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United Nations Security Council

Frequently Asked Questions

The following are some frequently asked questions on the United Nations and the Security Council. If your question is not listed here, please feel free to contact the Security Council Practices and Charter Research Branch.



Membership and Election

1. Where can I find information on the membership of the Security Council?

The Security Council consists of ten elected members, and five permanent members (China, the United States, France, the United Kingdom, and the Russian Federation). The current and past membership of the Security Council since 1946 can be found in the Members section.

2. How are the non-permanent members selected?

Each year the General Assembly elects five non-permanent members (out of 10 in total) for a two-year term. In accordance with the General Assembly resolution 1991 (XVIII) of 17 December 1963, the 10 non-permanent seats are distributed on a regional basis as follows: five for African and Asian States; one for Eastern European States; two for the Latin American and Caribbean States; and two for Western European and other States.

Documents

3. Where can I find the Charter and the provisional rules of procedure?

Both the Charter of the United Nations and the Provisional Rules of Procedure of the Security Council are available online. The Repertoire’s coverage of how the provisional rules have been applied and interpreted by the Security Council since 1946 is accessible in Provisional Rules of Procedure.

4. Where can I find the meeting records, resolutions and other official documents of the Security Council?

The full text of meeting records of the Security Council from 1994 onwards can be found in the Meetings section.

For verbatim records of meetings from 1946 to present, you can search Official Document System of the United Nations (ODS) for “S/PV.[meeting number]”. For example, the meeting record for the 453rd meeting can be found by doing a search for “S/PV.453”.

The full text of all resolutions of the Security Council since 1946 can be accessed at Resolutions section. The official edited versions of the resolutions, presidential statements and other decisions of the Council are available in the yearly-published Resolutions and Decisions of the Security Council volumes, which are accessible from the Official Document System (ODS). The document symbol is “S/INF/[General Assembly session number]” (for example, the volume covering 1 August 2008 to 31 July 2009 that was issued for the 64th session of the General Assembly is “S/INF/64”).  In the Repertoire, the section which covers the proceedings of each agenda item on the Security Council, also contains the full text of all decisions, including resolutions and presidential statements, placed along with summaries of the meetings and other relevant documents up until 2000, after which summaries of decisions are provided therein.

Other official documents of the Security Council include reports of the Secretary-General, communiqués, notes by the President of the Security Council, notes by the Secretary-General as well as official correspondence between the Security Council and the Secretary-General, Member States, subsidiary bodies of the Security Council, other United Nations organs, regional and other organizations that are circulated with the document symbol starting with “S/”.  Many documents can be can be accessed in the Security Council website and the UN Documentation Centre, and all official documents are available from the ODS.

5. Where can I find the annual reports of the Security Council?

In accordance with Article 24 (3) of the United Nations Charter, the Security Council submits its annual report to the General Assembly for its consideration. The full text of recent annual reports can also be retrieved through United Nations Biographic Information System (UNBISnet) and ODS. Earlier reports can be also consulted at a UN depository library or a UN Information Centre.  For the list and document symbols of all annual reports since 1946 by the General Assembly sessions that were submitted to, see the United Nations Dag Hammarskjöld Library site on the reports of the Security Council to the General Assembly.

Functions and Powers of the Security Council

6. What is the function of the Security Council?

As stated in Article 24 of the Charter of the United Nations, the Security Council is mandated to act on behalf of all members of the United Nations to “ensure prompt and effective action” with respect to the maintenance of international peace and security, and shall act in accordance with the Purposes and Principles of the United Nations.

7. Are all Security Council resolutions binding on all Member States?

According to Article 25 of the United Nations Charter, all members of the United Nations “agree to carry out and accept the decisions of the Security Council in accordance with the present Charter”. How this issue has been addressed in the Council can be found in the Repertoire (see: Functions and Powers).

Conduct of Business

8. How is the work of the Security Council organized?

Article 28 of the United Nations Charter states that the Security Council shall be so organized as to be able to function continuously. Rule 1 of the Provisional Rules of Procedures states that the meetings of the Security Council shall be held at the call of the President at any time he deems necessary, but that the interval between meetings shall not exceed fourteen days. For more information on these provisions and the practice of the Security Council, see the Provisional Rules and Procedure.

9. What is the difference between open and closed meetings and consultations?

Both open and closed meetings are formal meetings of the Security Council. Closed meetings are not open to the public and no verbatim record of statements is kept, instead the Security Council issues a Communiqué in line with Rule 55 of its Provisional Rules of Procedure. Consultations are informal meetings of the Security Council members and are not covered in the Repertoire. The annual report of the Security Council to the General Assembly provides dates of consultations on different agenda items from recent years.

10. What are subsidiary organs?

Subsidiary organs are bodies that are created by the Security Council under Article 29 of the United Nations Charter to assist the Council in its work. They can range from sanctions committees and Working Groups consisting of representatives of all fifteen Security Council Members to tribunals or peacekeeping missions with thousands of troops. A complete list of all subsidiary organs created by the Security Council since 1946 is available on the Repertoire's website.

11. What is the difference between Peacekeeping Operations, Special Political Missions and Peacebuilding Offices?

They are all considered subsidiary organs but are led by different United Nations entities and have different types of mandates. Peacekeeping operations are usually led by the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) and many — although not all — peacekeeping operations have a Chapter VII mandate. In addition, peacekeeping operations, as opposed to other missions, have a military or international police presence in the field.

Peacebuilding and political offices are generally overseen by the Department of Political Affairs. These missions are part of a continuum of United Nations peace operations working in different stages of the conflict cycle.

Action with Respect to Threats to the Peace, Breach of the Peace, or Act of Aggression

12. How does the Security Council determine the existence of any threat to the peace, breach of the peace, or act of aggression?

Article 39 of the United Nations Charter states that the Security Council shall determine the existence of any threat to the peace, breach of the peace, or act of aggression. The range of situations which the Security Council determined as giving rise to threats to the peace includes country-specific situations such as inter- or intra-State conflicts or internal conflicts with a regional or sub-regional dimension.

Furthermore, the Security Council has identified potential or generic threats as threats to international peace and security, such as terrorist acts, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and the proliferation and illicit trafficking of small arms and light weapons.

The context in which the Security Council determined a situation as giving rise to breaches of the peace is narrower. The Security Council has determined a breach of the peace only in situations involving the use of armed force. Only in a very few cases in its history has the Security Council ever determined the existence of an act of aggression by one State against another.

For more information on how the Security Council has applied Article 39 of the Charter over the years, see the Repertoire's Actions with Respect to Threats to the Peace, Breaches of the Peace, and Acts of Aggression (Chapter VII), under Article 39.

13. What are sanctions?

Article 41 of the Charter of the United Nations gives the Security Council the authority to impose measures not involving the use of armed force. For more information on sanctions measures, visit the sanctions committees website. The Repertoire also covers how Article 41 has been applied and interpreted by the Security Council as well as the sanctions committees and other bodies that have been created to monitor mandatory measures.

14. What kind of measures involving the use of armed force has the Security Council imposed in the past?

Article 42 of the United Nations Charter gives the Security Council the authority to take action by air, sea or land forces as may be necessary to maintain or restore international peace and security.

For all the relevant studies on authorization of use of force by the Security Council since 1946, see Actions with respect to Threats to the Peace, Breaches of the Peace, and Acts of Aggression (Chapter VII), under Article 42.

15. What are the rules for the use of force by States?

Besides the authorization of the use of force by the Security Council as indicated above, Member States can use force when exercising their right to self-defence according to Article 51 of the United Nations Charter. Member States can exercise the right to self-defence only in the event of an “armed attack” and “until the Security Council has taken measures necessary to maintain international peace and security”. Otherwise, Article 2 (4) of the Charter states that all Members of the United Nations shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any State, or in any other manner inconsistent with the purposes of the United Nations.

Admission of New Members to the United Nations

16. What is the Security Council’s role in the admission of new members to the UN?

The Security Council’s role in admission of new members to the United Nations is laid out in Article 4 of the Charter of the Organization, which states that the admission is done by a decision of the General Assembly following the recommendation of the Security Council. The procedures relating to the Security Council’s decisions in this respect are further laid out in rules 58-60 of the Security Council’s Provisional Rules of Procedure. For more information on the process of becoming a member for all States which joined after 1946, see the Repertoire' section on Membership in the United Nations and Miscellaneous Functions and Powers.

Security Council Reform

17. What is the process for Security Council reform?

According to Article 108 of the United Nations Charter, the Charter can be amended by a General Assembly decision approved by two thirds of General Assembly membership and ratified by two thirds of Member States, including the permanent members of the Security Council. As changing the composition of the Security Council can be done only by amending the Charter, Article 108 applies to the issue of Security Council reform.

Discussions on the issue used to be held in the General Assembly since 1992 and a subsidiary organ of the General Assembly, the “Open-ended Working Group on the Question of Equitable Representation on and Increase in the Membership of the Security Council and Other Matters Related to the Security Council” was established by General Assembly Resolution 48/26 of 10 December 1993 “to consider all aspects” of the question of increase in the membership of the Security Council, and other matters related to the Security Council. Since 2009, discussions are held in the framework of inter-governmental negotiations.

About the Repertoire

18. Where does the material in the Repertoire come from?

All of the material in the Repertoire is drawn from the official documents of the Security Council.

19. What is a case study?

In the Repertoire, a case study brings together excerpts from meetings, resolutions and other decisions and official reports to illustrate how a certain Article or rule has been addressed in the Security Council. A case study on a rule of procedure might illustrate cases where that rule has been applied, or instances which were exceptional or unusual. A case study on an Article of the Charter might highlight a discussion on how that Article was interpreted, and show any relevant decisions that followed from the discussion.

20. What are implicit and explicit references?

An explicit reference is a direct mention of an Article of the Charter of the United Nations or a provisional rule of procedure. An implicit reference is an instance where a speaker or text has used language that is similar or identical to that found in an Article or rule of procedure, or that invokes the same principles. For example, any discussion of the principle of self-determination of peoples can be understood as an implicit reference to Article 1 (2) of the Charter. The Repertoire uses both implicit and explicit references to show how different aspects of Security Council practice can be understood.

21. What does the double asterisk (**) that are next to some headings mean?

Until the 1989-1992 volume, the double asterisk was used to indicate that there is no material for inclusion under certain parts and subsections. In general, this website does not provide links to sections under which no material has been included.

22. Where is the veto featured in the Repertoire?

Instances where a negative vote was cast by a permanent member of the Security Council, so-called “veto”, are featured in the Voting section of the Repertoire in cases when the vote indicated the non-procedural character of the matter. For more information, see also Voting System and Records.

23. Where can I find information regarding the Security Council’s activity in connection to the situation in a specific country or on a specific topic?

The Security Council’s activities concerning a particular situation or a thematic topic on its agenda are summarized in the section on Consideration of Questions under the Responsibility of the Council for the Maintenance of International Peace and Security.

In addition, information is available on specific themes of Security Council practice, such as:

Other Questions

24. How is the Secretary-General elected?

According to Article 97 of the United Nations Charter, the Security Council first sends a recommendation to the General Assembly, which will then appoint the Secretary-General. The Secretary-General is appointed to a five-year term, and may serve up to two terms. For more information on the topic featured in the Repertoire, see the appointment of the Secretary-General in Relations with Other United Nations organs.

Other Resources

The following websites may also be of interest: