United Nations Security Council: Functions, Membership and Other Facts

United Nations Security Council is indisputably the most powerful organ of the United Nations. Ensuring international peace and security is the prime responsibility of the Security Council. All peacekeeping operations of the UN are led by the Security Council.  The power dynamics of the Security Council has a direct influence on international politics.  This could be well understood by the fact that resolutions issued by the Security Council are binding on all member states of the United Nations.

The Security Council is empowered under the UN Charter to authorize military and non-military action in order to “restore international peace and security”.  International sanctions also fall within the purview of the Security Council. Under the UN Charter, all UN members agree to adhere to the decisions taken by the Security Council.

In this article, we will learn about all the important aspects of the UN Security Council including its establishment, powers, functions, structure, and procedures related to the UN Security Council.

Quick Facts about the UN Security Council:

  • Founded: 24 October 1945
  • Headquarters: New York (United States)
  • Total Members: 15 Members (5 Permanent Members & 10 Non Permanent Members)
  • First Session: 17 January 1946
  • Meetings: Year-round
  • Governing provision: Chapter V of the UN Charter

Establishment of UN Security Council

League of Nations was officially the first world organization of its own kind. It was established during the Paris Peace Conferences (1919-1920) following the crisis of the First World War. The covenant of League of Nations was ratified by 42 nations.  The objective behind the formation of the League was to regulate the conflicts between nations and establish peace. While the League was successful in resolving many territorial disputes, It started tasting failures in the third decade of the 20th century. Invasion of Manchuria by Japanese(1933), Second Italo-Ethiopian War (1935-1937),  Japanese Occupation of China (1938), and  Nazi expansion in the latter half of the 1930s – all these events reiterated ineffectiveness of the League. Additionally, the non-inclusion of the colonies often came up as a prominent criticism in regards to the League of Nations.

The plan for the establishment of a new world organization began in the United States in the late 1930s.  By 1942, 30 nations of the world (including the US, UK, USSR, and China) signed a declaration. This document later came to be famously known as the United Nations Declaration.  Finally, in the year 1945, the United Nations was officially established. Enforcement of the UN Charter also led to the establishment of the United Nations and the Security Council. It was established under Chapter V of the UN Charter.

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Five most powerful nations of those times — the US, UK, USSR, France, and the People’s Republic of China joined as permanent members of the Council. These organizations were victors of the Second World War. Initially, there were 6 non-permanent members of the Security Council.  Brazil, Mexico, Australia, Poland, Egypt, and the Netherlands were part of the first group of non-permanent members of the Security Council.  Later, in 1966, the number was increased to ten non-permanent members. The Security Council held its first meeting on 17 January 1946.

Functions and Powers of the UN Security Council

The UN Security Council is entrusted with various functions and powers under Article 24-26 of the UN Charter. These functions and powers are as follows:

  • To ensure the maintenance of international peace and security in the world.
  • It has the power to authorize military actions.
  • The Council recommends the admission of new UN members.
  • Investigation of conflicts or situations that can possibly trigger international friction.
  • Recommendation of method and terms of dispute settlement.
  • Regulation of armaments through the formulation of strategy and a well-established system.
  • The Security Council also undertakes trusteeship roles in strategically important areas.
  • Recommendation for the appointment of the Secretary-General to the UN General Assembly.
  • To elect the Judges of the International Court of Justice along with the General Assembly.
  • Identification of threats to international peace and accordingly recommending actions to resolve the situation/issue.
  • The Council also calls UN members to impose economic sanctions on states in order to prevent or stop aggression.

united nations security council where veto power is execised

Structure of the UN Security Council

As mentioned above, the UN Security Council originally consisted of eleven members- five permanent and six non-permanent members. Later, through an amendment to UN Charter in 1965, the total number of members was increased to fifteen- five permanent and ten non-permanent members.  The non-permanent members of the UN General Assembly were elected for two years. The composition of the UN Security Council has been a controversial issue since the beginning.  There lies a imbalance of powers between permanent and non-permanent members. Thus, permanent membership status has been sought by many nations time and again.

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Permanent Members of the UN Security Council

As the name suggests, permanent members of the Security Council have been on board since its inception and their membership is perpetual. The permanent members are- the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Russia, and China. Permanent membership is one of the most critical features of the UN Security Council as empowers the members with some exclusive powers like that of veto.

The veto power enables the permanent members to prevent the Security Council from adopting any substantive resolution. The power of veto is regardless of the extent of international support in favor of any resolution. This makes the status of permanent membership extremely powerful.  As a result, many countries have advocated for permanent membership to the UNSC since its establishment.

Non-Permanent Members of the UN Security Council

The non-permanent members of the Security Council are elected for a period of two years. These non-permanent or temporary members are elected to the Security Council by the General Assembly. Five non-permanent members retire from the Council each year. The members are selected every year on the basis of UN regional groupings. The selection is different for odd years and even years.

In an odd year, the members are selected as per follows:

  • African Group: one member
  • Asia-Pacific Group: one member
  • Latin American and Caribbean Group (GRULAC): one member
  • Western European and Others Group: two members

In an even year, the members are selected as per follows:

  • African Group: two members
  • Asia-Pacific Group: one member
  • Latin American and Caribbean Group (GRULAC): one member
  • Eastern European Group:United Nations Security Council: Functions, Membership and Other Facts one member

The representatives of Arab nations may be selected from the African Group or Asia-Pacific Group.

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President of the UN Security Council

The presidency of the UN Security Council rotates on a monthly basis alphabetically. Presiding the Council’s meeting, setting meeting Agenda, and overseeing the crisis are all part of the President’s role.

Meetings of the UN Security Council

The Security Council meets round the year. Representatives of all Security Council members are available at UN Headquarters in New York (United States) at all times for handling emergency situations.

How does the UN Security Council Work?

One of the most important roles of the Security Council is to take a decision on the deployment of UN peace operations. Usually, the council handles crisis-situations on a case-by-case basis approach. Various options are weighed and explored for tackling a crisis. Many factors are taken into consideration by the Council before undertaking a peace operation. In this regard, some of the prominent factors are:-

  • Status of the ceasefire in the conflict-struck area
  • Initiatives taken by the concerned parties to reach a  peaceful settlement
  • Existence of clear political goal
  • Possibility of formulation of a precise mandate for a UN peace operation
  • Safety and security of UN personnel when deployed in the area

Adoption of resolution

In order to establish a peace operation, the Security Council has to adopt a resolution.  The size and mandate of the peace operation would be set out through this resolution.

Monitoring the missions

Once the missions begin, the Council starts with the monitoring and tracking process. This is done through periodic reports from the Secretary-General and by convening sessions to discuss the work of specific operations.

Concluding/extending/amending the missions

The UN Security Council can end, extend, or alter an ongoing UN mission whenever it deems appropriate to it. The decision in this regard is taken through voting.

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