Document Type



The Case of the Non-Permanent Vacancy, 74 American Journal of International Law 907 (1980)


Five states are permanent members of the United Nations Security Council. Ten others, characterized in Charter Article 23 as "non-permanent members," are elected by the General Assembly for a term of 2 years; no nonpermanent member may be immediately reelected. Under Rule 144 of the Assembly's Rules of Procedure, five nonpermanent members are elected each year. Under Rule 85, election of nonpermanent members is an "important question" requiring a two-thirds majority of Assembly members "present and voting," i.e."casting an affirmative or negative vote." Voting continues, under Rule 96, until the vacancy is filled. In terms of current numbers, about 50 states (in the rather unusual circumstance in which all Assembly members choose to vote) could prevent the election of one or more nonpermanent members of the Council. There are already voting blocs that exceed this numerical threshold, likely coalitions of smaller blocs or ad hoc alignments that could attain it, and larger states that, because of their military power, might win over to their view a sufficient number of voters or abstainers. In short, the possibility is not remote that the Security Council could fall below its full complement of nonpermanent members for an extended period of time as a result of a premeditated maneuver by one or more states. The strategic advantages in UN politics thai: might accrue to the blocking minority will depend in part on the legal consequences attendant on nonpermanent vacancies in the Security Council.

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