The Security Council is the United Nations' most powerful body. Its primary responsibility is maintenance of international peace and security. It can also make recommendations to the General Assembly on the appointment of a new Secretary-General and on the admission of new Members to the UN.
Powers of the Security Council
Under the Charter, member states are obliged to carry out its decisions. Even though it is, in theory, a very powerful organ, UN history has shown that political reality is an obstacle for the Security Council in carrying out its duties as established by the Charter.
All international disputes do not have be brought before the Security Council. It is up to the Council to investigate any dispute or situation which might lead to international friction.
Under the Charter, the Council may take measures towards any threats to world peace. It may act upon a notification by, or complaint of
- any member of the United Nations.
- a non-member state involved in a dispute and prepared to accept the Council's decision for a pacific settlement.
- the General Assembly.
- the Secretary-General.
Threats to peace
When a dispute is brought before the Security Council, its first action is usually to recommend to the parties to try to reach agreement by peaceful means. The Council may initiate an investigation or mediation by appointing a special representative, or by using the good offices of the Secretary-General.
Acts of aggression
If the situation involves breach of peace or acts of aggression, the primary goal of the Council is to reach a peaceful agreement as soon as possible. The Council may take action in order to reduce tension in troubled areas. Such measures include
- peace-keeping forces
- economic sanctions
- collective military action.
Members of the Security Council
The Security Council is composed of representatives of 15 member nations. There are five permanent members and 10 non-permanent members elected by the General Assembly to serve for two year terms. Five members are brought onto the Council each year. The geographical distribution of the non-permanent membership should reflect all regions of the UN member states.
The Presidency of the Security Council rotates monthly in English alphabetical order of the state members of the Council.
- United Kingdom
- United States.
The Programme of work, scheduled meetings and agenda of the day, is posted on the website of the Security Council.
More on the Security Council
Security Council documents are identified by the following symbols:
S/ Security Council
Ex. S/2003/207 Security Council, year 2003, document 207
For the period 1946-1993 the year references were excluded and the documents only carried the symbol S/ and a current number consecutively through the years.
- The Security Council website provides an overview of the composition and procedure of the Council including full text documents.
- Working Methods Handbook
- Provisional Rules of Procedure of the Security Council. Background information about the work forms of the Security Council.
- Repertoire of the Practice of the Security Council is an analysis of the work of the Security Council and its application of the Charter. It is published by the Secretary-General at the request of the General Assembly. Published volumes since 1946 are available online at the official website of the Security Council, where they can be retrieved by year or chapter.
- Journal of the UN, published electronically through the UN website, provides a calendar of the meetings of the day with references to relevant documents, including documents not yet officially published. Here you can find a short summary of the most recent meetings with documentary references.
- Meeting coverage and press release. News on activities from the Security Council are posted daily.
- Security Council in Swedish by UNA Sweden.
- In the book FN - globalt uppdrag, published by UNA Sweden, there is a chapter on the structure of the Security Council.
- The research guide on Security Council by the Dag Hammarskjöld Library (New York).
Key UN documents
UN documents and publications in catalogues and databases
- United Nations Digital Library offers UN documents and open access publications, UN voting data and speeches, UN maps, Content in 6+ languages. Replaces the traditional online catalogue UNBISnet.
- UN iLibrary UN publications online covering different topics.
- ODS full-text UN documents published from 1993 onward and scanned documents published between 1946 and 1993 in the official languages of the UN.
- Daily list of documents (ODS). Documents published for the day, with full text links, can be found in the United Nations full text database ODS.
- UNBIS Thesaurus a multilingual database of the controlled vocabulary used to describe UN documents.
- Index to proceedings is an annual bibliographic guide to the proceedings and documentation of the major UN organs. The index includes:
- a list of all documents
- a comprehensive subject index
- an index to speeches
- a voting chart of resolutions
- United Nations Documents Index (United Nations Digital Library) References to all documents by subject area are published. A collection of indexes is held by the Dag Hammarskjöld and Law Library, Uppsala, and the Libraries at UN Headquarters in New York and Geneva.
- All UN documents from 1993-.
- All resolutions of the Principal Organs from 1946-.
- All Security Council plenary documents from 1946- in English, French and Spanish.
- All supplements to the General Assembly Official Records (GAOR) from 1946-.
- All General Assembly plenary meeting records from 1946- in English, French and Spanish.
- Older documents are being scanned: Update on UN Digitization Programme.