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The Security Council

The UN Charter gives primary responsibility for maintaining international peace and security to the Security Council, which may meet whenever peace is threatened. Under the Charter, all Member States are obligated to comply with Council decisions.

The Council is made up of 15 members. Five of them are permanent members: China, France, Russian Federation, United Kingdom and United States. The other 10 are elected by the General Assembly for two-year terms. Member States are considering changes in the composition and methods of work of the Council so that it better reflects current political and economic realities.

The adoption of a Council decision requires nine votes in favour. Except in case of a vote on procedural matters, the Council cannot adopt a decision if one of the permanent members casts a veto.

Meeting of the Security Council.

Meeting of the Security Council.
UN photo / Ryan Brown. October 2008.

When the Council examines a complaint concerning a threat to peace, it first explores ways of reaching agreement by peaceful means. It may set forth principles for a peaceful settlement or undertake mediation. When a dispute leads to fighting, the Council seeks to bring it to an end as soon as possible. It may send peacekeeping forces to supervise a truce and keep opposing forces apart.

The Council may take measures to enforce its decisions. It may impose economic sanctions or an arms embargo. In some occasions, the Council has authorized Member States to take “all available means”, including collective military action, to ensure that its decisions are carried out.
The Council also recommends to the General Assembly a candidate for the post of Secretary-General and proposes the admission of new United Nations Member States.