In Hindsight: Selecting Subsidiary Body Chairs
With the Security Council elections behind them, incoming Council members—Algeria, Guyana, the Republic of Korea, Sierra Leone, and Slovenia—are now starting to discuss the allocation of the chairs and vice-chairs of the subsidiary bodies. For many years this process was shrouded in secrecy, with the permanent members deciding how to allocate these positions, often with minimal consultation. It has become more transparent, and with greater autonomy for the elected members, but difficulties in the last few years may suggest the need for further refinements.
Guidance and Practice in the Selection of the Subsidiary Body Chairs and Vice-Chairs
Elected members’ growing frustration with their limited say in choosing the subsidiary bodies they chair led to strong calls by many outgoing chairs for a change in the process. In July 2016, the Council issued a presidential note on transitional arrangements (S/2016/619), which set out a new process for the allocation of subsidiary body positions. It said that consultations should begin as soon as possible after the elections and be conducted in a “balanced, transparent, efficient and inclusive way” by two members of the Council “working in full cooperation”. The understanding was that these two members would be the chair of the Informal Working Group on Documentation and Other Procedural Questions (IWG) and the coordinator of the permanent members, a position that rotates quarterly. The transitional arrangements conveyed in the 2016 note were incorporated in the 2017 “Note 507” on working methods.
Permanent members still hold significant sway over the distribution of the chairs. Once the incoming members have agreed on an initial list of subsidiary body chairs, the IWG chair conveys this to the P5 coordinator. Should any of the permanent members have a strong position on a particular elected member chairing a subsidiary body, their view is likely to prevail.
Issues during the Selection Process
One of the key elements of the 2016 note was a more defined timeline, with emphasis on inclusiveness in the selection of the chairs of subsidiary bodies. It called on Council members “to make every effort to agree provisionally on the appointment of the chairs of the subsidiary organs for the following year no later than 1 October”. This change coincided with Council elections being moved forward from October to June, allowing more time for incoming members to prepare. In spite of this, the 1 October deadline has yet to be met. The incoming members have made a concerted effort every year, and came closest in 2019, when they reached agreement on 11 October. In 2020, it took until mid-December for a final list to emerge, and in 2021, the process was only concluded in early January 2022.
Last year the prospects for a quick agreement looked promising. The incoming members (I5) for 2023-2024 started their discussions immediately after the elections in June 2022, and swiftly agreed on how the 2023 vacancies would be allocated. Then the process stalled: at least one permanent member was opposed to a footnote in the draft specifying that incoming member Japan would chair the IWG in 2024, when the current chair, Albania, leaves. This months-long impasse led to a discussion under “any other business” in the new year, on 27 January 2023, where IWG chair Albania read out a joint statement from the elected members (E10) voicing support for Japan as chair in 2024. Ecuador, as the coordinator of the E10 for January, transmitted a letter on behalf of the E10 (S/2023/68) reiterating their unanimous support for Japan assuming this position the following year. The letter also conveyed the expectation that the Council would take note of the positions of the current elected members and the new members that would join in 2024. The presidential note on the 2023 chairs and vice-chairs that was finally issued on 31 January did not include the footnote.
Footnotes in the note on subsidiary chairs and vice-chairs are a recent development. They first appeared in 2021, and were used again in 2022, to spell out how some positions will be filled in the future. They appear to have been used to mollify members who had failed to secure their preferred subsidiary body. For example, during the 2020 negotiations, India failed in its bid to chair the 1267/1989/2253 ISIL (Da’esh) & Al-Qaida sanctions committee. The footnote to the 2021 note (S/2021/2) indicates that India would take up the position of chair of the 1373 CTC committee in 2022. Similarly, incoming member UAE’s wish to chair the same committee, which was unavailable to them in 2022—having already been allocated to India–led to a footnote to the 2022 note (S/2022/2/Rev.4) signaling the UAE as the chair in 2023. The 2021 note also includes a footnote indicating that Mexico would be the vice-chair of the Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict in 2022. The permanent members had been cool to such footnotes, citing, among other reasons, the issue of slots not being available to the next batch of incoming members.
Getting agreement on the allocation of chairs is affected by the composition of incoming members, their level of interest in chairing particular bodies, and, of course, which subsidiary bodies are available. In some years, several of the five incoming members have competed intensively over protection files, such as children and armed conflict, women, peace and security, and climate, peace and security. Other files are perceived as unpopular because they are politically sensitive, such as the 1718 Democratic People’s Republic of Korea sanctions committee and the 1970 Libya sanctions committee, or resource intensive, such as the counter-terrorism committees. Adding to the complications of finding a chair for these subsidiary bodies, the permanent members often have strong views about the suitability of particular members for certain committees.
Burden Sharing and a Fair Distribution of Work
The outcome of the selection process for chairs can mean some elected members have to devote extensive time and resources to subsidiary bodies. The calls for greater burden sharing, which began around 2016 as the number of subsidiary bodies increased, have grown louder. The presidential note adopted in December 2019 (S/2019/991) reaffirmed that the informal consultation process for the selection of chairs should take place in a balanced, transparent, efficient and inclusive way but also stressed that it should “take into account the need for a shared responsibility and a fair distribution of work for the selection of the Chairs among all members of the Council, bearing in mind the capacities and resources of members”.
While there have been suggestions that permanent members should also take on the chairing of subsidiary bodies, a role performed exclusively by elected members since 2009, members are aware of the potential drawbacks, including permanent members holding onto such positions for too long. Permanent members are vice-chairs of several committees, but this rarely proves a substantive role.
The issue of subsidiary body chairs is intimately linked to that of penholderships. (The penholder role is an informal one and refers to the member of the Council leading the negotiation and drafting of resolutions on a particular Council agenda item.) Most penholding remains in the hands of France, the UK, and the US (P3). It is usually the case, as well, that the elected member chairing a given sanctions committee is not the penholder on the corresponding country file. But there are signs that the P3 has become significantly more open to sharing the pen with elected members. In 2019-2020, Germany sharing the pen with the UK on Libya and Sudan sanctions appeared to be a one-off development. The past year has proven otherwise. In 2022, Mexico was co-pen with France on Ukraine humanitarian issues, with the US on Haiti and the UK on Colombia, as well as co-pen with France on Mali sanctions—a committee that it chaired. In 2023, Ecuador took over as co-pen on Haiti and on Ukraine humanitarian issues. Albania has been the co-pen on the Ukraine political file with the US in both 2022 and 2023. These developments have prompted elected members to explore the possibility of a more structured link between chairing a given subsidiary body and holding the pen on that issue—as well as seeking other opportunities to take on penholderships.
Reflections on the Process
Newly-elected members now approach the discussion of subsidiary body chairs with a clear idea of how a particular subsidiary body matches their priorities and resources. While this is an indication of early preparation and strong interest in some issues, it can lead to inflexible positions. Early agreement on the list of chairs requires compromise and the willingness to accept “reserve positions” when a member’s first choice is not accommodated. Past practice has shown that leaving a gap in the list because of I5 disagreement has led to the permanent members making more changes to the list. The delay in getting agreement to the 2023 list meant that no subsidiary bodies were able to function until February. A system of ensuring that subsidiary bodies are able to continue to do their work pending agreement on the full list may need to be considered.
Since 2016, it has been harder to fill the combination of subsidiary bodies available in some years due to their heavy resource requirements, political sensitivity, or both. With this a recurring problem, it may be worth considering reallocating the chairs available in given years to create a more equitable distribution.
Incoming members may not arrive with full knowledge of the role of the chair and how it differs across subsidiary bodies. Early briefings from the Secretariat on the intricacies of how different subsidiary bodies operate might reduce some members’ anxiety over taking on a sanctions committee. The IWG in 2021, under the chairmanship of St Vincent and the Grenadines, discussed a note on capacity building to facilitate the process of appointment of subsidiary body chairs, but were unable to get agreement.
The unity of the incoming members and the support of the sitting elected members for each year’s proposed arrangements are integral to minimising changes from the P5. Keeping the current E10 members informed of how the consultative process is advancing will help maintain this solidarity as well as increasing the transparency of the process. In this context, it seems Albania, as the chair of the IWG, has suggested that the selection process be discussed in IWG meetings if there is no agreement on the list by 1 October. This measure, too, may support the incoming members in navigating what is their first post-electoral test of working together, namely agreeing on the distribution of available chairs.
Available Subsidiary Body Chair Positions in 2024
Of the fourteen active sanctions regimes, ten will be vacant in 2024. Of the six working groups that are part of the selection process, four will be vacant in 2024.
|Subsidiary Body||Current Chair||Former Chairs (2010 – 2023)|
|Security Council Committee established pursuant to resolution 1373 (2001) concerning counter-terrorism||UAE||Türkiye (2010), India (2011-2012), Morocco (2013), Lithuania (2014-2015), Egypt (2016-2017), Peru (2018-2019), Tunisia (2020-2021), India (2022).
|Security Council Committee established pursuant to resolution 1518 (2003)||Albania||Nigeria (2010-2011, 2015), Togo (2012-2013), Chad (2014), Egypt (2016-2017), Poland (2018-2019), Estonia (2020-2021), Albania (2022-present)|
|Security Council Committee established pursuant to resolution 1533 (2004) concerning the Democratic Republic of the Congo
|Gabon||Brazil (2010-2011), Azerbaijan (2012-2013), Jordan (2014-2015), Egypt (2016-2017), Kuwait (2018-2019), Niger (2020-2021), Gabon (2022-present)|
|Security Council Committee established pursuant to resolution 1591 (2005) concerning the Sudan
|Ghana||Austria (2010), Colombia (2011-2012), Argentina (2013-2014), Venezuela (2015-2016), Ukraine (2017), Poland (2018-2019), Estonia (2020-2021), Ghana (2022-present)|
|Security Council Committee established pursuant to resolution 1636 (2005) concerning Lebanon Sanctions
|Albania||Gabon (2010-2011), Togo (2012-2013), Chad (2014-2015), Japan (2016-2017), Equatorial Guinea (2018-2019), Viet Nam (2020-2021), Albania (2022-present)|
|Security Council Committee established pursuant to resolution 2048 (2012) concerning Guinea-Bissau
|UAE||Morocco (2012-2013), Nigeria (2014-2015), Uruguay (2016-2017), Equatorial Guinea (2018-2019), Tunisia (2020-2021), UAE (2022-present)|
|Security Council Committee established pursuant to resolution 2127 (2013) concerning the Central African Republic||Ghana||Lithuania (2014-2015), Ukraine (2016-2017), Côte d’Ivoire (2018-2019), Niger (2020-2021), Ghana (2022-presennt)
|Security Council Committee established pursuant to resolution 2140 (2014) concerning Yemen||Albania||Lithuania (2014-2015), Japan (2016-2017), Peru (2018-2019), Saint Vincent and the Grenadines (2020-2021), Albania (2022-present)|
|Security Council Committee established pursuant to resolution 2206 (2015) concerning South Sudan
|Gabon||Chile (2015), Senegal (2016-2017), Poland (2018-2019), Viet Nam (2020-2021), Gabon (2022-present)|
|Security Council Committee established pursuant to resolution 2653 (2022) concerning Haiti
|Working Group on Peacekeeping Operations
|Ghana||Japan (2010), Nigeria (2011), Morocco (2012), Pakistan (2013), Rwanda (2014), Chad (2015), Senegal (2016-2017), Côte d’Ivoire (2018-2019), Tunisia (2020-2021), Ghana (2022-present)|
|Working Group established pursuant to resolution 1566 (2004)
|UAE||Türkiye (2010), India (2011-2012), Morocco (2013), Lithuania (2014-2015), Egypt (2016-2017), Peru (2018-2019), Niger (2020-2021), UAE (2022-present)|
|Informal Working Group on Documentation and Other Procedural Questions
|Albania||Japan (2010, 2016-2017), Bosnia and Herzegovina (2011), Portugal (2012), Argentina (2013-2014), Angola (2015), Kuwait (2018-2019), Saint Vincent and the Grenadines (2020-2021), Albania (2022-present)|
|Informal Working Group on International Tribunals
|Gabon||Austria (2010), Portugal (2011), Guatemala (2012-2013), Chile (2014-2015), Uruguay (2016-2017), Peru (2018-2019), Viet Nam (2020-2021), Gabon (2022-present)|
Available Positions in Informal Subsidiary Bodies
These positions are not part of the list of chairs of subsidiary bodies as they are informal groups.
|Informal Subsidiary Body||Outgoing Co-Chairs||Remaining Co-Chairs|
|Informal Expert Group on Climate Change, Peace and Security||UAE||Switzerland and Mozambique|
|2242 Informal Expert Group on Women, Peace and Security||UAE||Switzerland|
 The UK chaired the 1373 Counter-Terrorism Committee in 2001 and 2002 and Russia chaired it in 2004 and 2005. France was the first chair of the Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict, a position it held from 2005 – 2008.