March 2020 Monthly Forecast

Posted 28 February 2020
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SECURITY COUNCIL AND WIDER UN STRUCTURE

Open Debate on Multilateralism and the Political Settlement of Disputes

Expected Council Action

In March, Council president China will convene an open debate titled “Upholding Multilateralism and Promoting the Political Settlement of Disputes”, under the agenda item “Maintenance of International Peace and Security”. Secretary-General António Guterres is expected to brief at the debate. Representatives from the office of the President of the General Assembly and the International Court of Justice may also brief. At press time, no outcome was anticipated. 

Background

The open debate in March recalls the open debate spearheaded by China during its November 2018 presidency on “Strengthening multilateralism and the role of the United Nations”. At that meeting, Secretary-General António Guterres warned about the eroding effects of the decline in trust among nations, while stressing that the “crises in Syria, in the Middle East peace process and elsewhere have shaken popular faith in the potential of the international community to deliver solutions”. He added that to strengthen multilateralism, the international community must reinforce its commitment to the UN Charter, and UN bodies should seek further cooperation with regional organisations and civil society.

The March debate might build on previous Council meetings which focused on the UN Charter. China convened a ministerial-level open debate during its February 2015 presidency with the intention of reaffirming commitment to the purposes and principles of the Charter during the commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the UN’s founding. On 9 January, Viet Nam convened an open debate on “Upholding the United Nations Charter”. In a presidential statement adopted during that meeting, the Council reaffirmed its commitment to multilateralism and the central role of the United Nations.

Key Issues and Options

The upcoming 75th anniversary of the UN’s founding provides a context for the open debate. China views the debate as an opportunity for Council members and the wider UN membership to consider how member states can work together to strengthen the UN Charter. Possible topics for discussion include ways to ensure the upholding of the UN Charter, including by cooperation with regional organisations; means of addressing transboundary challenges, such as terrorism and risks to cybersecurity; and ways in which the Security Council can respond to threats to international peace and security through collective action.

Council and Wider Dynamics

Member states may reiterate the perspectives on multilateralism expressed during the November 2018 open debate. At that debate, many members agreed that such issues as climate change, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, mass migration, and the spread of diseases have consequences beyond the scope of one state and therefore can only be resolved by joint efforts. Some referred to peacekeeping operations, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and the Paris Agreement on Climate Change as positive examples of multilateral cooperation and highlighted the need to adhere to the UN Charter and to increase cooperation with regional organisations.

Council members are likely to diverge with regard to their interpretation of the purposes and principles of the UN Charter. At the November 2018 debate, China and Russia stressed the importance of upholding the territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence of states. Other members, particularly France, the United Kingdom and the United States, emphasised that state sovereignty should not prevent the Council from acting in situations such as Syria and Myanmar nor should it be used as a shield against taking measures to protect civilians from human rights violations.

Another topic that may be raised by members is the challenge to multilateralism posed by the persistent divisions among the permanent members of the Security Council and the perceived retreat from multilateralism by some countries, especially the US. At the November 2018 debate, Ambassador Nikki Haley, then the US permanent representative, said that there were times when the US had come to the conclusion that “multilateralism has been a bad deal for the United States and that we could be more effective by advancing our principles and interests on our own”. Several members, including Russia and France, criticised the US withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, the Iran nuclear deal, and the UN Human Rights Council. European members referenced the EU as an example of a successful multilateral model while the UK emphasised that it would remain an active participant in world affairs even after it left the EU.

During the March debate, speakers might take the opportunity to support multilateralism and emphasise the benefits of international agreements and mechanisms in promoting a more secure international order. Members may also refer to possible reforms in the UN system that can address challenges to multilateralism, such as the suggestion to reform the permanent members’ use of their veto power at the Security Council.

UN DOCUMENTS ON MULTILATERALISM

Security Council Presidential Statements
9 January 2020S/PRST/2020/1 This was a presidential statement adopted during the ministerial-level debate on “Maintenance of international peace and security: upholding the UN Charter”.
Security Council Letters
31 December 2019S/2020/1 This was a concept note circulated by Viet Nam ahead of the debate on “Maintenance of international peace and security: upholding the UN Charter”
1 November 2018S/2018/982 This was a concept note circulated by China for the open debate on “Maintenance of international peace and security: strengthening multilateralism and the role of the United Nations”.
3 February 2015S/2015/87 This was a concept note circulated by China for the open debate on “Maintenance of international peace and security: reflect on history, reaffirm the strong commitment to the purposes and principles of the Charter of the UN”.
Security Council Meeting Records
9 January 2020S/PV.8699 This was a ministerial-level open debate on “Maintenance of international peace and security: upholding the UN Charter” where member states reflected on and reaffirmed their commitment to upholding Charter principles, particularly in the context of international peace and security.
9 November 2018S/PV.8395 This was an open debate on the theme “Maintenance of international peace and security: strengthening multilateralism and the role of the United Nations”
23 February 2015S/PV.7389 This was the meeting record of the open debate on the UN Charter, marking the 70th anniversary of the founding of the UN and to commemorate the end of World War II.