United Nations Security Council
The Security Council is the keystone of the security system implemented by the United Nations Charter, which devotes its Chapter V to the Council.
In order to break away from the period of wars that marked the first half of the 20th century, the Charter entrusts the Security Council with responsibility for measures to maintain international peace and security. These measures may vary considerably and are envisaged by the Charter either as the pacific settlement of disputes (Chapter VI) or as coercive measures (Chapter VII), which may include the use of armed force.
Under Article 24 of the Charter, the United Nations Security Council has primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security. If a dispute is brought to its attention, the Security Council may request an inquiry or make recommendations for a pacific settlement, under the clauses in Chapter VI. The Council is competent to determine the existence of any threat to international peace and security, and may decide what coercive measures shall be taken under Chapter VII.
These measures are of three types:
provisional measures (Article 40);
measures not involving the use of armed force (Article 41);
authorisation of the use of armed force (Article 42).
The Security Council must act in accordance with the purposes and principles of the United Nations. However, its decisions are not subject to monitoring for compliance. They are mandatory for all Member States, under Article 25 of the Charter, in all their provisions, whether coercive or not.
In addition, the Council may recommend to the General Assembly the admission of new members (Article 4) and the nomination of the Secretary-General (Article 97). Under Article 4 of the Statute of the International Court of Justice, it elects, together with the General Assembly, the members of the Court.
When the United Nations was set up in 1945, the Security Council had 11 members: 5 permanent members (United States, Republic of China, France, United Kingdom, USSR) each with a right of veto, and 6 non-permanent members elected for two years and not immediately re-eligible. Among the permanent members, Russia succeeded the USSR after the latter’s dissolution in 1991. China’s seat has been occupied since 1971 by the government of the People’s Republic of China, replacing that of the Republic of China (Taiwan).
During the decolonisation period, several dozen States joined the UN in the late 1950s and early 1960s. In order to take account of this major increase in members and involve the new members in maintaining international peace and security, it was thought necessary to enlarge the Security Council. Resolution 1991 (XVIII) of the General Assembly dated 17 December 1963 (entry into force in 1965) created 4 new seats for non-permanent members. The Security Council has thus had 15 members since 1965.
The 10 non-permanent members are elected 5 per year by the General Assembly in a secret ballot, according to their contribution to peacekeeping and a fair geographical distribution. To meet the geographical criterion, Member States are divided into geographical groups with one or two seats on the Security Council:
Africa group (3 seats),
Latin America and Caribbean group (2 seats),
Asia group (2 seats),
Eastern Europe group (1 seat),
Western Europe and Others group (2 seats).
Working proceduresEach member of the Security Council has one vote. Security Council decisions are taken as follows:
by affirmative vote of at least 9 of the 15 members for procedural matters;
by affirmative vote of at least 9 of the 15 members and no veto from a permanent member for substantive matters.
The Presidency rotates monthly in alphabetical order of the members’ names in English. The Security Council is so organised as to be able to discharge its functions at all times. The President has the power to convene the Security Council. It may do so at the request of any Council member or when a situation or dispute is brought to its attention. The General Assembly and the Secretary-General may refer questions to the Security Council.
The Council’s meetings are generally held in private, although there has been an increase in the number of public meetings in recent years. The Council may invite any UN Member State to take part, with no right to vote, if its interests are specially affected (Article 31). The Security Council may also invite members of the Secretariat or any qualified person to examine a topic on the agenda.
The Security Council has adopted the practice introduced by the Venezuelan ambassador Diego Arria during his monthly presidency in 1992 of consulting political personalities, representatives of civil society and parties unable to attend Council meetings (such as liberation movements) during informal meetings held outside the Council Chamber (“Arria Formula”).
The Security Council may adopt three types of act:
Security Council resolutions with mandatory force under Article 25 of the UN Charter. To be adopted, the resolution must have a 9-vote majority with no veto;
Presidential declarations with less force than resolutions, since they are not binding. They may however have a significant political importance. They must be adopted unanimously by Council members;
Press declarations are also approved unanimously.
Only resolutions and Presidential declarations are formal acts.
Prospects for reform
The absence of any radical reform of the Security Council since 1945 (except for enlargement in 1965) is due to the need to amend the United Nations Charter in order to do so (as stipulated in Article 108). This would require the adoption and ratification of the draft reform by two-thirds of UN members (out of a current total of 192, over 128 States), including the 5 permanent members of the Security Council.
The topic of reforming the Security Council was raised again by the United Nations General Assembly in 1994, and an ad hoc working group was set up to examine enlarging the Council in order to achieve more equitable representation of Member States.
At the September 2005 World Summit on the reform of the United Nations, a number of proposals were presented but none gained full approval:
The G4 (Brazil, Germany, India and Japan) proposed in July 2005 the creation of six new permanent seats (G4 plus 2 African States to be decided) with no right of veto, and four new non-permanent seats (one each for Asia, Eastern Europe, Latin America and Caribbean, and Africa). The G4 proposal also included the possibility, fifteen years after the reform, of granting veto rights to the new permanent members;
The “Uniting for Consensus” group, comprising such countries as Argentina, Canada, Italy, Mexico, Pakistan and South Korea, proposed enlarging the Security Council by 10 new non-permanent members;
The African countries presented an alternative proposal, known as the “Ezulwini Consensus”, revised at the African Union Summit in Syrte (6 July 2005), with the creation of 2 permanent seats with veto rights and 2 further non-permanent seats for African countries.
After the stalemate in 2005, the General Assembly’s work was relaunched by its President in February 2007 with the appointment of “facilitators”, who suggested in two successive reports that an interim reform would break the deadlock. This might involve a transitional period of, say 10-15 years, when non-permanent members would be elected for a longer renewable term with a view to becoming permanent at the end of the transition period.
The principle of an interim reform was raised again in the joint French-UK declaration of 27 March 2008, adopted by President Nicolas Sarkozy and Gordon Brown, the British Prime Minister, and is gaining support. It has the advantage of enabling the parameters of a Security Council reform to be tested.
An important formal stage in reforming the Security Council was reached on 19 February 2009, with the decision by the General Assembly to begin intergovernmental negotiations. However, Member States’ positions still diverge widely on major aspects of the reform (number of new members, veto rights, regional representation, etc.).
Update : July 2010
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