The resolution, approved unanimously Friday, gives Mali and other West African nations 45 days to develop a plan for military intervention, Voice of America reported.
Under the resolution, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is asked to send military and security officials to help the Economic Commission of West African States and the African Union organize a military force to drive al-Qaida and other insurgents from northern Mali.
A more detailed plan must be approved by the Security Council in a second resolution.
ECOWAS has offered to contribute 3,000 soldiers to the military campaign.
The resolution was sponsored by France, which has repeatedly called for action by the Security Council.
A Tuareg coup in March split regions in the north away from the rest of the country. Al-Qaida moved in and took over the area, imposing a strict form of Islam, the Los Angeles Times reported.
While Mali wants to stop the extremists, it has been uneasy about foreign troops entering the politically troubled south. Neighboring countries have expressed concern that a poorly run military campaign would push the extremists across their borders.