Security Council Working Methods
Expected Council Action
In October, the Council will hold its annual open debate on its working methods. The Chair of the Informal Working Group on Documentation and Other Procedural Questions, Ambassador Maria Cristina Perceval (Argentina) will brief. No outcome is anticipated.
Key Recent Developments
The debate in October will be the fourth in what has become an annual practice since 2010 (previously, only two such debates were held: in 1994 and in 2008). The Council’s working methods have continually evolved, with a great outburst of developments in the early 1990s in response to the end of the Cold War. More recently, since 2006, the Council has made working methods an ongoing area of activity, mostly conducted in the framework of its Informal Working Group on Documentation and Other Procedural Questions. Understandings and commitments reached within the Working Group have been issued in successive Notes from the President of the Security Council.
The most recent Note on working methods was published on 28 August 2013 and focused on ways to improve the Council’s dialogue with non-Council members and bodies (S/2013/515). The document continues a series of commitments on the part of the Council, including making more effective use of public meetings; maintaining regular communication with the Peacebuilding Commission and the chairs of its country-specific configurations; expanding consultation and cooperation with relevant regional and subregional organisations; continuing to provide opportunities to hear the views of the broader membership on the working methods of the Council, including in open debates; and considering the methodology of wrap-up sessions and informal briefing sessions.
The wrap-up sessions have seen considerable recent developments. In the early to mid-2000s, the Council held several wrap-up sessions to reflect on its work under a particular presidency. During that period, such sessions were always organised by elected members, and their formats included consultations, a private meeting, a debate and an open debate. In 2013, Pakistan revived the practice, holding a private meeting at the end of its January presidency. As of this writing, five more presidencies—including for the first time one permanent member, the UK—have followed suit. The interest on the part of non-Council members has been remarkable: 28 members at large attended the January meeting. After that first session, attendance at these meetings has ranged from 46 to 74 non-Council members.
In 2006, a renewed Council focus on its working methods was largely prompted by the initiative of five states known as the “Small Five” or the S5 (Costa Rica, Jordan, Liechtenstein, Singapore and Switzerland). During the 61st session of the General Assembly, the group circulated a draft resolution under the agenda item “Follow-up to the Millennium Summit”, calling for measures aimed at better interaction between the Council and the membership at large. That draft was not put to a vote, but consultations on this initiative continued for the next several years.
In 2012 the S5 tabled a draft resolution (A/66/L.42/Rev.2) during the 66th session of the General Assembly. The draft acknowledged the significant steps already taken by the Council to improve its working methods but emphasised the need for additional measures aimed at enhancing its accountability, transparency and effectiveness. It included 20 recommendations to that effect. In the weeks leading up to the scheduled 16 May 2012 vote, the S5 came under pressure, primarily from the P5 (which have long asserted that the Council has exclusive responsibility to dictate its own working methods) to withdraw the draft. After the Under-Secretary-General for Legal Affairs issued an opinion suggesting that a two-thirds majority would be needed and heeding various submissions to defer action, the S5 withdrew the draft to avoid a procedurally contentious discussion in the General Assembly.
In early 2013 a new group of states emerged as an informal caucus to advocate for improved Security Council working methods. Publicly launched on 2 May, Accountability, Coherence and Transparency (ACT) is a cross-regional group of 22 small and medium states aimed at enhancing the effectiveness of the Council through the improvement of its working methods.
An overarching issue that has marked much of the working-methods discourse between the Council and the membership at large is the tension between Article 30 of the UN Charter, which states that the Council shall adopt its rules of procedure, and Article 10, which states that the General Assembly may make recommendations to the Council on its powers and functions.
A key issue in this context is whether all members will be able to find a way to ease this tension and work jointly towards improving the ability of the Council to function efficiently and negotiate effectively while satisfying the desire of the larger membership for added transparency and accountability.
Recurring important issues that non-Council members are likely to want to address include:
- disseminating draft Council documents sooner to non-members;
- encouraging the Council to hold more public meetings; and
- increasing both the frequency and the types of formats used for informal interactions with non-members.
Issues on which there has been considerable momentum and support from several Council members include a willingness to critically and proactively reflect on the Council’s work in the format of wrap-up sessions.
On some key issues, however, differences have probably deepened recently between the permanent and elected members. Elected members have been at times taken aback by the fact that on many decisions, discussions first occur within the P5 and that drafts are shared with the full Council quite close to their adoption. Permanent members often argue that on some issues consensus among the P5 is hard to reach and initial negotiations in smaller groups is the only way to overcome the stalemate. (The decision by the Secretary-General to brief the P5 separately from the elected members on Syria on 30 August and 3 September respectively was apparently not well taken by some of the latter.) Tensions also continue regarding the process of selection of chairs of Council subsidiary bodies.
UN Documents on Working Methods
|Notes by the President of the Security Council|
|28 August 2013 S/2013/515||This note by the President focused on ways to improve the Council’s dialogue with non-Council members and bodies.|
|17 December 2012 S/2012/937||This presidential note stated that Council members supported a process of selection of chairpersons of subsidiary organs, with the participation of all members, in a “balanced, transparent, efficient and inclusive way.”|
|12 December 2012 S/2012/922||This presidential note contained language aimed at enhancing interaction with member states, such as suggesting that Council members alternate their interventions with non-Council members during open debates. The note also encouraged the inclusion of more substantive information in the Council’s annual report.|
|5 June 2012 S/2012/402||This note expressed members’ commitment to several efficiency-enhancing working methods modifications.|
|26 July 2010 S/2010/507||This was a note which focused on enhancing Council transparency, as well as interaction and dialogue with non-Council members.|
|19 July 2006 S/2006/507||This note described the outcome of the six months of work of the Informal Working Group in 2006 under the leadership of Japan.|
|Security Council Meeting Records|
|26 November 2012 S/PV.6870||An open debate on the Council’s working methods. As chair of the informal working group that addresses Council working methods, Ambassador José Filipe Moraes Cabral (Portugal) noted that working methods attracted great interest from the wider membership and that while some improvements had been made recently, progress on the broader issue was a “work in progress and never completed.”|
|26 November 2012 S/PV.6870 (Resumption 1)||The resumption of the Council’s open debate on its own working methods.|
|27 August 2008 S/PV.5968||An open debate on working methods presided by Belgium.|
|27 August 2008 S/PV.5968 (Resumption 1)||The resumption of an open debate on working methods presided by Belgium.|
|16 December 1994 S/PV.3483||This was the first open debate on Security Council working methods presided by Rwanda.|
|19 September 2013 S/2013/568||This letter to the Council sent on behalf of ACT by Switzerland, welcomed the issuance of the 28 August Note from the President addressing a number of transparency issues.|
|16 May 2012 A/66/PV.108||This was the meeting of the General Assembly in which the S-5 withdrew its draft resolution on working methods.|