This afternoon (Thursday, 21 June), the Informal Working Group on Documentation and other Procedural Questions (IWG) will hold its second formal meeting since Kuwait took over the chairmanship of the IWG in January.
Assuming the chairmanship soon after the Security Council issued its most comprehensive compendium of working methods, presidential note S/2017/507, Kuwait decided to hold an open debate on working methods during its February presidency before deciding on the IWG work plan for the year (S/PV.8175). As stated in the concept note, the debate was being held in order “to afford all Member States the opportunity to provide practical proposals that contribute to enhancing the efficiency of the working methods of the Security Council” (S/2018/66).
Following the debate, in which 57 member states spoke, Kuwait held a formal meeting of the IWG to solicit feedback and input from its members. It subsequently prepared a summary of views and proposals presented in the open debate that was grouped thematically and listed member states that made the specific comments. Through 5 April letters to the Secretary-General and the President of the Security Council, Kuwait requested that the summary be issued as a document of the Council and General Assembly (A/72/849-S/2018/399). In addition, based on input from members, Kuwait produced a non-paper with proposals for the IWG to consider and circulated it to Council members in late April.
The key point of the agenda for this afternoon’s discussion will be a revised version of the chair’s non-paper. The non-paper contains several proposals stemming from the open debate on issues, including penholdership, subsidiary bodies of the Council, Council visiting missions, Council meetings, and Council consultations. The proposals built on and also went beyond what had been articulated in last year’s note 507, notably on the issues of the penholder system and on designating chairs of Council subsidiary bodies. The non-paper was discussed during an informal meeting of the IWG on 27 April and in the course of further consultations conducted by the chair.
The dynamics that emerged during discussions of the non-paper suggest a fundamental difference of opinion between most permanent and elected members as to what the IWG should be focusing on in 2018. Most permanent members seem to prefer focusing on the implementation of note 507 rather than striving to agree on additional practices or modifying the agreements achieved previously. Several elected members feel strongly that there is a need to continue working on several aspects of the Council’s current practice, especially those related to burden-sharing, including in the chairmanship of subsidiary bodies and the penholder arrangements.
Several elected members have argued that subsidiary bodies of the Council should be chaired by all Council members rather than just the elected members. They also have suggested further improvements to the process of appointing the chairs. Until 2016, the appointment of chairs was undertaken by the P5, with little or no consultation with the elected members. Following months of difficult negotiations within the IWG—with the P5 resisting the change—a new practice was agreed, and in the last two years, the appointments have been handled jointly by one permanent member and the chair of the IWG, with some consultations with the elected and incoming members. The new proposals include making the process of designating chairs more inclusive and transparent and giving the IWG as a whole a role. The P5 have been reluctant to make further changes to the process and, despite some precedents, have been unwilling to take on chairmanships of subsidiary bodies in the last several years.
On the issue of penholders, there has been considerable frustration among the elected members. In 2014, a note by the President acknowledged that any Council member may serve as a penholder or co-penholder; the 2017 note 507 restated this agreement. Yet the system has remained unchanged, with the P3 (France, the UK and the US) holding the pen on nearly all situation-specific issues. During the open debate and in subsequent discussions, several member states argued that penholdership should be distributed among permanent and non-permanent members. Among arguments for expanding the pool of penholders beyond the current three were the need for better burden-sharing and the enhanced expertise of the drafters that would result from involving as co-penholders representatives of the region in question and member states chairing the relevant sanctions committees. Unlike in several other working methods-related issues, the P5 are split on this matter, with the P3 seeing no need for major changes and Russia being consistently on the record as being critical of the arrangement.
Last week, Russia circulated a draft note by the President with changes to the penholder system with the stated aim to enhance Council effectiveness. The Russian draft says that all Council members should serve as penholders or co-penholders and proposes that the process of designating penholders should be similar to that of appointing chairs of Council subsidiary bodies and should ideally be completed by 1 October. The meeting this afternoon will provide Council members the first opportunity to share comments on the Russian proposal.