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The insider's guide to the Security Council

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(CNN) -- President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela is hoping his country will secure one of the 10 non-permanent seats on the U.N. Security Council. Here's all you need to know about the United Nations' most powerful body.

So what is the U.N. Security Council?

The Security Council is the body within the United Nations charged with maintaining global peace and security.

And how exactly does it do that?

Unlike other organs of the U.N. such as the International Court of Justice and the Economic and Social Council, which can only make recommendations, the Security Council has the power to actually make decisions -- known as "resolutions" -- and impose them on member states (to date the council has passed 1718 resolutions, the most recent -- on October 14, 2006 -- against North Korea). When a security issue is brought before it the council will endeavor to mediate a diplomatic solution. Should that fail, it has a range of enforcement measures open to it, everything from imposing economic sanctions on the state deemed to be in breach of world security to collective military action against it. A range of subsidiary bodies backs up the council's work, including the Peacebuilding Commission, Counter-Terrorism Committee and U.N. Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission. The council first met on January 17, 1946, three months after the United Nations itself came into existence.

Who belongs to the Security Council?

There are 15 member states, of which five serve on the council permanently: The U.S., the UK, China, France and the Russian Federation. The 10 non-permanent members are elected by the U.N. General Assembly -- the main deliberative body of the U.N. comprising all 192 member states -- for a two-year period. The 10 non-permanent members are currently Argentina, the Republic of Congo, Denmark, Ghana, Greece, Japan, Peru, Qatar, Slovakia and Tanzania.

How does the council actually operate?

Each member of the council has a single vote. Decisions on procedural issues are agreed by a vote of at least nine members. Decisions on what are termed "substantive" issues, however -- essentially the use of enforcement measures by the council -- require not only nine votes, but also the concurrence of all five permanent members. If a single permanent member refuses to support a substantive resolution it cannot be passed (Russia currently holds the council's all-time veto record, having to date blocked 122 resolutions, although since 1984 it has only vetoed four resolutions whereas the U.S. has shot down 43).

Who heads the council?

The presidency of the council is held by each of the 15 members in turn for a period of one month, the members serving in alphabetical order. The current president is Japan, with Peru taking over in November.

How often does it meet?

The Security Council is the only U.N. body that is in continuous session, with a representative of each of its 15 member states required to be on call at all times at U.N. Headquarters in New York. Although the council almost always meets in New York, it has held sessions elsewhere (in 1972 it met in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and the following year in Panama City).

Apparently there are going to be some changes?

Correct. On Monday October 16 the U.N. General Assembly will choose five new non-permanent members of the council to replace Argentina, Denmark, Greece, Japan and Tanzania. New members will take up their seats on January 1, 2007.

Who's in the running?

Eight countries are contesting the five seats, which are being allocated according to geographical region: Latin America and the Caribbean: Asia; Africa; and Western Europe and Others (to which two seats have been allocated). Guatemala and Venezuela are vying for the Latin American and Caribbean Seat; and Indonesia, The Republic of Korea and Nepal for the Asia seat. South Africa is uncontested for the Africa seat, as are Italy and Belgium for the two Western Europe and Others seats. Election to the council is by secret ballot, with each country requiring a two-thirds majority to win.

Venezuela's candidacy has caused some controversy by all accounts?

It certainly has. For months the U.S. has been lobbying for Guatemala and against Venezuela, whose left-wing President Hugo Chavez has vowed, if elected, to use his country's membership of the Security Council to challenge what he describes as U.S. "imperialism." What are the predictions? It's currently too close to call, with both Latin American countries claiming a majority of votes in the 192-member General Assembly. Guatemala has never served on the council before. Venezuela has served four times, most recently in 1992-3.


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The U.N. Security Council meets to discuss sanctions against North Korea over the weekend.

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