Wednesday, January 23, 2008

United Nations Security Council



Most of my sources are drawn from the internet and from various books in the PUC library. I search in Google for articles of criticism of the United Nation Security Councils especially on the UNSC voting procedure. Then I compiled this criticism to show weakness of the UNSC. Base on this weakness, I search for articles and in books for ideas that would overcome this weakness. I put together these ideas into a reform of the UNSC. The citation I will use for this paper is the Harvard style.


The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) is an organ of the United Nations responsible for the maintenance of international peace and security. The UNSC consists of five permanent members (United States, United Kingdom, France, Russia and People’s Republic of China) and ten non-permanent members that serve two years term which five are replaced each year. Security Council members must always be present at UN Headquarter in New York so that the Security Council can meet at any time when there is an emergency.


On January 1, 1942, the United Nations Declaration was signed by President Roosevelt, Prime Minister Churchill, Maxim Litvinov, of the USSR, and the T. V. Soong, of China. A day later the Declaration was signed by twenty-two other nations[1]. Then, as World War II was drawing to a close, China, Great Britain, the USSR, and the United States met at Dumbarton Oaks to develop an organizational plans for the United Nations. The Dumbarton Oaks draft centered mainly round the Security Councils. In its original form the Security Councils had eleven members which five would be permanent members and six would serve term for two years (but due to diplomatic pressure in 1965 the number of members in the Security Council was increased to 15, but the permanent positions remained the same). The Security Council had the responsibility to prevent future wars by taking necessary actions. One of the Dumbarton Oaks plan was that member states have to contribute army to the Security Council when needed to prevent war and suppress acts of aggression. The one problem with the Dumbarton Oaks plan was the lack of voting procedure in the Security Council. However, this was resolved at the Yalta Conference in February of 1945 by Prime Minister Churchill, Roosevelt, and Stalin. After Yalta, the San Francisco Conference was set for April 25th, 1945. After many debates, the veto power was made official in Article 30 and was extended to the five countries commonly referred to as the “Perm 5.” The Security Council held its first historic meeting January 17, 1946, and has been taking actions for peace ever since.


Under the UN Charter, UNSC has power and functions:

  • to maintain international peace and security in accordance with the principles and purposes of the United Nations;
  • to investigate any dispute or situation which might lead to international friction
  • to recommend methods of adjusting such disputes or the terms of settlement;
  • to formulate plans for the establishment of a system to regulate armaments;
  • to determine the existence of a threat to the peace or 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 to prevent or stop aggression;
  • to take military action against an aggressor;
  • to recommend the admission of new Members;
  • to exercise the trusteeship functions of the United Nations in "strategic areas";
  • to recommend to General Assembly the appointment of the Secretary-General together with the Assembly, to elect the Judges of the International Court of Justice.


UNSC takes actions on any matters by voting to issue resolution. There are two kinds of matters that the UNSC must vote on. One is call a procedural matter that require any nine vote from the 15 members of the UNSC. The other one is substantive matters that need the affirmative votes of nine members and there should not be any negative vote (veto) from any of the permanent members (Under Article 27 of the UN Charter). A negative vote, or veto, by a permanent member prevents adoption of a proposal even if it has received the required number of affirmative votes. Because of this procedure, resolutions on substantive matters are hard to get pass. There are many criticisms around this matters and there are also call for a reform of the voting procedure, especially on the veto power of the permanent members.



There have been criticisms that the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council (who are all nuclear powers) has unchecked powers. This has lead to accuse that the UNSC only addresses the strategic interests and political motives of the permanent member. For example, UNSC devote themselves to protect the oil-rich Kuwaitis in 1991 but poorly protecting resource-poor Rwandans in 1994[2]. Any nation may be elected to serve a temporary term on the Security Council, but critics have suggested this is inadequate. The non permanent members power are far less weaker than the permanent members. There are also criticisms on the number of permanent members and suggested the UN should be expanded the membership of the permanent members to include non-nuclear powers which would democratize the organization. Another criticism of the Security Council involves the veto power of the five permanent nations. One veto from any of the permanent member prevent the UNSC to adopt resolution to take any possible action that the Council otherwise should take. This veto power destroy the democracy concept of majority opinion in the United Nations Security Council.


There is one way to reform the voting procedure of the Security Council on substantive matter that veto power does count. It is not to take away the veto power but to find a way to override it so one veto vote would not halt the action of the UNSC. The current procedure on substantive matter is 9 votes with all 5 affirmatives vote from the Perm5. To reform this procedure is to add a condition to override the veto. For example, if there is a veto vote then the proportion of 9 out 15 will increase to 11 out of 15 (2 more votes needed). If there is 2 veto votes then the proportion will increase to 14 out of 15 (3 more extra votes needed). However, if three is 3 veto votes then the UNSC can not override these veto votes because 3 veto votes out of the 5 permanent votes is a majority within the Perm5. This reform is to implement democracy concept into the UNSC. Minority opinion of the Perm5, which mean only 2 veto votes, can be challenged. But when this veto votes reach the number of 3 then it will become a majority opinion within the Perm5, then it can not be challenged. This reform also grant more power to the non permanent members making their voices become more important to the Security Council, to the permanent members and to the world.

There is also a suggestion for the Perm5 to use their veto vote collectively[3]. It means that to veto any resolution then the Perm5 need more than one veto vote. For example, if United States wants to veto a resolution then US need support from another member of the Perm5 such as from the UK. This will reduce the power of each member of the Perm5 in term of their veto vote.

Another way to reduce the power of the Perm5 is to ask the permanent members “pledge themselves to refrain from the use of veto in cases of genocide and large-scale human rights abuses.”[4]

Another voting procedure is a mechanism whereby Security Council members could call for a paragraph by paragraph vote on resolutions[5]. By doing this, the whole resolution won’t get stuck because of the veto. Members of the UNSC could vote affirmatively on paragraph that they like and veto part that they don’t like. Therefore, there is a chance that part of a resolution, if not all, might get pass.

The ultimate reform of the voting procedure is to completely abolish the veto power[6]. All 15 members have 1 equal vote and the proportion vote 9 out of 15 remain the same. However, this reform is most unlikely to happen because Perm5 would never amend the UN Charter to give up there veto power completely.

Another reform is to increase the members of the Security Council. As the criticism above mention, the perm5 are all nuclear power and they seem to vote only affirmatively on matter related to their own interest. By increasing the members of the UNSC of those non nuclear power and by overriding the veto power then the outcome of the UNSC vote would likely to change its course from serving more of the Perm5 interest to serving more of the world interest.


-Trammel S., (2005).Commitee History and Structure of United Nations Security Council [online]. Available at /SC_Backgrounder.doc. [accessed by January 20, 2008]

-ANON, (2008). United Nations Security Council [online]. Available at [accessed by January 20, 2008]

- Deller N., UN Reform, the freedom to live in dignity, and the Responsibility to Protect,

Program Advisor, World Federalist Movement-Institute for Global Policy

-Bhatta G., 2001. Reforms At The UN, 1st ed., Singapore University Press

[1] Sam Trammel, 2005, P.2

[2] ANON., 2008, P.4

[3] Gambhir Bhatta,2000, P.239

[4] Nicole Deller,2001,P.3

[5] Nicole Deller,2001,P.4

[6] Gambhir Bhatta,2000, P.239


Dara said...

Dear vichet!
After i have read your essay. i found that your critism and reform on security council is very good.
Bu you mentioned that the 5 permanant members of the un is condtrol everything and don't have balance.
Sure, now there are 192 members of the un. Do you think when we are equal in the UN what's gonna happen? From my view, We need these powerful country to take control in order to stabalize the world security and peace. so we can not equallize to every members of the UN.
In addition, the 5 permanant members also could intervence or put pressure for every country dare to make nuclear bomb like North Korea. Wihout UN pemanant members cannot resolve this problem.

onzemardy said...

Dear Vuchet! After i have read through your article... it is very good as you mentioned in the scope and the reforming of the UNSC as what u really want the UNSC to change... but firstly it is hard to do it, and/or when the UNSC take this reforming then it mean that each problem can be solved and each resolution and decision could be made, then where can the troops of the UNSC go.. second, of course when we increase the number of perm5 then it is really good in order to balance or reduce the power of the perm5, but what about the new members, (have they ever controbute to the UN's budget as the perm5), for me if so, then surely they must paid... through this do they agree or voluntarily to paid for that???
third, is about the veto power as u concerned, i think that veto power can be good and can be bad.. what is the bad is as u mentioned that it is hard to reach the solution as well to draft any resolution, but for that it also have the good affect as well... because as, if any resolution can be made as the veto power is reduce then there will made the world not stable, not as hamony as it would was.. such like the action in the Irapi war that the United State of America ask for the UNSC action, but then as the veto power of the perm5 that could limited the UNSC in order to take action on that... that is much better of having the veto power of the perm5..
Lastly, as you mentined about to seek for support in order to make one's veto power in affect from another members,. i think that it can be such a doubt in that, as in my opinion it seem like one have to take side (in short like make any allies) then it seem like create any block again as the cause of the pre-world war II... in that, in this present day, we see that most country seem to favour in the US policy, or Liberalism Ideology.. so what about another country that do not follow or practice this, then they might face the bigger trouble than ever... but in fact they are also the UN member, they have a sit in the UN, every states are equal.. but then what is the equal mean.. how can China seek for her supportive?? then it seem like any or all of the resolution can be draft or make again if it is raise by the US side and hard for the China side in raising any ...

dear vichet,
it is all of my comment, please comment or give any respond to mine..

Chhun Sokha said...

Hey Vichet!
Oh, there are many scholars sharing different interesting points of view about the voting procedure. For me, I am not different from them, but the one I think is likely to occur is the suggestion for the P.5 to use their veto vote collectively meaning that veto any resolution need more than one veto vote so that the power of each member of the P.5 would be diminished.
The other recommendation of the voting dismantling the veto power is, furthermore, unlikely to take place as I do not expect the P.5 would make an amendment to the charter to totally abolish their veto power.
As a consequence, if the above-mentioned voting will not be possible, the old system of voting is still keeping the same- just like everything is again in the hand of the P.5.

Stan Starygin said...


This is a good paper. I read it last and it was an easy read-thru. The reform ideas are clear and easy to follow. I particularly appreciated the mathematics of the voting procedure within the SC and its proposed reform which follows the same numerical structure. Excellent. It is not relevant to me whether these are your ideas or those expressed by other scholar as there was not originality requirement for this assignment, which means that all that was needed to make a successful paper was to research the opinions of others and make a summary of them.

I am glad there are footnotes in the paper, but the idea is to have them conform to known citation formats.