In Hindsight: Missing Monthly Assessments of Council Presidencies*
In 1997, Security Council members came up with the idea of producing monthly assessments of their own Council presidencies as one means of introducing a more analytical component into the Council’s annual report to the General Assembly. With two exceptions (in 1999 and 2014), all presidencies produced their respective assessments from July 1997 until May 2015. More recently, fewer than half of the Council members have submitted monthly assessments, and most with considerable delay, in one case of more than two years. Meanwhile, the weak analytical content of the Council’s annual report has remained among the chief concerns voiced by UN member states. (See In Hindsight, March 2019 Forecast.)
A note by the president from 1997, outlining a new structure for the annual report, specified that it would include, as an addendum, “brief assessments on the work of the Security Council, which representatives who have completed their functions as President of the Security Council may wish to prepare, under their own responsibility and following consultations with members of the Council for the month during which they presided and which should not be considered as representing the views of the Council”.
In the absence of any guidance on their format, the assessments differed in length, level of detail and analytical content. All tended, however, to contain useful information about aspects of Council work missing from official Council documents, such as Arria-formula meetings or the horizon-scanning briefings provided in consultations by the Secretariat from 2010 through 2013.
In the following two years, more assessments were issued as separate documents (though with the exception of Canada’s for April 2000, no longer as General Assembly documents), and by 2001 all but one were circulated as free-standing documents. They were usually sent to the president of the Security Council, accompanied by a cover letter stating that while the author had consulted other Council members, the assessment should not be considered as representing the views of the Council.
A note by the president of the Council issued on 22 May 2002 introduced several changes to the structure of the annual report. Some changes aimed at reducing its volume, which by then had reached almost 600 pages. For one, the report would no longer reproduce the monthly assessments in full, but would simply list the assessments “issued by the individual monthly Presidencies of the Council on its work”. Also in 2002, the Council began the practice of assigning responsibility to the July presidency for drafting an introductory essay for the annual report with some analytical content.
Following the 2002 switch to listing merely the document symbols in the annual report, the individual assessments still included a note stating that while Council members had been consulted, the document represented the views of the presidency. In the past decade or so, these formulations have disappeared almost completely from the cover note, reflecting a seeming shift in practice towards greater consultation among Council members on draft assessments.
The monthly assessments continued to be issued by all but one presidency through May 2015. Starting in 2016, published assessments dropped significantly. Only three assessments were published for that year, followed by five for 2017 and six for 2018, with only one at press time for 2019. The time-lapse between the end of a presidency and the publication of the assessment also increased considerably, ranging from two months to in some cases a year or more. Early on, assessments had come out quite quickly, sometimes during the month following the presidency and almost never taking more than a few months.
The diminished number of assessments may have to do with a heightened divisiveness within the Council overall having contributed to a more contentious consultative process. This would explain the long time lapses between a presidency and the publication of the respective assessment. It appears that, on some occasions, members have chosen not to publish, rather than compromising the text. In some recent cases, elected members may not even have been aware that they were expected to produce an assessment. In at least one case, the drafter, having received comments from other members, decided to take on board only some of them and in the cover letter returned to the disclaimer language, stating that while other Council members had been consulted on the assessment, it should not be considered as representing the views of the Council.
During the discussion of the Security Council’s 2018 annual report by the General Assembly on 10 and 12 September, several speakers noted with concern the decrease in the number of assessments issued and highlighted their usefulness as a complement to the introduction to the report. They expressed the hope that assessments would again be produced by all members, and in a timelier fashion.
* For more details also see https://www.scprocedure.org/chapter-9-section-1gb (UPDATE WEBSITE OF: Sievers, Loraine, and Sam Daws . “Chapter 9 Section 1(g)b: Relations with Other Organs and Entities/Annual and Special Reports of the Security Council to the General Assembly.” THE PROCEDURE OF THE UN SECURITY COUNCIL, 4TH EDITION, Oxford University Press, Oxford 2014).