What's In Blue

Kosovo: Possible Briefing under the “Maintenance of International Peace and Security” Agenda Item*

This afternoon (28 March), the Security Council may convene for a briefing under the “Maintenance of international peace and security” agenda item. Russia requested the meeting to mark the 25th anniversary of the aerial bombing campaign carried out by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY) during the Kosovo War in 1999. At the time of writing, it was uncertain if the briefing would take place as scheduled, since one or more Council members may request a procedural vote in an effort to block the meeting. If the meeting takes place, Assistant Secretary-General for Africa in the Departments of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs and Peace Operations (DPPA-DPO) Martha Ama Akyaa Pobee will brief, while Kosovo and Serbia are likely to participate under rule 39 and rule 37 of the Council’s provisional rules of procedure, respectively.


Russia requested this afternoon’s briefing after a meeting it requested on the same topic, except under the “Threats to international peace and security” agenda item, that was scheduled for Monday (25 March) did not take place as scheduled because it did not receive sufficient support from Council members. A procedural vote on the meeting’s provisional agenda requested by France did not garner the requisite support, receiving three votes in favour (Algeria, China, and Russia) and 12 abstentions. Procedural votes require a minimum of nine votes in favour to be adopted and are not subject to a veto by permanent Council members. (For background on the topic of the meeting and commemorative Council meetings, see our 24 March What’s in Blue story.)

At the outset of Monday’s briefing, French Permanent Representative Nicolas de Rivière said that several Council members have expressed reservations about the initiative put forth by Russia without having consulted with regional actors, including Serbia. In this regard, he said that the Security Council does not convene to consider an agenda item “unilaterally imposed by one country”. De Rivière also pointed out that, during the 6 March meeting held under “any other business” (AOB) that France requested to discuss Russia’s proposed meeting, suggestions were made for Russia to convene the briefing in an informal format such as an Arria-formula meeting.

Emphasising that the responsibility of the Council is to maintain international peace and security, De Rivière stressed that “it is hard to see how today’s meeting would meet that requirement”. He added that getting involved in “pure rhetorical perspectives or marking milestones” is not in the Council’s purview, while citing Russia’s statement at the 8 July 2015 briefing to mark the 20th anniversary of the Srebrenica genocide. At that meeting, Russia questioned the need for holding such a meeting, arguing that the Council should “let historians analyse the vicissitudes of the conflict in the former Yugoslavia and its genesis, including the role of the various countries and alliances that took hasty decisions”, adding that the Council should not immerse itself in “historical events” for it faces “too many unresolved issues in the contemporary world”.

Russian Permanent Representative Vassily Nebenzia objected to France’s request for a procedural vote, arguing that Japan, as March’s Council President, had already “convened the meeting through the political coordinators network”. Noting that the meeting had already been included in the Council’s provisional programme of work for March, Nebenzia suggested that this meant that the presidency “had already issued their preliminary decision, ruling on whether to convene the meeting or not”. As such, he argued that the procedural vote should determine which Council members “question the ruling of the presidency”, proposing the formulation of the question of the procedural vote as “who amongst the members of the Security Council is objecting to this meeting today?”.

France countered by noting that Monday’s meeting was not on the provisional programme of work adopted by the Council on 1 March, but rather was requested by Russia following its adoption. De Rivière suggested that the decision on whether to convene a meeting that is not on the provisional programme of work, as adopted by the Council at the start of each month, is not the prerogative of a single member nor of the presidency, but rather such decisions belong “collectively to all members of the Council”. He then suggested that, since the question on whether to convene the meeting was never posed to Council members, a procedural vote on the adoption of the agenda should be conducted.

The procedural vote at Monday’s (25 March) briefing, which was formulated as “those in favour of adopting the provisional agenda ‘Threats to international peace and security’ for the meeting, raise your hand”, failed to be adopted. Russia argued that since the Council did not vote on whether to hold the meeting itself, but rather on the agenda item for the meeting, then it will propose the meeting under a different agenda item. Subsequently, Russia immediately requested that the briefing be convened under the “Maintenance of international peace and security” agenda item. Moreover, Russia argued that Monday’s procedural vote discredited the Security Council president’s rulings, suggesting that any “written communication from the presidency”, including via the political coordinators network is no longer trustworthy. As such, Russia said that it will insist that the agenda of all Council meetings be approved by a procedural vote, referring to this as the “De Rivière clause”.

At the time of writing, Russia had requested a procedural vote to adopt the provisional agenda for every meeting since the blocked 25 March briefing. This includes the 26 March briefing on “The situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question” and the briefing by the chair of the 1540 Committee; the 27 March briefing on the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC); and today’s (28 March) vote on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). The provisional agenda for each of these meetings was adopted unanimously.

At the outset of each of these meetings, Russia cited what it perceived as the “procedural precedent” set by France. Russia reiterated its view that the procedural vote was held on the agenda item despite “the Japanese Presidency [having] previously scheduled the meeting” and it being on the Council’s provisional programme of work. As such, Russia said that it will continue insisting that the Security Council “take decisions regarding meetings in the Chamber only” until “we agree on a normal modus operandi”.

On 27 March, after the consultations on the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF), Council members convened for a meeting under AOB, at Russia’s request, to discuss procedural questions related to the adoption of the agenda of Council meetings. It appears that at that meeting, Russia proposed that Japan formulate the question for the procedural vote at today’s briefing as “who objects to holding today’s meeting”, saying that this reverts to the normal practice of no-objection for the adoption of the provisional agenda of meetings. Otherwise, it seems that Russia said that it will see a need to put the agenda of every meeting, including signature events of Council presidencies, to a procedural vote. Some members have speculated that such a move may not be favourable to Russia, since many of its initiated meetings, typically on highly politicised issues such as Ukraine, may not garner the requisite support if put to a procedural vote. At yesterday’s AOB, some members apparently said that their positions remain unchanged, noting that, on the basis of Monday’s procedural vote, the majority of Council members agree with the view expressed by France.

Today’s Briefing

At this afternoon’s meeting, some Council members are expected to argue that Russia is intentionally misrepresenting the Council’s provisional rules of procedure. These members may note that while the Security Council president may schedule a requested meeting in line with rule 2 of the Council’s provisional rules of procedure, it is the prerogative of the Council as a whole, and not the Council president, to determine whether to convene the meeting by adopting its provisional agenda. These members may argue that scheduling the meeting via the political coordinators net does not constitute a ruling on convening the meeting, as Russia contends. In this regard, rule 9 of the Council’s provisional rules of procedure states that “the first item of the provisional agenda for each meeting of the Security Council shall be the adoption of the agenda”. These members may argue that, recognising there was insufficient support for the meeting, Russia should have withdrawn its request.

At the time of writing, it seemed likely that there would not be sufficient votes in favour of proceeding with the meeting.

Resorting to procedural votes has been associated with considerable acrimony for several Council members. Procedural votes became more frequent starting in December 2014, when a vote was taken on adding the situation in the DPRK to the Council’s agenda. As at 25 March, 18 more procedural votes have taken place since, ten of them on the adoption of the agenda for a meeting. Of these ten, seven led to the adoption of the agenda, and four to the rejection of the agenda in question.


Post-script: The meeting to mark the 25th anniversary of NATO’s bombing of Yugoslavia was blocked. France requested a procedural vote, which asked those in favour of adopting the provisional agenda to raise their hand. It received six votes in favour (Algeria, China, Guyana, Mozambique, Russia, and Sierra Leone) and nine abstentions.

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