United Nations Security Council – UNSC

  • The 15-member Security Council is by far the most powerful arm of the United Nations.
  • It can impose sanctions, as it did against Iran over its nuclear program, and authorize military intervention, as it did against Libya in 2011.
  • Its five permanent members are the victors of World War II: the United States, Britain, China, France and Russia.
  • The other 10 members are elected for two-year terms, with seats set aside for different regions of the world.
  • Efforts to expand the permanent membership of the council to include powers that have emerged since 1945 — such as India, Japan and Germany — have been stymied.
  • For every country that vies for a seat, rivals seek to block it.
  • Any member of the permanent five — or the P5, for short — can veto any measure, and each has regularly used this power to protect either itself or allies.
  • Since 1990, the United States has cast a veto on council resolutions 16 times, many concerning Israeli-Palestinian relations. Russia has done so 13 times, including four times over Syria.
  • The charter does allow the General Assembly to act if, because of a veto, international peace and security are threatened. But in reality, it is rarely done.

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