The Security Council—established by the UN Charter as one of the UN’s six main organs—has primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security. The five permanent members (P5) of the Security Council are the United States, China, Russia, France, and the United Kingdom. Ten non-permanent members each serve two-year non-consecutive terms, and are chosen for these positions by a two-thirds vote of the UN General Assembly. Unlike the non-permanent members, the P5 have the right to veto any resolution or decision taken up by the Council.

As outlined in the UN Charter, the Security Council’s purpose is to:

“Investigate any dispute, or any situation which might lead to international friction or give rise to a dispute, in order to determine whether the continuance of the dispute or situation is likely to endanger the maintenance of international peace and security” and act accordingly, by:

  • Investigating any situation threatening international peace;
  • Recommending procedures for peaceful resolution of a dispute;
  • Calling upon other member nations to completely or partially interrupt economic relations as well as sea, air, postal, and radio communications, or to sever diplomatic relations; and
  • Enforcing its decisions militarily, if necessary.

On January 17, 1946, the Security Council met for the first time in London. The first UN peacekeeping mission was deployed in 1948 to the Middle East, and over the last 70 years, the Council has voted to deploy an additional 68 peacekeeping missions to help stabilize some of the world’s most intractable conflict zones.

With strong leadership from the U.S., the Council has also established political missions to support crucial peacebuilding and democratic transition efforts in a number of countries, including Iraq and Afghanistan. The Security Council has also served as a key platform for international cooperation on counterterrorism and nuclear nonproliferation, adopting multilateral sanctions regimes targeting rogue states like Iran and North Korea and terrorist organizations like al-Qaeda.