Expected Council Action
The Council is expected to hold an open debate on Security Council working methods in November. No formal Council action is expected, but the debate will inform the work of the Council’s Informal Working Group on Documentation and Other Procedural Questions, which is chaired by Bosnia and Herzegovina until the end of 2011.
This month’s open debate will be the fourth on Council working methods. The first took place in December 1994, followed by debates in 2008 and 2010. The April 2010 debate was a full-day meeting of the Council that included 38 UN members at large.
In 2006, while serving on the Council, Japan was appointed chair of the Informal Working Group for a full year. (Prior to that, the chairmanship had rotated each month in line with the Council presidency. This development is considered one reason for the increase in focus and continuity on the issue in recent years.) Japan produced an extensive presidential note, a document capturing all major Council practices and understandings related to working methods as of July 2006 (S/2006/507). In 2007 Slovakia chaired the Working Group and Panama continued the work as chair in 2008.
(For details please refer to our October 2007 special research report Security Council Transparency, Legitimacy and Effectiveness: Efforts to Reform Council Working Methods 1993-2007; the 12 August 2008 update report Security Council Working Methods; and the 30 March 2010 research report: Security Council Working Methods—A Work in Progress?)
In 2009 and 2010, upon its return to the Council, Japan again chaired the Council’s Informal Working Group. Prior to the open debate in April 2010, Japan circulated a concept paper on the implementation of the measures set out in the annex to S/2006/507 reviewing recent Council practices. The concept paper suggested three issues for further discussion:
- interaction and dialogue with non-members; and
The concept paper suggested that the Council had made progress in these areas but that more could be done. It noted that the broader UN membership took “great interest” in the working methods of the Council and welcomed practical suggestions for how to improve them further.
During the open debate, Turkey—echoing the sentiments of many elected members—affirmed that “the Council belongs to us all—not only to the 15 but to the entire United Nations membership.” It further stated that the Council should not be seen through a permanent-versus-elected members divide as all states had collective responsibility for international peace and security. Several non-permanent members acknowledged that small but effective measures had already been taken to improve the openness of the Council, including increased transparency of sanctions committees. But they called for further openness as well as a greater balance between public and private meetings, including more Arria Formula meetings. Australia asserted that the basic mind-set of the Council should be one of “active accountability and deliberate transparency.”
Several permanent members noted that improvements in the Council’s working methods had been made. France, affirming what proponents of increased transparency had argued, said “effectiveness is by no means opposed to openness, quite the contrary.” It also recognised that wide interaction was essential to formulate Council action and noted that timelier and more substantive interaction had already begun.
Other permanent members seemed to be more cautious in their approach. Russia said it welcomed the opportunity to hear the views of the wider UN membership on the working methods, but it reminded participants that decisions on the matter were ultimately to be taken only by Council members. On the issue of greater participation of non-Council members, Russia noted that there had been low attendance at the meetings that involved troop-contributing countries. (Other non-Council members had previously cited the lengthy and formulaic nature of these meetings as a contributing factor and had suggested that attendance levels would increase if the meetings were better focused and more concise.)
Some speakers contested Russia’s assertion that the Council’s working methods were for the Council alone to decide. New Zealand noted that the Council had the ability to make binding decisions on all members. The suggestion that the Council alone should decide its working methods was no more legitimate, it contended, than arguing that citizens had no valid interest in the proceedings of the legislatures that they elect.
On 26 July 2010, following extensive Council consultations led by Japan, the Council agreed on an updated version of practices and understandings related to the Council’s working methods. This was published as a note by the president (S/2010/507) and superseded all existing notes on working methods. The updated note, which contained 13 areas relating to Council practices, further developed and expanded upon the 2006 document, including an additional section on “Security Council missions.” The 2010 note added that, as a general rule, the purpose of initial remarks or ad hoc briefings delivered by members of the Secretariat was to supplement and update written reports of the Secretary-General (and not merely to restate them). It also clarified aspects pertaining to the Council’s seizure list, added a reference to the Council’s maintaining regular communication with the Peacebuilding Commission and set out four guidelines for what should be included in the introduction of the Council’s annual report.
Of the updates to the 2006 note, there are a limited number of additions that might be seen as less positive by those seeking greater transparency in the Council. One is the limitation on attendance at Council consultations. In particular, paragraph 21 specifically excludes the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General from consultations, unless otherwise decided by the Council.
A key issue for the Council is the extent to which Note S/2010/507 has been implemented. Increasing the participation of elected Council members in early deliberations of resolutions may also be an issue for Council members.
Areas of focus are again likely to centre on transparency of the Council’s work, its interaction with non-members and its efficiency.
Issues of importance that non-Council members are likely to address include:
- making interactions with troop-contributing countries more meaningful, in line with those understandings incorporated in S/2010/507;
- encouraging the Council to hold more public meetings;
- increasing both the frequency of, and the types of formats used for, informal interactions with non-members; and
- disseminating draft Council documents sooner to non-members
Council and Wider Dynamics
Some permanent members have long asserted that the Council has exclusive responsibility to dictate its own working methods; this was reinforced during the April 2010 open debate. This dichotomy between the positions of the five permanent members and the now-188 members at large has been the traditional divide on improving working methods. But since 2006, there have been signs that some of the P5 have sought to streamline the work of the Council and increase efficiency. Both the UK and France have been praised for promoting working-methods improvements, particularly related to information-sharing and the Council’s interactions with troop-contributing countries.
But France has also asserted that to be most effective in dealing with the challenges of each situation, a flexible approach is required, which does not lend itself to formal codification. The US has said that measures have been taken to improve the Council’s performance but has also encouraged more non-members to participate in Council meetings open to them and take better advantage of other avenues created by the Council to facilitate interaction with members at large.
Among the UN membership at large, the Small Five, comprised of Costa Rica, Jordan, Liechtenstein, Singapore and Switzerland, has taken a particularly active approach to working methods. They have sought to separate the issue from that of Council enlargement questions, asserting that the Council’s efficiency, credibility and transparency can be better enhanced by the further implementation of agreed practices on working methods.
Several non-Council members are again likely to express some frustrations during the open debate that progress in many areas towards greater transparency and openness still needs to be made. Several elected Council members have lamented the lack of progress on improving working methods since the publication of S/2010/507 and have expressed hope—if not optimism—that November’s open debate will re-focus the Council on continued improvements in its practices.
Selected Security Council Documents
Selected Security Council Debates