Tomorrow (6 February), the Security Council will hold an open debate on working methods. The Executive Director of Security Council Report, Ian Martin, will be the briefer. While no formal outcome is anticipated, Council president Kuwait, which is the chair of the Informal Working Group on Documentation and Other Procedural Questions, intends to use the Working Group as a vehicle to explore the practical proposals made during the debate, which could be incorporated into the Working Group’s work plan for 2018.
This will be the Council’s first working methods debate since 19 July 2016 (S/PV.7740) and the first one since the adoption of the revised note 507 on 30 August 2017. In a concept note that Kuwait has prepared for the open debate, it has highlighted issues that could serve as a springboard for member state interventions. These include encouraging elected members to serve as penholders (i.e. drafting outcomes on particular issues), underscoring the benefit of open meetings, ensuring that concerned member states not on the Council have a role in informing its decision-making, and more broadly, enhancing the transparency of the Council by improving the flow of information between the Council and the wider membership.
Martin will highlight specific elements of Note 507 that could be integrated more effectively into the Council’s work. Note 507 states that any member of the Council may be a penholder and that more than one member may act as co-penholders, but currently the P3 continue to monopolise the pen on most agenda items. Note 507 also envisages inclusive, substantive negotiations which should ensure that outcomes reflect the constructive ideas and political will of the Council’s full membership. Security Council Report’s recent research report “Security Council Working Methods: Provisional Progress” focuses on the evolution of the Informal Working Group on Documentation and Other Procedural Questions and the various iterations of Notes 507 (2006, 2010 and 2017), and includes an in-depth analysis of the Council’s commitment to engagement with troop- and police-contributing countries and efforts to improve working methods regarding sanctions in the post-Cold War era. Martin will stress the need for more substantive, interactive triangular consultations with troop- and police-contributing countries, and highlight the value of well-planned and strategically timed Council visiting missions.
Many members are expected to stress the importance of full implementation of agreed practices. A number of the issues raised by Kuwait in its concept note are likely to be taken up by member states, including by the Accountability, Coherence and Transparency (ACT) group, comprised of 25 member states striving to encourage improved Security Council working methods.
For several years now, elected members have expressed concern about the penholder system and how it has often excluded them from being part of the negotiating process. The contributions of elected members in spearheading the drafting of outcomes related to humanitarian issues in Syria might be cited as a positive example of how having elected members taking the pen can enhance the Council’s impact. Kuwait and Sweden are the current penholders on humanitarian issues in Syria. The bridging role that elected members can play, particularly on issues where there are deep divisions among the P5, may be highlighted.
Improving engagement between the Council and troop- and police-contributing countries is another longstanding challenge that has garnered considerable attention among Council members, the wider membership, the Secretariat, and UN experts over the years. In spite of repeated attempts by the Secretariat and Council members to improve the quality of these interactions, TCCs/PCCs still maintain that their interactions with the Council are limited and indirect, especially considering that the Secretariat briefs TCCs/PCCs in consultations, while some Council members say that some of TCCs/PCCs demonstrate passivity in these meetings and are reluctant to express their concerns in public. In light of these concerns, some member states might suggest in tomorrow’s meeting ways in which interaction among the Council, the Secretariat and TCCs/PCCs can be improved. Other members may focus on the relationship between the Council and the Peacebuilding Commission and the need for more coordination of briefings and better cooperation.
Some members may cover ways of improving the implementation of sanctions. The discussion might include issues such as how to improve the design of sanctions, and how to ensure that they do not have a negative impact on broader populations and that the Council works more effectively with the wider UN membership, the Secretariat, and regional and sub-regional organisations in their implementation. Members that either are or have been chairs of Council sanctions committees may share their experience of these committees. They may discuss the working methods of sanctions committees, particularly the need for consensus for most decisions, and how this limits the power of the chair.
Another area that might be addressed by members is the Council’s role--and its interactions with the Secretariat--with regard to conflict prevention and mitigation. This could include a focus on how to ensure that the Council and the Secretariat develop an effective, systematic process for sharing timely and relevant information that the Council can act on. Along these lines, some members may choose to use the opportunity to encourage the Secretary-General to use his Article 99 authority to bring information of possible threats to international peace and security to the Council.
An additional matter that may be raised is the veto and the threat of veto. In recent years, a number of veto restraint initiatives have been proposed, particularly in the context of preventing its use in cases in which atrocities are committed or threatened. Concerns about abuse of the veto are particularly timely, given that the six vetoes cast in 2017 were the most since 1988.