What's In Blue

Working Methods Open Debate

On Monday (26 November), the Security Council is scheduled to hold an open debate on its working methods. This will be the fifth open debate on this topic (the first one was held in 1994). No Council outcome is anticipated.

There have been notable Council working methods developments since the last open debate under Portugal’s presidency almost one year ago (see SCR’s “In Hindsight” on that debate). Yet many member states are of the view that although the issue of working methods has received attention in 2012, there has not been enough satisfactory progress on the core matters raised in last year’s open debate.

Several members seem likely to welcome the holding of the open debate—which is being convened at India’s initiative as Council President—and its emergence as an annual fixture on the Council’s programme of work. Member states are also likely to acknowledge the steps taken in the last 12 months towards the implementation of Note 507—the primary Council document compiling Council working methods—and the steps taken towards making more efficient and effective use of Council resources, aimed at saving money and time, as addressed in a 5 June Presidential Note (S/2012/402). Council members are also likely to highlight progress made in spacing out the Council’s mandate renewals to avoid spikes at certain times of the year.

Notwithstanding those developments, several delegations are likely to focus their statements on the areas where progress has not been made since the last open debate. These include the process of designation of chairs of the Council’s subsidiary bodies, namely the sanctions committees and ad hoc bodies. Those are generally chaired by elected Council members, but in effect are designated by the P5. Several member states have advocated for the matter to be openly discussed among all Council members. (This was an issue that several elected members had hoped to see progress on during the recent Finnish Workshop, but apparently there was little change in the status quo.)

Another matter that some members may focus on, and which has been discussed at length in the informal working group that discusses working methods, relates to the “pen-holders” or lead countries on Council issues. At press time, agreement had not been reached on issuing a presidential note addressing this and the designation of chairs issue, although several attempts have been made since the summer to do so.

The concept note prepared by India and Portugal—the latter being the chair of the informal working group—in advance of Monday’s open debate encourages suggestions regarding practical measures aimed at further enhancing transparency, efficiency and the Council’s interaction with member states. It mentions recurring proposals that delegations may wish to raise, including more flexible use of meeting formats, enhancing interaction and dialogue with regional organisations, more fruitful and focused discussions with troop-contributing countries, as well as improving the Council’s interaction with the Peacebuilding Commission, especially the chairs of its country-specific configurations.

Other practices in the concept note that have also been raised in the informal working group, which might be addressed on Monday, are adjusting, when appropriate, the open debate format to promote wider and more meaningful participation. This includes the suggestion of reducing the length of meetings through briefer interventions, as well as inviting non-Council members to make statements first, or alternate their statements with those of the Council members. (This was discussed in advance of last year’s open debate but was not implemented – seemingly due to reluctance on the part of a permanent member.) Additional issues that could be raised include the lack of progress in making monthly written assessments by Council Presidents more substantive and possibly encouraging them to provide member states with “wrap-up” sessions.

Several member states may be interested in hearing from the members of the Small 5 (S5)—comprising Costa Rica, Jordan, Liechtenstein, Singapore and Switzerland—following the group’s attempt within the General Assembly to make recommendations to the Council concerning its practices through the adoption of a resolution A/66/L.42/Rev.2. (Ultimately, the draft resolution was withdrawn on 16 May without a vote following pressure from the permanent members who were asserting their position that the Council alone is responsible for adopting its procedure.) There may be particular interest in next steps for the S5, including the possible reconfiguration of the grouping.

During Monday’s open debate, some members may also consider suggesting a name change of the informal working group from its current clunky nomenclature (the “Informal Working Group on Documentation and Other Procedural Questions”), to something more descriptive such as the ‘Informal Working Group on Council Procedures.’

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