February 2018 Monthly Forecast

Posted 31 January 2018
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Security Council Working Methods

Expected Council Action

Kuwait, the 2018 chair of the Informal Working Group on Documentation and Other Procedural Questions, is planning an open debate on the Council’s working methods during its presidency in February. This will be the first such open debate since July 2016. No outcome is expected at this stage.

Key Recent Developments

On 30 August 2017, the Council issued its most extensive compendium to date of agreed working methods (S/2017/507). The document was produced under the leadership of Japan in its capacity as the 2016-2017 chair of the Informal Working Group on Documentation and Other Procedural Questions (IWG), the venue for most discussions regarding the Council’s working methods. During its two previous terms as an elected Council member, Japan also led elaborations of the comprehensive document on working methods, the 2006 and 2010 versions of “Note 507”. The document number 507 has been used on all three occasions to make it easier to find the papers in the UN documents system, and the implementation of Note 507 has been the agenda item under which the Council has discussed working methods since 2008. Open debates on working methods have been held regularly since 2008 and have always attracted high interest from member states. The 2017 Note 507 highlighted members’ commitment “to continuing to provide opportunities to hear the views of the broader membership on the working methods of the Council, including in any open debate on the implementation of the present note, and to welcoming the continued participation by the broader membership in such debates”.

In organising the debate, Kuwait aims to receive from the UN’s broader membership practical proposals for how to enhance the Council’s working methods in a way that would enable the Council to improve its effectiveness and better fulfil its mandate of maintaining international peace and security.

Key Issues and Options

With the debate taking place soon after the most extensive compendium of Council working methods was published, a key issue for the Council is how to achieve full implementation of the agreed practices. An option for individual Council members would be to prioritise particular aspects of the agreed practices for follow-up while on the Council.

Another issue would be to identify areas of working methods that have not yet been articulated in writing, either because of a lack of agreement among members to do so or because of their new and emerging nature. An option in this context would be to include these elements in the work plan of the IWG for 2018.

While no outcome is expected from the open debate, one option for the chair of the IWG would be to produce an analytical summary of the views presented by member states during the debate and issue it as a letter to the Secretary-General with a request to circulate it as a document of the General Assembly and the Council (as done by Spain following the open debate on working methods it held during its October 2015 presidency).

Council and Wider Dynamics

The dynamics related to Council working methods have evolved over the years. One particularly visible area of change is the attitude toward publicly discussing working methods and inviting the membership at large to present their views and suggestions. After the first such discussion was held in 1994 at the initiative of France, no further public debates occurred for over a decade, despite considerable interest in the topic from outside the Council. In the final document of the September 2005 World Summit held at UN headquarters, world leaders said, “We recommend that the Security Council continue to adapt its working methods so as to increase the involvement of States not members of the Council in its work, as appropriate, enhance its accountability to the membership and increase the transparency of its work”. In response, the Council undertook a considerable amount of work focused on the matter, including the elaboration of the first Note 507, but there was reluctance, largely on the part of permanent members, to hold an open debate.

After unsuccessful attempts in 2007 and months of efforts by elected members Belgium and Costa Rica in 2008, an open debate was held during Belgium’s presidency in August 2008. Japan was successful in organising an open debate during its presidency in April 2010. From that point on, holding an annual debate became an accepted practice, eventually acknowledged in a 2015 presidential statement (S/PRST/2015/19) and in the most recent Note 507. All but one of the nine open debates on working methods were held at the initiative of an elected member, and an elected member presided over all of them. This pattern will continue with the upcoming debate during Kuwait’s presidency.

New Report on Working Methods from Security Council Report

In late January, Security Council Report issued its fourth report on working methods, Security Council Working Methods: Provisional Progress. The report examines the most recent procedural developments in the Security Council and the IWG and takes a longer-term look at the role of the elected Council members in shaping and codifying Security Council working methods. Covered in the report is the history of the IWG and its transformation from a sometimes ephemeral entity with a chairmanship that rotated monthly into an active and firmly established subsidiary body since 2006, when it started to be chaired by a single elected member throughout the year. 

While focusing more closely on the 2017 version of Note 507 and the negotiating process that led to its issuance last August, the report also examines its 2006 and 2010 predecessors. Two aspects of working methods—those related to sanctions and to the Council’s engagement with troop- and police-contributing countries—are examined in greater detail in case studies.

Some themes recur in all three Notes 507, for example, reiterating the Council’s resolve to make consultations more substantive and interactive, and its stated determination to use descriptive formulations for agenda items. One conclusion from analysing various Council documents related to working methods is that even though a tremendous amount of work and energy often goes into negotiating agreement on many of the working methods, some are never implemented. In some cases, the agreed practices tend to be followed for a period but later their implementation begins to falter, and a new, similarly focused initiative is undertaken by a different member or group of members.


Security Council Presidential Statements
30 October 2015 S/PRST/2015/19 This was the first presidential statement adopted by the Council on its own working methods.
Notes by the President of the Security Council
30 August 2017 S/2017/507 This was the Note of the Security Council containing the compendium of its working methods.
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
30 August 2017 S/PV.8038 This was a wrap-up session during which Japan briefed on Note 507 adopted earlier that same day.
19 July 2016 S/PV.7740 This was an open debate on working methods.
20 October 2015 S/PV.7539 This was an open debate on working methods.
20 October 2015 S/PV.7539 (Resumption 1) This was an open debate on working methods.
30 October 2014 S/PV.7294 This was an open debate on working methods.
29 October 2013 S/PV.7052 This was an open debate on working methods.
29 October 2013 S/PV.7052 (Resumption 1) This was an open debate on working methods.
26 November 2012 S/PV.6870 This was 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.
30 November 2011 S/PV.6672 An open debate on working methods presided by Portugal on the Implementation of the note by the President of the Security Council (S/2010/507).
30 November 2011 S/PV.6672 (Resumption 1) This was the resumption of the open debate on working methods presided by Portugal on the Implementation of the note by the President of the Security Council (S/2010/507).
22 April 2010 S/PV.6300 An open debate on working methods presided by Japan.
22 April 2010 S/PV.6300 (Resumption 1) The resumption of an open debate on working methods presided by Japan.
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.
12 January 2016 S/2016/35 This was from Spain transmitting the ideas and proposals from participants at the October 2015 open debate on women, peace and security (S/PV.7533 and resumption 1).
16 September 2005 A/RES/60/1 This was the 2005 World Summit Outcome Document.