especially in humanitarian interventions. For example, the eagerness to protect oil-rich Kuwaitis in 1991 compared to the lack of enthusiasm to protect resource-poor Rwandans in 1994.[9] Non-nuclear countries can be elected to serve a temporary term on the Security Council, but critics have suggested this is inadequate. Critics have suggested that expanding the number of permanent members to include non-nuclear powers would democratize the organization.[10] Still other nations have advocated abolishing the concept of permanency altogether; under the government of Paul Martin, Canada advocated this approach.[11]

Another criticism of the Security Council involves the veto power of the five permanent nations. As it stands, one veto from any of the "Big Five" (Russia, China, the United States, the United Kingdom and France) can halt any possible action the Council may take. One nation's objection, rather than the opinions of a majority of nations, may cripple any possible UN armed or diplomatic response to a crisis. For instance, "Since 1982, the US has vetoed 32 Security Council resolutions critical of Israel, more than the total number of vetoes cast by all the other Security Council members."[12]

Other critics and even proponents of the Security Council question its effectiveness and relevance because in most high profile cases, there are essentially no consequences for violating a Security Council resolution. The most prominent and dramatic example of this became the Darfur crisis, in which Arab Janjaweed militias, supported by the Sudanese government, committed repeated acts of ethnic cleansing and genocide against the indigenous population thus far killing an estimate of 300,000 civilians in what is the largest case of mass murder in the history of the region, yet the U.N. has continuously failed to act against this severe and ongoing human rights issue. Another such case occurred in the Srebrenica massacre where Serbian troops committed genocide against Bosnian Muslims in the largest case of mass murder upon the European continent since World War II. Srebrenica had been declared a U.N. "safe area" and was even protected by 400 armed Dutch peacekeepers, but the U.N. forces did nothing to prevent the massacre.

The most fundamental problem with the Security Council is that it freezes the power structure that existed in 1945 to perpetuity even though neither the Soviet Union nor the British which warranted their respective seats exist today.

Other critics object to the idea that the U.N. is a democratic organization, saying that it represents the interests of the nations who form it and not necessarily the individuals within those nations.

Membership reform

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The G4 nations (Brazil, Germany, India and Japan) support one another’s bid for permanent seats on the Security Council.
There has been discussion of an increase in the number of permanent members. The countries who have made the strongest demands for permanent seats are Brazil, Germany, India and Japan. Indeed, Japan and Germany are the UN's second and third largest funders, respectively, while Brazil, the largest South American nation, and India, the world's second most populous country and the world's largest democracy, are two of the largest contributors of troops to UN-mandated peace-keeping missions. This project has found opposition in a group of countries called Uniting for Consensus.

Former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan asked a team of advisors to come up with recommendations for revamping the United Nations by the end of 2004. A proposed solution is to increase the number of permanent members by five, which, in most proposals, would include Brazil, Germany, India, Japan (known as the G4 nations), one seat from Africa (most likely between Egypt, Nigeria or South Africa) and/or one seat from the Arab League.[13] On 21 September 2004, the G4 nations issued a joint statement mutually backing each other's claim to permanent status, together with an African country. France and the United Kingdom declared that they support this claim. Currently the proposal has to be accepted by two-thirds of the General Assembly (128 votes).

See also


1. ^ Under the Charter, the functions and powers of the Security Council are:.
2. ^ List of heads of missionsPDF (102 KiB)
3. ^ The United Nations Security Council. The Green Papers. Retrieved on 2006-05-14.
4. ^ Rebecca Weiner. Israel Wins Membership on WEOG. Jewish Virtual Library. Retrieved on 2007-09-08.
5. ^ Article 13 of the Rome Statute. Retrieved on 2007-03-14.
6. ^ United Nations Security Council (31 March 2006). Security Council Refers Situation in Darfur, Sudan, To Prosecutor of International Criminal Court. Press release. Retrieved on 2007-03-14.
7. ^ Marko Divac Öberg (2005). "The Legal Effects of Resolutions of the UN Security Council and General Assembly in the Jurisprudence of the ICJ". European Journal of International Law 16 (5): 879–906. DOI:10.1093/ejil/chi151. 
8. ^ Behind the Headlines: UN Security Council Resolution 1701. Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs (12 August 2006). Retrieved on 2006-10-17.
9. ^ Rajan, Chella (2006). "Global Politics and InstitutionsPDF (449 KiB)". Frontiers of a Great Transistion. Vol. 3. Tellus Institute.
10. ^ India makes strong case for UNSC expansion. HindustanTimes.com (13 November 2005). Archived from the original on 2007-09-08.
11. ^ Statement by Canadian Ambassador Allan Rock on Security Council Reform. Global Policy Forum (12 July 2005). Retrieved on 2007-09-08.
12. ^ John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt. The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy. KSG Faculty Research Working Paper Series. Harvard University. Retrieved on 2007-09-08.
13. ^ "UN Security Council Reform May Shadow Annan's Legacy", Voice Of America, 1 November 2006. Retrieved on 2007-09-08.2006"> 

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