What is the United Nations Security Council?

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  • Last Modified Date: 12 October 2019
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The United Nations Security Council is a branch of the United Nations that is empowered to enforce laws to maintain peace between member countries. The Security Council had its first meeting in 1946 and at the time, there were five elected participants representing the US, the USSR, China, France and the UK.

Though the Security Council has met in many different countries, it is currently located in New York. Members must live nearby in order to be called to emergency sessions as required. Members of the Security Council are either considered permanent or elected. This refers not to individuals but to the actual countries involved.

The Security Council must include permanent members from the countries listed above. The members of the United Nations elect the rest of the representatives. Countries from Africa elect three members that must represent an African, South American and an Asian Country. Western European countries elect four members from Western European countries. Eastern European representatives chose one member. An Arab nation chooses a representative from an Arab country.

Once members are elected, they serve terms of two years. The Security Council determines leadership by rotating the presidency of the council each month. The rotation is based on the alphabetical order of names, so no leader elected can be accused of campaigning for the role.


The purpose of the Security Council is to draft resolutions, which must be followed by member countries. This differs from suggestions made by the full UN. The UN must support and enforce the resolutions of the security council, up to and including providing UN peacekeeping forces when required.

The Security Council may also indict and try those accused of war crimes. It also has the power to commission investigations of any activities that might be considered potentially dangerous to the security or peace of all nations. Additionally, the Security Council may elicit the help of member nations in beginning trade embargoes, or in cutting off diplomatic channels to certain nations that violate UN suggestions or resolutions.

Certain countries have attempted but have been unable to receive permanent membership in the Security Council. Particularly Japan has lobbied consistently for receiving permanent membership but other Asian countries, particularly China, have blocked their efforts. Germany has also fought for permanent inclusion.

Excluding these countries from permanent membership is primarily based on their losing positions in WWII. Even though since that time, both countries have made huge strides, lingering discrimination exists regarding their ability to become permanent members. Japan and Germany both argue they have an inherent right to be on the Security Council in a permanent capacity because they are both huge financial contributors to the running of the UN.


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