A session of the Security Council in progress
The United Nations Security Council is the most powerful organ of the United Nations. It is charged with maintaining peace and security between nations. While other organs of the UN only make recommendations to member governments, the Security Council has the power to make decisions which member governments must carry out under the United Nations Charter. The Security Council held its first session on January 17, 1946, at Church House, London and the decisions of the Council are known as UN Security Council Resolutions.
The Council has five so-called "permanent" members. They were originally the five victorious powers of World War II:
The Republic of China was, in effect, expelled in 1971 and replaced with the People's Republic of China. After the USSR broke up and then formally dissolved itself in 1991, the Russian Federation was treated as its successor.
Thus, the current permanent members are:
There has been discussion of an increase in the number of permanent members. The countries who have made the strongest demands for permanent seats, Japan and Germany, are the UN's second and third largest funders, respectively. Germany is also the second largest contributor of troops to UN-mandated missions, after the United States.
The current five members are the only nations permitted to possess nuclear weapons under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
Nuclear power India represents approximately a fifth of the world's population and is backed by France, the United Kingdom, and Russia. A landmark breakthrough in Sino-Indian relations has been the People's Republic of China's endorsement of India's candidature for the UN Security council. This is significant considering that the PRC's "all-weather ally" Pakistan has been resolutely opposed to such candidacy.
Germany used to hold such a permanent seat on the council of the League of Nations, and France has explicitly called for a permanent seat in the UN for Germany: "Germany's engagement, its ranking as a great power, its international influence—France would like to see them recognised with a permanent seat on the Security Council", French president Chirac said in a speech in Berlin in 2000. The German Chancellor also identified Russia, among other countries, as a country that backed Germany's bid. Italy and Netherlands on the contrary suggest a common EU seat in the Council instead of Germany becoming the third European member next to France and the UK. The German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer said Germany would also accept a common European seat, but as long as there is little sign that France and the UK will give up their own seats, Germany, a much larger country, should also have a seat. Thus, the German campaign for a permanent seat has been intensified in 2004. Chancellor Gerhard Schröder made himself perfectly clear in August, 2004: "Germany has the right to a seat".
UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has asked a team of advisors to come up with recommendations for revamping the United Nations by the end of this year. A proposed solution is to increase the number of permanent members with five, which should include Japan, Germany, India, Brazil and one seat for an important country from Africa. On September 21, 2004, these countries 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.
Ten other members are elected by the General Assembly for 2-year terms starting on January 1, with five replaced each year. The members are chosen by regional groups and confirmed by the United Nations General Assembly. The African, Latin American, and Western European blocs choose two members each, and the Arab, Asian, and Eastern European blocs choose one member each. The final seat alternates between Asian and African selections.
A representative of each Security Council member must always be present at UN headquarters so that the 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 crises. The presidency of the security council is rotated and lasts for one month. The role involves setting the agenda, presiding at its meetings and overseeing any crises. It alternates in alphabetical order of the members' names in English. The current elected members are:
- Angola (outgoing)
- Chile (outgoing)
- Germany (outgoing)
- Pakistan (outgoing)
- Spain (outgoing)
Elected half for the 2005–2006 period:
See Elected members of the UN Security Council for other years.
The roles of members and non-members
Decisions in the 15-member Security Council on all substantive matters—for example, a decision calling for direct measures related to the settlement of a dispute—require the affirmative votes of nine 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 is not regarded as a veto. Since the Security Council's inception, China (ROC/PRC) has used 5 vetoes; France, 18; Russia/USSR, 122; the United Kingdom, 32; and the United States, 79. The majority of the USSR vetoes were in the first ten years of the Council's existence, and the numbers since 1984 have been: China, 2; France, 3; Russia, 4; the United Kingdom, 10; and the United States, 42.
A state that is a member of the UN, but not of the Security Council, may participate in Security Council discussions in which 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. Non-members routinely are invited to take part when they are parties to disputes being considered by the Council.
The 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.
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 center 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. 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 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 Chapter VII (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, a view that some Member States have questioned. 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 .
- United Nations Security Council (http://www.un.org/Docs/sc/)
- Veto patterns of the Security Council (http://www.globalpolicy.org/security/data/vetotab.htm)