In Hindsights

  • Despite new working methods put in place in 2016 to facilitate a more efficient and transparent process, getting agreement this time was protracted and challenging.

  • 30 December 2020

    Looking Back to Look Ahead

    Every January, five new members take their seats for a two-year term on the Security Council. In 2021, India, Ireland, Kenya, Mexico and Norway are the incoming five (I-5) replacing departing members Belgium, Dominican Republic, Germany, Indonesia and South Africa. While we don’t have a crystal ball, the events of 2020 may provide an indication of what these members can expect in 2021.

  • The Security Council presidency, which rotates monthly in English-language alphabetical order, is an opportunity for Council members to showcase their foreign policy interests and goals. The “signature event”—convened as a debate, open debate, briefing or, during the COVID-19 pandemic, as open videoconferences (VTC)—is a prime vehicle for doing so.

  • Security Council procedural votes—which require nine votes in favour to be adopted and cannot be vetoed by a permanent member—remain rare, with a recent high of four such votes in 2018. From 1946 through 1989, there were 153 procedural votes, and since 1990 there have been only 28. Since the end of the Cold War, most procedural decisions—adopting the agenda for a particular meeting; adding a new item to the “seizure list”, as the list of all formal agenda items is known; or inviting an individual to participate in a Council meeting—have been arrived at by consensus during consultations.  

  • The Security Council’s annual report to the General Assembly has been one of the most belaboured aspects of the Council’s working methods. Numerous initiatives undertaken by member states since 1993 have aimed at making the report more useful to its principal addressee, the General Assembly, and to the general public. The most recent of these initiatives culminated in the adoption on 27 December 2019 of a note by the president of the Security Council, tightening the report’s preparation timeline with the aim of presenting it to the General Assembly before the beginning of summer, starting with the report for 2020. 

  • The way chairs of subsidiary bodies are allocated has changed fundamentally in recent years. Although Council subsidiary bodies are chaired by elected members, with only rare exceptions, the allocation of these positions was historically decided by the permanent members, with minimal consultation. The decisions would be finalised late in the year, and sometimes not until January. Elected members were frustrated with the process that left them no time to prepare and with appointments that did not reflect their country’s interests and political priorities.   

  • 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”.