February 2016 Monthly Forecast

Posted 29 January 2016
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Lead Roles within the Council in 2016: Penholders and Chairs of Subsidiary Bodies

The table in this Forecast does not contain an exhaustive list of all the agenda items of which the Security Council is currently seized, but includes items with regular outcomes or where a subsidiary body has been established. For the full name of the agenda items, please refer to the summary statement by the Secretary-General of 4 January 2016 (S/2016/10) and the weekly updates thereto.

The penholder system emerged around 2010 though the exact date is difficult to establish. The first time it was mentioned in a Council document other than meeting records was in a 2014 note by the president (S/2014/268). The note proclaimed that members of the Council agreed to support “where appropriate, the informal arrangement whereby one or more Council members (as ‘penholder(s)’) initiate and chair the informal drafting process” of documents, including resolutions, presidential statements and press statements of the Council. While the note specified that any member of the Council can be a penholder, the P3 (France, the UK and the US) currently dominate the penholder list, as is clear from the table in the supplemental insert attached to this Forecast. It should be noted, however, that this is only an informal system, with nothing preventing other Council members from “grabbing the pen” and drafting outcomes on any given issue if they so desire.

Contrasting with the penholder system, the many subsidiary bodies established by the Security Council, are chaired by non-permanent members. The chairs are appointed by the P5, following informal, usually bilateral consultations with other members, with a different P5 assuming the task of coordinating the consultations each year. (Most recently it was China, and elected members were informed about the distribution of chairmanships at the beginning of the second week of December 2015.) In recent years there has been a push by some Council members for a more inclusive and transparent process that would to a greater extent take into consideration the priorities and preferences of all Council members. This resulted in the issuance of two notes by the president of the Council, in December 2012 (S/2012/937) and June 2014 (S/2014/393). The first note called for an informal process “with participation of all Council members in a balanced, transparent, efficient and inclusive way” while the second note stated that this process should start as early as possible after the election of new members to facilitate a smooth transition from the chairs departing the Council (and often New York). It seems, however, that elected members are not yet fully satisfied with the appointment process and believe their views are still not sufficiently taken into account.

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