Security Council: guardian of world peaceThe United Nations Security Council is the highest decision making body of the world’s largest and most important international organization. It is charged with the primary responsibility of maintaining peace and security among nations in accordance with the founding principles of the United Nations.
Unlike other UN bodies, which can make only non-binding recommendations, the Security Council has the power to make decisions which member governments must carry out under the United Nations Charter. The decisions of the council are known as United Nations Security Council resolutions.
The presidency of the council is rotated monthly according to the English alphabetical listing of its member states. Representatives of members of the council are required to be present at the UN headquarters in New York at all times so that the council can meet at any time and respond to crises quickly.
There are two categories of members in the UN Security Council: permanent members and elected members. The Council has five permanent members ― the United States, France, the United Kingdom, the People’s Republic of China and the Russian Federation ― who were originally drawn from the victorious powers after the Second World War.
In 1971, the People’s Republic of China was awarded the Republic of China’s seat in the United Nations by General Assembly Resolution 2758. The Republic of China (which fled mainland China and has been based in Taiwan since 1949) soon lost membership in all UN organs, including the Security Council. In 1991, Russia acquired the UN seat originally held by the Soviet Union, including membership in the Security Council.
Each permanent member state has veto power, which can be used to void any resolution. A single veto from a permanent member outweighs any majority vote and effectively blocks passage of a resolution. Decisions on procedural matters are made by an affirmative vote of at least nine of the 15 members, including the concurring votes of all five permanent members.
A negative vote ― a veto ― by a permanent member prevents adoption of a proposal, even if it has received the required number of affirmative votes. Abstention ― declining to vote ― is not regarded as a veto.
There are 10 non-permanent members, elected by the General Assembly for two-year terms and not eligible for immediate re-election. The number of non-permanent members was increased from six to 10 by an amendment of the Charter which came into force in 1965.
Argentina, the Republic of the Congo, Denmark, Ghana, Greece, Japan, Peru, Qatar, Slovakia and Tanzania are the current elected members. There has been discussion of increasing the number of permanent members. The countries that have made the strongest bids for permanent seats are Japan, Germany, Brazil and India.
The 10 elected members begin their terms on January 1, with five replaced each year. The members are chosen by regional groups and confirmed by the UN General Assembly in order to achieve equitable regional representation. The African bloc chooses three members; the Latin American, Asian, Western European and other blocs choose two members each; and the Eastern European bloc chooses one member.
Under Chapter 6 of the UN Charter, “Pacific Settlement of Disputes,” the 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 7, 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 authorizing 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 7, such as economic sanctions, are binding on UN members.
When a complaint concerning a threat to peace is brought before it, the council’s first action is usually to recommend to the parties involved to try to reach agreement by peaceful means. In some cases, the council itself undertakes investigation and mediation. It may appoint special representatives or request the UN secretary general to do so, or to use his good offices. It may set forth principles for a peaceful settlement of the dispute.
When a dispute leads to fighting, the council’s first concern is to bring it to an end as soon as possible. On many occasions, the council has issued cease-fire directives which have been instrumental in preventing wider hostilities. It also sends United Nations peacekeeping forces to help reduce tensions in troubled areas, keep opposing forces apart and create conditions of calm in which peaceful settlement may be sought. The council may decide on enforcement measures, economic sanctions (such as trade embargoes) or collective military action.
The Charter of the United Nations gives the UN Security Council the power and responsibility to take collective action to maintain international peace and security. For this reason, the international community usually looks to the Security Council to authorize peacekeeping operations; all UN peacekeeping missions must be authorized by the Security Council.
Most of these operations are established and implemented by the United Nations itself with troops serving under UN operational command, under the UN flag.
A state that is a member of the UN, but not of the Security Council, may participate in discussions in which the council agrees that the country’s interests are particularly affected.
A member state against which preventive or enforcement action has been taken by the Security Council may be suspended from the exercise of the rights and privileges of UN membership by the General Assembly on the recommendation of the council.
A member state which has persistently violated the principles of the UN Charter may be expelled from the UN by the General Assembly on the Security Council’s recommendation.
Source: The official Web site of the United Nations Security Council (www.un.org/Docs/sc/).
by Brian Lee