In Hindsight: Making Effective Use of “Any Other Business”
Over the last year, there has been a marked increase in the use of the agenda item “any other business” (AOB) by Council members. As a standing agenda item for any consultations, it allows Council members to discuss a range of issues. In 2015, there were 56 substantive discussions under AOB relating to issues on the Council’s agenda as well as some that were not. This was more than double the number in 2014, and it appears to be a growing trend: there were 14 substantive AOB discussions this February.
There are a number of reasons for the greater use of the AOB format. In part, this trend can be traced to a renewed interest in making better use of conflict prevention tools at the Council’s disposal and the discontinuation of the Secretariat providing “horizon-scanning” briefings, which were used to bring emerging issues to the Council’s attention. While the formal request to discuss an issue comes from a Council member, the Secretariat has initiated a briefing under AOB more than 20 times in the last two years. The most recent was its request to brief on Western Sahara on 18 March, when Morocco announced that it intended to reduce the civilian component of the UN mission there. Secretariat requests are in line with the spirit of Article 99 of the UN Charter, which states that the Secretary-General may bring to the Security Council’s attention any matter that may threaten the maintenance of international peace and security.
Over the years, Council members have used AOB to introduce drafts, discuss specific incidents, or allow chairs of subsidiary bodies to brief on a particular issue. While it is still used for these reasons, there has been a significant increase in substantive briefings under AOB. The humanitarian situations in Palestine, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria and Yemen have recently been covered under AOB. Political developments, particularly related to elections or the implementation of peace agreements, prompted requests for AOB briefings on the Central African Republic (CAR), Guinea-Bissau, Libya and Mali. Among the situations that had at least four AOB briefings in 2015 were Burundi, CAR, Mali, Syria and Yemen.
This format was also used to keep abreast of developments regarding situations not on the Council’s agenda, such as Burkina Faso, Guinea and Nepal. Discussing the appointment process for the next Secretary-General under AOB provided a way to informally exchange initial views on how the process might develop.
The mix of issues suggests that, while there are times this format is used as a conflict prevention tool, its regular use has been for additional discussions on issues that are already full-blown conflicts, such as Mali, Syria and Yemen.
The AOB format has also been used to get information that could impact upcoming Council decisions. For example, Council members were briefed in January under AOB on the Secretary-General’s request for the Council to authorise a troop increase for the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the CAR, as some members wanted more information on why this increase was needed. In 2015, the AOB format was used to introduce draft texts on Boko Haram, the interdiction of vessels involved in smuggling migrants in the high seas of the Mediterranean by the EU Naval Force and the Iran nuclear deal. This format has also been used to try to resolve differences that have arisen during negotiations of draft texts, as was seen recently on the appointment of the prosecutor for the Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals.
One reason this format is used for some issues already on the agenda is that it is conducive to discreet discussions of more sensitive matters. There is no public record of AOB topics and fewer Secretariat officials are present. For example, Myanmar, which has been on the Council’s agenda since 2006, has been addressed exclusively under AOB since 2014, largely because China has made it clear that this is its preferred format for discussing the issue. Since February 2015 there have been four AOBs on Myanmar.
In the last two years, Council members have used the AOB format to monitor regularly situations that were deteriorating rapidly. This was the case for Burundi, CAR and Yemen last year. Getting timely information has the potential to allow the Council to deal with critical situations that could require changes to the UN presence on the ground or new Council decisions. However, as these discussions now often involve full briefings by those who would brief in consultations, including at times by video teleconference, there is little to distinguish them from informal consultations. As a result, some members are beginning to question if the AOB format is the most appropriate for these types of briefings.
In recent months, a disturbing trend has emerged, with some requests for AOB discussions appearing to be driven by motivations other than a real desire for useful information or to enable a better Council response. Several members see Russia’s request for briefings on Turkey’s activities in relation to Syria and Iraq in this light. There is also a growing sense that this format is being used by some members to highlight other members’ positions on issues such as Palestine, Syria and Yemen—not necessarily to encourage Council action but to score political points. Back-to-back requests for briefings on Syria, in the context of Russian air-strikes, and on Yemen, in the context of air-strikes by the Saudi Arabia-led coalition supported by the UK, US and others, could be seen in this context. Some members questioned Venezuela’s reasons for requesting three briefings related to Palestine during its presidency in February.
While creative and flexible use of this format should be encouraged, a more selective and interactive approach would enable it to serve as a more useful forum for constructive informal discussions, as well as for possible early warning briefings by the Secretariat.