What's In Blue

Posted Wed 29 Jun 2016

Security Council Elections: Italy and the Netherlands Agree to a Split Term

Yesterday, the General Assembly elected Bolivia, Ethiopia, Kazakhstan and Sweden to serve as non-permanent members of the Security Council for 2017-2018. Italy and the Netherlands were contesting the fifth seat but after five inconclusive rounds of balloting, with the fifth round deadlocked at 95 votes each (with 128 votes or two-thirds majority needed), the two countries announced, that had agreed to split the two-year term. The Western European and Others Group (WEOG) is meeting this morning to endorse the agreement. It seems that a letter to the the President of the General Assembly is under silence till 3 pm, and that voting on the seat will resume tomorrow.

Although the Charter clearly specifies a two-year term for non-permanent members of the Council, split terms started to occur in the late 1950s, as a fall-out from disagreement over regional rotation and associated Cold War politics as well as the aspirations of the newly independent countries, until the Council was enlarged in the mid-1960s. Following multiple inconclusive rounds of voting, the two contenders would agree to split the term. After the end of the first year on the Council, the member that was elected would first withdraw, thus allowing for a by-election to take place in accordance with rule 140 of the rules of procedure of the General Assembly which states:

Should a member cease to belong to a Council before its term of office expires, a by-election shall be held separately at the next session of the General Assembly to elect a member for the unexpired term.

Split terms were first agreed to in 1955, when after 35 rounds of inconclusive voting in the contest between the Philippines and Yugoslavia, the President of the General Assembly, got the two contenders to agree to a split term in order to break the impasse. The order of the term was decided by drawing lots. It was informally agreed that the Philippines would withdraw from the current election but that Yugoslavia would resign after one year, at which point the Philippines would run as the only candidate for that seat. When this decision was presented to the General Assembly, it was met with resistance and the objections and reservations of at least 17 delegations. However, the agreement was upheld and thereafter split terms were occasionally resorted to, validated by the balloting of the General Assembly. The 1960-1961 term was shared between Turkey and Poland, the 1961-1962 term between Ireland-Liberia, the 1962-63 term between Romania and the Philippines, and 1964-65 between Czechoslovakia and Malaysia.

The results of these elections have been contested in the General Assembly, with claims that they did not respect the criteria of equitable geographical distribution contained in Article 23(1) of the UN Charter, but were not blocked.

A split term was also agreed to in a procedure that has been used only once, when non-permanent members were selected following consultations by the President of the General Assembly. On 29 December 1964, there were five members competing for four Council seats. Exceptionally, Malaysia assumed the seat occupied by Czechoslovakia, as the two countries had agreed to a split term after a protracted and inconclusive election in 1963. Four other candidates—Jordan, Mali, Netherlands and Uruguay—were competing for the three remaining seats. (At the time, the Council had eleven members so three seats were contested each year, rather than five.) Foregoing altogether any balloting, which many feared would be inconclusive, the President of the General Assembly proposed to the General Assembly (A/PV.1312) an alternative way of selecting the incoming non-permanent members of the Security Council. Indicating that the procedure would not constitute a precedent, he consulted privately with member states, soliciting their preferences among the candidates anonymously and in writing. In the afternoon of 29 December, the President informed the General Assembly that as a result of his consultations, the Netherlands and Uruguay would assume two-year terms.

Following further consultations, he announced on 30 December that an agreement had been brokered between Jordan and Mali to serve one year each of a split term. The General Assembly did not object to the procedure and the candidates were elected as suggested, although three countries—Albania, Cambodia and Indonesia—expressed reservations about the process. Due to the enlargement of the Security Council in 1965—from 11 to 15 members—Jordan went on to serve a complete two-year term,

It has been more than fifty years since the split term was used as a way of breaking a deadlock. The idea has been suggested in some more recent protracted elections, but never taken up as a serious option. However, it seems that Italy and the Netherlands have partly chosen this solution as a way of showing unity during what the Netherlands foreign minister, Bert Koenders, described as a “complex period for Europe”.

Given current Council dynamics, with elected members often struggling to be effective in a Council dominated by its permanent members, having only one year to make an impact is likely to be a challenge for Italy and the Netherlands. If there is agreement in WEOG to this arrangement, it will be interesting to see whether these members might develop new working methods and cooperation between themselves in order to be effective Council members in a shorter term, or if a year-long Council stint proves to be too short to have much impact on their priority issues.

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