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United Nations Security Council

The Security Council is the Most Powerful Body of the United Nations

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United Nations Security Council

The United Nations Security Council votes to adopt a resolution imposing sanctions against North Korea June 12, 2009 in New York City.

Mario Tama/Getty Images
Updated October 22, 2012
The United Nations Security Council is the most powerful body of the United Nations. The Security Council can authorize the deployment of troops from United Nations member countries, mandate cease-fire during conflict, and can impose economic penalties on countries.

The United Nations Security Council is composed of representatives from fifteen countries. Five of the Security Council members are permanent members. The original five permanent members were the United States, United Kingdom, Republic of China (Taiwan), Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, and France. These five countries were the primary victorious countries of World War II.

In 1973, Taiwan was replaced by the People's Republic of China on the Security Council and after the fall of the USSR in 1991, the USSR's spot was occupied by Russia. Thus, the current five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council are: United States, United Kingdom, China, Russia, and France.

Each of the five permanent members of the Security Council has veto power over any matter voted upon by the Security Council. This means that all five permanent members of the Security Council must agree to endorse any measure for it to pass. Nonetheless, the Security Council has passed more than 1700 resolutions since its founding in 1946.

The remaining ten non-permanent members of the total membership of fifteen countries are chosen based on various regions of the world. Almost every United Nations member country is a member of a regional grouping. The regional groupings include...

  • the Western European and Others Group
  • the Eastern European Group
  • Latin American and Caribbean Group
  • the Asian Group
  • the African Group

Interestingly, the United States and Kiribati are the two countries which are not members of any group. Australia, Canada, Israel, and New Zealand are all part of the Western European and Others Group.

The ten non-permanent members serve two year terms and half are replaced each year in annual elections. Each region votes for its own representatives and the United Nations General Assembly approves the selections.

The division among the ten non-permanent members is as follows: Africa – three members, Western Europe and Others – two members, Latin America and Caribbean – two members, Asia – two members, and Eastern Europe – one member.

Current members of the United Nations Security Council can be found on this listing of Security Council Members.

There has been controversy over the composition of the permanent members and the veto power for decades. Brazil, Germany, Japan and India all seek inclusion as permanent members of the Security Council and recommend enlargement of the Security Council to twenty-five members. Any proposal to modify the organization of the Security Council would require the approval of two-thirds of the United Nations General Assembly (193 UN member countries as of 2012).

The presidency of the United Nations Security Council rotates on a monthly basis alphabetically among all of the members based on their English name.

Since the United Nations Security Council must be able to act quickly during times of international emergency, a representative from each Security Council member country must be present at all times at the United Nations Headquarters in New York City.

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