THE UNITED NATIONS
(New World Order)
UN Security Council
(UN Headquarters, New York City)
The Official Story
UN SECURITY COUNCIL
(International Security Issues)
The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) is one of the six principal organs of the United Nations (UN) and is charged with ensuring international peace and security, recommending the admission of new UN members to the General Assembly, and approving any changes to the UN Charter. Its powers include establishing peacekeeping operations, enacting international sanctions, and authorizing military action. The UNSC is the only UN body with the authority to issue binding resolutions on member states.
Like the UN as a whole, the Security Council was created after World War II to address the failings of the League of Nations in maintaining world peace. It held its first session on 17 January 1946 but was largely paralyzed in the following decades by the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union (and their allies). Nevertheless, it authorized military interventions in the Korean War and the Congo Crisis and peacekeeping missions in Cyprus, West New Guinea, and the Sinai Peninsula. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, UN peacekeeping efforts increased dramatically in scale, with the Security Council authorizing major military and peacekeeping missions in Kuwait, Namibia, Cambodia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Rwanda, Somalia, Sudan, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
The Security Council consists of fifteen members, of which five are permanent: China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States. These were the great powers that were the victors of World War II (or their successor states). Permanent members can veto (block) any substantive resolution, including those on the admission of new member states to the United Nations or nominees for the office of Secretary-General, but there is no veto right in emergency special sessions of the General Assembly. The other ten members are elected on a regional basis for a term of two years. The body’s presidency rotates monthly among its members.
Resolutions of the Security Council are typically enforced by UN peacekeepers, which consist of military forces voluntarily provided by member states and funded independently of the main UN budget. As of March 2019, there had been thirteen peacekeeping missions with over 81,000 personnel from 121 countries, with a total budget of nearly $6.7 billion.
Unlike the General Assembly, the Security Council is not bound to sessions. Each Security Council member must have a representative available at UN Headquarters at all times in case an emergency meeting becomes necessary.
The Security Council generally meets in a designated chamber in the United Nations Conference Building in New York City. The chamber was designed by the Norwegian architect Arnstein Arneberg and was a gift from Norway. The United Nations Security Council mural by Norwegian artist Per Krohg (1952) depicts a phoenix rising from its ashes, symbolic of the world’s rebirth after World War II.
The Security Council has also held meetings in cities including Nairobi, Kenya; Addis Ababa, Ethiopia; Panama City, Panama; and Geneva, Switzerland. In March 2010, the Security Council moved into a temporary facility in the General Assembly Building as its chamber underwent renovations as part of the UN Capital Master Plan. The renovations were funded by Norway, the chamber’s original donor, for a total cost of US$5 million. The chamber reopened on 16 April 2013. The representatives of the member states are seated on a horseshoe shaped table, with the president in the very middle flanked by the Secretary on the right and the Undersecretary on the left. The other representatives are placed in clockwise order alphabetically from the president leaving two seats at the ends of the table for guest speakers. The seating order of the members is then rotated each month as the presidency changes.
Because of the public nature of meetings in the Security Council Chamber delegations use the chamber to voice their positions in different ways, such as for example with walkouts.
Due to the public scrutiny of the Security Council Chamber, much of the work of the Security Council is conducted behind closed doors in “informal consultations”.
In 1978, West Germany funded the construction of a conference room next to the Security Council Chamber. The room was used for “informal consultations”, which soon became the primary meeting format for the Security Council. In 1994, the French ambassador complained to the Secretary-General that “informal consultations have become the Council’s characteristic working method, while public meetings, originally the norm, are increasingly rare and increasingly devoid of content: everyone knows that when the Council goes into public meeting everything has been decided in advance”. When Russia funded the renovation of the consultation room in 2013, the Russian ambassador called it “quite simply, the most fascinating place in the entire diplomatic universe”.
Only members of the Security Council are permitted in the conference room for consultations. The press is not admitted, and other members of the United Nations cannot be invited into the consultations. No formal record is kept of the informal consultations. As a result, the delegations can negotiate with each other in secret, striking deals and compromises without having their every word transcribed into the permanent record. The privacy of the conference room also makes it possible for the delegates to deal with each other in a friendly manner. In one early consultation, a new delegate from a Communist nation began a propaganda attack on the United States, only to be told by the Soviet delegate, “We don’t talk that way in here.”
A permanent member can cast a “pocket veto” during the informal consultation by declaring its opposition to a measure. Since a veto would prevent the resolution from being passed, the sponsor will usually refrain from putting the resolution to a vote. Resolutions are vetoed only if the sponsor feels so strongly about a measure that it wishes to force the permanent member to cast a formal veto. By the time a resolution reaches the Security Council Chamber, it has already been discussed, debated and amended in the consultations. The open meeting of the Security Council is merely a public ratification of a decision that has already been reached in private. For example, Resolution 1373 was adopted without public debate in a meeting that lasted just five minutes.
The Security Council holds far more consultations than public meetings. In 2012, the Security Council held 160 consultations, 16 private meetings and 9 public meetings. In times of crisis, the Security Council still meets primarily in consultations, but it also holds more public meetings. After the outbreak of the Russo-Ukrainian War in 2014, the Security Council returned to the patterns of the Cold War, as Russia and the Western countries engaged in verbal duels in front of the television cameras. In 2016, the Security Council held 150 consultations, 19 private meetings and 68 public meetings.