UN Security Council

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Under the United Nations Charter, the Security Council has "primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security," and all UN members "agree to accept and carry out the decisions of the Security Council in accordance with the present Charter." Other organs of the UN make recommendations to member governments. The Security Council, however, has the power to make decisions which member governments must carry out under the Charter. A representative of each Security Council member must always be present at UN headquarters so that the Council can meet at any time.

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, including the support of all five permanent members. A negative vote-a veto-by a permanent member prevents adoption of a proposal that has received the required number of affirmative votes. Abstention is not regarded as a veto.

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.

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 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.

UN peacekeeping initiatives have ranged from small, diplomatic or political delegations to large mobilizations, the most extensive of which was the 500,000-strong 1950-53 defense of South Korea against an attack by North Korea.

In the first few years following the end of the Cold War the number of peacekeeping operations increased dramatically. The proliferation of operations reflected the view that, in the post-Cold War era, the UN could play an important role in defusing regional conflicts. Some of the peacekeeping operations of the early 1990s also saw an expansion of the traditional peacekeeping mandate to include such responsibilities as supervising elections, monitoring human rights, training police, and overseeing civil administration.

From 1995 to mid-1999 there was a sharp decline in the number of UN peacekeepers in the field, from a high of around 70,000 to 12,000. The assumption by NATO of major peacekeeping responsibilities in the former Yugoslavia (and the resultant termination of UNPROFOR's mandate) accounted for much of the decrease. Other factors included the closeout of UN operations in Mozambique in January 1995, Somalia in March 1995, El Salvador in April 1995, and Rwanda in March 1996. With the U.S. and the UN taking a much harder look at proposed peacekeeping operations, the only major new UN mission set up in this period outside the former Yugoslavia was the UNAVEM III operation in Angola.

Beginning in June 1999, new missions in Kosovo and East Timor and expanded missions in Sierra Leone and the Congo dramatically increased both the costs and personnel levels of UN peacekeeping operations. They also added a new level of complexity to peacekeeping efforts, with a greater emphasis on civilian administration in East Timor and Kosovo. From July 1999 to June 2001, overall UN peacekeeping personnel levels increased by 31,000, with even more personnel authorized but not deployed.

US Participation in UN Security Council

Facing increasing demands on peacekeeping resources, the UN and member nations had to make difficult choices. In 1994 the U. S. Government responded to the challenges posed by the growing number and complexity of UN peacekeeping operations by implementing a policy framework suited to the new environment. The new policy involved six major areas of reform:

  • Improving how the U.S. decides which peace operations to support and whether U.S. troops should take part;
  • Reducing both U.S. and overall costs for UN peace operations;
  • Reaffirming long-standing U.S. policy on command and control of American military forces in UN operations;
  • Reforming UN management of those operations;
  • Improving the manner by which the U.S. funds and manages peace operations; and
  • Improving the standard of consultations between the U.S. executive branch and Congress on peace operations.

As of June 30, 2001, there were 797 U.S. personnel (1 troop, 756 civilian police, and 40 observers) in worldwide UN peace operations, accounting for 1.8% of total UN peacekeepers. As Commander-in-Chief, the President of the United States never gives up command authority over U.S. troops. When large numbers of U.S. troops are involved and when the risk of combat is high, operational control of U.S. forces will remain in American hands, or in the hands of a trusted military ally such as a NATO member--though the U.S. Department of State insists that the U.S. must "allow temporary foreign operational control of U.S. troops when it serves U.S. interests."

Source: http://www.state.gov/p/io/rls/fs/2001/index.cfm?docid=4842


Organ of the United Nations consisting of 15 members. Five members are permanent members: the United States, Russia, China, the United Kingdom, and France. The remaining members are elected by the United Nations General Assembly. Resolutions require the approval of a majority of members and each of the five permanent members. This requirement of the approval of each of the five permanent members gives these members an effective veto. However an abstention (or equivalently a refusal to attend) by a permanent member will not prevent a resolution being passed.

The Security Council is authorized by the United Nations Charter to act against threats to peace in the world.

Security Council resolutions are legally binding if they are made under Chapter ?? or ?? of the Charter. The International Court of Justice has found that resolutions not made under these two chapters can also be binding, and that the contents of the resolution must be examined in order to determine if they are so. Several members, including the United States and the United Kingdom, have expressed disapproval of the ICJ's view on this issue.