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Tuesday, 1 October, 2002, 11:22 GMT 12:22 UK
Q&A: The Security Council and Iraq
The US and Britain have put forward a draft resolution at the Security Council, laying down a timetable for Iraq to agree to weapons inspections - and to threaten it with force if it does not comply.

BBC News Online's world affairs correspondent Paul Reynolds looks at the main questions behind the struggle at the UN over how to deal with Iraq.
Q&A: What are students' rights at work?

Who is on the Security Council?

There are 15 members of the council at any one time. Of these, five are permanent members - the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France.

The other 10 members serve for two years. Currently these members are: Mauritius, Mexico, Norway, Singapore, Syria, Bulgaria, Cameroon, Colombia, Guinea and Ireland.

Why are there five permanent members?

Because these five were the major powers at the end of World War II, when the UN was set up, and they determined the rules.

The system has remained in place despite occasional calls for reform. Not long ago, for example, Britain and France refused to give up their seats in favour of a joint European one.

Large countries including Brazil and India have argued that they too should have permanent seats.

What about the "veto"?

The permanent five can stop any Security Council resolution by voting against it. Again, this was a product of big power politics after the war when none of the major powers wanted to be outvoted.

How are the temporary members chosen?

They are elected by the UN General Assembly in which all member states have one vote. Five are elected each year for a term of two years.

There is a geographical spread. Five come from Africa and Asia, two from Latin America and the Caribbean, one from Eastern Europe and one from Western Europe and others.

What is a draft resolution?

This is drawn up by one or more members of the council and then circulated privately to others. The draft is subject to negotiation and change in a process called "consultations".

Deals may be done at this stage, which only become clear later or not at all.

In the case of the Iraq resolution, Russia might seek assurances that it will have a stake in the reconstruction of a post-Saddam Iraq.

The draft is not usually published, but the details often leak out.

If it is agreed by all, it is formally proposed to the council. If it is not agreed, it will either be dropped or perhaps put to a public vote in order to show who is blocking it.

What is the voting procedure?

Nine of the 15 votes on the council are needed to get a resolution passed.

All five permanent members must pass what is called a "concurring vote". This means they can abstain or vote in favour, but if they vote against, the resolution fails. The vote is in public and is televised.

What are the powers of the council?

Under the UN Charter, the Security Council is the body which authorises international action like the imposition of sanctions, the despatch of peacekeeping forces or the use of force.

What force has it authorised in the past?

Two of the most important were in 1950 against North Korea and in 1990 against Iraq.

In June 1950, North Korea invaded the South and the Security Council ordered it to withdraw and then voted to allow force when it refused.

At the time, the Soviet Union was boycotting the UN in a row over who should represent China. It was therefore not present to cast its veto when the council voted. It did not repeat the error.

In November 1990, the council said that if Iraq had not left Kuwait by 15 January 1991, "all necessary means" could be used against it. Iraq did not withdraw and all means were used.

What if the council does not allow force?

Governments can often find a way around this.

In 1999 Western countries wanted to take action against Serbia for its policy towards Kosovo, but they were afraid to go the council in case of a Russian veto. So they acted with force against Serbia through Nato instead.

In the current Iraq crisis, the United States has made it clear that if the Council does not disarm Iraq, then it will.

It is using a new doctrine in which the concept of self defence, allowed for in the UN Charter, is extended to pre-emptive not just reactive force.

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See also:

01 Oct 02 | Middle East
30 Sep 02 | Middle East
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