In Hindsight

  • During the second week of July, the Security Council struggled to re-authorise the Syria cross-border humanitarian aid delivery mechanism, which was set to expire at midnight on Friday, 10 July. Only after four draft resolutions failed to be adopted did the Council finally reach agreement. The process that eventually led to the adoption of resolution 2533 was acrimonious and not only resulted in the Council’s re-authorising just a single border crossing—thus reducing the UN’s capacity to deliver humanitarian assistance to Syria’s north-west—but also laid bare the Council’s deep divisions over Syria. Russia and China vetoed two resolutions in the course of the week, and two Russian-sponsored texts failed to reach enough votes to pass. The challenge of the week’s negotiations and multiple failed votes was exacerbated by the way the Council has had to work during the COVID-19 pandemic, with a written voting procedure and lack of in-person meetings. 

  • It has not been business as usual for the Security Council in the first six months of 2020. Since mid-March, the suspension of in-person Council meetings has required unexpected decisions and drastic changes. The restrictions on conducting its business in the Council chamber have pushed the body to find new ways to carry...

  • Recent years have seen the emergence of a much more active Peacebuilding Commission (PBC), an intergovernmental advisory body to the UN’s main organs created in 2005 to maintain attention to post-conflict countries. This includes increased engagement with the Security...

  • For nearly two weeks following its last pre-COVID-19 formal meeting on 12 March, the Security Council became invisible and—in the eyes of the general public and fellow UN members—appeared to be idle. A new programme of work was posted on the Council’s website on 16 March, with that week’s meetings cancelled but retaining those for the weeks of 23 and 30 March. The subsequent versions of the programme of work listed fewer and fewer meetings, and the last one, posted on 27 March, showed no meetings between 12 and 31 March.

  • Ahead of this year’s 20th anniversary of Security Council resolution 1325, the inaugural resolution on women, peace and security of 31 October 2000, a closer look at the current state of the agenda is warranted: is the agenda regressing, progressing...

  • Among the Security Council’s ten elected members, the three African states—currently Niger, South Africa and Tunisia—constitute a group with some unique features that translate into how these countries work within the Council. They come from the continent whose conflicts have occupied between half to three-quarters of the Council’s time during each of the past 25 years, and that hosts most of the Council’s mandated peace operations. The three states from the continent have also (with the exception of Morocco until 2017) all been members of the same regional organisation, the African Union (AU), and prior to that, its predecessor, the Organization of African Unity (OAU).

  • In 2019, geopolitical tensions continued to be reflected in Council action. Difficult and protracted negotiations were the norm, with pushback on previously agreed language from past resolutions.

  • The world’s first electronic computer, ENIAC (Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer), was completed in 1945, the year the United Nations was created. ENIAC’s applications were military: it was financed by the US Army. Nearly 75 years later, technology has vast reach and destabilising potential: a recent United Nations University report says that the combination of artificial intelligence (AI) and other powerful dual-use technologies places the world at “a time of technological rupture with implications for large-scale crisis prevention”. There are innumerable life-improving applications, but a far-reaching dark side.

  • On 29 October, during the Security Council’s annual open debate on women, peace and security, resolution 2493 was adopted, following long and difficult negotiations led by South Africa. The resolution passed unanimously, and Naledi Pandor, South Africa’s Minister of International Relations and Cooperation, who chaired part of the debate, remarked that she had been told that this was “a welcome return to consensus in the Council”.

  • In 1997, Security Council members came up with the idea of producing monthly assessments of their own Council presidencies as one means of introducing a more analytical component into the Council’s annual report to the General Assembly. With two exceptions...

  • During different periods of the Council’s existence, the pendulum has swung between the need for more open meetings in the spirit of greater transparency, and the wish for closed-door consultations which may bring more effective decision-making.  In 2018, the Council held more than twice as many formal, and therefore open, meetings (275) as informal, closed consultations (120). Just six years earlier, there was near-parity in the two types of meetings. The growing proportion of public meetings has again raised questions about the optimum balance the Council should strike.

  • 30 August 2019

    Security Council Reform

    When the UN Charter was drafted in 1945, it stipulated that the Security Council would be composed of five permanent members and six elected members. By the 1960s there was a desire to expand Council membership, reflecting the increase in UN membership from the 51 founding member states to 113 by 1963. That year, the General Assembly adopted resolution 1991 A (XVIII), which added four non-permanent members to the Council. The ratification process was completed in 1965. Almost 55 years later, there has been no further change in Council membership. Those in favour of reform maintain that the Council’s membership no longer reflects geopolitical realities and point to the continuing increase in UN membership, which now stands at 193.

  • Of the five articles in the UN Charter assigning functions to the Secretary-General, Article 99 is the most important in the context of international peace and security. It grants the Secretary-General the authority “to bring to the attention of the Security Council any matter which in his opinion may threaten the maintenance of international peace and security”. In this way, Article 99 allows the Secretary-General to initiate a Security Council discussion. Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld underscored that “[it] is Article 99 more than any other which was considered by the drafters of the Charter to have transformed the Secretary-General from a purely administrative official to one with an explicit political responsibility”. The drafters of the Charter were fully aware of the weight of vesting this task in the Secretary-General: as the report of the UN Preparatory Commission points out, “the responsibility it confers upon the Secretary-General will require the exercise of the highest qualities of political judgment, tact and integrity”.

  • In June, the General Assembly elected five new members to serve two-year terms on the Security Council. This event highlights the interactions between these political organs of the UN system, which also include the election of the UN Secretary-General by the General Assembly upon the recommendation of the Council, and the simultaneous voting of both organs for members of the International Court of Justice, among other forms of engagement. It seems useful, in the wake of the elections to the Council, to consider how the relationship between the Council and the General Assembly can be strengthened.

  • The 73rd session of the UN General Assembly is expected to hold elections on 7 June for five non-permanent members of the Security Council for the term 2020-2021. (For more detailed information, please see our 14 May research report Security Council Elections 2019.)