Expected Council Action
In November the Council is expected to hold an open debate on a range of mutually reinforcing and interlinked issues that Council members view as emerging challenges to international peace and security. These are likely to include threats posed by the HIV/AIDS and other global health pandemics; transnational organised crime; the effects of climate change, including drought and desertification leading to mass population movements and related disruptions; and drug and human trafficking. The Foreign Minister of Portugal Paulo Portas, the UN High Commissioner on Refugees, the Director General of the World Health Organization and the Executive Director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) are expected to brief the Council.
A presidential statement is the likely outcome.
Key Recent Developments
For more than a decade now, the Council has devoted considerable attention to the evolving nature of threats to international peace and security. In several resolutions and statements, the Council has highlighted issues such as the effects of climate change, the proliferation of small arms and light weapons, the HIV/AIDS pandemic, transnational organised crime, piracy and drug and human trafficking as constituting threats to international peace and security. In 2011 in particular, the Council has been quite consistent in its focus on several key emerging challenges.
On 11 February, it held an open debate, promoted by Brazil, on the interdependence between security and development. The debate built on previous related discussions, including one in September 2010 organised by Turkey, on ensuring that the Council continues to play an effective role in a changing global environment of emerging new threats.
On 7 June, the Council held a high-level debate on HIV/AIDS, organised by Gabon, under the agenda item “maintenance of international peace and security”. The debate led to the adoption of resolution 1983, requesting the Secretary-General “to consider HIV-related needs of people living with, affected by, and vulnerable to HIV, including women and girls, in his activities pertinent to the prevention and resolution of conflict, the maintenance of international peace and security, the prevention and response to sexual violence related to conflict and post-conflict peacebuilding”.
An earlier debate on this topic had likely been a defining moment in the Council’s changing view of what constitutes threats to international peace and security. In January 2000, under the presidency of the US, the Council held an open debate on HIV/AIDS in the context of international peace and security. Chaired by then-US Vice President Al Gore, the debate featured 26 non-Council members, the Secretary General, the President of the World Bank, the Administrator of the UN Development Programme and the Executive Director of the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS. It was the first time that a medical issue was placed on the Council’s agenda as affecting international peace and security and, six months later, the Council adopted resolution 1308 under the agenda item “the responsibility of the Security Council in the maintenance of international peace and security: HIV/AIDS and international peacekeeping operations”. The resolution noted that the HIV/AIDS pandemic was exacerbated by conditions of violence and instability and stressed that, if unchecked, the pandemic might pose a risk to global stability and security.
On 24 June, also during Gabon’s presidency, the Council was briefed on the growing threat of transnational crime, including drug and human trafficking, in West Africa. Addressing the Council, Yury Fedotov, Executive Director of UNODC, called the international drug problem a threat to international peace and security in West Africa and stressed the need to bolster regional capacity and strengthen international cooperation to confront it.
On 20 July, Germany presided over an open debate on the impact of climate change on the maintenance of international peace and security. In addition to Council members, 47 member states not currently on the Council participated in the debate. The outcome was a presidential statement expressing Council members’ concern that rising sea-levels may carry security implications for low-lying island states.
In its presidential statement on 23 September 2010, the Council emphasised the mutually reinforcing and interlinked nature of the root causes and drivers of conflicts and the need to address these problems in a concerted way by taking account of the combined effects of development, human rights, peace, security and certain environmental factors. The statement also recognised that “successful accomplishment of this task requires a continuous process of reflection and adaptation of its practices in preventive diplomacy, peacemaking, peacekeeping, and peacebuilding.”
The key issue for the Council is how to devise a concerted strategy in order to be able to play a mitigating or preventive role on the range of challenges to international peace and security.
A related issue is to place these emerging challenges in one broad category with the aim of creating a process or mechanism for sustained observation and follow-up.
Concerns about encroachment on issues considered as the territory of other UN organs have often accompanied the Council’s venturing into issues outside of what constituted international peace and security at the time of the creation of the UN. Reasserting the Council’s primary responsibility for taking action on all threats to international peace and security will be an underlying issue.
The Council could:
- take no action;
- issue a presidential statement on the need for a concerted and sustained focus on these issues by the Council; or
- adopt a resolution or a presidential statement setting up a working group composed of Council members which would monitor and follow up on the implementation of any Council decisions and actions on these issues in a coordinated manner.
Forging consensus on decisive Council action on most of the issues to be addressed has at times proven difficult because some members over the years have argued that specialised UN agencies or programmes or the General Assembly are better placed to handle them. This has been particularly pronounced with respect to the Council’s discussions of climate change. But it appears that several Council members see these challenges as so profound that only concerted Security Council action can establish the tools for seriously tackling them before their full impact on international peace and security becomes manifest.
While the salience of these emerging challenges to international peace and security is generally not disputed, there is considerable contention with respect to the Council’s role in addressing them. In the 20 July open debate, for example, the US, France, the UK, Germany, Portugal, Gabon and Lebanon all stressed a conflict-prevention role for the Council in addressing the threats posed by climate change. Russia, China and India, however, insisted that the Council is ill-suited to play any meaningful role. This has also been the position of South Africa and Nigeria, reflecting that of the AU. Other issues, including HIV/AIDS and transnational organised crime —within certain regions or country-specific situations— are likely to be less contentious for Council members.
Security Council Resolutions