In Hindsight: The Security Council in 2018
The fractured state of Council relations, particularly among the permanent members, was reflected in the difficulty of obtaining consensus on Council resolutions. This is not entirely new: the number of vetoed and non-consensus resolutions has been rising for eight years. In 2018, three resolutions were vetoed, while four tabled drafts failed due to insufficient votes. A lower number of resolutions was adopted—54, against 61 in 2017—of which nine had fewer than 15 votes in favour.
There were four procedural votes, a number not seen since the early 1990s; the heightened recourse to these votes, on whether a Council meeting can take place as proposed, is one indicator of difficult dynamics. Twenty-one Arria-formula meetings were held, compared with 17 in 2017: the most since the Council began using this informal meeting format in 1992. The number of meetings, and the hours spent there, reflect a busy Council, although the total number of meetings and decisions declined compared to 2017.
One new situation was added to the Council’s agenda when the UK called for a meeting on the use of a nerve agent in Salisbury, the United Kingdom. The UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) closed its doors. The mandate of the Somalia and Eritrea Monitoring Group was terminated when the Council decided to lift the sanctions imposed on Eritrea, and a new Panel of Experts on Somalia was established.
As in previous years, Africa featured prominently in the Council’s work, accounting for 50 percent of country-specific or regional situations and about 70 percent of resolutions and presidential statements. Among the most frequently discussed African situations were the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), South Sudan and Sudan. The Council also paid close attention to the Central African Republic (CAR), Libya, and Mali and the Sahel.
Council divisions continued to affect issues in the Middle East. As the Syria conflict entered its eighth year, the Council held 34 public meetings in 2018 on different aspects of the situation but with little change in Council dynamics. Difficulty agreeing on culpability for the use of chemical weapons in Syria and on how the Council should respond led to one veto and to two draft resolutions that fell short of the nine votes needed for adoption. On the humanitarian situation in Syria, largely through the efforts of the penholders, Kuwait and Sweden, the Council was able to adopt one resolution renewing the cross-border delivery of aid, and another demanding a month-long humanitarian pause for the delivery of aid following an escalation of the conflict in February.
Israel/Palestine issues were discussed monthly, with an uptick in meetings in April and May, a period of deadly violence at the border between Gaza and Israel. There was a failed attempt to adopt a resolution on the protection of civilians in Gaza. A draft by Kuwait garnered ten votes in favour, one veto by the US and four abstentions. A US draft, initially presented as amendments to the Kuwaiti text, received an affirmative vote only from its sponsor, with 11 members abstaining and three voting against.
Yemen, too, continued to occupy the Council’s attention. There were 15 meetings, with two resolutions and one presidential statement adopted, and one draft resolution vetoed. Disagreement over including language on Iran’s non-compliance with the Yemen sanctions regime led to a Russian veto of a draft text to renew that regime. Instead, a Russian draft based on the previous year’s resolution was adopted. Conversely, the Council was able to show unity by adopting a resolution in December 2018 that authorised an advance team to monitor and provide support to the recent Hodeidah Agreement.
Trends in 2018
An increase in non-consensus resolutions on a broader range of issues
The year’s nine non-consensus resolutions reflected Council disagreements not only on traditionally divisive issues such as chemical weapons in Syria and Israel/Palestine, but also on some peacekeeping and sanctions mandate renewals. Of the nine non-consensus resolutions, four pertained to the renewal of three missions—in the CAR, Haiti and Western Sahara—that have been on the Council’s agenda for many years. This was the first non-consensus mandate renewal for missions in the CAR and Haiti. The mission in Western Sahara, which had a non-consensus renewal in 2016, saw two non-consensus renewals in 2018. This comes at a time when the reform of peace operations has been at the forefront of discussions in the UN. Of the three non-consensus resolutions on sanctions renewals, two were on South Sudan, both adopted with nine votes in favour and six abstentions, reflecting differences at a time when some members felt that the peace process was at a critical juncture and that additional sanctions would be counterproductive. The lack of unanimity on a resolution renewing the Libya sanctions regime stemmed from concerns on the part of Russia and China about language on sexual and gender-based violence. Council members were also unable to find unanimity on resolutions on the renewal of the mandate of the prosecutor of the international residual mechanism for tribunals and the delivery of cross-border aid in Syria.
The three vetoes were cast over chemical weapons in Syria, on Israel/Palestine and, for the first time, on Yemen sanctions. In addition, of the four resolutions not adopted because of insufficient affirmative votes, one was on the protection of civilians in Gaza, and the other three related to chemical weapons in Syria.
Using Working Methods: Procedural Votes
There were four procedural votes last year. The last time the Council invoked so many procedural votes was in the early 1990s, when the procedural vote was used regularly over Palestine’s participation in meetings. Between 2006 and 2013, there were no procedural votes at all. Between 2014 and 2016, it was used sparingly, with only one procedural vote yearly in connection with a meeting on the human rights situation in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). In 2017, there were three: on holding the DPRK human rights meeting, and two related to the Joint Investigation Mechanism (one on postponing a meeting and the other on the sequence of voting on draft resolutions). In 2018, procedural votes were required for a proposed briefing on Syria by the High Commissioner for Human Rights, for a Myanmar briefing by the chair of the Human Rights Fact-Finding Mission, and for two issues related to Ukraine—one over a particular briefer, the other on an agenda item proposed by Russia. Only the Myanmar briefing went forward, while the other proposals were blocked by the procedural vote.
Decrease in Council Outputs; Public Meetings Remain High
After a five-year period that saw a steady increase in decisions, a downward trend was observed last year. The Council adopted 75 decisions, down from 88 in 2017. It adopted 54 resolutions, seven fewer than the year before, while presidential statements dropped from 27 to 21. Formal meetings remained at comparable levels—288 in 2018, and 296 in 2017, while the hours spent in meetings rose very slightly, from 673 in 2017 to 678 In 2018, the Council continued to devote about 56 hours a month to meetings. Almost all of its meetings were public: at 275, this was the second-highest number in the Council’s history, after the 2017 meeting count of 282. The 13 private meetings in 2018 were one fewer than 2017. Consultations continued to fall, dropping to 120 from 137 in 2017. This can be attributed partly to an increased tendency for the Council not to go into consultations (a closed meeting) following a briefing where all 15 members have delivered statements in public. There were 87 press statements, which are not formal decisions of the Council, after 93 in 2017, continuing a fall from a peak of 138 in 2014. The number of visiting missions went from five in 2017 to three last year.
The reduction in meetings and outcomes can be attributed to several factors, including the closing of the UN Operation in Côte d’Ivoire in 2017 and UNMIL in 2018, both of which had annual mandate renewals and were discussed regularly in the Council. Another factor was the more stable situation on the Korean peninsula: in 2017 there were 12 public meetings and seven consultations on the DPRK compared to three public meetings and no consultations in 2018, all of them regular briefings by the chair of the sanctions committee. The Council also had fewer meetings on situations that had been more volatile in 2017, including Burundi, the DRC and Myanmar.
The Rise of the E10
In the face of acute divisions among the permanent members, the ten elected members (E10) emerged more strongly as a cohesive group despite their political differences, enhancing their contribution to the substantive work of the Council. Elected members played a significant role in pushing the Council to address humanitarian issues in Syria and Yemen. They were also strong proponents of a number of thematic issues, including children and armed conflict, conflict prevention, climate change, hunger and conflict, peace operations, peacebuilding, and women, peace and security. On many of these issues, elected members worked together to negotiate successful outcomes and integrate themes into country-specific situations. Collectively, they strove to advance equitable distribution of labour and burden-sharing in the context of chairing subsidiary bodies and penholdership.