The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) is the organ of the United Nations charged with maintaining peace and security among nations. While other organs of the United Nations 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 decisions of the Council are known as United Nations Security Council Resolutions.
The Security Council is made up of 15 member states, consisting of five permanent seats and ten temporary seats. The permanent five are China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States. These members hold veto power over substantive but not procedural resolutions allowing a permanent member to block adoption but not debate of a resolution unacceptable to it. The ten temporary seats are held for two-year terms with member states voted in by the UN General Assembly on a regional basis. The Presidency of the Security Council is rotated alphabetically each month.
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 crises.
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.
The Council seated five permanent members who were originally drawn from the victorious powers after World War II:
1. The Republic of China
2. The French Republic
3. The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics
4. The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
5. The United States of America
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, North Korea, and Israel possess nuclear weapons outside of the anti-proliferation framework established by the Treaty. 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 state has veto powers, which can be used to void any substantive resolution. A single veto from a permanent member outweighs any majority. This is not technically a veto, rather just a "nay" vote; however a "nay" vote from a permanent member blocks the passage of the resolution in question.
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.
The current (2007) elected members, with the regions they were elected to represent and their Permanent Representatives are:
1. Belgium (Western Europe): Amb. Johan C. Verbeke
2. Republic of the Congo (Africa): Amb. Basile Ikouebe
3. Ghana (Africa): Amb. Nana Effah-Apenteng
4. Indonesia (Asia): Amb. Rezlan Ishar Jenie
5. Italy (Western Europe); Amb. Marcello Spatafora
6. Panama (Latin America and Caribbean): Amb. Ricardo Alberto Arias
7. Peru (Latin America and Caribbean) - Amb. Oswaldo de Rivero
8. Qatar (Asia, Arab): Amb. Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser
9. Slovakia (Eastern Europe): Amb. Peter Burian
10. South Africa (Africa): Amb. Dumisani Kumalo
Under article 27 of the UN Charter 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 despite the wording of the Charter. Since the Security Council's inception, China (ROC/PRC) has used five vetoes; France, 18; Russia/USSR, 122; the United Kingdom, 32; and the United States, 81. The majority of Russian/Soviet vetoes were in the first ten years of the Council's existence. Since 1984, the numbers have been: China, two; France, three; Russia/USSR, four; the United Kingdom, 10; and the United States, 43.
Procedural matters are not subject to a Security Council veto. This provision is important because it prevents the veto from being 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.
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, 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.