The Security Council has primary responsibility, under the UN Charter, for the maintenance of international peace and security.
The Council was established to ensure world peace. While member states can discuss all issues at the General Assembly, the Security Council only deals with issues pertaining to peace and security.
It has 15 Members, and each Member has one vote. Under the Charter of the United Nations, all Member States are obligated to comply with Council decisions.
Five of the Council’s Members are permanent: France, China, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States. The General Assembly elects the other ten member states for periods of two years and geographical considerations are considered when electing member states to the Security Council. The members chair the Security Council for one month at a time.
A representative of each of the members must be present at all times at UN Headquarters so the Security Council can meet at any time if the need arises.
The Security Council at work
The Security Council takes the lead in determining the existence of a threat to the peace or act of aggression. It calls upon the parties to a dispute to settle it by peaceful means and recommends methods of adjustment or terms of settlement.
In some cases, the Security Council can resort to imposing sanctions or even authorize the use of force to maintain or restore international peace and security.
When a complaint concerning a threat to peace is brought before it, the Council’s first action is usually to recommend that the parties try to reach agreement by peaceful means. The Council may:
- set forth principles for such an agreement;
- undertake investigation and mediation, in some cases;
- dispatch a mission;
- appoint special envoys; or
- request the Secretary-General to use his good offices to achieve a pacific settlement of the dispute.
When a dispute leads to hostilities, the Council’s primary concern is to bring them to an end as soon as possible. In that case, the Council may:
- issue ceasefire directives that can help prevent an escalation of the conflict;
- dispatch military observers or a peacekeeping force to help reduce tensions, separate opposing forces and establish a calm in which peaceful settlements may be sought.
Beyond this, the Council may opt for enforcement measures, including:
- economic sanctions, arms embargoes, financial penalties and restrictions, and travel bans;
- severance of diplomatic relations;
- or even collective military action.
A chief concern is to focus action on those responsible for the policies or practices condemned by the international community, while minimizing the impact of the measures taken on other parts of the population and economy.