What's In Blue

Posted Mon 18 Jul 2016

Working Methods Debate

Tomorrow (19 July), the Japanese Presidency will hold an open debate on the working methods of the Security Council. The debate is taking place on the 10th anniversary of the adoption of the Note by the President of the Security Council S/2006/507, produced under the leadership of Japan in 2006. This was the first Council document compiling its working methods that had been developed and agreed over the years. Tomorrow’s debate is expected to garner high interest from the membership at large. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will address the debate.

The working methods of the Security Council have been a constantly evolving area, making it necessary for the Council to articulate new practices and review those that have changed. When it returned for the 2009/2010 term on the Council, Japan held again the chairmanship of the Informal Working Group on Documentation and other Procedural Questions (IWG) – the Council subsidiary body with a focus on working methods – and elaborated an updated version of the 2006 document, Note S/2010/507. Since that update, the IWG, under the chairmanships of different elected members, has issued 13 Notes on different aspects of Council working methods. The concept note prepared for the debate on Tuesday (S/2016/585) sees the debate as an opportunity “to look at the implementation of Note 507 and other relevant notes to identify successful practices as well as possible shortcomings, and consider making necessary adjustments”. The concept note provides modalities aimed at effective use of time during the debate, and while not suggesting limiting the interventions to specific topics, it urges that each statement be focused on up to three issues. Members are expected to address a wide range of issues.

Members are likely to want to discuss the implementation of working methods documents that have been recently adopted but not fully implemented. One example of particular interest to elected Council members is Note S/2014/268 regarding the penholder system. This stated that any member of the Council could be the penholder, and encouraged all members to draft outcomes such as resolutions or presidential statements. Nevertheless, the domination of the penholder system by permanent members France, the UK and the US has remained largely unchanged. Another document that speakers may choose to refer to is the presidential statement on working methods adopted in October 2015 (S/2015/59), which among other things took note of efforts of the IWG “to enhance the transparency of its activities, including by the Chair providing regular briefings to interested Member States, in consultation with its members”, and encouraged the IWG “to make further progress in this regard”. Council transparency, including specifically with respect to its working methods, has been over the years of particular interest to member states not on the Council.
It is likely that several speakers will welcome the adoption on 15 July of the Note by the President (S/2016/619) concerning newly elected members during the transitional period between the election and the beginning of the term.

With the election of the new five Council members being conducted for the first time in June (instead of October), Japan as chair of the IWG decided to focus the attention of the IWG on how the newly elected members can best take advantage of the extended pre-Council period to prepare themselves for the demands of their two-year term, with a goal of issuing a presidential note on this matter by the time of the election. The IWG began discussing the topic in late April and the first version of the draft note was produced in early May. Issues covered in the document included the preparation of the newly elected members, in particular the starting date for the incoming members to be able to attend closed meetings of the Council and the selection of the chairs of subsidiary organs of the Council. Currently all these organs are chaired by elected Council members, and until now chairs have been appointed through a decision of the permanent members, with little or no consultation with the individuals concerned and very late in the year, making it hard for the incoming missions to secure the right expertise within their teams or even have a proper handover from the exiting chair to the incoming one.

The early May draft stipulated that new members would start attending Council meetings as of 1 October, and that by that time, the chairs of the subsidiary bodies would be decided through a process facilitated by the President of the Security Council. Both elements proved to be highly controversial, with Russia uncomfortable with a blanket invitation to newly elected members to attend all Council meetings, and the US reluctant to have the Council president facilitate the process of appointing the chairs of the subsidiary bodies. Consensus, needed for the Note to be adopted, proved to be extremely hard to achieve. Over the next several weeks the chair of the IWG conducted extensive consultations and produced several versions of the draft. Nearly all members of the Council submitted proposals in writing by email or bilaterally to the IWG chair and in at least one case bilateral consultations were held between two members, New Zealand and the US, over the selection process for the chairs.

The compromise text that cleared silence on Friday stipulates that new members will be invited to attend all Council meetings as of 1 October, with a caveat that the “Security Council will not invite the newly elected members to a specific private meeting of the Council or specific informal consultations of the whole if so requested by a member of the Council where exceptional circumstances exist”. Furthermore, the new members “will not be invited to the meetings of the Security Council or the informal consultations of the whole related to the selection and appointment of the Secretary-General”. The target date for appointing the chairs of the subsidiary bodies is 1 October, and the process “will be facilitated jointly by two members of the Security Council in full cooperation”. The unwritten understanding is that the two members in question will be the chair of the IWG and one permanent member.

The process and the timing of appointing chairs of the Council subsidiary bodies have been raised regularly during the last several years in all open debates on working methods and described as critically important by current, past and prospective elected Council members. Thus, during the open debate on Tuesday, members may comment on the new arrangements and may wish to urge full implementation of these newly agreed practices.

With the first straw poll on the candidates for the post of the next Secretary-General expected later in the week, it is also likely that several members not on the Council will bring up the evolving practices related to the process, and in particular may raise questions about transparency with respect to the results of the straw polls.
While no outcome is expected, Japan, according to the concept note, “intends to follow up the discussions in the open debate, especially the specific practical suggestions made in the debate, in the deliberations of the Informal Working Group on an updated Note 507, to be adopted in due course”.

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