In Hindsight: The Security Council in 2015: High Activity, Less Consensus
Please click here for statistical graphs prepared by SCR of Security Council activity in 2015.
Deteriorating crises and a more wide-ranging focus on countering terrorism resulted in the Council maintaining the high activity levels of 2014. Although there were no new issues that received the Council’s attention, situations already on the agenda, such as Burundi and Yemen, required greater attention. Terrorism was tackled from several angles, including the financing of terrorism and its impact on migration.
Overall, the number of Council decisions—resolutions and presidential statements— mirrored that of 2014, but there was a slight decrease in both public meetings and consultations. The Council adopted 90 decisions, sustaining the higher number of decisions in 2014 following several years of a downward trend. There was one more resolution (64) and two fewer presidential statements (26). In addition, 128 press statements were issued, ten fewer than in 2014, but still significantly higher than in previous years. The generally low numbers of presidential statements and the high number of press statements continues a practice of using press statements as the quickest response, especially for specific violent incidents, although they are not formal decisions of the Council.
There was a small drop in both formal and informal meetings, with 228 public and 17 private meetings, and 151 consultations. This can be partly attributed to a decrease in activity on Ukraine, which had 26 formal and informal meetings in 2014, but only nine last year, and Israel/Palestine, which returned to its regular monthly meetings, following an uptick during the Gaza Conflict in 2014. The decrease in private meetings was largely due to “wrap-up” meetings moving from private to public formats. All but one of the private meetings in 2015 were meetings with troop-contributing countries.
The deterioration in the peace and security environment in Burundi, Libya and Yemen contributed to an increased number of meetings and decisions. In contrast, the somewhat improved situation in relation to Ebola led to fewer meetings and decisions on this issue as well as on Liberia. Decreased activity was seen on the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Guinea-Bissau and Côte d’Ivoire. Activity on Sudan/South Sudan was similar to 2014, with the addition of a sanctions committee on South Sudan.
Council activity on Syria was focused on the humanitarian and chemical weapons tracks with monthly briefings on both aspects. There were resolutions on the use of chlorine as a weapon, as well as one renewing the authorisation for cross-border aid delivery. Meetings on political developments were less common, with only two taking place. At the end of the year the Council adopted a resolution on the road map for a peace process which had been largely negotiated outside the Council.
Non-proliferation issues were routinely addressed in the DPRK and Iran sanctions committees. The most significant development in this area was the adoption of a resolution endorsing the agreement on Iran’s nuclear programme and setting up the termination process of Council sanctions, which was negotiated in Geneva.
There was a marked increase in the use of “any other business” (AOB) during consultations to get updates on deteriorating situations or have issues of concern brought discreetly to the Council’s attention. There were 56 substantive discussions under AOB covering a range of issues including Burkina Faso, Burundi, CAR, Guinea Bissau, Mali, Myanmar, Syria, Yemen and the Secretary-General appointment process. These country AOBs have involved substantive briefings from a range of UN officials and have occasionally led to a press statement. Arria-formula meetings saw a significant increase going from seven in 2014 to 17 in 2015, the highest number since 1996.
Regarding regional breakdown of the different meetings, Europe saw the largest change from 16.6 percent to 10.2 percent of meetings as a result of decreased activity on Ukraine. The Middle East registered the largest increase as a result of greater activity on Yemen, while Asia and Africa remained very much the same.
Countering terrorism was a key theme cutting across a number of agenda items as the Council followed up the strengthened counter-terrorism framework set in place in 2014, including by adding new reporting obligations on member states and emphasising the importance of disrupting financial flows to terrorists. The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) was determined to be an “unprecedented threat” to international peace and security and its name was added to the name of the Al Qaida Sanctions Committee, while the terrorist threat was a key focus in country-specific issues such as Iraq, Libya, Syria and Yemen. Open debates addressed countering terrorism including among youth, in the settlement of conflicts in the Middle East and in relation to human trafficking. While Council activity on countering terrorism tended to focus on ISIL, African members worked together to have Boko Haram discussed under the agenda item “threat to international peace and security caused by terrorist acts”, which resulted in two presidential statements and one briefing.
There were signs of greater willingness to accept non-consensual decisions, and to vote on divisive issues. Eight resolutions were adopted without a unanimous vote, the highest number since 2000. There were two vetoes, both by Russia, which also saw a number of members abstaining. The first was on a draft resolution commemorating the twentieth anniversary of the genocide in Srebrenica, and the second on setting up an international tribunal on the downing of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17. Venezuela abstained on six adopted resolutions as well as on the two vetoed resolutions. Russia abstained on five resolutions. China abstained on one adopted and one vetoed resolution. A rare procedural vote was taken over whether to discuss a situation already on the Council’s agenda when China objected to a meeting on the human rights situation in the DPRK. There were nine in favour, four against (Angola, China, Russia and Venezuela) and two abstentions (Chad and Nigeria). This item had been added to the Council’s agenda in 2014 through a procedural vote.
In 2015, the Council kept a close eye on deteriorating situations, using both formal and informal means to keep up-to-date. The high number of non-consensual decisions suggests that some members are putting a premium on stronger resolutions, while others are willing to express their views through abstention.