In Hindsight: The Security Council in 2022
2022 was a turbulent year for the Security Council, its functioning tested by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February. The value of the UN Charter became a central theme in many members’ interventions, and the Council referred a situation to the General Assembly for the first time in forty years. These events, in turn, heightened attention to questions of reform, including the relationship between the Council and other UN organs. Within the Council, the invasion exacerbated the trust deficit among members, making it harder to find common ground on many issues. While this dynamic did not paralyse the Council, it complicated the prospects for new initiatives and made strong outcomes harder to achieve.
The regular work of renewing peace operations and sanctions mandates was generally not interrupted, but negotiations were rarely smooth, and adoptions often not unanimous. While a number of situations long on the Council’s agenda deteriorated, such as Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Haiti, and Myanmar, the Council was able to take constructive action on these files, and on Syria, among others.
Ukraine Dominates the Council’s Work
The Council held 273 public meetings in 2022, of which 46 were connected to the conflict in Ukraine. In the course of the year, members sought meetings on different aspects of the conflict, including its humanitarian impact, the use of chemical weapons, the Black Sea grain initiative, and the safety of nuclear power plants. On some of these topics, two Council meetings became the norm, as different members promoted competing perspectives. Partly as a result, the Council had spent some 592 hours in formal and informal meetings to the end of November 2022—over a hundred hours more than in 2021. This is also attributable to the Council’s full return to regular meeting formats, following two years of working methods adapted to the COVID-19 pandemic. Council members cut back on their use of the Arria-formula format, with 21 such meetings after 32 in 2021.
Russia vetoed two draft resolutions on Ukraine in 2022, one in February condemning its invasion and a second in September declaring the illegality of its “so-called referenda” in Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson, and Zaporizhzhia. The February veto was particularly significant as it produced a Council “Uniting for Peace” resolution on 27 February for the first time in 40 years. (Such a resolution—which is considered procedural in nature and therefore cannot be blocked by a veto—refers a situation to the General Assembly when the Council’s permanent members are deadlocked.) This resolution set up an Emergency Special Session on Ukraine in the General Assembly.
A further development related to the February veto was the General Assembly’s adoption of a resolution (A/RES/76/262), under which it will meet within ten days whenever a veto is cast in the Security Council.
The Council produced two formal outcomes on the situation in Ukraine: a presidential statement supporting the Secretary-General’s efforts to seek a peaceful solution to the war, and a procedural resolution referring the situation to the General Assembly. Several attempted outcomes failed: the initial substantive resolution on the Ukraine conflict in February was vetoed; two other resolutions were not adopted due to insufficient votes; and proposed outcomes on the humanitarian situation and the Black Sea grain deal did not advance.
Council Dynamics and Outcomes
Notwithstanding its increased time spent in meetings in 2022, the Council agreed on fewer outcomes. It adopted 54 resolutions, three fewer than in 2021. Of the resolutions adopted, 20 or 38% were not unanimous—whereas in 2021, 16% of resolutions were non-unanimous. The difficulty in obtaining agreement also appears to have contributed to the low number of presidential statements, which fell from 24 in 2021 to just seven in 2022—seemingly the lowest number of presidential statements adopted since the Council started using this format. There were 67 press statements, seven more than in 2021.
Obtaining agreement on resolutions was often difficult, and even after significant compromises, members abstained for a variety of reasons. Resolutions on sanctions continued to be particularly problematic, with several members abstaining on the renewal of sanctions in the Central African Republic (CAR), DRC, Libya, Somalia, and South Sudan. So too was the case on the renewal of the residual mechanism of the international criminal tribunals.
Several peace operations mandates were contentious. For the first time, the mandate of the UN mission in Mali, MINUSMA, was not renewed unanimously. Russia and China abstained, citing as a concern, among other things, the prominence of human rights issues in the mandate. Other non-unanimous mandate renewals included the missions in the CAR, Libya, Somalia, and Western Sahara.
The low number of presidential statements testifies to the difficulty of consensual decision-making in 2022. The seven presidential statements covered the relationship with the League of Arab States, the international residual mechanism for criminal tribunals, Ukraine, the DRC, peacekeeping, capacity-building support to African countries, and counter-terrorism. The Council has often used presidential statements to respond to a changed situation on its agenda, but in 2022 the only such example was the presidential statement on the DRC, highlighting the return of the M23 group in the east of the country. Reaching agreement on language referring to climate and security, as well as to human rights, has proven more problematic. Draft presidential statements following the UNOWAS and UNOCA briefings, and a debate on AU-UN relations, failed to be adopted due to objections from some members to language on climate and security.
Vetoes in 2022
The year saw four vetoes, compared to one in 2021. Russia vetoed draft resolutions condemning its invasion of Ukraine and its “so-called referenda” there. It also vetoed a draft resolution renewing the Syria cross-border aid mechanism proposed by Ireland and Norway, the penholders on this issue, in July. Finally, China and Russia vetoed a draft resolution on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK).
The vetoes on the DPRK resolution were noteworthy, as the Council has generally been able to agree on DPRK disarmament issues. The draft resolution would have updated and strengthened the 1718 DPRK sanctions regime, following a high number of ballistic missile tests conducted by the DPRK by the end of May. As for the Syria cross-border mechanism, following the veto, Russia put forward an alternative text, which failed to attract enough votes. Ultimately, following these fraught negotiations, the mechanism was renewed with the adoption of resolution 2642, which received 12 affirmative votes and three abstentions (France, the UK and the US). This resolution set up a regular informal interactive dialogue “with the participation of donors, interested regional parties and representatives of the international humanitarian agencies operating in Syria”. One of the first orders of business for the Council in 2023 will be to extend the cross-border aid mechanism for an additional six months, as it is set to expire on 10 January.
Silver Linings in 2022
Notwithstanding the difficult dynamics among members, the Council was able to play a constructive role on several issues and achieve some notable successes throughout the year. In March, the Council renewed the mandate of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), outlining several important priorities for the mission, including in relation to its good offices, human rights monitoring and reporting, gender equality, and the full, equal and meaningful participation of women in all levels of decision-making. In July, as noted, the Council reauthorised the cross-border humanitarian aid mechanism in Syria, through which aid reaches some 3.1 million people. For the first time in five years, the Council established a new sanctions regime in October, which imposed a targeted assets freeze, travel ban, and arms embargo measures in Haiti.
In December, the Council adopted its first-ever resolution on Myanmar, demanding an end to violence and the release of all political prisoners, as well as a resolution establishing a standing humanitarian exemption (referred to as a “humanitarian carveout”) to the asset freeze measures imposed by UN sanctions regimes.
Council members have also remained united in their support for the mediation efforts of the UN Special Envoy for Yemen, who in April 2022, brokered a truce that led to the longest period of calm in Yemen during the seven-year war and in supporting Colombia’s efforts to foster peace and reconciliation.
Elected Member Initiative
Elected members showed initiative and energy, pushing the Council to do more in a year where it felt like maintaining the status quo was a struggle. They were cohesive in the face of P5 divisions, particularly on the Syria humanitarian file, Afghanistan and Ukraine. In a major shift, the P3 (France, the UK and the US) seemed willing to share the pen with elected members on more issues than ever. This led to Mexico acting as co-pen with the US on Haiti, with the UK on Colombia, and with France on Ukraine humanitarian issues. Albania took on the co-pen for Ukraine political issues with the US. Elected members also continued to be penholders on Syria humanitarian issues (Ireland and Norway), Afghanistan (Norway), and UNOWAS (Ireland and Ghana). Norway and Ghana were the co-drafters of a resolution on piracy in the Gulf of Guinea that took about eight months to be adopted. Ireland, the penholder on Tigray, worked closely with the A3 on Ethiopia. Mexico and Norway led on the presidential statement on the Secretary-General’s efforts on Ukraine. The A3 continued to present as a strong sub-group, highly influential on African issues, and worked together to ensure that issues in their region not be neglected as a result of the focus on Ukraine.
In 2021 Ireland, Kenya and Mexico formed a “Presidency Trio for Women, Peace and Security” (WPS), pledging to make WPS “a top priority” of their respective presidencies in September, October and November. Between December 2021 and September 2022, eight more countries—Albania, Brazil, France, Gabon, Niger, Norway, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and the UK—signed on to a 1 December 2021 Statement of Shared Commitments on WPS, which built on the presidency trio initiative and committed these members, too, to making WPS a “top priority” during their presidencies, a noteworthy exercise in continuity.
As the five new members – Ecuador, Japan, Malta, Mozambique, and Switzerland – take their seats on 1 January 2023, they join a Council that has experienced one of its most divisive years in two decades. Until a peaceful settlement is possible, the war in Ukraine is likely to dominate the Council’s agenda. Meanwhile, several situations on the Council’s agenda show signs of needing greater attention, in some cases raising questions about the responsiveness of peacekeeping in its current forms. Some departing members took steps to better position the Council to play a preventive role, but this is likely to remain challenging in 2023. Finding ways for the Council to step up to its primary responsibility, the maintenance of international peace and security, will remain its top challenge in 2023.