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The United Nations Security Council


Article 23 of the Charter of the UNITED NATIONS provides for a Security Council as, more or less, the "upper house" of a bicameral "legislature" of which the General Assembly (which includes all UN Member-States) is, in effect, the "lower house". The "term" of the Security Council ("term" here appearing in quotes because each meeting of the Council is officially numbered indvidually by the UN itself) is the calendar year of the Gregorian [Western] Calendar beginning on 1 January, which is officially the start of the two-year terms of those Member-States serving on the Security Council chosen by the General Assembly (as further explained below); thus, the UN Member-States that serve on the Security Council are the same for an entire calendar year (1 January through 31 December).

The Security Council always includes the five so-called "Permanent Members" of the Council- these being:

  • [GREAT] BRITAIN
    (that is: the UNITED KINGDOM [of Great Britain and Northern Ireland])
  • CHINA
    (until 1971, so-called Nationalist China [that is, the Republic of China left only with the island of Taiwan after 1949];and,
    after 1971, so-called Communist or "Red" China [that is, the People's Republic on the mainland since 1949])
  • FRANCE
  • originally, the USSR
    (that is, the UNION OF SOVIET SOCIALIST REPUBLICS [or SOVIET UNION];
    after the collapse of this Soviet Union in 1991, its permanent seat on the Council was taken by the RUSSIAN FEDERATION)
  • the USA
    (that is, the UNITED STATES [of America])

Under Article 27 of the UN Charter, these five Permanent Members have been given the power to veto actions favored by even a majority of the Security Council (that is, a single "No" vote from any one of these five kills any action otherwise accepted by a majority of the full Council).

In addition to these five, Article 23 also provides for a certain number from among the remaining UN Member-States, as these might be elected each year by the General Assembly, to serve on the Council for terms of two years with the caveat that no such "non-Permanent Member" of the Security Council may be immediately re-elected to succeed itself on the Council. Non-Permanent Members of the Security Council are, per Article 18(2) of the UN Charter, elected by minimum two-thirds vote of UN Member-States present and voting in the General Assembly, such elections usually taking place during the regular session of the General Assembly each Fall so as to have the new non-Permanent Members ready to take their seats on the Council by the first day of the next calendar year, when their two-year terms officially commence (as hereafter noted).

Originally, there were to be 6 such non-Permanent Members of the Security Council, for a total of 11 Council members altogether. In the very first election of Member-States to the Council by the UN General Assembly in the Fall of 1945 [to allow the then-new Security Council to begin its work the following January], 3 of the 6 were purposely chosen for only one year so that there would, from that point on, be 3 new non-Permanent Members of the Council elected annually. Although the UN Charter does not at all specifically require that non-Permanent Members of the Security Council be chosen based on regional considerations, in practice these 6 members of the Council in addition to the 5 Permanent Members came to be chosen according to the table immediately following this paragraph, though it should also be noted that the definitions of "region" insofar as this process was concerned were to prove rather flexible- as one would expect, come the delicate diplomatic "balancing act" engendered by the evolving Cold War- and quite changeable over time, as the membership in the United Nations increased- especially as more and more former colonial dependencies became independent and thereafter joined the UN (indeed, explanations as to particular problems which then ensued as a result of this regional methodology for filling seats on the Security Council will be found immediately following this table).


Non-PERMANENT MEMBERS of the UN SECURITY COUNCIL: 1946 thru 1965

for the YEAR the [British]
COMMONWEALTH
OF NATIONS
Western
EUROPE
Eastern
EUROPE
LATIN AMERICA the MIDDLE EAST
  [from 1964:
AFRICA]
[1961 only:
AFRICA]
[from 1956:
shared with ASIA]
(2 seats)  
1946 Australia the Netherlands
(1 year only)
Poland Brazil Mexico
(1 year only)
Egypt
(1 year only)
1947 Australia Belgium Poland Brazil Colombia Syria
1948 Canada Belgium Ukraine Argentina Colombia Syria
1949 Canada Norway Ukraine Argentina Cuba Egypt
1950 India Norway Yugoslavia Ecuador Cuba Egypt
1951 India the Netherlands Yugoslavia Ecuador Brazil Turkey
1952 Pakistan the Netherlands Greece Chile Brazil Turkey
1953 Pakistan Denmark Greece Chile Colombia Lebanon
1954 New Zealand Denmark Turkey Brazil Colombia Lebanon
1955 New Zealand Belgium Turkey Brazil Peru Iran
1956 Australia Belgium Yugoslavia
(resigned)
Cuba Peru Iran
1957 Australia Sweden the Philippines Cuba Colombia Iraq
1958 Canada Sweden Japan Panama Colombia Iraq
1959 Canada Italy Japan Panama Argentina Tunisia
1960 Ceylon Italy Poland
(resigned)
Ecuador Argentina Tunisia
1961 Ceylon Liberia
(resigned)
Turkey Ecuador Chile the United
Arab Republic
1962 Ghana Ireland Romania
(resigned)
Venezuela Chile the United
Arab Republic
1963 Ghana Norway the Philippines Venezuela Brazil Morocco
1964 the Ivory Coast Norway Czechoslovakia
(resigned)
Bolivia Brazil Morocco
1965 the Ivory Coast the Netherlands Malaysia Bolivia Uruguay Jordan
 

Given the original membership of the United Nations, the "regional" set-up re: electing the 6 non-Permanent Members of the Security Council seen in the above table was not- at least at the start- all that out of kilter in its relationship to UN membership as a whole. Latin America (if one also throws in non-"Latin" [assuming this to mean only Spanish (and, in the case of Brazil, Portuguese) and not French] Haiti) accounted for 20 of the 46 original non-Permanent Member-States; thus, leaving 1/3 of the non-Permanent Security Council seats to this region was not at all unfair. The [British] Commonwealth of Nations, in the process of replacing the dying British Empire during the period the UN first organized, was still seen as a major global entity in 1945 (even though the United Kingdom itself was to be a Permanent Member of the Security Council) and was, therefore, given another non-Permanent seat on the Council-- and no one in 1945 (and certainly not as the Cold War evolved in the course of the immediately ensuing years) could have foreseen, say, today's European Union or the fact that Britain would willingly become a part of such a "continental" entity, thus continental Western Europe's 5 original members would share yet another non-Permanent Council seat (even though France already would function as the continent's only Permanent Member). The Middle East provided 7 original members, so a non-Permanent seat for this region was proper while the remaining non-Permanent seat on the Security Council was left for the other side of the Iron Curtain (with 5 original members of the UN outside of Permanent Member the USSR).

Yes, it is true there were no non-Permanent seats immediately set aside for Africa or Asia per se but it has to be remembered that, at the start, there were only two original Member-States from Africa (Ethiopia and Liberia) and 1 non-Commonwealth Member-State from Asia outside of the Middle East and Permanent Security Council Member China (this being the Philippines). It is also true that, of the 9 Member-States which would be added to the UN membership list through 1950, 3 were from non-Commonwealth Asia (and Asia, indeed, would- soon enough- provide the first serious challenge to the original "regional" set-up re: electing Member-States to the Security Council), but- with Western Europe, the Middle East and the Commonwealth of Nations each adding 2 new Member-States during this same period, the original "regional" set-up for non-Permanent UN Security Council seats was (except for the possible exception of Africa) still based on at least some perception of reality (a perception that probably was one which assumed that it would be British colonial dependencies [hence, Commonwealth nation-states] which, as had already been seen in Asia, would be gaining political independence ahead of most, if not all, other then-colonies).

Problems began to crop up with the original "regional" method of choosing non-Permanent Security Council Members during the 1950s. Even before the death of the Soviet dictator Stalin in 1953 and an all-too-brief "thaw" in the Cold War as a result, the Eastern Europe seat on the Security Council was given to Greece for two years and then to Turkey [!], which had already once served a two-year term as the Middle East member of the Council. The post-Stalin "thaw" itself led to the so-called "Package Deal" which allowed 16 new members to join the UN in late 1955 (4 of them in Soviet-dominated Eastern Europe, the rest considered- for the most part- "Neutrals" at best in the Cold War: 6 in Western Europe, 3 in non-Commonwealth Asia, 2 in the Middle East and 1 Commonwealth nation-state [Ceylon, now Sri Lanka]). Within a year of this "Package Deal", 3 new Middle Eastern states- though all in North Africa (Sudan, at the time, seen as more part of the Middle East than of the Sahel)- and Japan had been added to bring the total to 75 non-Permanent UN members. Latin America (which had not added any new Member-States since the UN was first organized), thus, had- by the end of 1956- dropped from some 43.5% of the non-Permanent members to roughly 26% of same...

but non-Commonwealth Asia, now with 8 non-Permanent UN members and- as yet- no pre-arranged non-Permanent seat on the Council, had only 1 fewer in membership than the Soviet Bloc (which now sought to reclaim the Eastern Europe seat- if only in the form of Communist "neutral" Yugoslavia). Asia first fought back in the Fall of 1955 (the same General Assembly session which would produce the "Package Deal") when the Philippines actively sought the seat Yugoslavia was itself seeking; as a compromise, Yugoslavia agreed to hold the seat for only one year and then "resign" it at the end of that year- at which point the Philippines would replace Yugoslavia on the Security Council for the one year remaining in Yugoslavia's term. As things turned out, this manner of compromise would be used to provide Asian seats on the Council for a year at a time (though Japan would get a full two-year term on the Council in the late 1950s) three more times (all at the expense of Soviet satellites who would also "resign" after one year) throughout the early 1960s.

Emerging Africa would provide even more of a dicey problem for electing members of the UN Security Council than even Asia had as the 1950s became the 1960s. In 1957, Ghana (a member of the British Commonwealth, however- as was the Malay Federation in Asia which joined the UN the same year) became the first sub-Saharan African nation-state to join the UN since the international body was first organized nearly a dozen years earlier. French ex-colony Guinea followed Ghana's lead- but as the first newly independent NON-Commonwealth sub-Saharan African nation, a year later. Then came a veritable explosion: by the end of 1960, 16 new sub-Saharan African UN members had been added (13 of them former French colonies- hence, not members of the Commonwealth of Nations [only Nigeria came into the UN in 1960 as a Commonwealth nation-state]). Not having a seat for Africa while having one for the British Commonwealth (but not for the not quite equivalent but similar enough French Community, of which most of these new African UN members were a part) no longer made any sense (meanwhile, Latin America- still with no new members added in the previous 15 years- now, in 1960, had only 21% of the non-Permanent Members but still held one-third of the non-Permanent Security Council seats, while sub-Saharan Africa- with only 1 fewer member-states than Latin America- had absolutely none!)

Until a new electoral format could be adopted, or the Security Council membership expanded from its then-11 (neither of which had much support, given the Geopolitics of a once-more freezing Cold War [especially once at least one Latin American UN member, Cuba, had become an overseas Soviet client-state (the United States was not going to allow Latin America to give up one of its seats, on the off-chance that possible future Communist expansionism in the Western Hemisphere might force a guarantee that there be at least one largely anti-Communist Latin American country on the Council]), the first solution to providing a seat for Africa was to effect a Eastern Europe vs. Asia-type compromise in the Fall 1960 (in which Liberia would serve for one year of a two-year term on the Council in the otherwise Continental Western Europe seat, "resign" and then its seat would be taken for the remaining year by Ireland). Then, when Ghana (a member of the Commonwealth of Nations, recall) took the Commonwealth seat a year later (practically replacing the "resigning" Liberia as the sole African member of the Council in January 1962), it was tacitly understood that it would be replaced in two years by a sub-Saharan member of the French Community (which turned out to be the Ivory Coast)- thus turning that seat into a de facto African seat on the Security Council by 1964.

By the time the Ivory Coast had acceded to the Council, however, the relevant Articles of the UN Charter had already been amended- effective with elections to the Council in the Fall of 1965 (so that a newly-expanded Council could be in place by January 1966)- so as to increase the membership of the Security Council to 15, meaning there would now be 10 non-Permanent Security Council seats (besides, obviously, the continuing membership on the Council of the 5 Permanent Members as heretofore stated). The following table illustrates the workings of the new "regional" arrangement of this expanded number of non-Permanent seats over time (the countries in boldface in the first row of this table are the "carry-over"s which happened to be in the final year of their two-year term on the Security Council at the time of the expansion of the Council as of January 1966; 2 of the 4 non-Permanent members newly added to the expanded Council beginning in January 1966 were specifically chosen for only 1 year at the start of the new electoral format so that there would, thereafter, always be 5 non-Permanent members of the Security Council chosen annually by the General Assembly):


Non-PERMANENT MEMBERS of the UN SECURITY COUNCIL: from 1966 to the Present

for the YEAR 5 from AFRICA & ASIA 2 from LATIN AMERICA at least 2 from EUROPE "OTHER" (Western-
aligned) STATE
  3 from AFRICA ---> (1 from the Arab World) <-- 2 from ASIA (includes the Caribbean) Eastern Western  
1966 Mali Uganda
(for 1 year only)
Nigeria Japan Jordan Uruguay Argentina Bulgaria the Netherlands New Zealand
(for 1 year only)
1967 Mali Ethiopia Nigeria Japan India Brazil Argentina Bulgaria Denmark Canada
1968 Senegal Ethiopia Algeria Pakistan India Brazil Paraguay Hungary Denmark Canada
1969 Senegal Zambia Algeria Pakistan Nepal Colombia Paraguay Hungary Spain Finland
1970 Sierra Leone Zambia Burundi Syria Nepal Colombia Nicaragua Poland Spain Finland
1971 Sierra Leone Somalia Burundi Syria Japan Argentina Nicaragua Poland Italy Belgium
1972 Guinea Somalia Sudan India Japan Argentina Panama Yugoslavia Italy Belgium
1973 Guinea Kenya Sudan India Indonesia Peru Panama Yugoslavia Austria Australia
1974 Cameroon Kenya Mauritania Iraq Indonesia Peru Costa Rica Byelorussia Austria Australia
1975 Cameroon Tanzania Mauritania Iraq Japan Guyana Costa Rica Byelorussia Italy Sweden
1976 Benin Tanzania Libya Pakistan Japan Guyana Panama Romania Italy Sweden
1977 Benin Mauritius Libya Pakistan India Venezuela Panama Romania West Germany Canada
1978 Gabon Mauritius Nigeria Kuwait India Venezuela Bolivia Czechoslovakia West Germany Canada
1979 Gabon Zambia Nigeria Kuwait Bangladesh Jamaica Bolivia Czechoslovakia Portugal Norway
1980 Niger Zambia Tunisia the Philippines Bangladesh Jamaica Mexico East Germany Portugal Norway
1981 Niger Uganda Tunisia the Philippines Japan Panama Mexico East Germany Spain Ireland
1982 Togo Uganda Zaïre Jordan Japan Panama Guyana Poland Spain Ireland
1983 Togo Zimbabwe Zaïre Jordan Pakistan Nicaragua Guyana Poland the Netherlands Malta
1984 Upper Volta Zimbabwe Egypt India Pakistan Nicaragua Peru the Ukraine the Netherlands Malta
1985 {name change:
Burkina [Faso]}
Madagascar Egypt India Thailand Trinidad & Tobago Peru the Ukraine Denmark Australia
1986 Ghana Madagascar Congo the United Arab Emirates Thailand Trinidad & Tobago Venezuela Bulgaria Denmark Australia
1987 Ghana Zambia Congo the United Arab Emirates Japan Argentina Venezuela Bulgaria Italy West Germany
1988 Senegal Zambia Algeria Nepal Japan Argentina Brazil Yugoslavia Italy West Germany
1989 Senegal Ethiopia Algeria Nepal Malaysia Colombia Brazil Yugoslavia Finland Canada
1990 the Côte d'Ivoire Ethiopia Zaïre Southern Yemen Malaysia Colombia Cuba Romania Finland Canada
1991 the Côte d'Ivoire Zimbabwe Zaïre {name change:
Yemen}
India Ecuador Cuba Romania Belgium Austria
1992 Cape Verde Zimbabwe Morocco Japan India Ecuador Venezuela Hungary Belgium Austria
1993 Cape Verde Djibouti Morocco Japan Pakistan Brazil Venezuela Hungary Spain New Zealand
1994 Nigeria Djibouti Rwanda Oman Pakistan Brazil Argentina the Czech Republic Spain New Zealand
1995 Nigeria Botswana Rwanda Oman Indonesia Honduras Argentina the Czech Republic Italy Germany
1996 Guinea-Bissau Botswana Egypt South Korea Indonesia Honduras Chile Poland Italy Germany
1997 Guinea-Bissau Kenya Egypt South Korea Japan Costa Rica Chile Poland Portugal Sweden
1998 the Gambia Kenya Gabon Bahrain Japan Costa Rica Brazil Slovenia Portugal Sweden
1999 the Gambia Namibia Gabon Bahrain Malaysia Argentina Brazil Slovenia the Netherlands Canada
2000 Mali Namibia Tunisia Bangladesh Malaysia Argentina Jamaica Ukraine the Netherlands Canada
2001 Mali Mauritius Tunisia Bangladesh Singapore Colombia Jamaica Ukraine Ireland Norway
2002 Cameroon Mauritius Guinea Syria Singapore Colombia Mexico Bulgaria Ireland Norway
2003 Cameroon Angola Guinea Syria Pakistan Chile Mexico Bulgaria Spain Germany
2004 Benin Angola Algeria the Philippines Pakistan Chile Brazil Romania Spain Germany
2005 Benin Tanzania Algeria the Philippines Japan Argentina Brazil Romania Denmark Greece
2006 Congo Tanzania Ghana Qatar Japan Argentina Peru Slovakia Denmark Greece
2007 Congo South Africa Ghana Qatar Indonesia Panama Peru Slovakia Belgium Italy
2008 Burkina Faso South Africa Libya Vietnam Indonesia Panama Costa Rica Croatia Belgium Italy
2009 Burkina Faso Uganda Libya Vietnam Japan Mexico Costa Rica Croatia Austria Turkey
2010 Gabon Uganda Nigeria Lebanon Japan Mexico Brazil Bosnia & Herzegovina Austria Turkey
2011 Gabon South Africa Nigeria Lebanon India Colombia Brazil Bosnia & Herzegovina Germany Portugal
2012 Togo South Africa Morocco Pakistan India Colombia Guatemala Azerbaijan Germany Portugal
2013 Togo Rwanda Morocco Pakistan South Korea Argentina Guatemala Azerbaijan Luxembourg Australia
2014 Chad Rwanda Nigeria Sa'udi Arabia South Korea Argentina Chile Lithuania Luxembourg Australia
2015 Chad Angola Nigeria Jordan Malaysia Venezuela Chile Lithuania Spain New Zealand
2016 Senegal Angola Egypt Japan Malaysia Venezuela Uruguay Ukraine Spain New Zealand
2017 Senegal Ethiopia Egypt Japan Kazakhstan Bolivia Uruguay Ukraine Italy Sweden
 

NOTE: In 2014, Sa'udi Arabia refused to accept the seat on the UN Security Council to which it had been elected by the General Assembly; a Special Election chose Jordan as its replacement for a two-year seat on the Council (said term to end at the end of 2015).


With the newly expanded 15-member UN Security Council of 10 non-Permanent Members (still elected to two-year terms by 2/3 vote of the General Assembly as before, except that now 5 were to be chosen each year) beginning in January 1966, a new electoral format (as seen in the above table) had to also be devised. It was decided that no less than 5 non-Permanent members would come from Africa and Asia (thus, the very regions that were virtually ignored [except for the occasional (British) Commonwealth member therefrom] for most of the first two decades of United Nations history would henceforth be guaranteed one-third the total Council membership and half the non-Permanent seats on that body), Latin America (which would now also include all Caribbean Member-States, "Latin" or no!) would retain its 2 seats, Eastern Europe would retain its single seat (as a practical matter, almost always to be filled by a Soviet satellite state through the end of the Cold War in the early 1990s) and- in addition- no longer have to share it with Asia, while the West outside the Americas would get the 2 remaining non-Permanent seats- one to be specifically designated for Western Europe, the other for "other" States (which would, more or less, tend to switch between a second Western European country and a pro-Western Member-State from outside Europe). The "Africa-Asia" 5 themselves would, as things developed, come to be purposely set up so that 3 of the 5 seats would always go to African Member-States with the remaining 2 left to Asian Member-States.

This has been the electoral format for the 10 non-Permanent seats on the Security Council ever since 1966, with one final specific designation adopted shortly thereafter: when Jordan (finishing its two-year term in the what had once been the Middle East's non-Permanent seat) left the Security Council in 1966, there was- for a year- no Middle Eastern (read 'Arab Muslim') Member-State on the Council. To mitigate this loss of the old Middle East seat which Jordan had so recently vacated, it was decided that- beginning in January 1968- there was to always be an Arab Member-State on the Council, alternating every two years between Africa (that is, of course, North Africa) and Asia (that is, the more traditional Arab-dominated Middle East), elected among the 3 of 5 African-Asian non-Permanent members chosen by the General Assembly.

Therefore, as of this writing, here are the regional groupings of the current 10 non-Permanent Members of the UN Security Council:

  • 3 from Africa
    (1 chosen in a year other than the other 2)
  • 2 from Asia
    (each chosen in alternating years)
    [NOTE:1 of these 5 African-Asian non-Permanent members (which also has to be one chosen at the same time the 2 of 3 African Member-States are to be chosen) must be an Arab Muslim country, to be alternated between Africa and Asia every two years]
  • 2 from Latin America (and the Caribbean)
    (each chosen in alternating years)
  • 1 from Eastern Europe
    (chosen in the same year the Arab Muslim non-Permanent Member is chosen)
  • 2 from the rest of the West(both chosen in the year the Eastern Europe non-Permanent Member is not chosen)
    [NOTE:1 of these 2 Western non-Permanent members must be from Western Europe; the other can be from either Western Europe or be a Western Member-State from outside Europe]

Put another way, the following table further illustrates the current electoral format for the 10 non-Permanent members of the Security Council:


 
EVEN YEAR thru ODD YEAR current Security Council member [term ends 31 December 2017] ODD YEAR thru EVEN YEAR current Security Council member [term begins 1 January 2017] PERMANENT MEMBERS of the UN SECURITY COUNCIL
2 from AFRICA [1 AFRICA/ASIA must be Arab Muslim alternating Egypt, Senegal 1 from AFRICA Ethiopia People's Republic of CHINA
1 from ASIA Kazakhstan FRANCE [=French Republic]
between AFRICA & ASIA] 1 from ASIA Japan 1 from the AMERICAS Bolivia RUSSIAN Federation
1 from the AMERICAS Uruguay 2 from the rest of the WEST [1 of which must be from WESTERN EUROPE] Italy, Sweden UNITED KINGDOM of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
1 from EASTERN EUROPE Ukraine UNITED STATES of America
 

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