October 2015 Monthly Forecast

Posted 1 October 2015
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Working Methods

Expected Council Action

In October, the Security Council will hold an open debate on its working methods. The president of the General Assembly, Mogens Lykketoft, will be invited to speak. One of the key areas of focus is expected to be relations between the Security Council and the General Assembly, with particular attention being paid to the issue of selecting the Secretary-General. The other area that is likely to be a focus during the debate is the implementation of notes by the president of the Council, which have been used to capture in written form changes in Council working methods. Other areas that might be discussed by Council members and the wider membership include the use of the veto, the relationship with troop-contributing countries, the internal division of labour within the Council, and how to use Council working methods to achieve maximum effectiveness of its actions in times of crises.

Spain is expected to circulate a concept note outlining possible themes for the debate and an outcome following the debate is possible.

Key Recent Developments

One of the key areas Lykketoft is likely to focus on is the resolution on the revitalisation of the General Assembly adopted on 11 September. The resolution includes significant language on the selection of the Secretary-General relevant to the Security Council’s role in the process, as well as enhancing the input from the General Assembly, including:

  • a request for the Security Council and General Assembly presidents to start the process through a joint letter describing the selection process and inviting candidates to be presented in a timely manner;
  • a request for the two presidents to jointly circulate information on candidates on an ongoing basis;
  • selection criteria for candidates that include “proven leadership and managerial abilities, extensive experience in international relations, and strong diplomatic, communication and multilingual skills”;
  • deciding that the General Assembly would conduct informal dialogues or meetings with candidates; and
  • “equal and fair distribution based on gender and geographical balance” to be taken into consideration, and member states to consider presenting women as candidates.

Two areas that had been discussed during the negotiations but were not included in the final General Assembly resolution were the possibility of the Council recommending multiple candidates and the proposal of a single term for the Secretary-General.

Council members had their first discussion on the process for selecting the next Secretary-General on 22 July under “any other business”. This meeting was partly prompted by a 1 June letter from the Accountability, Coherence and Transparency Group (ACT), made up of 27 UN member states, to the president of the Council, as well as parallel letters to the president of the General Assembly and the Secretary-General, with proposals for the selection and appointment of the next Secretary-General.

In 2014, under the chairmanship of Argentina, the Informal Working Group on Documentation and Other Procedural Questions agreed on five notes by the president. The notes covered wider participation of Council members in drafting Council documents and penholder issues; the appointment of chairpersons of subsidiary bodies; the need for enhanced dialogue between Council members, especially during crises or fast-evolving situations; the speaking order for Council meetings; and texts of statements and verbatim records. No notes have been adopted in 2015. 

In recent years, there has been greater use of the veto by the permanent members. There have been four joint China-Russia vetoes since October 2011 on the situation in Syria. Russia also vetoed a resolution on Ukraine in March 2014 and two resolutions in July of this year—one commemorating the 20th anniversary of the genocide at Srebrenica and another that would have established an international criminal tribunal to investigate the downing of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17. There are currently three initiatives to restrict the use of the veto from France, ACT and the Elders, a diverse and independent group of global leaders working to promote peace and human rights. This issue was to be discussed during the high-level week of the General Assembly. (For more information, see our In Hindsight on Security Council Decision Making and the Veto in this month’s Forecast.)

Key Issues

An overarching working methods issue for the Council, with ever growing demands for its action, is how to continue to adapt its working methods to ensure the highest effectiveness of the Council’s work.

An issue for the months ahead is how to work with the president of the General Assembly regarding the selection of the Secretary-General, and how to keep the larger membership informed.

An important issue is how best to capture the main ideas from this debate in a useful format. With Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s term ending on 31 December 2016 and the selection of the Secretary-General being a matter that involves both the Security Council and the General Assembly, a high level of interest is expected from the membership at large. Last year, 40 member states in addition to Council members took the floor during the working methods open debate. This year, the number of speakers is expected to be higher. While the open debate format allows a large number of member states to give their views on a range of issues, it can also result in a very long session, during which attendance by Council ambassadors dwindles. Getting agreement from some permanent members on an outcome document that would allow Council members to plan for next steps in all areas related to the Council’s working methods may be difficult.

A closely related challenge is how to ensure a more interactive debate. While there may be interest in having a less rigid format that could allow for like-minded members to provide their views collectively and to devise a format that might allow members to respond to new ideas, some Council members may be wary of moving away from prepared statements.

A long-standing issue is how to improve the implementation of the measures agreed to in the notes adopted by the Informal Working Group. Notes S/2006/507 and S/2010/507, and other notes that cover a number of practical suggestions for improved Council working methods have not been fully implemented.

An additional issue is how to use the Informal Working Group more effectively in the implementation of past notes, as well as in activities related to the selection of the Secretary-General.


Possible options for an outcome document following the debate include:

  • a formal document (presidential statement or resolution) that acknowledges the aspects of the resolution on the revitalisation of the General Assembly relevant to both bodies, includes the key points made during the debate and suggests ways in which Council working methods can be implemented through activities of the Informal Working Group;
  • a chair’s summary, which could be in the form of a non-paper issued after the debate, highlighting points that may require further Council action (this has been done in the past, most recently by France following the March debate on children and armed conflict during its presidency); and
  • a summary of the debate approved by all Council members and issued as a Council document.

Options for creating a more interactive debate include:

  • keeping strictly to short statements or joint statements by like-minded members; and
  • alternating between statements by Council members and the wider membership during the debate as a way of making it more dynamic.

Options for the Secretary-General selection process are:

  • having the Security Council and General Assembly presidents discuss the contents of a joint letter outlining the selection process and inviting nominations;
  • holding a Council retreat following the Council elections in October that includes the incoming five members, who will be on the Council from January 2016, to discuss the Secretary-General’s selection (this would allow both current Council members and the incoming members to have a frank discussion, particularly regarding changes in the process that may be envisioned in light of the General Assembly resolution); and
  • holding regular discussions, possibly under “any other business”, on the next steps in this process.
Council and Wider Dynamics

Over the next 12 months, discussions regarding the Council’s working methods are likely to include the process of selection of the next Secretary-General. Initial informal discussions have revealed divisions among the P5. The UK has publicly expressed openness to having a more transparent process and has declared its willingness to use the Arria-formula meeting format to hear candidates’ views. Although the General Assembly resolution was adopted by consensus, Russia has indicated that it prefers no change in the process and that discussion and decisions should wait until next year, when the Council that will choose the next Secretary-General is in place. The P5 are likely to be united in their resistance to recommending multiple candidates to the General Assembly and to setting any closing date for nominations. Substantial changes to the way in which the process has been conducted in the past are likely only if they are strongly supported by elected members. In terms of next steps, at a high-level event on the Selection of the Secretary-General hosted by ACT and the Elders, Spain (president of the Council in October) and the UK (president of the Council in November) said they had been discussing the idea of a joint letter from the presidents of the Security Council and the General Assembly that would start the selection process, but it was unclear which of them would move this idea forward.    

With regard to other working methods issues there has been little activity in the Informal Working Group this year under Angola’s chairmanship. The main focus has been on the Council’s annual report to the General Assembly. There seems to be little resolve among elected members to push for implementation of recently adopted notes by the president which stress issues like the selection of chairs of the subsidiary bodies and pen-holders, despite often voiced concerns about the lack of internal transparency in the Council. 

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UN Documents on Working Methods

Notes by the President of the Security Council
18 December 2014 S/2014/922 This was a note by the president on texts of statements and verbatim records.
15 October 2014 S/2014/739 This was a note by the president on speaking order for Council meetings.
4 August 2014 S/2014/565 This was a note by the president of the Council that stressed the need to enhance cooperation and consultation among Council members.
5 June 2014 S/2014/393 This was a note by the President of the Council that proposed measures to improve the effectiveness and continuity of the work of the Council subsidiary bodies.
14 April 2014 S/2014/268 This was a note by the President of the Council that called for wider participation of Council members in the drafting of Council documents.
Security Council Meeting Records
23 October 2014 S/PV.7285 This was the fifth annual open debate on working methods.
General Assembly Documents
11 September 2015 A/RES/69/321 This was a General Assembly resolution on the revitalisation of the General Assembly.

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