March 2024 Monthly Forecast

Posted 29 February 2024
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Working Methods  

Expected Council Action 

In March, Japan is organising an open debate on the Council’s working methods. Japan, the chair of the Informal Working Group on Documentation and Other Procedural Questions (IWG), is expected to circulate a concept note ahead of the debate. It will be held under the agenda item “Implementation of the note by the President of the Security Council (S/2017/507)”, referring to the most recent version of the comprehensive compendium of Council working methods. 

Japan does not plan to have a formal outcome but will produce an analytical summary of the proposals made at the open debate. It will also pay close attention to practical suggestions from the debate in the context of an updated Note 507. 

Key Recent Developments 

On 5 September 2023, during the presidency of Albania, the Council held its annual open debate on its working methods. The Chair of the Informal Working Group, Ambassador Ferit Hoxha (Albania), briefed. In addition to Council members, 37 member states delivered statements. The discussion included how to ensure the full implementation of the Council’s notes on working methods and their further development, including of the role of the Informal Working Group. Other topics included penholderships, the veto, meeting formats, the annual report, and the selection of subsidiary body chairs.  

Council members have begun negotiating a new draft, prepared by Japan, of the compendium of Council working methods, commonly referred to as “Note 507”.  Members have provided comments on an initial draft, and negotiations are expected to resume in April. Since the adoption of the latest Note 507 in 2017, the Council has issued 16 presidential notes on working methods. In 2023, the IWG adopted three presidential notes on: conducting a minute of silence, chairing subsidiary bodies if the chairs have not been agreed by 1 January, and penholderships. The note on penholderships was adopted on 1 December based on a Chinese draft that consolidated many elements from earlier drafts by France and the United Arab Emirates/Elected Members (E10).  

The IWG met six times in 2023: on 24 February, 28 April, 27 June, 22 August, 17 November, and 22 December. This year it has met once so far, on 19 January. Since 2021, it has maintained a standing agenda item, “Strengthening and advancing the implementation of the Note by the President of 30 August 2017”, which has allowed presidencies to brief on the implementation of their working methods commitments and more recently allowed penholders and co-penholders to elaborate on their experiences in drafting and negotiating.  

The IWG issued its second annual report at the end of 2023, summarising its activities and presenting indicators that track the implementation of Note 507 and the more recent presidential notes. The indicators, which cover data related to the efficiency, effectiveness, and transparency of the Council, provide an overview of how the Council is performing and what gaps remain.  

The General Assembly adopted resolution 76/262 on 26 April 2022: “the veto initiative”, which calls for the General Assembly to meet within ten days whenever a veto is cast and for the Council to submit a special report on the use of the veto to the General Assembly. Since the adoption of this resolution, twelve vetoes have been cast on nine resolutions and one amendment–four in 2022, seven in 2023 and one in 2024–triggering ten meetings of the General Assembly and ten special reports from the Council as at 4 March.  

On 16 January, for the first time, the General Assembly held informal consultations on the drafting of the annual report it receives from the Security Council. This meeting, chaired by General Assembly president Dennis Francis, was convened in response to members calling for this report to be drafted more collaboratively and analytically. The UK, the member responsible for drafting the introductory portion of the 2023 annual report, briefed on the work of the Council in 2023. (The introductory portion of the report, which presents a factual overview of the Council’s work, is prepared under the coordination of the Council’s July presidency of the previous year. The body of the Annual Report, which lists the outcomes under different agenda items discussed, is prepared by the Secretariat.) The UK circulated the introduction of the 2023 annual report on 24 January ahead of the 31 January deadline in Note 507. The Secretariat is expected to submit its portion by 15 March and members have a 30 May deadline for the adoption.  

In respect of a key working method, visiting missions, the Council conducted only two in 2023: to the Democratic Republic of the Congo in March, and to Addis Ababa for the annual UN Security Council-AU Peace and Security Council meeting in October. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Council habitually undertook four or five visiting missions a year. 

Issues and Options 

An immediate issue of concern is that some working methods may have become an impediment to the smooth functioning of the Council, rather than improving its efficiency. Considerable time is spent in meetings addressing issues such as invitations to member states (rule 37) and to briefers (rule 39), how quickly meetings should be convened, and reaching agreement on the programme of work. Informal guidelines on some of the more controversial issues may allow members to move past procedural squabbles to substantive matters. 

The implementation of Note 507 and subsequent presidential notes remains an overarching issue. While a number of last year’s 12 presidencies made commitments on their implementation of Note 507, but only a few made these commitments public. Annexing such commitments to the monthly presidency assessments, as Switzerland did, is a possible option for improving the transparency of these commitments. The assessments could also provide an analytical summary of how well the commitments were executed. Looking ahead, the IWG could identify under-implemented aspects of Note 507 and encourage presidencies to address them.  

An immediate key issue is the adoption of a new Note 507 before the end of 2024, when Japan leaves the Council. Given the delicate negotiations needed for agreement on the presidential notes since 2017, some members seem likely to resist changes to the language of these notes. Likewise, attempts to include new substance or revise agreed language in Note 507 could complicate and prolong negotiations. 

A continuing issue is reform of the informal system of penholder arrangements. The presidential note on penholders reflects a trend towards expanding penholders beyond the P3, including the pledge to make “enhanced use” of the expertise of the chairs of subsidiary bodies and members with regional perspectives, and to take this expertise into account when considering members who could serve as penholder or co-penholders. At this early stage of 2024, there has been no discernible shift towards selecting sanctions chairs or regional players as co-penholders. This may be due to the political sensitivities around the selection of some penholders as well as the resources a member requires to be an effective penholder. Incoming members who are keen to play this role may want to propose supportive measures such as being able to shadow current penholders and co-penholders during the three-month period leading up to their Council term.  

The use of the veto remains an impediment to the Council’s ability to take effective action on some of the world’s major crises. With the success of the General Assembly’s veto initiative, and with veto abolition appearing unlikely in the near future, there may be interest in promoting greater accountability for the use of the veto.  

In this connection, member states may seek more substantive reporting on the use of the veto, possibly in a stand-alone section of the annual report that also refers to the Council’s special reports. Overall, member states appear interested in receiving more information on the challenges the Council faced in 2023 and may call for greater analysis in the annual report.  

A long-standing issue is the balance between open and closed meetings, and transparency and confidentiality. Since 2001, public meetings have been the Council’s dominant format, and its 290 public meetings in 2023 marked a five percent increase in the use of this format over 2022, following a 12 percent increase in 2022 compared to 2021, largely due to meetings on Ukraine. Consultations can be useful when there is a willingness to cooperate. In this context, identifying possible issues that could benefit from a closed discussion may be useful.  

Council Dynamics 

The Council’s ability to work efficiently and take effective action has been hampered by deep divisions among some members, which has heightened their recourse to procedural means—working methods—to express unhappiness with the substantive positions of others. The bitter exchanges at the start of some meetings have at times distracted from more substantive matters.  

The elected members, who continue to have a strong, shared interest in working methods, have delivered a joint statement at the last six working methods debates and are expected to do so again in March. Their interest in equitable distribution of work and burden-sharing led to the opening up of co-penholding positions for elected members in 2022 and an E10 draft on penholding in 2023. The P3 appear to have accepted the need for an expansion of this informal arrangement and seem to be working well with some of their co-penholders. China and Russia have publicly supported the expansion of the penholding system, although rarely opting to be penholders themselves.  

Japan has been a leader on working methods since it compiled the existing notes into the first Note 507 in 2006. It is expected to work actively towards reaching agreement on a revised Note 507 before it leaves the Council at the end of the year. Council members Ecuador, Slovenia and Switzerland are also members of the Accountability, Coherence and Transparency Group (ACT): as they have done previously, the ACT Group is expected to make a joint statement at the open debate.  

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Security Council Meeting Records
3 September 2023S/PV.9410 The meeting record was on the Security Council debate on working methods.
General Assembly Documents
30 June 2023A/77/2 This document entails the 2022 Report of Security Report to the General Assembly.
Notes by the President of the Security Council
1 December 2023S/2023/945 This Security Council President’s note was on penholderships.
Security Council Letters
30 December 2023S/2023/1014 This was a letter from the Chair of the Informal Working Group (IWG) on Documentation and Other Procedural Questions to the President of the Security Council, conveying the annual report of the IWG.


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