In Hindsights

  • 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.)

  • 30 April 2019

    Arria-Formula Meetings

    The “Arria-formula” is the most flexible meeting format the Security Council has at its disposal. It has been used every year since March 1992, when Ambassador Diego Arria of Venezuela wanted fellow Council members to hear an eyewitness account of atrocities occurring in the former Yugoslavia. Unable to find a formal way to hold such a meeting, Arria invited Council members to meet with the witness in the UN delegates’ lounge. This was deemed useful; several similarly informal briefings were soon held, and the term “Arria-formula meetings” was born.

  • Not knowing in advance which subsidiary bodies a new member would chair left insufficient time to prepare—either to secure the right expertise within their teams, or even to have a proper handover from the exiting chair. Permanent members opposed several efforts aimed at changing the practice, but in 2016, the new election timetable prompted Council members to agree on several new practices for the incoming members’ longer preparatory period, including an earlier and more consultative process of appointing the chairs of Council subsidiary bodies.

  • Under the UN Charter, the Security Council’s only clear obligation to the UN General Assembly is to submit an annual report for its consideration, as set out under Article 24(3). For nearly three decades, the annual report has been criticised by the UN membership. The Council has, however, made efforts to address some of the problems.

  • The fractured state of Council relations, particularly among the permanent members, was reflected in the difficulty of obtaining consensus on Council resolutions. This is not entirely new: the number of vetoed and non-consensus resolutions has been rising for eight years. In 2018, three resolutions were vetoed, while four tabled drafts failed due to insufficient votes. A lower number of resolutions was adopted—54, against 61 in 2017—of which nine had fewer than 15 votes in favour.

  • Over time, the Security Council has come to view upholding individual criminal accountability as integral to its responsibility for maintaining international peace and security. In some situations, the Council has approached this accountability as a practical tool that can have impact on the ground, aware, as well, that persistent impunity for gross violations of human rights and international humanitarian law may hamper its own ability to maintain or restore international peace and security.

  • A core task of the Security Council is to design the mandates of UN peace operations and assess their implementation. Central as mandate-crafting is to its work, the Council’s products have been criticised for not responding adequately to realities on the ground, for being circumscribed by political and cost considerations of member states rather than driven by what the situation demands, and for lacking strategic focus.

  • In September, the Council undertook its 63rd visiting mission since 1992 when it visited the DRC for the 14th time. The Council has utilised visiting missions more often in recent years, having conducted 13 missions covering 26 countries between January 2016 and October 2018, with five missions in both 2016 and 2017.

  • 28 September 2018

    Emergence of the E10

    In October, the five incoming members of the Security Council—Belgium, the Dominican Republic, Germany, IndonesiaandSouth Africa—will begin attending meetings of the Council, both formal and informal, as well as meetings of the subsidiary bodies. Starting on 1 January 2019, these five members will make up the E10 together with Côte d’Ivoire, Equatorial Guinea, Kuwait, PeruandPoland.

  • 31 August 2018

    South Sudan Arms Embargo

    With the adoption of resolution 2428 on 13 July, the Security Council imposed an arms embargo on South Sudan until 31 May 2019. The imposition of an arms embargo on South Sudan is a major development. Some Council members had proposed an arms embargo more than four years ago—then-elected member Australia raised this in the Council in May 2014, for instance (S/PV.7168)—but until this July, the proposal had failed to garner sufficient support.