The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) is the branch 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, and the authorization for military action. Its powers are exercised through United Nations Security Council Resolutions.
Since its first meeting, the Council, which exists in continuous session, has traveled 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 Republic of China representative, establishing that a delegate from the People's Republic of China was the legitimate representative of China. Because the issue was presented as one that involved which delegation would properly represent China instead of admission or expulsion of a member, this issue required only action by the General Assembly. Under typical circumstances, removal of a member from the Council requires endorsement from Council itself, or the amendment to article 23 that specifies the identity of the permanent members on the Council.
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.
The basic 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 Security Council member nations' 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:
Two of the original members, the Republic of China and the Soviet Union, were later replaced by recognized successor states, even though Charter of the United Nations#Article 23 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 been in Taiwan since 1949) soon lost membership in all UN organizations. In 1991, Russia, being the legal successor state to the Soviet Union, acquired the originally-Soviet seat, 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. Israel does not officially confirm or deny having nuclear weapons, but is generally believed to.
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.
The current (2008) elected members, with the regions they were elected to represent and their Permanent Representatives, are:
|Belgium||Western Europe and Other||Jan Grauls|
|Burkina Faso||Africa||Michel Kafando|
|Costa Rica||Latin America and Caribbean||Jorge Urbina Ortega|
|Croatia||Eastern Europe||Neven Jurica|
|Italy||Western Europe and Other||Marcello Spatafora|
|Libya||Africa, Arab||Jadallah Azzuz at-Talhi|
|Panama||Latin America and Caribbean||Ricardo Alberto Arias|
|South Africa||Africa||Dumisani Kumalo|
|Vietnam||Asia||Lê Lương Minh|
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 6 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 (ROC/PRC) 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.
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:
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, made up 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 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.
Resolutions made under Charter_of_the_United_Nations#Chapter_VI_-_Pacific_Settlement_of_Disputes (Pacific Settlement of Disputes), however, have no enforcement mechanisms and are generally considered to have no binding force under international law. In 1971, however, a majority of the then International Court of Justice (ICJ) members asserted in the non-binding Namibia advisory opinion that all UN Security Council resolutions are legally binding. This assertion by the ICJ has been countered 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 characterised 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.
In practice, the Security Council does not consider its decisions outside Chapter VII to be binding.
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. 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.
Another criticism of the Security Council involves the veto power of the five permanent nations. As it stands, a veto from any of the permanent members 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, John J. Mearsheimer claimed that "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. The practice of the permanent members meeting privately and then presenting their resolutions to the full council as a fait accompli has also drawn fire; according to Erskine Childers, "the vast majority of members -- North as well as South -- have made very clear...their distaste for the way three Western powers behave in the Council, like a private club of hereditary elite-members who secretly come to decisions and then emerge to tell the grubby elected members that they may now rubber-stamp those decisions.
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 is 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, an estimated 300,000 civilians have been killed 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 on 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.
Other critics object to the idea that the U.N. is a democratic organization, saying that it represents the interests of the governments of the nations who form it and not necessarily the individuals within those nations. World federalist Dieter Heinrich points out that the powerful Security Council system does not have distinctions between the legislative, executive, and judiciary branches: the UN Charter gives all three powers to the Security Council.
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. Indeed, Japan and Germany are the UN's second and third largest funders respectively, while Brazil, the largest Latin American nation, and India, the world's largest democracy and second most populous country, 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 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).