What is the UNSC?

India began its two-year term as a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council on January 1, 2021. What is the UNSC? If India is a non permanent member, who are its permanent members? Why has India been stepping up efforts for the reform of the Council? Let's see.

One of the organs of the UN

The UNSC is one of the six main organs of the United Nations. Its objective is to maintain international peace and security. The UNSC has 15 members, of which, five, China, France, Russia, U.K. and the U.S., are permanent members with veto power (power to withhold assent or reject any resolution). The rest are non-permanent members who are elected to serve a two-year term on the Council. The non-permanent members at present are Estonia, India, Ireland, Kenya, Mexico, Niger, Norway, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Tunisia, and Vietnam. As these members do not have veto rights, they are considered powerless. In other words, they cannot assert their view on any issue of international concern.

Empowered to make decisions

Unlike other organs of the UN which can only make recommendations, the Security Council has the power to make decisions, called resolutions, and impose them on member countries. Each member of the Council has one vote. The UNSC may meet whenever there is a threat to peace and security. It first met in January 1946, three months after the United Nations came into existence. Responsible for diplomatically resolving crises and conflicts around the world, the Council can also resort to imposing economic sanctions, travel bans, financial restrictions or authorise the use of force. It seeks to resolve disputes through mediation, special envoys or by sending a UN Mission. It supervises the work of the UN peacekeeping operations.

Criticism against the Council

Although it has been successful in addressing several global issues, it has been criticised for its lack of credibility. It has long been felt that the Security Council in its present form lacks legitimacy, is outdated (reflecting the power centres of 1945) and does not correspond with the changed global realities. It is often said that the Council requires comprehensive reforms to address contemporary challenges, better representation and a strong multilateralism that gives voice to all stakeholders. The exclusive right of the five permanent members of the Council to veto any proposed decision has long been a subject of controversy. Perceived as an undemocratic arrangement, this has been cited as the main reason for UN's inaction on crimes against humanity.

Quick facts

  • India is serving its term as a non-permanent member of the powerful 15-nation UN body for the eighth time. It won 184 of the 192 votes cast in the elections in June 2020 for the five non-permanent seats of the UNSC. A member country requires a two-thirds majority of votes in the General Assembly to become a non permanent member. Besides India, Norway, Kenya, Ireland and Mexico were elected non permanent members in June.

  • Counter-terrorism is stated to be India's priority during its membership. Besides, getting permanent membership is high on the country's agenda. India will chair the three crucial committees - Taliban and Libya sanctions committees and the Counter Terrorism Committee - of the UNSC during its tenure as a non-permanent member.

  • India will be UNSC President in August 2021 and will preside over the Council again for a month in 2022. The presidency of the Council is held for a month by each of the members in turn, as per the alphabetical order of the names of the member countries.


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How many countries are members of the UN now?

The United Nations member states are the 193 sovereign states that are members of the United Nations (UN) and have equal representation in the UN General Assembly. The UN is the world's largest intergovernmental organization.

In principle, only sovereign states can become UN members, and currently, all UN members are sovereign states. Although five members were not sovereign when they joined the UN, they all subsequently became fully independent between 1946 and 1991. Because a state can only be admitted to membership in the UN by the approval of the Security Council and the General Assembly, a number of states that are considered sovereign according to the Montevideo Convention are not members of the UN. This is because the UN does not consider them to possess sovereignty, mainly due to the lack of international recognition or due to opposition from one of the permanent members.

In addition to the member states, the UN also invites non-member states to become observers at the UN General Assembly, allowing them to participate and speak in General Assembly meetings, but not vote. Observers are generally intergovernmental organizations and international organizations and entities whose statehood or sovereignty is not precisely defined.


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Can you name the permanent members of the UN Security Council?

The permanent members of the United Nations Security Council (also known as the Permanent Five, Big Five, or P5) are the five sovereign states to whom the UN Charter of 1945 grants a permanent seat on the UN Security Council: China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

The permanent members were all allies in World War II (and the victors of that war), and are also all states with nuclear weapons (though not all five had developed nuclear weapons prior to the formation of the United Nations). The remaining 10 members of the council are elected by the General Assembly, giving a total of 15 UN member states. All five permanent members have the power of veto, which enables any one of them to prevent the adoption of any "substantive" draft Council resolution, regardless of its level of international support.

The "power of veto" refers to the veto power wielded solely by the permanent members, enabling them to prevent the adoption of any "substantive" draft Council resolution, regardless of the level of international support for the draft. The veto does not apply to procedural votes, which is significant in that the Security Council's permanent membership can vote against a "procedural" draft resolution, without necessarily blocking its adoption by the council.

The veto is exercised when any permanent member—the so-called "P5"—casts a "negative" vote on a "substantive" draft resolution. Abstention or absence from the vote by a permanent member does not prevent a draft resolution from being adopted.


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Which is the judicial organ of the UN?

The International Court of Justice is the principal judicial organ of the United Nations. Its seat is at the Peace Palace in the Hague (Netherlands). It is the only one of the six principal organs of the United Nations not located in New York (United States of America). The Court’s role is to settle, in accordance with international law, legal disputes submitted to it by States and to give advisory opinions on legal questions referred to it by authorized United Nations organs and specialized agencies.

The Secretariat comprises the Secretary-General and tens of thousands of international UN staff members who carry out the day-to-day work of the UN as mandated by the General Assembly and the Organization's other principal organs.  The Secretary-General is chief administrative officer of the Organization, appointed by the General Assembly on the recommendation of the Security Council for a five-year, renewable term. UN staff members are recruited internationally and locally, and work in duty stations and on peacekeeping missions all around the world.  But serving the cause of peace in a violent world is a dangerous occupation. Since the founding of the United Nations, hundreds of brave men and women have given their lives in its service.


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What is UN Day and when is it observed?

UN Day marks the anniversary of the entry into force in 1945 of the UN Charter. With the ratification of this founding document by the majority of its signatories, including the five permanent members of the Security Council, the United Nations officially came into being.

There is no other global organization with the legitimacy, convening power and normative impact of the United Nations. Today, the urgency for all countries to come together, to fulfil the promise of the nations united, has rarely been greater.

24 October has been celebrated as United Nations Day since 1948. In 1971, the United Nations General Assembly recommended that the day be observed by Member States as a public holiday.

The year 2020 marks the 75th anniversary of the United Nations and its founding Charter. This anniversary comes in a time of great disruption for the world, compounded by an unprecedented global health crisis due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with severe economic and social impacts. But it is also a reminder that times of struggle can become an opportunity for positive change and transformation.

To commemorate the 75 years of the United Nations, Member States hold a high-level event on 21 September 2020, where they reaffirmed and recognized that our challenges are interconnected and can only be addressed through reinvigorated multilateralism.


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