Security Council

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Security Council

Introduction to Security Council

United Nations Security Council, one of the six principal organs of the United Nations (UN). Under the United Nations Charter, the Security Council is primarily responsible for maintaining international peace and security. Under Chapter VII of the charter, the Security Council is the only UN organ that can order enforcement action if a case of aggression or breach of peace has been established. Enforcement action can range from economic sanctions to military measures. Disputes and breaches of peace may be brought before the Security Council by any UN member nation. Countries that are not members of the Council, if affected by the issue at question, may be invited to participate in the discussion without a vote.

The Security Council has 15 members, of which 5 are permanent: the United States, Russia, the United Kingdom, France, and China. The other members are elected by the General Assembly to serve nonconsecutive two-year terms. Every year five new countries are elected to these seats, which rotate on a geographical basis: five from Asia, Africa, and the Middle East; two from Western countries; two from Latin America; and one from Eastern Europe. The presidency of the Council is held for a month at a time by each of the members.

Nine affirmative votes are required to pass a resolution. In procedural decisions, any nine votes suffice. On all substantive matters, however, all five permanent members must support the resolution. A negative vote from any of the five permanent members prevents the adoption of any resolution, even if all other members vote in favor. This negative vote is known as the veto right of the great powers and has been a point of controversy since the establishment of the UN. The frequent use of the veto by the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), especially, had given rise to repeated complaints in the UN. In 1950 this USSR use of the veto led to the adoption of the “United for Peace” resolution, which provides that the General Assembly may continue to consider a problem if the Council is blocked from further consideration by veto. The United States cast its first veto on March 17, 1970, against a resolution that condemned Britain for not using force when the minority government in Rhodesia proclaimed itself a republic. The United States did support another resolution that placed sanctions against Rhodesia.

The Security Council also recommends to the General Assembly admission of new UN members and appointment of a new secretary general; it participates equally with the Assembly in electing judges to the International Court of Justice. The Council has two standing committees and may also establish ad hoc bodies.” (1)

Security Council in 2011

United States views on international law (based on the document “Digest of U.S. Practice in International Law”): On July 12, 2011, the United Nations Security Council adopted a resolution on protecting children affected by armed conflict. U.N. Doc. S/RES/1998. The United States voted in favor of the resolution after working closely with other members of the Council to shape the text. Paragraph 3 of the resolution requested that the U.N. Secretary General identify in the annexes to his reports on children and armed conflict those parties to armed conflict that engage in recurrent attacks on schools or hospitals or persons related to schools or hospitals. Paragraph 21 of the resolution directed the Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict and the Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict to consider within one year other options for increasing pressure on perpetrators of violations committed against children in situations of armed conflict. On July 12, Ambassador Rice addressed the Security Council during its debate on children and armed conflict and highlighted these provisions of the resolution. Her remarks are excerpted below and available in full at (internet link) The United States continued to take an active role in the working group on children affected by armed conflict throughout 2011.


We have increased the spotlight on grave abuses. We have built up the U.S. information-gathering capacity, including comprehensive reports by the Secretary General. We’ve listed serious perpetrators and frankly examined individual country situations. All these steps by the Working Group help keep such abuses squarely on the international agenda and bring them to the urgent attention of national authorities.


This year’s report also documents another appalling trend: increased attacks on schools and hospitals, particularly in Afghanistan, Cote d’Ivoire, DRC, Iraq, Burma, Pakistan, Yemen, and the Philippines. In Cote d’Ivoire alone, according to UNICEF, 224 schools were attacked during the post-election crisis, disrupting the education of some 65,000 children. The Secretary General’s report documents such attacks, and with today’s resolution, the Secretary General will have the mandate to “name and shame” those who perpetrate such attacks on a recurrent basis.

[O]verall we remain deeply concerned that persistent perpetrators continue their violations against children with impunity. Sixteen parties to armed conflict listed in the Annexes of the Secretary General’s report have been listed for five years or more. This is plainly unacceptable. Thus, the United States has urged the inclusion in today’s resolution of the Council’s time-bound commitment to consider a broad range of options to increase pressure on persistent perpetrators. The Council’s unanimous support for this commitment is an important step toward holding egregious violators accountable for their actions.

Security Council

Embracing mainstream international law, this section on security council explores the context, history and effect of the area of the law covered here.

UN Security Council

In relation to the international law practice and UN Security Council in this world legal Encyclopedia, please see the following section:

International Criminal Law

About this subject:

International Crimes

Under this topic, in the Encyclopedia, find out information on:

  • Piracy
  • International support for efforts to bring suspected pirates to justice

. Note: there is detailed information and resources, in relation with these topics during the year 2011, covered by the entry, in this law Encyclopedia, about UN Security Council


See Also

  • International Human Rights
  • Children
  • Armed Conflict
  • Security Council


See Also

  • International Organization
  • Foreign Relations
  • Organization
  • United Nations
  • United Nations System


Further Reading

  • The entry “security council” in the Parry and Grant Encyclopaedic Dictionary of International Law (currently, the Encyclopaedic Dictionary of International Law, 2009), Oxford University Press


Notes and References

Guide to Security Council

United Nations Security Council

Further Reading

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