Type Principal Organ
Legal status Active
|Head Council PresidentMatthew Rycroft United Kingdom|
The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) is one of the six principal organs of the United Nations, charged with the maintenance of international peace and security as well as accepting new members to the United Nations and approving any changes to its United Nations Charter. Its powers include the establishment of peacekeeping operations, the establishment of international sanctions, and the authorization of military action through Security Council resolutions; it is the only UN body with the authority to issue binding resolutions to member states. The Security Council held its first session on 17 January 1946.
- Background and creation
- Cold War
- Post Cold War
- Permanent members
- Veto power
- Non permanent members
Like the UN as a whole, the Security Council was created following World War II to address the failings of a previous international organization, the League of Nations, in maintaining world peace. In its early decades, the body was largely paralyzed by the Cold War division between the US and USSR and their respective allies, though it authorized interventions in the Korean War and the Congo Crisis and peacekeeping missions in the Suez Crisis, Cyprus, and West New Guinea. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, UN peacekeeping efforts increased dramatically in scale, and the Security Council authorized major military and peacekeeping missions in Kuwait, Namibia, Cambodia, Bosnia, Rwanda, Somalia, Sudan, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The Security Council consists of fifteen members. The great powers that were the victors of World War II—the Soviet Union (now represented by Russia), the United Kingdom, France, Republic of China (now represented by the People's Republic of China), and the United States—serve as the body's five permanent members. These permanent members can veto any substantive Security Council resolution, including those on the admission of new member states or candidates for Secretary-General. The Security Council also has 10 non-permanent members, elected on a regional basis to serve two-year terms. The body's presidency rotates monthly among its members.
Security Council resolutions are typically enforced by UN peacekeepers, military forces voluntarily provided by member states and funded independently of the main UN budget. As of 2016, 103,510 peacekeeping soldiers and 16,471 civilians are deployed on 16 peacekeeping operations and 1 special political mission.
Background and creation
In the century prior to the UN's creation, several international treaty organizations and conferences had been formed to regulate conflicts between nations, such as the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Hague Conventions of 1899 and 1907. Following the catastrophic loss of life in World War I, the Paris Peace Conference established the League of Nations to maintain harmony between the nations. This organization successfully resolved some territorial disputes and created international structures for areas such as postal mail, aviation, and opium control, some of which would later be absorbed into the UN. However, the League lacked representation for colonial peoples (then half the world's population) and significant participation from several major powers, including the US, USSR, Germany, and Japan; it failed to act against the 1931 Japanese invasion of Manchuria, the Second Italo-Ethiopian War in 1935, the 1937 Japanese invasion of China, and German expansions under Adolf Hitler that culminated in World War II.
The earliest concrete plan for a new world organization began under the aegis of the US State Department in 1939. Roosevelt first coined the term United Nations to describe the Allied countries."On New Year’s Day 1942, President Roosevelt, Prime Minister Churchill, Maxim Litvinov, of the USSR, and T. V. Soong, of China, signed a short document which later came to be known as the United Nations Declaration and the next day the representatives of twenty-two other nations added their signatures." The term United Nations was first officially used when 26 governments signed this Declaration. By 1 March 1945, 21 additional states had signed. "Four Policemen" was coined to refer to the four major Allied countries: the United States, the United Kingdom, the Soviet Union, and China, which was emerged in Declaration by United Nations and became the foundation of an executive branch of the United Nations, the Security Council.
In mid-1944, the delegations from the Allied "Big Four", the Soviet Union, the UK, the US and China, met for the Dumbarton Oaks Conference in Washington, D.C. to negotiate the UN's structure, and the composition of the UN Security Council quickly became the dominant issue. France, the Republic of China, the Soviet Union, the UK, and US were selected as permanent members of the Security Council; the US attempted to add Brazil as a sixth member, but was opposed by the heads of the Soviet and British delegations. The most contentious issue at Dumbarton and in successive talks proved to be the veto rights of permanent members. The Soviet delegation argued that each nation should have an absolute veto that could block matters from even being discussed, while the British argued that nations should not be able to veto resolutions on disputes to which they were a party. At the Yalta Conference of February 1945, the American, British, and Russian delegations agreed that each of the "Big Five" could veto any action by the council, but not procedural resolutions, meaning that the permanent members could not prevent debate on a resolution.
On 25 April 1945, the UN Conference on International Organization began in San Francisco, attended by 50 governments and a number of non-governmental organizations involved in drafting the United Nations Charter. At the conference, H. V. Evatt of the Australian delegation pushed to further restrict the veto power of Security Council permanent members. Due to the fear that rejecting the strong veto would cause the conference's failure, his proposal was defeated twenty votes to ten.
The UN officially came into existence on 24 October 1945 upon ratification of the Charter by the five then-permanent members of the Security Council and by a majority of the other 46 signatories. On 17 January 1946, the Security Council met for the first time at Church House, Westminster, in London, United Kingdom.
The Security Council was largely paralysed in its early decades by the Cold War between the US and USSR and their allies, and the Council generally was only able to intervene in unrelated conflicts. (A notable exception was the 1950 Security Council resolution authorizing a US-led coalition to repel the North Korean invasion of South Korea, passed in the absence of the USSR.) In 1956, the first UN peacekeeping force was established to end the Suez Crisis; however, the UN was unable to intervene against the USSR's simultaneous invasion of Hungary following that country's revolution. Cold War divisions also paralysed the Security Council's Military Staff Committee, which had been formed by Articles 45–47 of the UN Charter to oversee UN forces and create UN military bases. The committee continued to exist on paper but largely abandoned its work in the mid-1950s.
In 1960, the UN deployed the United Nations Operation in the Congo (UNOC), the largest military force of its early decades, to restore order to the breakaway State of Katanga, restoring it to the control of the Democratic Republic of the Congo by 1964. However, the Security Council found itself bypassed in favour of direct negotiations between the superpowers in some of the decade's larger conflicts, such as the Cuban missile crisis or the Vietnam War. Focusing instead on smaller conflicts without an immediate Cold War connection, the Security Council deployed the United Nations Temporary Executive Authority in West New Guinea in 1962 and the United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus in 1964, the latter of which would become one of the UN's longest-running peacekeeping missions.
On 25 October 1971, over US opposition but with the support of many Third World nations, the mainland, communist People's Republic of China was given the Chinese seat on the Security Council in place of the Republic of China that occupied Taiwan; the vote was widely seen as a sign of waning US influence in the organization. With an increasing Third World presence and the failure of UN mediation in conflicts in the Middle East, Vietnam, and Kashmir, the UN increasingly shifted its attention to its ostensibly secondary goals of economic development and cultural exchange. By the 1970s, the UN budget for social and economic development was far greater than its budget for peacekeeping.
After the Cold War, the UN saw a radical expansion in its peacekeeping duties, taking on more missions in ten years' time than it had in its previous four decades. Between 1988 and 2000, the number of adopted Security Council resolutions more than doubled, and the peacekeeping budget increased more than tenfold. The UN negotiated an end to the Salvadoran Civil War, launched a successful peacekeeping mission in Namibia, and oversaw democratic elections in post-apartheid South Africa and post-Khmer Rouge Cambodia. In 1991, the Security Council demonstrated its renewed vigor by condemning the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait on the same day of the attack, and later authorizing a US-led coalition that successfully repulsed the Iraqis. Undersecretary-General Brian Urquhart later described the hopes raised by these successes as a "false renaissance" for the organization, given the more troubled missions that followed.
Though the UN Charter had been written primarily to prevent aggression by one nation against another, in the early 1990s, the UN faced a number of simultaneous, serious crises within nations such as Somalia, Haiti, Mozambique, and the former Yugoslavia. The UN mission in Somalia was widely viewed as a failure after the US withdrawal following casualties in the Battle of Mogadishu, and the UN mission to Bosnia faced "worldwide ridicule" for its indecisive and confused mission in the face of ethnic cleansing. In 1994, the United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda failed to intervene in the Rwandan Genocide in the face of Security Council indecision.
In the late 1990s, UN-authorised international interventions took a wider variety of forms. The UN mission in the 1991–2002 Sierra Leone Civil War was supplemented by British Royal Marines, and the UN-authorised 2001 invasion of Afghanistan was overseen by NATO. In 2003, the US invaded Iraq despite failing to pass a UN Security Council resolution for authorization, prompting a new round of questioning of the organization's effectiveness. In the same decade, the Security Council intervened with peacekeepers in crises including the War in Darfur in Sudan and the Kivu conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo. In 2013, an internal review of UN actions in the final battles of the Sri Lankan Civil War in 2009 concluded that the organization had suffered "systemic failure". In November/December 2014, Egypt presented a motion proposing an expansion of the NPT (non-Proliferation Treaty), to include Israel and Iran; this proposal was due to increasing hostilities and destruction in the Middle-East connected to the Syrian Conflict as well as others. All members of the Security Council are signatory to the NPT.
The UN's role in international collective security is defined by the UN Charter, which authorizes the Security Council 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, or by any means necessary. The Security Council also recommends the new Secretary-General to the General Assembly and recommends new states for admission as member states of the United Nations. The Security Council has traditionally interpreted its mandate as covering only military security, though US Ambassador Richard Holbrooke controversially persuaded the body to pass a resolution on HIV/AIDS in Africa in 2000.
Under Chapter VI 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 generally considered to not be binding, as they lack an enforcement mechanism. A minority of scholars, such as Stephen Zunes, have argued that resolutions made under Chapter VI 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".
Under Chapter VII, 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 VII, such as economic sanctions, are binding on UN members; the Security Council is the only UN body with the authority to issue binding resolutions.
The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court recognizes that the Security Council has authority to refer cases to the Court in which 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.
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 Security Council reaffirmed this responsibility to protect in Resolution 1706 on 31 August of that year. These resolutions commit the Security Council to take action to protect civilians in an armed conflict, including taking action against genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and crimes against humanity.
The Security Council's five permanent members, below, have the power to veto any substantive resolution; this allows a permanent member to block adoption of a resolution, but not to prevent or end debate.
At the UN's founding in 1945, the five permanent members of the Security Council were the Republic of China, the French Republic, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, and the United States. There have been two major seat changes since then. China's seat was originally held by Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalist Government, 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 assumed control of mainland China, henceforth known as the People's Republic of China. In 1971, General Assembly 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 with no opportunity of membership as a separate nation. After the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, the Russian Federation 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. They annually topped the list of countries with the highest military expenditures. In 2013, they spent over US$1 trillion combined on defence, accounting for over 55% of global military expenditures (the US alone accounting for over 35%). They are also among the 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.
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 votes. Abstention is not regarded as a veto in most cases, though all five permanent members must actively concur to amend the UN Charter or to recommend the admission of a new UN member state. 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. A majority of vetoes are used not in critical international security situations, but for purposes such as blocking a candidate for Secretary-General or the admission of a member state.
In the negotiations building up to the creation of the UN, the veto power was resented by many small countries, and in fact was forced on them by the veto nations – US, UK, China, France and the Soviet Union – through a threat that without the veto there will be no UN. Here is a description by Francis O. Wilcox, an adviser to US delegation to the 1945 conference: "At San Francisco, the issue was made crystal clear by the leaders of the Big Five: it was either the Charter with the veto or no Charter at all. Senator Connally [from the US delegation] dramatically tore up a copy of the Charter during one of his speeches and reminded the small states that they would be guilty of that same act if they opposed the unanimity principle. "You may, if you wish," he said, "go home from this Conference and say that you have defeated the veto. But what will be your answer when you are asked: 'Where is the Charter'?"
As of 2012, 269 vetoes had been cast since the Security Council's inception. In this period, China (ROC/PRC) used the veto 9 times, France 18, USSR/Russia 128, the UK 32, and the US 89. Roughly two-thirds of Soviet/Russian vetoes were in the first ten years of the Security Council's existence. Between 1996 and 2012, China vetoed 5 resolutions, Russia 7, and the US 13, while France and the UK did not use the veto.
An early veto by Soviet Commissar Andrei Vishinsky blocked a resolution on the withdrawal of French forces from the then-colonies of Syria and Lebanon in February 1946; this veto established the precedent that permanent members could use the veto on matters outside of immediate concerns of war and peace. The USSR went on to veto matters including the admission of Austria, Cambodia, Ceylon, Finland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Laos, Libya, Portugal, South Vietnam, and Transjordan as UN member states, delaying their joining by several years. Britain and France used the veto to avoid Security Council condemnation of their actions in the 1956 Suez Crisis. The first veto by the US came in 1970, blocking General Assembly action in Southern Rhodesia. From 1985–90, the US vetoed 27 resolutions, primarily to block resolutions it perceived as anti-Israel but also to protect its interests in Panama and Korea. The USSR, US, and China have all vetoed candidates for Secretary-General, with the US using the veto to block the re-election of Boutros Boutros-Ghali in 1996.
Along with the five permanent members, the Security Council has temporary members that hold their seats on a rotating basis by geographic region. In its first two decades, the Security Council had six non-permanent members, the first of which were Australia, Brazil, Egypt, Mexico, the Netherlands, and Poland. In 1965, the number of non-permanent members was expanded to ten.
These ten non-permanent members are elected by the General Assembly for two-year terms starting on 1 January, with five replaced each year. To be approved, a candidate must receive at least two-thirds 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 a record 154 rounds of voting; both eventually withdrew in favour of Mexico as a compromise candidate. A retiring member is not eligible for immediate re-election.
The African Group is represented by three members; the Latin America and the Caribbean, Asia-Pacific, and Western European and Others groups by two apiece; and the Eastern European Group by one. Traditionally, one of the seats assigned to either the Asia-Pacific Group or the African Group is filled by a nation from the Arab world. Currently, elections for terms beginning in even-numbered years select two African members, and one each within Eastern Europe, Asia-Pacific, and Latin America and the Caribbean. Terms beginning in odd-numbered years consist of two Western European and Other members, and one each from Asia-Pacific, Africa, and Latin America and the Caribbean.
The current elected members, with the regions they were elected to represent, are as follows:
The 2017–18 term will be the first time in over five decades that two members have agreed to split a term; intractable deadlocks have instead usually been resolved by the candidate countries withdrawing in favour of a third member state.
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 of the Council is held by each of the members in turn for one month, following the English alphabetical order of the Member States names.
The list of nations that will hold the Presidency in 2017 is as follows: