United Nations Security Council
The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) is an organization within the United Nations that has the job of keeping peace among member nations. One aspect of this group is that they have the authority to order member nations to do as the Council decides. Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter gives the UN a right to use military force against offending nations, while also strictly limiting the circumstances in which this right can be invoked. This right has been exercised three times: the Korean War, the Gulf War and the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. Whether or not Chapter VII is invoked, these orders are known as the United Nations Security Council Resolutions.
There are fifteen members, five of which are permanent and the rest rotating in two year terms. The permanent members are the United States, Russia, France, the United Kingdom and China. Any permanent member can veto any resolution even if it has the support of all fourteen other members of the Council. Accordingly, the UN was seen as weaker during the Cold War because the Soviet Union (original holder of Russia's permanent seat) and the United States could cancel each other's desired initiatives. A threatened veto by Russia and France prevented the Security Council in 2003 from passing a second resolution ordering the use of force against Iraq. The United States proceeded with Operation Iraqi Freedom with a "coalition of the willing" to enforce previous Security Council resolutions.
In the absence of a veto, a resolution passes with the support of nine members of the Council (a supermajority of 60%). In theory, this means that all permanent members could abstain from voting (which they do frequently, although not in a bloc) and a resolution could still pass.
The retention of the original permanent members of the Security Council has been a source of criticism of the UN. It leaves off rising powers like India and Brazil and ignores established, influential global citizens like Germany and Japan. While the United States has supported the addition of some of these countries as permanent members, the votes in the General Assembly required to amend the Charter have never been found for such addition.
The effectivness of the Security Council has been criticized because there are no penalties for violating their resolutions (such as in Darfur).