Research Report

The Penholder System


This short report provides background information on a relatively new Security Council practice whereby three permanent members—France, the UK and the US, referred to as the P3—perform ongoing leadership roles on most country-specific and some thematic issues on the Council agenda. The practice has been nicknamed the “penholder system” but the role of a penholder goes beyond the drafting of Council outcomes and includes, with rare exceptions, taking the initiative on all Council activities concerning that situation, such as holding emergency meetings, organising open debates, and leading visiting missions. The penholder also chairs negotiations over a draft and speaks first whenever the Council discusses the issue.

The system of continuous leadership by specific Council members on particular issues seems to have developed gradually over the years and taken root firmly by 2010. While the entire process has been informal, it is possible to trace its development through Security Council documents and other sources. In light of recent, animated discussions regarding the penholder system among current, newly-departed and incoming Council members, Security Council Report has compiled a brief history and analysis of this practice, along with a list of available documents.

To view the full report, please download the PDF.

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