Short for SC by Abbreviationfinder, The Security Council is primarily responsible for the United Nations’ “maintenance of international peace and security”. The UN Charter sets out guidelines for the Council’s action in this area.
The Security Council is made up of ten member states, appointed by the General Assembly for two-year terms, as well as the five permanent members, the United States, Russia (which took over the Soviet Union in 1991), the United Kingdom, France and China. For a decision to go through, it must have the support of nine members. The five great powers have a veto, that is, they can stop decisions in everything except procedural issues by voting no. The right of veto meant, especially during the Cold War, that the Security Council was often paralyzed by the veto of the United States or the Soviet Union.
After the end of the Cold War, the right of veto has been exercised less frequently. This is due to an increasing consensus but is also a result of the Council holding more informal meetings behind closed doors. Thus, proposals that would be blocked by a veto could have been screened out in advance.
The temporary members are appointed according to their geographical location: three countries from Africa, two from Asia, one from Eastern and Central Europe, two from Latin America and two from the group “Western European and other countries”.
The majority of UN members have agreed since the beginning of the 1990’s, when the discussion on a changed Security Council began, that the Council’s membership must be increased in order to more fairly represent the Member States and reflect the balance of power in today’s world.
Ahead of the 2005 summit, UN members had to decide on two alternatives to how the Security Council should be expanded. The proposal was to expand the Security Council to 24 members. This could be done either through six new permanent members and three additional two-year members or through the Security Council having eight new members elected for four years and another two-year member.
But UN members could not agree on any of the proposals at the 2005 summit. In 2009, another rally was launched to take the issue of reforming the Security Council forward with negotiations between governments.
The differences of opinion have mainly been about which states should receive permanent membership. Germany, Japan, India and Brazil have been highlighted, both by themselves and others, as countries that should have permanent membership of the Council for, among other things, economic and demographic reasons. Among African countries, Egypt, Nigeria and South Africa have been in the lead.
But the countries’ different political interests make it difficult to reach agreement. Pakistan, for example, has no interest in its arch-enemy India becoming a new permanent member of the Security Council. Few believe that China would accept competition as Asia’s representative of rivals Japan and India. Italy has emphasized that it must also have a permanent place if Germany is to get it, while Argentina and Mexico have opposed a Brazilian place.
The right of veto is at least as controversial. Initiatives to completely remove the right of veto have met with strong opposition from the permanent members and giving more states a right of veto would hardly be popular either. One solution that has been proposed is to remove the right of veto on all issues except Chapter VII measures (see Operations). Another to skip the right of veto and instead introduce a system where countries get a certain number of votes based on factors such as population size, economy or contribution to peace operations.
A reform of the Security Council is hampered by the fact that a change requires a change in the UN Charter. This means that two thirds of the General Assembly must be behind a proposal, including the permanent members of the Security Council.
New disagreement in the Security Council
At the end of the 1990’s, the agreement in the Security Council that had existed there more or less since the end of the Cold War was broken. In December 1998, the United States and the United Kingdom carried out air strikes on Iraq. The intention was to force the regime to allow the UN Commission Unscom to carry out inspections to ensure that the country’s weapons of mass destruction were scrapped. The airstrikes were condemned by the permanent Security Council members France, Russia and China, who criticized the United States and Britain for acting without a UN mandate.
The security situation in the Security Council was further aggravated by the war in Kosovo. In the summer of 1998, fighting broke out in the Yugoslav province between the Serbian military and the KLA guerrillas seeking independence for the Kosovo Albanians. The Security Council could not agree on an intervention, partly due to Russian opposition. In March 1999, however, NATO intervened by bombing, after Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic refused to withdraw his troops from Kosovo and stop the expulsion of Kosovo Albanians. The Security Council had not given its approval to the NATO operation. After a peace agreement was signed, which meant that all Serbian forces would leave Kosovo and that the area would gain significant autonomy, the UN regained some prestige. In a resolution, the Security Council instructed Member States and international organizations to preserve security in Kosovo. A peacekeeping operation was launched to rebuild the civilian administration of the area (see below)Kosovo).
However, when the international community again intervened a few months later to protect civilians from serious violations of human rights, it was with the approval of the Security Council. A multinational force intervened in East Timor under Australian leadership to protect East Timorians who voted for independence from Indonesia in a UN-organized referendum. The pro-Indonesia militia had launched a hot pursuit of East Timorians (see East Timor).