UN Security Council
United Nations Security Council
مجلس أمن الأمم المتحدة (Arabic)
las Naciones Unidas (Spanish)
UN Security Council Chamber in New York, also known as the Norwegian Room
|Org type||Principal Organ|
|Head||Rotates between members|
The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) is one of the six principal organs of the United Nations and is 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, and the authorization of military action. Its powers are exercised through United Nations Security Council resolutions.
There are 15 members of the Security Council. This includes five veto-wielding permanent members—China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States—based on the great powers that were the victors of World War II. There are also 10 non-permanent members, with five elected each year to serve two-year terms. This basic structure is set out in Chapter V of the UN Charter. The current non-permanent members are Argentina, Australia, Azerbaijan, Guatemala, Luxembourg, Morocco, Pakistan, Rwanda, South Korea, and Togo.
The Security Council held its first session on 17 January 1946 at Church House, Westminster, 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, as well as at its current permanent home at the United Nations Headquarters in New York City. Representatives of the members of the Security Council must always be present at UN headquarters in New York so that the Security Council can meet at any time. This requirement addresses a weakness of the League of Nations: that organization was often unable to respond quickly to a crisis.
The Security Council's five permanent members have the power to veto any substantive resolution:
|Country||Current representative||Current state representation||Former state representation|
|China||Liu Jieyi||People's Republic of China (1971–present)||Republic of China (1946–1971)|
|France||Gérard Araud||French Republic (1958–present)||Template:Country data French Fourth Republic (1946–1958)|
|Russia||Vitaly Churkin||Russian Federation (1992–present)||Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (1946–1991)|
|United Kingdom||Sir Mark Lyall Grant||United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (1946–present)||—|
|United States||Samantha Power||United States of America (1946–present)||—|
At the UN's founding in 1946, the five permanent members of the Security Council were the French Republic, the Republic of China, the United Kingdom, the United States, and the Soviet Union. There have been two seat changes since then, although not reflected in Article 23 of the United Nations Charter as it has not been accordingly amended:
- China's seat was originally held by Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalist Government, known as the "Republic of China". However, the Nationalists were forced to retreat to the island of Taiwan in 1949, during the Chinese Civil War. The Communist government was left in control of mainland China, henceforth known as the "People's Republic of China". In 1971, Resolution 2758 recognized the People's Republic as the rightful representative of China in the UN and gave it the seat on the Security Council that had been held by the Republic of China, which was expelled from the UN altogether. Both governments still officially claim one another's territory. However, only 22 states continue to officially recognize Taiwan's sovereignty.
- After the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, Russia was recognized as the legal successor state of the Soviet Union and maintained the latter's position on the Security Council.
Additionally, France reformed its government into the French Fifth Republic in 1958, under the leadership of Charles de Gaulle. France maintained its seat as there was no change in its international status or recognition, although many of its overseas possessions eventually became independent.
The five permanent members of the Security Council were the victorious powers in World War II and have maintained the world's most powerful military forces ever since. Until 2012 (when Japan surpassed France), they annually topped the list of countries with the highest military expenditures; in 2011, they spent over US$1 trillion combined on defense, accounting for over 60% of global military expenditures (the U.S. alone accounting for over 40%). They are also among world's largest arms exporters and are the only nations officially recognized as "nuclear-weapon states" under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), though there are other states known or believed to be in possession of nuclear weapons.
Ten non-permanent 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. To be approved, a candidate must receive at least 2/3 of all votes cast for that seat, which can result in deadlock if there are two roughly evenly matched candidates; in 1979, a standoff between Cuba and Colombia only ended after three months and 154 rounds of voting, when both withdrew in favor of Mexico as a compromise candidate. A retiring member shall not be eligible for immediate re-election.
The African bloc is represented by three members; the Latin America and the Caribbean, Asian, and Western European and Others blocs by two members each; and the Eastern European bloc by one member. Also, one of the members is an "Arab country," alternately from the Asian or African bloc. Currently, elections for terms beginning in even-numbered years select two African members, and one each within Eastern Europe, Asia, and Latin America and the Caribbean. Additionally, the Arab state is represented in this group (Libya within Africa in 2008, Lebanon within Asia in 2010). Terms beginning in odd-numbered years consist of two Western European and Other members, and one within each of Latin America and the Caribbean, Asia, and Africa.
The current elected members, with the regions they were elected to represent and their Permanent Representatives, are:
The role of president of the Security Council involves setting the agenda, presiding at its meetings and overseeing any crisis. The President is authorized to issue both presidential statements (subject to consensus among Council members) and notes, which are used to make declarations of intent that the full Security Council can then pursue. The Presidency rotates monthly in alphabetical order of the Security Council member nations' names in English.
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, also known as the rule of "great power unanimity", by a permanent member prevents adoption of a proposal, even if it has received the required number of affirmative votes (9). 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 6 times; France 18 times; Russia/USSR 123 times; the United Kingdom 32 times; and the United States 89 times. The majority of Russian/Soviet vetoes were in the first ten years of the Council's existence. Since 1984, China and France have vetoed three resolutions each; 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. The same holds for certain decisions that directly regard permanent members.
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 legal 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 and Libya in 2011. 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;
- Enforce its decisions militarily, or by any means necessary;
- Avoid conflict and maintain focus on cooperation.
The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court recognizes that the Security Council has authority to refer cases to the Court, where the Court could not otherwise exercise jurisdiction. 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”; since Sudan is not a party to the Rome Statute, the Court could not otherwise have exercised jurisdiction. The Security Council made its second such referral in February 2011 when it asked the ICC to investigate the Libyan government's violent response to the Libyan civil war.
Responsibility to protect
Security Council Resolution 1674, adopted on 28 April 2006, "reaffirms the provisions of paragraphs 138 and 139 of the 2005 World Summit Outcome Document regarding the responsibility to protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity". The resolution commits the Council to take action to protect civilians in an armed conflict. The Security Council's role in implementing the responsibility to protect is not limited to taking collective action against mass atrocities (pillar three of the responsibility to protect), but it can also make important contributions to structural and operational prevention of genocide, war, crimes, ethnic cleansing, and crimes against humanity (pillar two of the responsibility to protect).
Power of resolutions
The UN Charter is a multilateral treaty. It is the constitutional document that distributes powers and functions among the various UN organs. It authorizes the Security Council to take action on behalf of the members, and to make decisions and recommendations. The Charter mentions neither binding nor non-binding resolutions. The International Court of Justice (ICJ) advisory opinion in the 1949 "Reparations" case indicated that the United Nations Organization had both explicit and implied powers. The Court cited Articles 104 and 2(5) of the Charter, and noted that the members had granted the Organization the necessary legal authority to exercise its functions and fulfill its purposes as specified or implied in the Charter, and that they had agreed to give the United Nations every assistance in any action taken in accordance with the Charter.
Article 25 of the Charter says "The Members of the United Nations agree to accept and carry out the decisions of the Security Council in accordance with the present Charter". The Repertory of Practice of United Nations Organs, is a UN legal publication that is published by the Secretariat units concerned in accordance with their operational responsibilities and under the guidance of the Inter-Departmental Committee on Charter Repertory. It says that during the United Nations Conference on International Organization which met in San Francisco in 1945, attempts to limit obligations of Members under Article 25 of the Charter to those decisions taken by the Council in the exercise of its specific powers under Chapters VI, VII and VIII of the Charter failed. It was stated at the time that those obligations also flowed from the authority conferred on the Council under Article 24(1) to act on the behalf of the members while exercising its responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security. Article 24, interpreted in this sense, becomes a source of authority which can be drawn upon to meet situations which are not covered by the more detailed provisions in the succeeding articles. The Repertory on Article 24 says: "The question whether Article 24 confers general powers on the Security Council ceased to be a subject of discussion following the advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice rendered on 21 June 1971 in connection with the question of Namibia (ICJ Reports, 1971, page 16)".
In exercising its powers the Security Council seldom bothers to cite the particular article or articles of the UN Charter that its decisions are based upon. In cases where none are mentioned, a constitutional interpretation is required. This sometimes presents ambiguities as to what amounts to a decision as opposed to a recommendation, and also the relevance and interpretation of the phrase "in accordance with the present Charter".
In the preliminary rulings of the "Lockerbie" cases the ICJ held that the provisions of the Montreal Convention could be preempted by Security Council resolutions pursuant to Article 25 and Article 103 of the UN Charter. Article 103 provides that in the event of conflicts with other treaty obligations, the members' obligations under the Charter prevail. There is consensus that the treaty-based powers of the Security Council are limited to preemption of other treaties. The UN cannot circumvent peremptory norms and its resolutions are subject to judicial review.
|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 (2006–2008)|
|1801 to 1900 (2008–2009)|
|1901 to 2000 (2009–2011)|
|2001 to 2100 (2011–2013)|
|2101 to 2200 (2013–present)|
There is a general agreement among legal scholars outside the organization that resolutions made under Chapter VI (Pacific Settlement of Disputes) are not legally binding. One argument is that since they have no enforcement mechanism, except self-help, they may not be legally binding. Some States give constitutional or special legal status to the UN Charter and Security Council resolutions. In such cases non-recognition regimes or other sanctions can be implemented under the provisions of the laws of the individual member states.
The Repertory of Practice of United Nations Organs was established because "Records of the cumulating practice of international organizations may be regarded as evidence of customary international law with reference to States' relations to the organizations." The repertory cites the remarks made by the representative of Israel, Mr Eban, regarding a Chapter VI resolution. He maintained that the Security Council's resolution of 1 September 1951 possessed, within the meaning of Article 25, a compelling force beyond that pertaining to any resolution of any other organ of the United Nations, in his view the importance of the resolution had to be envisaged in the light of Article 25, under which the decisions of the Council on matters affecting international peace and security assumed an obligatory character for all Member States. The Egyptian representative disagreed.
Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali related that during a press conference his remarks about a "non-binding" resolution started a dispute. His assistant released a hasty clarification, which only made the situation worse. It said that the Secretary had only meant to say that Chapter VI contains no means of ensuring compliance and that resolutions adopted under its terms are not enforceable. When the Secretary finally submitted the question to the UN Legal Advisor, the response was a long memo the bottom line of which read, in capital letters: "NO SECURITY COUNCIL RESOLUTION CAN BE DESCRIBED AS UNENFORCEABLE." The Secretary said, "I got the message."
Prof. Jared Schott explains that "Though certainly possessing judicial language, without the legally binding force of Chapter VII, such declarations were at worst political and at best advisory".In 1971, a majority of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) members in the Namibia advisory opinion held that the resolution contained legal declarations that were made while the Council was acting on behalf of the members in accordance with Article 24. The Court also said that an interpretation of the charter that limits the domain of binding decision only to those taken under Chapter VII would render Article 25 "superfluous, since this [binding] effect is secured by Articles 48 and 49 of the Charter", and that the "language of a resolution of the Security Council should be carefully analyzed before a conclusion can be made as to its binding effect". The ICJ judgment has been criticized by Erika De Wet and others. De Wet argues that Chapter VI resolutions cannot be binding. Her reasoning, in part states:
Allowing the Security Council to adopt binding measures under Chapter VI would undermine the structural division of competencies foreseen by Chapters VI and VII, respectively. The whole aim of separating these chapters is to distinguish between voluntary and binding measures. Whereas the pacific settlement of disputes provided by the former is underpinned by the consent of the parties, binding measures in terms of Chapter VII are characterized by the absence of such consent. A further indication of the non-binding nature of measures taken in terms of Chapter VI is the obligation on members of the Security Council who are parties to a dispute, to refrain from voting when resolutions under Chapter VI are adopted. No similar obligation exists with respect to binding resolutions adopted under Chapter VII... If one applies this reasoning to the Namibia opinion, the decisive point is that none of the Articles under Chapter VI facilitate the adoption of the type of binding measures that were adopted by the Security Council in Resolution 276(1970)... Resolution 260(1970) was indeed adopted in terms of Chapter VII, even though the ICJ went to some length to give the opposite impression.
Others disagree with this interpretation. Professor Stephen Zunes asserts that "[t]his does not mean that resolutions under Chapter VI are merely advisory, however. These are still directives by the Security Council and differ only in that they do not have the same stringent enforcement options, such as the use of military force". Former President of the International Court of Justice Rosalyn Higgins argues that the location of Article 25, outside of Chapter VI and VII and with no reference to either, suggests its application is not limited to Chapter VII decisions. She asserts that the Travaux préparatoires to the UN Charter "provide some evidence that Article 25 was not intended to be limited to Chapter VII, or inapplicable to Chapter VI." She argues that early state practice into what resolutions UN members considered binding has been somewhat ambiguous, but seems to "rely not upon whether they are to be regarded as "Chapter VI or "Chapter VII" resolutions [...] but upon whether the parties intended them to be "decisions" or "recommendations" ... One is left with the view that in certain limited, and perhaps rare, cases a binding decision may be taken under Chapter VI". She supports the view of the ICJ that "clearly regarded Chapters VI, VII, VIII and XII as lex specialis while Article 24 contained the lex generalis ... [and] that resolutions validly adopted under Article 24 were binding on the membership as a whole".
Those resolutions made 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. 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.
It has been argued[by whom?] that the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, who are all nuclear powers, have created an exclusive nuclear club that predominately addresses the strategic interests and political motives of the permanent members; for example, protecting the oil-rich Kuwaitis in 1991 but poorly protecting resource-poor Rwandans in 1994. Since three of the five permanent members are also European, and three or four are predominantly white Western nations, the Security Council has been described as a pillar of global apartheid by Titus Alexander, former Chair of Westminster United Nations Association.
Another criticism of the Security Council involves the veto power of the five permanent nations. The veto power was adopted at the insistence of the Soviet Union and the United States after World War II. According to the by-rules of the UN, a “no” vote by any one permanent Security Council member is enough to strike down any given proposal. Permanent members often use this veto power to strike down measures that run contrary to their individual national interests. For example, the People's Republic of China, which, in 1971, replaced the Republic of China as a permanent Security Council member, has vetoed sparingly, but always and only on issues relating to Chinese national interests. In another example, in the first ten years of the UN's existence, Russia was responsible for 79 vetoes—more than half of all the vetoes cast during that period—and cast them to dispute the U.S.'s refusal to admit all of the Soviet Republics as member states of the UN. In another example of the use of the veto power to advance national interests, between 1982 and today, the U.S. vetoed 32 Security Council resolutions that were critical of Israel. Due to the immense power of the veto, permanent members often now meet privately and then present their resolutions to the full council, which critics from the Global Policy Forum characterize as a fait accompli.
The Security Council's effectiveness and relevance is questioned by some because, in most high-profile cases, there are essentially no consequences for violating a Security Council resolution. During the Darfur crisis, Janjaweed militias, allowed by elements of the Sudanese government, committed violence against an indigenous population, killing thousands of civilians. In the Srebrenica massacre, Serbian troops committed genocide against Bosniaks, although Srebrenica had been declared a UN “safe area” and was even “protected” by 400 armed Dutch peacekeepers. The UN Charter gives all three powers of the legislative, executive, and judiciary branches to the Security Council.
Another criticism, posed by alternative-media researcher Anup Shah, is that the five permanent members of the UN Security Council are five of the top ten largest arms exporting countries in the world.
In his inaugural speech at the 16th Summit of the Non-Aligned Movement in August 2012, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei criticized the United Nations Security Council as having an "illogical, unjust and completely undemocratic structure and mechanism" and called for a complete reform of the body.
The amount of time devoted to the Israeli-Arab conflict in the UNSC has been described as excessive by some pro-Israel political organizations such as the UN Watch and the Anti-Defamation League, and academics such as Alan Dershowitz, Martin Kramer, and Mitchell Bard. This “excessiveness” is partially due to the existence of the Security Council Resolution 1322 (2000), that serves the legal basis for a monthly discussion on this protracted conflict. Paragraph 7 stated that “invites the Secretary-General to continue to follow the situation and to keep the Security Council informed.” In accordance with its general practices, it is considered that this issue has to be dealt on a regular basis (i.e. every month). The resolution was adopted with 14 affirmative votes and one abstention. At the 68th Session of the UN General Assembly, New Zealand Prime Minister John Key heavily criticised the UN's inaction on Syria, more than two years after the Syrian civil war began.
There has been discussion of increasing the number of permanent members. The countries who have made the strongest demands for permanent seats are Brazil, Germany, India, and Japan. Japan and Germany, the main defeated powers in WWII, are now the UN's second- and third-largest funders respectively, while Brazil and India are two of the largest contributors of troops to UN-mandated peace-keeping missions. This proposal has found opposition in a group of countries called Uniting for Consensus.
Former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan asked a team of advisers to come up with recommendations for reforming the United Nations by the end of 2004. One proposed measure 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. On 21 September 2004, the G4 nations issued a joint statement mutually backing each other's claim to permanent status, together with two African countries. Currently the proposal has to be accepted by two-thirds of the General Assembly (128 votes).
The permanent members, each holding the right of veto, announced their positions on Security Council reform reluctantly. The United States has unequivocally supported the permanent membership of Japan and lent its support to India and a small number of additional non-permanent members. The United Kingdom and France essentially supported the G4 position, with the expansion of permanent and non-permanent members and the accession of Germany, Brazil, India and Japan to permanent member status, as well as an increase in the presence by African countries on the Council. China has supported the stronger representation of developing countries and firmly opposed Japan's membership.
The designated Security Council Chamber in the United Nations Conference Building, designed by the Norwegian architect Arnstein Arneberg, was the specific gift of Norway. The mural painted by the Norwegian artist Per Krohg depicts a phoenix rising from its ashes, symbolic of the world reborn after World War II. In the blue and gold silk tapestry on the walls and in the draperies of the windows overlooking the East River appear the anchor of faith, the growing wheat of hope, and the heart of charity.
In March 2010, the Security Council moved into a temporary facility in the General Assembly Building as the Chamber underwent renovations as part of the UN Capital Master Plan. The renovations were funded by Norway, with a total of US$5million contributed by the original donors of the Chamber.
General-Secretrary Ban reopened the Chamber on 16 April 2013, saying the renovations would "provide a more pleasant, healthier and safer work environment, better air conditioning and ventilation, improved electronics and various security enhancement[s]".
- Military Staff Committee, a sub-organ of the Security Council
- Reform of the United Nations
- United Nations Department of Political Affairs, provides secretarial support to the Security Council
- United Nations Security Council Counter-Terrorism Committee, a standing committee of the Security Council
- T.D. Gill, ‘Legal and Some Political Limitations on the Power of the UN Security Council to Exercise Its Enforcement Powers under Chapter VII of the Charter’(1995) 26 NYIL 33, 79;
- Alexander Orakhelashvili, 'The Impact of Peremptory Norms on the Interpretation and Application of United Nations Security Council Resolutions', The European Journal of International Law Vol. 16 no.1.
|Commons has media related to United Nations Security Council.|
- UN Security Council — official site
- UN Security Council – Background
- Global Policy Forum – UN Security Council
- Global Policy Forum – veto patterns of the Security Council
- Security Council Report — timely, accurate and objective information and analysis on the Council's activities
- Center for UN Reform Education – objective information on current reform issues at the United Nations
- Verbatim record of the 1st session of the Security Council
- UN Democracy: hyperlinked transcripts of the United Nations General Assembly and the Security Council
- The Voting Procedure in the United Nations Security Council PDF (238 KB)
- Reform the United Nations website — tracking developments
- History of the United Nations — UK Government
- Who will be the next Secretary General?
- (French) The different projects of reform (G4, Africa Union, United for consensus) (2006)
- UNSC cyberschool