role of the united nations security council


To the best of my ability, with the desire to refrain from simply regurgitating information, this article is in my own words. On points I have deemed pivotal in understanding the UN Security Council, I have followed the wording of the UN Charter. The full text of the UN Charter can be found here.


In accordance with Chapter 5, Article 24 of the United Nations Charter of 1945, the primary responsibility of the UN Security Council is the maintenance of international peace and security, in which all member states of the UN have conferred responsibility to.

The UN Security Council is composed of 15 members of the United Nations. 5 of which are permanent members, The People’s Republic of China, Russian Federation, United States of America, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the French Republic. 10 members of the United Nations are elected by the General Assembly of the United Nations, equitable to geographical distribution. Each of the 10 members have a term of two years. All 15 members of the United Nations Security Council have one representative.

The rules and guidelines of their decision making shall be in accordance with the Purposes and Principles of the United Nations. The powers of the UN Security Council for the discharge of their duties are set out in Chapters 6, 7, 8 and 12 (Chapter 5, Article 24, paragraph 2)

Rules and guidelines of the UN Security Council in accordance with the Purposes and Principles of the United Nations:

Chapter 1: Purposes and Principles of the United Nations (using only a select number of articles that are summarised and of relevance and mindfulness to the decision making of the UN Security Council)

-(Article 1) To maintain international peace and security. This is done collectively by prevention of and removing threats to the peace, and suppressing acts of aggression in conformity with the principles of justice and international law.

-(Article 1) Solving international problems with co-operation from member states, in encouraging respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms without distinction as to race, sex, language or religion.

-(Article 2) Acting with respect for sovereign equality of all its members.

-(Article 2) All members to act in good faith of the obligations in the UN Charter.

-(Article 2) All members to withhold from the threat or use of force, or manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations.

-(Article 2) The United Nations will not intervene in matters which are under the domestic jurisdiction of any state. Members of the United Nations are not obligated to submit matters of domestic jurisdiction to the United Nations. The exception of this is the application of enforcement measures under Chapter 7.

Powers for the discharge of the duties of the UN Security Council: Chapter 6, 7, 8 and 12:

Chapter 6: Pacific Settlement of Disputes

-The UN Security Council are authorised to investigate a dispute which may lead to an international friction, or is likely to endanger international peace and security.

-Any member of the United Nations may bring any dispute to the attention of the UN Security Council.

-The UN Security Council take into consideration that legal disputes should be referred to the International Court of Justice.

-Should a dispute endanger international peace or security, the UN Security Council may recommend terms of settlement of the dispute.

Chapter 7: Action with respect to threats to the peace, breaches of the peace, and acts of aggression.

-The UN Security Council shall determine any threats to peace, breach of the peace, or acts of aggression.

-The UN Security Council may authorise member states of the United Nations to employ the use of force by land, air, sea for the purpose of maintaining international peace and security.

-The UN Security Council recognises the inherent right of self-defence for an individual nation or collective nations if an armed attack does occur.

-Members of the United Nations exercising the right of self-defence must immediately report this to UN Security Council, in order for the UN Security Council to make steps to maintain or restore international peace and security.

Chapter 8: Regional Arrangements

-Allows the involvement of regional organisations or agencies to deal with issues relating to the maintenance of international peace and security, providing they comply with the Purposes and Principles of the United Nations.

-Allows the UN Security Council to utilise regional organisations in implementing its decision.

-The UN Security Council are to be informed of the regional arrangements that are being made for the maintenance of international peace and security.

-Examples of such regional organisations include the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), African Union, The Arab League, the European Union, Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), Organisation for the Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) and the Organisation of Islamic Co-operation (OIC).

Chapter 12: International Trustee System

-Establishes a trustee system to further promote international peace and security, encourage respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms without distinction as to race, sex, language or religion, and ensuring equal treatment in social, economic and commercial matters for all members.

-Trustee systems do not apply to members of the United Nations, but apply to territories under mandate, territories detached from enemy states as a result of the Second World War 2, territories voluntarily placed under the system by states responsible for their administration.

-The functions and arrangements of the trustee system operate under the Trusteeship Council, under the authority of the United Nations General Assembly.

-The approval of the terms of the trusteeship agreements, including their alteration and amendment are exercised by the UN Security Council.

Important notice: with its mission fulfilled, the Trusteeship Council suspended its operation in 1994. This means although Chapter 12 still exists on the UN Charter, and demonstrates the powers of the UN Security Council, there are no longer any territories under the trustee system. The last trust territory was Palau, which gained its independence in 1994 and became a member state of the United Nations.

How do the UN Security Council make and implement decision?

This is defined as of Chapter 5, Article 27 of the UN Charter:

-A voting system is in place whereby each member of the Security Council has one vote.

-Decisions on procedural matters are implemented by an affirmative vote of 9 members.

-Decisions on all other matters are implemented by an affirmative vote of 9 members including those of the permanent members, unless the permanent member(s) abstain from voting.

What is a procedural and non-procedural matter?

-Voting on something does not indicate of itself whether the Security Council considers it a procedural or non-procedural matter. But it can be determined by the fact that permanent members cannot veto a procedural matter. This is because there is no veto involved in procedural matters.

-If a permanent member casts a negative vote on a motion, and it is still adopted, then it is procedural.

-This means all decisions that are not adopted where it has been voted negatively by a permanent member are non-procedural.

-This means, procedural or non-procedural matters can be distinguished after the voting. If a permanent member voted negatively, and it was still passed, it is procedural. If a permanent member voted negatively despite the number of affirmative votes reaching 9, it is non-procedural.

-Examples of non-procedural matters are:  (shown by the number of affirmative votes reaching over 9 yet still the motion was not adopted due to the negative vote of a permanent member)

UNSC 2008-2012.jpg

(Image made from data found in 2008-2009, 2010-2011, 2012-2013 files from this link

A tale of two resolutions involving Zimbabwe and The Gambia

What happens after a vote has been affirmed by 9 members of the Security Council including those of the permanent members?

Security Council Resolution 2337:

Let us examine Security Council Resolution 2337 adopted on the 19th January 2017. All 15 members of the Security Council affirmatively voted the resolution. The resolution can be found here:

The resolution was about the situation in The Gambia. After a peaceful presidential election in December 2016, it was announced that the winner was Adama Barrow.

The current president of The Gambia, Yahya Jammeh (in power since 1994) initially recognised the result, then proceeded to refuse the result.

It led to a meeting by the African Union in January 2017 that Jammeh would not be recognised as the legitimate President of the Republic of the Gambia. It included efforts from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). It included mediation efforts of the President of Nigeria, Muhammadu Buhari and the former President of the Republic of Ghana, John Dramani Mahama.

Resolution 2337 reaffirmed on an international level the efforts of the African Union, ECOWAS and mediation efforts in the region. It formally recognised the legitimacy of Adama Barrow as president of The Gambia. It expressed the risk of the situation deteriorating, mindful of the threat to the civilian population, mindful of protecting the human rights of the peoples, condemned the attempts to usurp the will of the people, and condemned the threat to undermine the integrity of the electoral process.

Resolution 2337 expressly reaffirmed its commitment to independence and territorial integrity of The Republic of The Gambia, recalling the importance of non-intervention.

Resolution 2337 expressly endorsed the decisions of ECOWAS and the African Union. Resolution 2337 was adopted on the 19th January 2017. On that very day, the resolution gave the green light for an ECOWAS military intervention in The Gambia, involving Senegal, Nigeria, Ghana, Mali and Togo.

The military intervention successfully forced Yahya Jammeh to step down as president, enabling Adama Barrow to become the legitimate president of The Gambia. There were no reports of casualties.

Resolution 2337 is a shining example of international efforts of peace and security through an international coalition and a legitimate process to execute a peaceful transition.

Draft Resolution S/2008/447: Peace and Security (Zimbabwe)

Full text can be found here

A draft resolution was created on 11th July 2008 by Australia, Belgium, Canada, Croatia, France, Italy, Liberia, Netherlands, New Zealand, Sierra Leone, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and United States of America. The draft resolution concerns the situation in Zimbabwe.

The intention of the resolution is to impose sanctions on the current President of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe. This would mean an arms embargo on the country. This would mean a travel ban and freezing of assets against the president and 13 senior government and security officials.

The concern stemmed from the irregularities, violence and intimidation perpetrated in the run up to the 27th June 2008 second round presidential election. According to the draft resolution, this made the election not fair and free.

The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission announced the first round of the presidential election in March 2008. It was won by Morgan Tsvangirai by 47.9% to Robert Mugabe’s 43.2% and Simba Makoni 8.3%.

In accordance with Chapter 2:13 of the Electoral Act as part of the Zimbabwe constitution, Part XVII Article 110 (f,ii and iii) states that as all candidates failed to reach more than half of the number of votes, a “runoff presidential election” (meaning a second round involving only two candidates) shall be held:


The first round results was contested by Morgan Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party in which claimed the result was 50.3%, making Tsvangirai the new president. This was dismissed, and led to a second round in June 2008.

In the second round of the presidential election in June 2008, Robert Mugabe won the election with 85.5% of the vote versus Morgan Tsvangirai’s 9.3%.

According to Draft Resolution S/2008/447, between March and June 2008, in the period from the first to the second round of voting, political violence occurred, including loss of life, intimidation and abuse of human rights.

The inter-governmental organisation SADC (Southern African Development Community) held an emergency meeting in April 2008 on Zimbabwe. Although acknowledging that the March 2008 election was peaceful, they expressed concerns on the delay of announcing the results, as well of a lack of the SADC’s participation in the voting verification process conducted by the ZEC (Zimbabwe Electoral Commission). Text

In a meeting on 1st July 2008 by the African Union on Zimbabwe, they also expressed deep concern over the loss of life and violence occurring in Zimbabwe during this time. Text

The voices heard from the Southern African Development Community and the African Union led to the formation of draft resolution S/2008/447. In which at the 5933rd meeting of the UN Security Council about the outcome of the second round of voting the then United Kingdom Ambassador to the United Nations Sir John Sawers said:

“Our collective assessment was that free and fair elections were impossible under the prevailing conditions of a campaign of violence against the political opposition and the denial of the opposition’s right to campaign freely.”

The resolution was not adopted due to the negative votes of two permanent members of the Council. The result of the 5993rd meeting as followed:

In favour: Belgium, Burkina Faso, Costa Rica, Croatia, France, Italy, Panama, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, United States of America

Against: China, Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, Russian Federation, South Africa, Vietnam

Abstaining: Indonesia

The negative vote from the Russia Federation, said by the Russian Ambassador to the United Nations Vitaly Churkin, was explained as follows: “the draft resolution represents nothing but an attempt by the Council to interfere in the internal affairs of States, contrary to the Charter.”

Full text

This led to the continuation of presidency of Robert Mugabe, who has been in power since 1987.


Further reading:

UNSC repertiore