The Security Council

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Under the UN charter, the member States give the Security Council primary responsibility for maintaining international peace and security. To facilitate its work and to ensure quick and effective action when required, the council has certain powers and attributes not accorded the other organs of the UN. Thus, the council is empowered by the charter to enforce its decisions and prescribe them as a course of action legally binding upon all UN members. However, these prerogatives can be invoked only in times of gravest crisis and under explicit conditions laid down in the charter. Otherwise, the Security Council, like the General Assembly, can only recommend and advise.

Another distinctive feature of the council is the membership and voting privileges accorded to the five countries that were chiefly responsible for the defeat of the Axis nations in World War II and, at the time of the San Francisco Conference, were regarded as militarily the most powerful countries in the world. By the terms of these privileges, China, France, the USSR, the United Kingdom, and the United States were each accorded permanent membership on the Security Council and the right to veto any substantive decision adopted by the majority of the other members. The underlying consideration here was the desire to preserve the unanimity of the Big Fivethat is, to ensure that no peacekeeping action would be taken against the will of a country considered sufficiently powerful to oppose the council's decision with military force and so open up the possibility of a third major international war.

Since all five countries were actually specified by name in the relevant charter provisions, an amendment or revision of the charter would be required to name different nations as permanent Security Council members. In turn, a charter amendment requires ratification by all five permanent members of the Security Council before it can come into force. In 1971, a major change was brought about without altering the names of permanent members. The General Assembly voted that the right to represent China belonged to a delegation that the People's Republic of China would name and expelled the delegation from the Republic of China (Taiwan). On 24 December 1991, Boris Yeltsin, president of the new Russian Federation, sent a letter to the Secretary-General informing him that the Russian Federation, as the "continuing state" of the former USSR, would occupy the seat of the former USSR on the Security Council. The letter stated that the Russian Federation had the support of the 11 member countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States, most of whom subsequently became members of the United Nations. The precedent for this switch was cited as the 1947 accession of the newly independent India to the UN membership held by the former British India.


To expedite decision and action, the membership of the Security Council was deliberately restricted to a small number. Originally an 11-member body, it was subsequently enlarged to 15 members by a charter amendment that came into effect on 31 August 1965.

With five seats permanently assigned, the remaining 10 are filled by other UN members elected by secret ballot in the General Assembly for two-year terms. Five seats on the Security Council become vacant each year. Nonpermanent members of the council are ineligible for immediate reelection upon retirement. In electing the nonpermanent members of the Security Council, the General Assembly is required to pay due regard to the past and potential contribution of nations to the maintenance of international peace and security, as well as to equitable geographical distribution. In view of the power of the council, nations attach great importance to the choice of the nonpermanent members.

The problem of ensuring equitable geographical distribution of members elected to the Security Council has not been easy to resolve. Prior to the council's enlargement, there had been a longstanding difference of views on a "gentlemen's agreement" reached in the early days of the UN that was intended to guarantee that the six nonpermanent seats would be so distributed that one of the seats would always be held by a Soviet bloc country. However, until 1960, only Poland and the Ukraine were elected, and each served for only one two-year term. In the 1959 election, Poland and Turkey competed for the nonpermanent council seat for the two-year term 1960-61. After 52 ballots, the General Assembly gave the seat to Poland on the basis of the following compromise: though elected for two years, Poland would resign its seat at the end of the first year and Turkey would be the sole candidate to fill the unexpired term. Under a similar arrangement, Romania held a seat for 1962, resigning it for 1963 to the Philippines. To avoid the recurrence of such situations after the enlargement of the council, the General Assembly established a fixed pattern for the geographical distribution of the 10 nonpermanent seats: five from African and Asian nations, one from East European nations, two from Latin American and Caribbean nations, and two from West European and other nations.

The accession of the Russian Federation, a vastly less powerful state than the former USSR, to a permanent seat on the Security Council set off a discussion among the UN membership about the need to make changes to the structure of the Security Council to better reflect the radical changes in the world and the organization's overall membership. The 48th General Assembly established an Open-Ended Working Group on the Question of Equitable Representation on and Increase in the Membership of the Security Council, which held its first meeting in New York on 19 January 1994. The Working Group submitted an informal report to the Secretary-General summarizing the results of its survey of the membership. It found that virtually all member states of the UN favored an increase in the membership of the Security Council. There was little unanimity, however, on the criteria for revising the council's composition. Responses received by the Working Group proposed increasing membership by as few as four (to 19) or more than doubling its size (to 31). Some members suggested the number of permanent members be increased at least by one (to six), or perhaps as much as seven (to 12). Most states responding to the survey agreed that an increase in membership should not diminish the council's efficiency. While most members favored continuing the categories of permanent and nonpermanent memberships, new categories were suggested: permanent seats without power of veto; rotating permanent seats, with or without power of veto; and semipermanent seats or extended membership. Some of the possible criteria put forward for new Security Council permanent membership included size of peacekeeping and financial contributions, the size of population and territory, economic potential, regional importance, geopolitical situation, and military capability.

In 2006, the Security Council consisted of the five permanent members: China, France, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom, and the United States; the 10 nonpermanent members, elected for a two-year period, were Argentina, the Republic of the Congo, Denmark, Ghana, Greece, Japan, Peru, Qatar, Slovakia, and the United Republic of Tanzania.


The Security Council is organized to function continuously and to meet as often as necessary. Hence, a representative from each member state must always be available so that in an emergency the council can convene at once. Chairmanship rotates among the council's member states according to their English alphabetical order, a new president (as the chairman is called) presiding every month. It is up to the president to decide whether to preside during the discussion of a question that directly concerns his own country.

Council members normally are represented by the heads of their permanent missions to the UN, who have the rank of ambassador. Any state that is not currently a council member but is a party to a dispute under consideration by the council must be invited to send representatives to participate in the proceedings, though without the right to vote. (In these circumstances, the disputing states concerned usually send a high government official, very often the foreign minister.) When the council is discussing a matter other than an actual dispute, the decision to invite the participation of any UN member states whose interests are directly affected is left to its discretion. The council has usually acceded to requests for such invitations. It has also granted representatives of national liberation organizations the opportunity to speak at a number of meetings.

The Security Council has held sessions away from its New York headquarters on two occasions, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in 1972, to consider questions relating to Africa, and in Panama City, Panama, in 1973, to consider questions relating to Latin America.


Each member of the Security Council has one vote. On questions of procedure, a motion is carried if it obtains an affirmative vote of any nine members. On substantive matters, a resolution requires the affirmative votes of nine members, including the concurring votes of the permanent members. However, any member, whether permanent or nonpermanent, must abstain from voting in any decision concerning the peaceful settlement of a dispute to which it is a party.

The Veto

The veto power and its exercise by permanent members remains a central characteristic of the mechanism of the Security Council, although, since the end of the cold war, a new climate of collegiality has made its use rare. Though the word "veto" does not occur in the charter, it is the common-usage term for the power of any of the five permanent members to defeat a resolution by voting "nay."

Negative votes cast in the council by its permanent members constitute an exercise of their veto power only on substantive questions, not on procedural matters. Moreover, by long-standing practice, the charter provision stipulating that all substantive resolutions must obtain the concurring votes of the permanent members has been interpreted to mean that, provided a permanent member does not actually vote "nay," a resolution may still be carried.

The veto power, then, is the constitutional instrument for giving expression to the requirement-discussed at the opening of this chapter-that before the Security Council invokes its authority in peacekeeping action, the big powers should first resolve their differences on how a particular crisis should be handled. However, although the principle of ensuring unanimity among the big powers was the major consideration underlying the institution of the veto, it was not the only one. A complementary consideration was the need of the major powers to ensure that their decisions would not be overridden by a majority vote of the smaller nations. In effect, conferring the right of veto upon a few powerful countries was tacit acknowledgment of the natural conflict that exists between their interests and those of the less powerful nations. It was a recognition of the fact that, despite differing social systems and power rivalry, the large countries often share more interests with each other than they do with smaller nations having social systems and tenets similar to their own. And it was for exactly this reason that the smaller countries represented at the San Francisco Conference made strenuous but unsuccessful efforts to prevent the institution of the veto power in the charter.


The functions and powers assigned to the Security Council under the charter are the following:

  • to maintain international peace and security in accordance with the principles and purposes of the UN;
  • to investigate any dispute or situation that might lead to international friction and to recommend methods of adjusting such disputes or the terms of settlement;
  • to determine the existence of a threat to the peace or an act of aggression and to recommend what action should be taken;
  • to call on members to apply economic sanctions and other measures not involving the use of force in order to prevent or stop aggression;
  • to take military action against an aggressor; and
  • to formulate plans for the establishment of a system to regulate armaments.

The Security council also is empowered to exercise the trusteeship functions of the UN in areas designated as "strategic" (only the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands was so designated).

Finally, the Council recommends to the General Assembly the admission of new members and the appointment of the Secretary-General and, together with the General Assembly, elects the judges of the International Court of Justice.


By the very act of joining the UN, all members "confer on the Security Council primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security and agree that in carrying out its duties under this responsibility the Security Council acts on their behalf" (italics added). They also consent "to accept and carry out" the decisions of the council on any peacekeeping action that may be required. Under Article 39 of the charter, the Security Council's powers to take such enforceable decisions come into effect only when a definite "threat to the peace," an actual "breach of the peace," or a particular "act of aggression" has occurred. Only if the council decides that one of these circumstances prevails may it invoke its power to take a course of enforcement action that constitutes a legally binding commitment on all UN members. With regard to disputes between states that, in the opinion of the council, have not yet led to a definite threat to the peace or do not constitute an actual breach of the peace or an act of aggression, it may simply recommend measures for a peaceful settlement.

The extreme caution with which the founders of the UN assigned governmental prerogatives to the Security Council is reflected in the fact that its peacekeeping powers are set out in two quite separate chapters of the charter. Chapter VI establishes the council's advisory functions in assisting the peaceful settlement of disputes. Chapter VII defines the kind of action that it may take in the event of threats to the peace, breaches of the peace, and acts of aggression.

Peaceful Settlement of Disputes

Under Chapter VI of the charter, the parties to any dispute "the continuance of which is likely to endanger the maintenance of international peace and security" are enjoined to seek a settlement of their own accord by peaceful means, including "negotiation, enquiry, mediation, conciliation, arbitration, judicial settlement, or resort to regional agencies or arrangements." When can the Security Council itself intervene? On this point, the charter is as unrestrictive as possible. By no means does every "situation" of conflicting interests lead to an actual dispute. Yet the council need not wait until a situation has given rise to friction before taking action. It may take the initiative of investigating any dispute, or any situation that might lead to international friction or give rise to a dispute, in order to determine whether the continuance of the dispute or situation is likely to endanger the maintenance of international peace and security. Moreover, any nation, whether a member of the UN or not, has the right to bring any dispute or threatening situation before the Security Council (or before the General Assembly). Should the parties to a dispute fail to settle their differences by peaceful means of their own choice, they are bound under the terms of the charter to refer the problem to the council.

Once the council has decided to intervene in a dispute, it can take several courses of action. It may recommend one of the methods of settlement listed in the charter; it may itself determine and recommend other "procedures or methods of adjustment" that it deems appropriate; or, if it considers that the continuance of the dispute is likely to endanger international peace and security, it can decide to recommend substantive terms of settlement.

Threats to the Peace, Breaches of the Peace, and Acts of Aggression

If, in its opinion, there is a threat to the peace, the Security Council has the duty to maintain peace and security by preventing the outbreak of actual hostilities. If there has been a breach of the peace or an act of aggression, its duty is to restore international peace and security.

The Security Council is empowered by the charter to call upon the parties to comply with any provisional measures that it deems necessary or desirable. Such immediate instructions to the quarreling states are intended, without prejudice to the rights of the parties, to prevent an aggravation of the conflict. For example, the council may demand the immediate cessation of hostilities and withdrawal of the forces from the invaded territory. If either or both parties do not comply with these demands, the council "shall duly take account" of the failure to comply. In this event, the farthest-reaching prerogative of the Security Council can come into play-namely, its right to institute sanctions against the recalcitrant state or states.

Here again, the discretion of the Security Council is very wide. When the council finds that a threat to the peace, breach of the peace, or act of aggression exists, it is authorized, though not compelled, by the charter to invoke sanctions. Even if its first provisional demands are not heeded, it may continue to press for peaceful settlement or take various other actions, such as the dispatch of a commission of inquiry, short of sanctions. On the other hand, the Security Council is free to invoke whatever enforcement measures it may consider necessary under the circumstances. It need not begin with the mildest but may, as in the Korean conflict, immediately start with the severest type of sanction-namely, the use of military force-if it considers that less drastic measures would be inadequate.

Types of Sanctions.

The charter does not provide an exhaustive list of sanctions that the Security Council may invoke, but it mentions two types: sanctions not involving the use of armed forces, and military sanctions.

Sanctions not involving the use of armed forces may be of two kinds. One is the severance of diplomatic relations with one or more of the belligerent states. The other is economic sanctions, including partial or complete interruption of economic relations and communications, such as rail, sea, and air traffic, postal and telegraphic services, and radio. The purpose is to isolate the country or countries against which they are directed, physically, economically, and morally. For example, a would-be aggressor that is denied certain strategic materials may be compelled to cease hostilities. If successful, such measures have great advantages over military sanctions. They impose fewer burdens on the participating countries and fewer hardships on the population of the areas of conflict. They also avoid the danger that once military action on behalf of the UN has been taken, war may spread.

Military sanctions, the charter stipulates, may include demonstrations by air, sea, or land forces; blockade; or "other operations by air, sea, and land forces," the latter including actual military action against the offending country or countries.

Once the Security Council has decided on specific sanctions, all members of the UN are under legal obligation to carry them out. The council may, however, at its discretion, decide that only certain member states shall take an active part, or it may demand that even nonmember states participate in economic sanctions to make them effective. The charter also stipulates that before any member state not represented on the Security Council is called upon to provide armed forces, that country must, upon its request, be invited to participate in the council's deliberations, with a right to vote on the employment of its own contingents.

The Security Council has invoked its powers to impose sanctions judiciously.

In December 1966, the council imposed mandatory economic sanctions against the illegal Smith regime in Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe).

The council instituted a voluntary arms embargo against South Africa in 1963 on the grounds that arms supplied to that country were being used to enforce its policy of apartheid. In November 1977, it imposed a mandatory arms embargo against South Africa. Although the General Assembly requested the Security Council to consider mandatory economic sanctions (in 1977) and a mandatory embargo on oil and oil products (in 1979), the council did not act. (The General Assembly passed a resolution calling for a mandatory oil embargo and economic sanctions against South Africa at its 44th session in 1989.)

On 6 August 1990, in response to Iraq's invasion of Kuwait, the Security Council, in its Resolution 661, imposed tight sanctions: a full trade embargo barring all imports from and exports to Iraq, excepting only medical supplies and humanitarian food aid. The Security Council further indicated its resolve by passing Resolution 665 on 25 August 1990, authorizing member states to use force to block shipments of goods to Iraq. Finally, on 25 September, it passed Resolution 670 mandating a complete air transport blockade of Iraq. Beginning in 1995 (Resolution 986) an "oilfor-food" program was established in Iraq, enabling the country to sell up to $1 billion of oil every 90 days and use the proceeds for humanitarian supplies. Subsequent resolutions (1051, 1111, 1115, 1129, 1134, 1137, 1143, 1153, 1158, 1175, 1194, 1210, 1242, 1266, 1281, 1284, 1302, and 1409) dealt with the extension of the oil-for-food program established under Resolution 986, and with IAEA inspections of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction programs. After the defeat of the Saddam Hussein government in March-April 2003 by US and British forces, the UN adopted Resolution 1483 on 22 May 2003, under which the Security Council decided that, except for the sale or supply to Iraq of arms and related material, all prohibitions related to trade with Iraq and other sanctions measures established by Resolution 661 and subsequent resolutions no longer applied. As of 28 May 2003, some $28 billion worth of humanitarian supplies and equipment had been delivered to Iraq under the oil-for-food program, including $1.6 billion worth of oil industry spare parts and equipment. An additional $10 billion worth of supplies were in the production and delivery pipeline. After the lifting of sanctions established by Resolution 1483, a UN special representative was tasked with the job of working with the occupying forces in rebuilding Iraq, opening the way for the resumption of oil exports, and providing for the termination of the oil-for-food program. The oil for-food-program (which subsequently became the object of intense criticism due to charges of bribery, fraud, and kickbacks paid to the Hussein regime) was phased out on 21 November 2003.

In 1991, at the request of the foreign minister of Yugoslavia, the Security Council imposed its first mandatory arms embargo in Europe in an effort to quell the rising tide of insurrection between ethnic groups in that country. By 30 May 1992, Yugoslavia had dissolved into four states: Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro). At that time, Slovenia, Croatia, and Bosnia-Herzegovina were admitted to UN membership. The Security Council, in Resolution 757, imposed mandatory trade sanctions against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, excepting only shipments of food and medicine for humanitarian purposes. Resolution 942 (1994) imposed sanction against the Bosnian Serbs, including freezing Bosnian Serb financial assets held abroad, and prohibiting trade with any entity owned or controlled by Bosnian Serb forces, except for relief supplies. Beginning with Resolution 943 (1994), the UN suspended certain sanctions on the FRY; Resolution 1022 (1995) and Resolution 1074 (1996) terminated sanctions against the FRY and the Bosnian Serbs.

On 31 March 1992, the Security Council adopted an arms and air traffic embargo on Libya (Resolution 748) in response to requests by France, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Those countries sought to force Libya to extradite two Libyan nationals indicted in those countries for the 21 December 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, in which 270 persons died, and the bombing of UTA Flight 772 on 19 September 1989 in Niger, in which 171 persons died. On 11 November 1993, the Security Council voted to widen those sanctions (Resolution 883) to include freezing Libyan bank accounts, closing the offices of Libyan Arab Airlines, and prohibiting the supply of materials for construction and maintenance of airports. The sanctions also banned the supply of pumps, turbines, and motors used at export terminals and oil refineries. The two Libyans indicted for the Lockerbie bombing were later tried in a Scottish court sitting in the Netherlands: one of the suspects was convicted for his role in the bombing. Libya subsequently took responsibility for the actions of its officials with regard to the bombing, renounced terrorism, and arranged for payment of appropriate compensation for the families of the victims. In response, the Security Council adopted Resolution 1506 (2003), formally lift ing sanctions against Libya.

On 16 June 1993, the Security Council adopted wide-ranging economic and trade sanctions (Resolution 841) against the military regime in Haiti which had unseated Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 1991. President Aristide had been elected to office in a UN-supervised election. The council acted in conjunction with similar sanctions imposed by the Organization of American States. In brief, the Security Council directed members not to sell oil, weapons, ammunition, military vehicles, military equipment, and spare parts to Haiti. In addition, it authorized members to blockade the country to prevent those items from being delivered to Haiti. It also authorized member countries to freeze Haitian funds. The sanctions were briefly lift ed when negotiations produced the Governors Island agreement of 3 July 1993, in which the military regime agreed to restore President Aristide with the assistance of a UN peacekeeping mission (called the UN Mission in Haiti or UNMIH). On 11 October 1993 the first deployment of UNMIH was prevented from landing at Port au Prince and the sanctions were reinstated three days later. On 6 May 1994, the Security Council adopted an expansion of sanctions (Resolution 917) against Haiti. Multinational forces were peacefully deployed in Haiti on 19 September 1994, and President Aristide returned shortly thereafter. On 29 September 1994, the Security Council suspended the sanctions (Resolution 944).

On 30 May 1993, in its Resolution 918, the Security Council imposed an arms embargo on Rwanda. It imposed the embargo in an effort to protect its UN Assistance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR) and other international humanitarian relief workers, as well as the civilian population, from the rampant lawlessness and violence that had broken out in connection with the resumption of that country's civil war between ethnic Hutu and Tutsi factions. In May 1994, violence broke out between the factions, and killings were widespread. In July 1994, the Security Council established a commission of experts to investigate violations of international humanitarian law (Resolution 935), and an International Tribunal was established on 8 November 1994 (Resolution 955) to prosecute persons responsible for the genocide.

On 8 October 1997, in its Resolution 1132, the Security Council imposed a petroleum and arms embargo on Sierra Leone. It did this following the military coup of 25 May 1997 led by the army in conjunction with the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), to address the violence and loss of life that surrounded the coup, and to demand the military junta relinquish power, restore the democratically elected government, and return to constitutional order. In June 1998, the Security Council established the United Nations Observer Mission in Sierra Leone (UNOMSIL), after the democratically elected president, Alhaji Dr. Ahmed Tejan Kabbah, was returned to power in March of that year. Fighting continued, however, and the Security Council established the United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL) on 22 October 1999, a new and larger mission with a maximum of 6000 military personnel. In 2000 and 2001, the numbers of military personnel involved in the mission increased to 11,100 and 17,500 respectively. In order to stop the flow of rough diamonds from Sierra Leone other than those controlled by the government, the Security Council passed Resolution 1306 on 5 July 2000, extended by Resolution 1385 on 19 December 2001. This action was undertaken due to the link between the diamond trade and human rights abuses, in particular in the case of the RUF, which committed killings, amputations, abductions, and torture of civilians.

On 31 March 1998, the Security Council placed an arms embargo on the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (Resolution 1160), to resolve the crisis in Kosovo, between Serbian forces and ethnic Albanian Kosovars. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) launched air strikes against Serbian targets beginning on 24 March 1999, and lasting until 10 June of that year, to stop the practice of ethnic cleansing of the Albanian Kosovars by the Serbs. On 10 June, the Security Council established an international civil and security presence in Kosovo (Resolution 1244). In October 2000, Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic was voted out of office. On 10 September 2001, the Security Council terminated the prohibitions preventing the sale of arms and related material to the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, by adopting Resolution 1367.

On 15 October 1999, the Security Council imposed a limited air embargo and funds and financial assets embargo on the Taliban regime in Afghanistan (Resolution 1267). With Resolution 1333 passed on 19 December 2000, it placed an air and arms embargo on the country, placed restricted travel sanctions on it, and froze funds of Osama bin Laden and his associates in Afghanistan. Following the defeat of the Taliban by the US-led coalition in November 2001, the Security Council lift ed restrictions imposed upon Ariana Afghan Airlines (Resolution 1388) on 15 January 2002. And on 16 January (Resolution 1390), the Security Council modified its sanctions on the Taliban, Al-Qaeda, and Osama bin Laden, holding that all states should freeze the economic resources of these individuals, organization, and former regime, prevent their entry into or transit through their territories, and prevent the supply, sale, and transfer of arms and related material to them.

In response to the war between Ethiopia and Eritrea that began in 1998 as a border dispute in the region around Badme claimed by both countries, the Security Council on 17 May 2000 placed an arms embargo on the two countries, and established a sanctions committee to address the situation (Resolution 1298). Once there was a cessation of hostilities in June 2000, the Security Council established the UN Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE), sending 4,200 military personnel to monitor the ceasefire and assist in ensuring observance of security commitments.

With Resolution 1343, the Security Council on 7 March 2001 applied an arms embargo on Liberia, blocked Liberian diamond sales, and restricted international travel by top Liberian officials, in response to fighting between the Liberian government and armed insurgents, which began in the remote northern Lofa County in 1998 and intensified during 2000. The sanctions were applied due to international condemnation of Liberian President Charles Taylor's trafficking in illicit diamonds from mines in Sierra Leone, for destabilizing neighboring countries, and for widespread human rights abuses against local populations. With Resolution 1408 on 6 May 2002, the Security Council extended the sanctions on Liberia for another 12 months and established a panel of experts to address the situation. Resolution 1497 (2003) authorized the deployment of a multinational force to Liberia, subsequently known as UNMIL (United Nations Mission in Liberia). Resolution 1532 (2004) froze the assets of Charles Taylor, and Resolution 1638 (2005) authorized UNMIL to "apprehend and detain" Taylor to facilitate his transfer to the Sierra Leone Special Court for prosecution. Resolution 1647 (2005) renewed timber, travel, arms, and diamond sanctions against Liberia. It also called upon Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, Liberia's first elected president since the end of the war in 2003, to reform existing logging concessions and commission "independent external advice" to manage the country's diamond resources. Charles Taylor on 29 March 2006 was arrested in Nigeria and delivered to UN authorities in Sierra Leone. The next day, the Sierra Leone Special Court requested that the International Criminal Court in The Hague carry out the trial with proceedings still to be under the direction of the Special Court.

Beginning with Resolution 864 (1993), the Security Council imposed an oil and arms embargo against the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA). Subsequent resolutions extended the sanctions against the organization. However, in 2002, with the Angolan war at a close, the UN suspended sanctions against UNITA through Resolutions 1412, 1439 and 1448.

An arms embargo was also imposed on Somalia in 1992 (Resolution 733). Resolution 1407 (2002) established a team of experts to improve the enforcement of the arms embargo. Resolution 1519 (2003) established a monitoring group to refine and update information on those who violate the arms embargo. The monitoring group was reestablished in Resolution 1630 (2005).

By Resolution 1572 (2004), the Security Council imposed an arms embargo on Côte d'Ivoire, where civil war was ongoing; these sanctions were renewed by Resolution 1643 (2005).

With Resolution 1591 (2005), the Security Council set up a committee to designate individuals impeding the peace process in the Sudan, constitute a threat to stability in Darfur and the region, commit violations of international humanitarian or human rights law or other atrocities, or violate measures implemented in accordance with Resolution 1556 (2004), which demanded the government of the Sudan disarm Janjaweed militias and apprehend and bring to justice Janjaweed leaders, among other measures.

The Security Council's previous reluctance to invoke its ultimate prerogatives is attributable to two main factors. There is a very strong argument that in most cases punitive measures are ineffective and may even harm chances for a peaceful settlement. The provisions on the UN security system make it clear that peace is to be preserved whenever possible without recourse to force. The second major factor is that, before the end of the cold war, one or two of the permanent members would take different positions from the other three or four, so that in most cases the council's sympathies were divided between the opposing parties. Not only did division between the permanent members preclude punitive measures against one side, but it also seriously inhibited definitive action of any kind. For example, the initial action of sending a UN command into Korea was made possible only by the absence of the USSR from the council at the time (in protest against the council's decision on Chinese representation). Had the Soviet Union been there, it would presumably have vetoed the necessary resolutions. An example of the reverse situation is the issue of South Africa's apartheid policies. Beginning in 1960, the African nations appealed regularly to the Security Council to institute mandatory economic sanctions against South Africa in the hope of forcing it to terminate the apartheid system. The former USSR frequently expressed itself in favor of such a move, but the Western permanent membersin particular, South Africa's major trading partners, the United Kingdom and the United Stateswere reluctant to impose economic sanctions.

In the post-cold war era of collegiality in the Security Council, the Russian Federation and the United States rarely found themselves on opposite poles of an argument, and imposing sanctions as a method to force other member states to comply with Security Council directives was much easier to accomplish.

Armed Forces for the UN

Although the charter contains provisions to equip the Security Council with armed forces in case of need (the Covenant of the League of Nations contained no such provisions), these requirements have not been implemented. Under the charter, all UN members "undertake to make available to the Security Council, on its call and in accordance with a special agreement or agreements, armed forces, assistance, and facilities, including rights of passage, necessary for the purpose of maintaining international peace and security." These agreements were to determine the number and types of military forces to be provided by the nations, their degree of readiness, their location, and so on, and they were to come into effect only after ratification by the countries concerned according to their respective constitutional requirements. (With this provision in mind, the United States Congress in December 1945 passed the "UN Participation Act," authorizing the president of the United States to negotiate a special agreement with the Security Council on the detailed provision of United States forces; the agreement would then require approval by legislative enactment or joint resolution of the United States Congress.) The troops and weapons would remain part of each country's national military establishment. They would not become international forces, but they would be pledged to the UN and, at the request of the Security Council, would be placed at its disposal.

However, the plan to place armed forces at the disposition of the Security Council required wide international agreement on a number of steps before it could be put into operation. The charter provides for the establishment of a Military Staff Committee composed of the chiefs of staff(or their representatives) of the five permanent members to advise and assist the council on all questions relating to its military requirements. The first task that the council assigned the Military Staff Committee was to recommend the military arrangements to be negotiated with member states. The committee was never able to reach agreed positions that could serve as the basis for negotiation and at an early date took on the characteristics of a vestigial organ.


Peacekeeping operations are not mentioned in the charter, yet they, as opposed to enforcement measures, are the means that the Security Council has most frequently used to maintain the peace. It has dispatched observer missions and troops in several crises. (The council's major peacekeeping operations and those undertaken by the General Assembly are described in the chapter on International Peace and Security.) Although the arrangements for the provision of armed forces foreseen in the charter have not been realized, the UN has nevertheless been able to establish peacekeeping forces on the basis of voluntary contributions of troops by member states.

Until the end of the cold war, the formula had always been that the disputants themselves must expressly invite the council to take peacekeeping measures (the special situation of Korea being the only exceptionsee the chapter on International Peace and Security.) With the eruption of ethnic and nationalistic conflicts in Eastern Europe and Africa after the end of the cold war, the Security Council recognized that the increasing number and complexity of peacekeeping operations warranted review. In May 1993, it requested the Secretary-General to submit a report containing specific new proposals to improve the capacity of the UN in peacekeeping. The Secretary-General submitted his report on "Improving the capacity of the United Nations for peacekeeping" in March 1994. In response to this analysis, on 3 May 1994, the Security Council issued a statement setting forth factors to be considered in establishing UN peacekeeping operations. The factors to be considered in the establishment of new peacekeeping operations included:

  • whether a situation exists that presents a threat to international peace and security;
  • whether regional or subregional organizations already exist and can assist in resolving the situation;
  • whether a cease-fire exists and whether the parties have committed themselves to a peace process intended to reach a political settlement;
  • whether a clear political goal exists and whether it can be re-flected in the mandate;
  • whether a precise mandate for a United Nations operation can be formulated; and
  • whether the safety and security of UN personnel can be reasonably insured; in particular, whether the parties to a dispute offer reasonable guarantees of safety to UN personnel.

The council also required an estimate of projected costs for the initial 90 days of a new peacekeeping operation, and for its first six months, and an estimate of the total annual cost, before authorizing any new missions. In the case of mission extensions, it also required estimates of the financial implications.

In both "An Agenda for Peace" (1992) and his March 1994 report, the Secretary-General proposed that a new mechanism had to be developed to enable a quick response to international crises. Under normal circumstances, the process of designing a mission, obtaining commitments for troops and equipment, establishing a budget, and obtaining approval for new peacekeeping missions could take as long as three months. The Security Council welcomed the Secretary-General's proposal to devise stand-by arrangements under which member states would maintain an agreed number of troops and equipment ready for quick deployment. A Stand-by Arrangements Management Unit was established to keep track of units and resources available for this purpose.


Besides supervising peacekeeping operations (listed in the chapter on International Peace and Security), the Security Council also has established various standing committees and ad hoc bodies.

United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM)

After the UN-sanctioned multinational force repulsed Iraq from Kuwait in April 1991, the Security Council passed Resolution 687 setting forth the terms for an official cease-fire. This resolution led the UN into previously uncharted waters. It required Iraq to "unconditionally accept the destruction, removal or rendering harmless of all chemical and biological weapons and stocks of agents and all ballistic missiles with a range greater than 150 kilo-meters." Iraq also was forced to agree to place all its nuclear weapons materials under the custody of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The resolution gave Iraq 15 days to submit a complete inventory of all its weapons of mass destruction.

To verify and implement this condition, the Security Council created the United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM). Its mandate was to carry out immediate on-site inspections of Iraq's biological, chemical, and missile capabilities; to take possession for destruction, removal, or rendering harmless of all chemical and biological weapons and all materials for research, development, support, and manufacture of such weapons; to supervise the destruction by Iraq of all its ballistic missiles with a range greater than 150 km, including major parts, repair, and production facilities; and to monitor and verify Iraq's compliance with its undertaking not to use, develop, construct, or acquire any of the items specified above. UNSCOM also worked with inspectors of the IAEA, who were charged with similar tasks in the area of nuclear armaments.

In October 1991, UNSCOM reported to the Security Council that Iraq at first adopted an attitude of noncooperation, concealment, and outright falsification. The Security Council responded with Resolution 707 (1991) condemning Iraq's violation of Resolution 687 and making nine specific demands. In March 1992, Iraq declared that it was no longer in possession of any of the weapons described in Resolution 687, but the Security Council did not accept this. In June 1992, Iraq again supplied what it said were "full, final and complete reports," on the weapons programs covered by Resolution 687. These reports also were considered to be suspect. Using aggressive surprise inspection techniques, UNSCOM and IAEA were able to compile significant information on Iraq's weapons capabilities.

UNSCOM's investigations revealed that Iraq had acquired a massive stockpile of weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missiles. The international community was horrified to learn that Iraq had established a military research program to develop biological weapons that had long been banned by international disarmament agreements (to which Iraq was ostensibly a party). UNSCOM discovered that the microorganisms involved in this research program included anthrax, botulin toxin, and gas gangrene. Although no facilities for the production of these biological weapons were found, UNSCOM did discover huge stockpiles of deadly chemical weapons, including warheads, aerial bombs, and artillery shells meant to deliver a variety of nerve gas agents, tear gas, and mustard gas.

IAEA/UNSCOM inspections also revealed three clandestine uranium enrichment programs and found conclusive evidence of a nuclear weapons development program aimed at an implosion-type weapon. The secret development of these materials, bypassing regular inspections by the IAEA, put Iraq in violation of its undertakings as a member of IAEA. The IAEA also found that Iraq had violated its obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. By mid-1992 the IAEA had removed and destroyed most of the materials and facilities and forced Iraq to destroy its nuclear complex at al-Athir, where most of the nuclear weapons research had taken place. The IAEA transported Iraq's nuclear fuel to Russia, where it was diluted from weapons grade to civilian reactor quality.

In 1998, Iraq ceased all cooperation with UNSCOM and the IAEA. No monitoring, inspection, or verification of weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missiles took place as of December of 1998.

In December 1999, the phase-out of UNSCOM was announced: The Security Council adopted Resolution 1284, establishing the new United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) to assume the responsibilities of monitoring the elimination of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. UNMOVIC took over UNSCOM's assets, liabilities, and archives and was mandated to "establish and operate a reinforced, ongoing monitoring and verification system, address unresolved disarmament issues, and identify additional sites to be covered by the new monitoring system."

On 8 November 2002, the Security Council adopted Resolution 1441, deploring the absence of weapons inspectors since 1998 in Iraq and its refusal to cooperate with the IAEA and UNMOVIC, decided that Iraq was in material breach of its obligations under previous relevant Security Council resolutions. The Security Council accorded Iraq a final opportunity to comply with its disarmament obligations, and set up an enhanced inspections regime to operate in the country. Iraq was given 30 days to submit a detailed report of all of its programs of chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons, and ballistic missile and other delivery system development, reports of weapons and agents stocks, and locations and work of research, development, and production facilities. Any false statements or omissions from this report would constitute a further material breach of its obligations. Iraq was to allow unimpeded, unconditional, and unrestricted access to UNMOVIC and the IAEA of its weapons facilities. Any interference by Iraq to comply with the weapons inspections, or false reports of its stockpiles and programs that it might make, would cause the Security Council to convene immediately to "consider" the situation and the need for full compliance with the previous resolutions, "in order to secure international peace and security." Dr. Hans Blix of Sweden served as UNMOVIC's executive chairman from 1 March 2000 to 30 June 2003. Demetrius Perricos was named acting executive chairman on 1 July 2003, and 16 individuals were appointed by the Secretary-General to serve on a College of Commissioners to advise the acting executive secretary. Although its inspectors were withdrawn from Iraq on the eve of the Iraq war which began on 19 March 2003, UNMOVIC continues to operate with respect to those parts of its mandate it can implement outside of Iraq and has maintained a degree of preparedness to resume work in Iraq. As of 2006, it maintained a roster of more than 300 experts ready to serve and continued to conduct training.

War Crimes

International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY).

Reports of widespread violations of international humanitarian law in the bloody conflict among the states of the former Yugoslavia led the Security Council to establish a Commission of Experts in October 1992. The commission was established to investigate the reports and submit its findings to the Security Council. In January 1993 the commission sent a first report describing the discovery of a mass grave in Croatia, and thousands of allegations of grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions and international humanitarian law. In February 1993, the Security Council adopted Resolution 808, establishing an international tribunal for the prosecution of persons responsible for the crimes discovered by the Commission, the first such tribunal since the war crimes trials conducted after World War II. By May 1993, the Secretary-General had submitted a detailed report to the Security Council setting forth the tribunal's legal basis, method of proceeding, and its statute. It was established as a subsidiary organ of the Security Council under Chapter VII of the charter. Its headquarters would be at The Hague, Netherlands.

On 25 May 1993, the Security Council passed Resolution 827, approving the report and establishing the tribunal "for the sole purpose of prosecuting persons responsible for the serious violations of international humanitarian law committed in the territory of the former Yugoslavia between 1 January 1991 and a date to be determined by the Security Council upon restoration of peace." The General Assembly elected 11 judges to the tribunal in September 1993. However, it was not until 7 July 1994 that South African judge Richard Goldstone was chosen to lead the prosecution team and he served until 30 September 1996, after which Louise Arbour of Canada became chief prosecutor. Carla Del Ponte of Switzerland was chief prosecutor as of April 2006 (she took office in 1999). As of April 2006, the ICTY president was Fausto Pocar (Italy) and the vice-president was Kevin Parker (Australia); presiding judges were Patrick Lipton Robinson (Jamaica), Carmel A. Agius (Malta), and Alponsus Martinus Maria Orie (the Netherlands); judges were Mohammad Shahabuddeen (Guyana), Mehmet Güney (Turkey), Liu Daqun (China), Andresia Vaz (Senegal), Theodor Meron (United States), Wolfgang Schomburg (Germany) O-Gon Dwon (South Korea), Jean-Claude Antonetti (France), Iain Bonomy (United Kingdom), Christine Van Den Wyngaert (Belgium), and Bakone Justice Moloto (South Africa); and ad litem judges were Joaquín Martín Canivell (Spain), Krister Thelin (Sweden), Albin Eser (Germany), Hans Henrik Brydensholt (Denmark), Claude Hanoteau (France), Janet M. Nosworthy (Jamaica), Frank Hoepfel (Austria), Stefan Trechsel (Switzerland), and Árpád Prandler (Hungary).

As of April 2006, 161 persons had been indicted for serious violations of humanitarian law in the territory of the former Yugoslavia; 133 of the accused had appeared in proceedings before the ICTY and proceedings against 89 persons had been concluded; 48 of the accused were in custody; 23 were released; state arrest warrants had been issued against all accused and were outstanding on 6 people, including former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic and Karadzic's army chief Ratko Mladic; 44 of the accused had been found guilty; 8 of the accused had been acquitted; 19 of the accused were transferred to serve sentence; 16 sentences had been served; 28 indictments had been withdrawn; 8 of the accused had died, and 3 of the accused had died after the commencement of proceedings, one of whom was former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. Milosevic had been standing trial for violating the laws or customs of war, crimes against humanity, breaches of the 1949 Geneva Conventions, and 2 counts of genocide and complicity in genocide, for acts committed in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, and Kosovo. He died of a heart attack on 11 March 2006 after five years in prison in The Hague with just 50 hours of testimony left before the conclusion of the trial. Prison terms for those found guilty ranged from several years to 46 years. The heaviest sentence to date had been handed on 2 August 2001 to Radislav Krstic, who was found guilty "by virtue of his individual criminal responsibility" on one count of genocide, one count of crimes against humanity, and one count of violations of the laws or customs of war. Updates on the proceedings were being posted regularly on the UN's web site at

International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR).

On 1 July 1994, the Security Council requested the Secretary-General establish a three-member Commission of Experts to investigate allegations of mass killings of civilians and genocide in Rwanda, during the re-eruption of civil war in that country in April 1994. It had been reported that as many as 250,000 civilians may have died in ethnic violence. On 8 August 1994, the new government of Rwanda, led by members of the Tutsi ethnic group, notified the Secretary-General that it would cooperate with an international war crimes tribunal. The new government hoped that the promise of an international tribunal under the auspices of the UN would allay the fears of hundreds of thousands of ethnic Hutu citizens who were refusing to return to Rwanda from refugee camps in neighboring countries due to fear of reprisals and prosecution by the new government.

On 8 November 1994 the Security Council passed Resolution 955, establishing the tribunal and empowering it to prosecute persons responsible for serious violations of international humanitarian law in Rwanda and Rwandan citizens responsible for such violations committed in neighboring states during 1994.

Following the election of the first judges, the tribunal began its work in November 1995. Progress was initially slow and the tribunal was criticized for incompetence. In 1998 Judge Lennart Aspegren (of Sweden) announced his resignation, protesting bad management and inadequate working conditions. Meanwhile, Rwanda had begun to hold trials of its own. In a press conference held 5 March 1999, Louise Arbour, then chief prosecutor of the UN tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and for Rwanda, told correspondents that the contrast was becoming increasingly dramatic between the remarkable willingness to endorse and support the work of the tribunals on the African continent and the tolerated non-compliance in the case of the states of the former Yugoslavia: Of the more than 70 suspects who were indicted by the Rwanda Tribunal, more than 60 were arrested and transferred to a detention unit at Arusha, Tanzania. This was in dramatic contrast to the lack of cooperation that the tribunal for the former Yugoslavia was experiencing, in which numerous arrest warrants remained outstanding.

As the Rwandan death toll mounted (approaching one million dead), the tribunal pressed on with its work. In 1999 the Security Council appointed Carla Del Ponte (Switzerland) as the tribunal's chief prosecutor; she began work 11 August of that year. As of April 2006, Erik Møse (Norway) was president of the ICTR and Arlette Ramarosen (Madagascar) was vice-president; presiding judges were Fausto Pocar (Italy), William Sekule (United Republic of Tanzania), and Khalida Rachid Khan (Pakistan); appeals chamber judges were Mohamed Shahabuddeen (Guyana), Mehmet Güney (Turkey), Liu Daqun (China), Andresia Vaz (Senegal), Theodor Meron (United States), and Wolfgang Schomburg (Germany); trial chamber judges were Jai Ram Reddy (Fiji), Sergei Alekseevich Egorov (Russia), Inés Mónica Weinberg de Roca (Argentina), Charles Michael Dennis Byron (St. Kitts & Nevis), and Asoka Nihal De Silva (Sri Lanka); ad litem judges were Solomy Balungi Bossa (Uganda), Flavia Lattanzi (Italy), Lee Gacugia Muthoga (Kenya), Florence Rita Arrey (Cameroon), Emile Francis Short (Ghana), Karin Hökborg (Sweden), Taghrid Hikmet (Jordan), Seon Ki Park (South Korea), and Gberdao Gustave Kam (Burkina Faso).

As of May 2005, the ICTR had handed down a total of 19 judgments involving 25 accused. Another 25 accused were on trial. The tribunal had handed down several judgments, including that of Jean Kambanda, the former prime minister of Rwanda, who pleaded guilty to and was sentenced to life imprisonment for crimes of genocide, and Jean Paul Akayesu, Georges Anderson Ndrubumwe Rutaganda, Clement Kayishema, and Alfred Musema, who were sentenced to life imprisonment. The Akayesu judgment and the Kambanda sentencing were the first ever by an international court for the crime of genocide. Tribunal updates were being posted on the ICTR's web site at


Following the terrorist attacks on the United States on 11 September 2001, the Security Council established a Counter Terrorism Committee (CTC) pursuant to its Resolution 1373 adopted 28 September 2001 concerning counter-terrorism. Resolution 1373 called upon states to prevent and suppress the financing of terrorist acts; to refrain from providing any support to entities or persons involved in terrorist acts; to deny safe haven to those who finance, plan, support, or commit terrorist acts; to bring those individuals or entities to justice; and to exchange information on the actions or movements of terrorists or terrorist networks. The CTC is composed of all 15 members of the Security Council. Subsequent Security Council resolutions were adopted regarding threats to international peace and security caused by terrorist acts, including Resolution 1377 adopted 12 November 2001, Resolution 1438 adopted 14 October 2002, and Resolution 1440 adopted 24 October 2002. Security Council resolution 1535 (2004) established the Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate (CTED). On 14 September 2005 the Security Council adopted resolution 1624, which deals with the issue of incitement to commit acts of terrorism and expands the Committee's mandate to include monitoring its implementation. Press releases and updates on the work of the CTC were posted at

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