“Hitting the ground running”: tenth annual workshop for newly elected members of the Security Council
15 and 16 November 2012
Arrowwood Conference Center
Rye Brook, New York
The Government of Finland, in cooperation with the Joan B. Kroc School of Peace Studies of the University of San Diego and the Security Council Affairs Division of the United Nations Secretariat, convened the tenth annual workshop for the newly elected members of the Security Council on 15 and 16 November 2012.
Each November, the workshops have served to help familiarize the newly elected members with the practice, procedure, and working methods of the Security Council so that they are in a position to “hit the ground running” when they join the Council the following January. The series has also provided current members of the Council with an opportunity to reflect on their work in an informal setting.
To mark the tenth anniversary of the launching of this initiative, the opening evening featured a gala dinner for the Permanent Representatives of countries that had participated in past workshops as well as those participating in the current one. Ambassador Jarmo Viinanen, Permanent Representative of Finland, gave a welcoming address, followed by opening remarks by United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, a keynote by Dr. Henry A. Kissinger, and closing remarks by Ambassador Hardeep Singh Puri, Permanent Representative of India and President of the Security Council for the month of November 2012.
The full-day programme on 16 November included three round-table sessions that focused on the following themes:
I. State of the Council 2012: taking stock and looking ahead
II. Working methods and subsidiary bodies
III. Lessons learned: reflections of the class of 2012
Following welcoming remarks by Ambassador Jarmo Viinanen, Permanent Representative of Finland to the United Nations, United Nations Secretary-GeneralBan Ki-moon commented on the enduring value of the workshop series and the contributions the incoming members could make both to the work of the Security Council and to the larger peace and security agenda of the United Nations. Each non-permanent member, he underlined, brings its own expertise, experience, and knowledge to the Security Council table. Each contributes through chairing subsidiary bodies of the Council, planning thematic debates, and bringing fresh perspectives to Council deliberations and consultations. In recent years, noted the Secretary-General, non-permanent members have helped the Council to address a wider range of critical issues, such as climate change, that affect political and economic stability and the prospects for maintaining international peace and security. He stressed the fundamental importance of achieving unity of voice in the Council, because it conditions not only its effectiveness but also that of the Secretary-General and others in helping to advance its agenda. We continue to see a wide variation in outcomes, he commented, depending on the degree to which the Council has been able to find a unified voice on the issue at hand.
Dr. Henry A. Kissinger responded to a series of questions posed by Dr. Edward C. Luck, Dean of the Joan B. Kroc School of Peace Studies of the University of San Diego. Dr. Luck asked, given Dr. Kissinger’s unusually rich combination of scholarship and high-level diplomatic experience, whether he believed the value of the Council derived more from its role in facilitating an enduring concert of great powers or in permitting a geographically representative group of Member States to address global peace and security issues. In light of these dual functions, what would be his preferred formula for the Council’s future composition? Dr. Kissingernoted that he had dealt with such questions much more from the perspective of a concert of great powers. Indeed, as Secretary of State, he never participated in Security Council deliberations or debates. Then, as now, various UN ambassadors expressed their opinions quite openly and starkly. However, he continued, over time a growing range of issues with security implications, such as the environment, have required global consideration. The attitude that security issues always require prior agreement among the great powers has become increasingly anachronistic.
According to Dr. Kissinger, the eventual enlargement of the Security Council is inevitable. The challenge, in his view, is how to expand the number of countries around the table without increasing the number with veto power. Likewise, he underlined the need to find incentives to encourage the permanent members to refrain from casting vetoes when they continue to have at least symbolic importance.
Dr. Luck commented that the Council was likely to play a critical role in 2013 on two of the highest-stakes matters on the global agenda: Iran and North Korea and their nuclear ambitions. What would Dr. Kissinger counsel the members of the Council on those situations? Dr. Kissingeragreed that these situations are and will remain absolutely critical. North Korea, he acknowledged, had preoccupied him precisely because of its isolation. Something dramatic could happen there that could have great consequences, yet be largely beyond the influence of the great powers. What might the United Nations do, he queried? He pointed out that the Secretary-General could play an essential mediating role, should that be needed. Sometimes it is easier to obtain agreement on a fact-finding mission under the authority of the United Nations. In his view, China does not want nuclear weapons in North Korea, but it also does not want to pressure the regime in Pyongyang to the point where it feels that its future is threatened and the status of the Korean Peninsula is opened up.
Turning to Iran, Dr. Kissinger suggested that there is reason to believe that some form of bilateral talks with Iran is in prospect. The five permanent members of the Council have made their common view clear. Part of the issue is technical, and there the IAEA has played an essential role by providing inspectors. The ultimate question, Dr. Kissinger suggested, is whether Iran is prepared to accept genuine restrictions on its military capacity and potential. What kind of international guarantees and assurances could one give to Iran? He noted that the US administration would have to overcome considerable domestic opposition to any formal bilateral talks, so their technical facilitation by the United Nations or another group could be helpful. The world body has often been useful in providing forums for discussion. Dr. Kissinger reiterated that domestic political considerations in the United States could be critical factors, but that the political debate had hardly started yet. President Obama, he speculated, might want to deal with Iran very early in his second term. If so, the United Nations could play a part in the technical assessment of uranium levels.
Dr. Luck pointed out that the Council had been devoting more attention to human rights and humanitarian issues, including human protection and the responsibility to protect, in recent years. It had dealt with them in different ways in the cases of Libya and Syria. Did Dr. Kissinger believe, he asked, that such concerns should have a prominent place on the Council’s agenda or should they be addressed primarily in other bodies, such as the Human Rights Council, ECOSOC, or the General Assembly? Dr. Kissinger reminded the audience that as a child he lived in a dictatorship as a member of a minority that was discriminated against. He commented that, while he does not normally approach international security from this perspective, he could have easily been persuaded to undertake an international intervention to prevent the genocide in Rwanda. He did not support, however, the intervention in Libya. He had been uneasy about it but did not feel it was appropriate to comment publicly while the US was engaged in a conflict. His concern had been that there would be the kind of negative outcomes that we have since seen.
According to Dr. Kissinger, problems tend to arise when the United Nations intervenes in situations with wider geopolitical implications, as in Syria. Some countries are reluctant to see the world body set a precedent by intervening in situations that they deem to be essentially domestic. In Syria, he questioned whether one should begin the political process by demanding that President Bashar al-Assad leave office. In such a situation, he would prefer to separate political and humanitarian issues. In his view, the brutal domination by the Alawites is unacceptable, but one needs to recognize that there is an ongoing struggle among ethnic groups for predominance in their country. Therefore, it might be better, he contended, for the international community to focus not just on the government, but instead on what outcome it seeks: dominance by the Sunni majority or a situation that will permit the autonomy and security of groups within the society? It is not helpful, he cautioned, to advocate outcomes that would represent a total victory by one side or the other, since such scenarios would risk horrible carnage. He called instead for consideration of a range of possible outcomes. He suggested, as well, that there should be a Russian-American dialogue on Syria that does not begin with the premise that the overthrow of the government is necessarily a good thing. The United Nations could facilitate such a dialogue. With the election campaign behind him, President Obama can now take a fresh look at Syria from a longer-term perspective. In conclusion, Dr. Kissinger stressed that he strongly favors efforts to protect minorities.
Dr. Kissinger then responded to questions from two of the Permanent Representatives with experience serving on the Security Council. Describing the Council’s inability to do anything to stop the killing in Syria as “appalling,” one asked how a political dialogue might be established. According to Dr. Kissinger, such a dialogue could be initiated by the parties or imposed from the outside. The first option is preferable, but the fighting would not be continuing if dialogue was possible. A second option would be to raise and deploy an international force to stop the fighting and compel a political solution. He had been in Korea in 1952, however, and four times he had witnessed the United States going to war with wide political support and then eventually having to withdraw rather unconditionally. Since American involvement is usually a prerequisite for a successful military outcome, one should assess soberly at the outset how long the US is likely to be able to sustain its military commitment to such a conflict. The struggle in Syria has deep religious and ethnic dimensions, he noted, so it is difficult to envision who would want to participate in a military intervention. Therefore, political dialogue has to be the key. It is not enough, however, to come up with a scheme and to try to impose it. As Moscow learned in Afghanistan, and Washington is learning as well, you have to structure a viable government. The premise of the question was right in the abstract, Dr. Kissinger commented, but it was difficult to envision any collection of forces that could successfully impose peace.
The final question to Dr. Kissinger concerned what the Arab countries might do to add momentum to the stalled peace process in the Middle East. In response, he noted that one of the reasons for the complexity of the situation is that Israel is predominant militarily but threatened geopolitically. Governments led by the Muslim Brotherhood are emerging in the area and it remains to be seen whether they will accept Israel’s existence. Dr. Kissinger urged Arab states to create an atmosphere that would make a situation of coexistence plausible, just as Anwar Sadat acted to ease the psychological atmosphere. At times, however, events of the Arab Spring have made it difficult to express such views. His preference would be for a one-shot negotiation, something that would be difficult, if not impossible, to achieve. It would create a Palestinian state and leave issues related to refugees and Jerusalem to a later stage, while establishing the principle that these refugees are not Israelis. Dr. Kissinger agreed that the United States is a critical player in the Middle East, but he questioned whether the key to success is for the United States to throw its full weight behind the peace process. To him, a change in Arab attitudes is essential given that the psychological dimension is critical to forward movement. If the challenge from Iran were to become more acute and imminent, however, difficult and courageous decisions would have to be made and, in his view, the Palestinian issue should be part of those decisions.
Ambassador Hardeep Singh Puri made closing remarks in his capacity as President of the Security Council. He thanked the Government of Finland warmly for hosting this series of “Hitting the Ground Running” Workshops, noting that they have made a greater contribution to the work of the Council over the past decade than any non-permanent member could hope to make in a single two-year term. He found Dr. Kissinger’s reference to the need for additional permanent members to be music to his ears. Though the Council produces an impressive number and range of outcomes, Ambassador Puri commented, it needs to assess whether it is making sufficient difference on the ground. The world needs the Council both to work well and to make a real difference, he underscored, for it has the primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security. The critical importance of our work should be borne in mind, he concluded, when we have impassioned debates about women, peace, and security or children and armed conflict, as well as when we find ourselves pursuing short-term matters of national interest at the expense of the longer-term purposes for which the Council was established.
State of the Council 2012: taking stock and looking ahead
Ambassador Masood Khan
Permanent Representative of Pakistan
Ambassador Martin Briens
Deputy Permanent Representative of France
Ambassador Alexander A. Pankin
First Deputy Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation
Ambassador Tofig Musayev
Permanent Representative of Azerbaijan
Ambassador Rosemary DiCarlo
Deputy Permanent Representative of the United States
There was broad agreement that in 2012, as before, the degree to which the Council had been able to fulfill its primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security had depended heavily on the extent to which there was unity among Council members on how to proceed in each situation. A number of speakers commented on the fact that, despite public perceptions of a deeply divided Council, the members found common ground on most issues and 2012 had been a relatively successful and active year for the Council. It was natural, noted one participant, that public attention was drawn to cases of serious division within the Council, as over Syria. Nevertheless, according to one speaker, the spirit of consensus still remained in the Council on most matters in 2012, as manifested in its united approach to the situations in Timor-Leste, Mali, South Sudan, Haiti, among others. One interlocutor, however, questioned whether unanimity should always be the goal, since the Council is not an omnipotent body that was expected to address all security-related issues.
Most participants drew the balance sheet of cases of Council success and failure in 2012 in similar ways. Many identified the Council’s engagement in Somalia, Sudan/South Sudan, Yemen, and Libya as relatively successful, despite the continuing challenges in each of those situations. The Council’s support of elections and post-conflict transition processes in Libya, Liberia, Cȏte d’Ivoire, and Haiti was praised by one interlocutor. Though the situation in Haiti was still difficult, commented another discussant, the Council had at least demonstrated a capacity to adjust its posture and operations as conditions evolved there. One delegate commended the Council for delivering a quick, clear, and united message to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) following its missile test, even though it was unable to prevent it.
Speakers agreed, as well, that the Council’s worst failures in 2012 were in Syria and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). According to one of them, the sense of unity in the Council “hit a wall” in Syria, while another termed its performance there a “permanent stain” on the Council’s reputation. As discussed below, there were divergent explanations for the Council’s inability to stop the violence or promote a sustainable peace there. In the view of one discussant, the Council’s biggest failure was its inability to facilitate peace agreements in the Middle East, Syria, and Kosovo. This, it was asserted, could undermine the reputation and credibility of the United Nations.
In terms of Syria, several participants pointed to the vetoing of two draft resolutions as symbolic of the Council’s failure to take effective action to stop the violence, while others emphasized the need to take a more strategic and balanced approach to the problems there. Terming the situation the most important question facing the Council, one commentator warned that Syria “was going down in flames,” with huge consequences for the stability of the region as well as for the people of Syria. The five permanent members of the Council should demonstrate stronger leadership on Syria, contended a second participant. More and more people are dying while the permanent five fail to agree on an effective course of action. Another delegate countered that the casting of vetoes had hardly been the only problem with the Council’s approach. Rather than taking a longer-term and more strategic approach to the crisis, some delegations had favored a “quick-fix approach,” based on the false assumption that a dictatorship could be quickly turned into a democracy regardless of whether or not the material conditions for a working democracy exist on the ground in Syria. One speaker, while acknowledging that deep divisions had prevented the Council from adopting more results-oriented actions in Syria, pointed out that the members of the Council had searched for common ground on the issues, agreeing to a series of resolutions, Presidential Statements, and press statements and providing political support for the mediation efforts of the Joint Special Envoys. Despite their geopolitical differences and distinct conceptions of sovereignty, noted another commentator, all members of the Council favor a political solution over a military one in Syria.
A participant lamented that in the DRC there had been no reduction in the violence against civilian populations, despite the presence of the United Nations’ largest peacekeeping operation. In that delegate’s view, this reflected, in part, the Council’s limited and inconsistent attention span, while the cyclical violence there seemed to surge every three to four years. Another discussant asserted that there had been five peace operations over the past fifty-five years in the DRC and that the Council needed to find a better way of dealing with the situation. Noting that regional partners had provided a lot of assistance and that a transition there is approaching, another delegate contended that the Council had to do a better job of managing the crisis in the DRC in the future.
There were a range of assessments of the Council’s handling of the peace and security dimensions of the Arab Spring. Though regretting that the members of the Council had been slow to grasp the full security implications of such a profound political transformation, one interlocutor commended their active engagement in those events and their willingness to move beyond an Africa-centric agenda. Another delegate cautioned against generalizations, as the situation in each country in the region was unique. The Council needed to approach each of them individually, on its own merits. It had not needed to become engaged in the transitions in Tunisia and Egypt, for example.
Several participants spoke of the Council’s inability or unwillingness to address the core peace and security issues of the Middle East, such as Gaza. “I do not know how the Council could influence the underlying situation in the Middle East,” commented one delegate, “other than through encouraging bilateral and regional efforts, by assessing the situation each month, and by calling on our peers to do their part. The Council on its own cannot resolve the long-term conflict.”
Several delegates pointed to situations in which it would be premature to assess how successful the Council’s approach would ultimately prove to be. Two participants stressed both that Libya had proven to be a “game-changer” for the Council and that the results to date had been mixed and incomplete. There had been some political progress within Libya, one noted, but the risks posed by the proliferation of arms and political instability in the region as a result of the international intervention had not been sufficiently taken into account. More follow-up was needed, declared another. According to one speaker, her/his delegation had voted for resolution 1973 (2011) in order to protect civilians, not to overthrow the regime of Muammar Gaddafi. Declaring that Libya had been the defining challenge for the Council in 2011, just as Syria had been in 2012, one discussant drew political linkages between them. Resolution 1973 (2011) had been a response to the League of Arab States’ plea to prevent ‘rivers of blood’ from flowing in Benghazi. It called for a ceasefire and other provisions that were not fully implemented. In response, another commentator pointed out that the Council had received conflicting advice from the African Union and the League of Arab States on how to handle Libya. With no such divergence now, the Council should heed the advice of the Arab League on Syria. Seconding that viewpoint, another speaker saw Syria as an opportunity to improve relations between the Council and the League.
One speaker suggested that it was too early to know whether the Council’s engagement with Mali and Guinea-Bissau would succeed, while another commented that Guinea-Bissau had been on the Council’s agenda for a long time and the problem of periodic coups had still not been resolved. A third participant agreed that it would be premature to assess the Council’s efforts vis-à-vis Guinea-Bissau, but asserted that it was evident that the United Nations Office for West Africa of the Department of Political Affairs had not done an adequate job of supplying the Council with timely and accurate information about the course of events there that would have allowed the Council to take early preventive action. According to one discussant, the Council’s engagement with the crisis in Mali was at a critical junction. The Council had acted in collaboration with regional and sub-regional arrangements and it was not too late to prevent the very worst-case scenario for that country. The regional perspective on Mali had been very helpful, concurred another delegate. A participant agreed that the Council had worked well with regional and sub-regional groups on the situation in Mali, but contended that it was too early to be certain whether these efforts would ultimately prove successful.
Several delegates emphasized the importance of the Council employing the full range of tools at its disposal under Chapters VI, VII, and VIII of the Charter, as needed. As in past Workshops, particular attention was given to collaboration with regional and sub-regional organizations and arrangements. As a participant noted, regional organizations often understand a particular situation better than does the Council; however, they frequently face resource constraints and the United Nations should provide them with greater logistical and financial support. Working with the African Union, another speaker asserted, the Council had been able to maintain constant pressure on Sudanese and South Sudanese authorities to respect the provisions of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, as well as on all parties in Somalia. The Council’s relationship with the Peace and Security Council of the African Union had proven productive, as had the useful debates in the Council on cooperation with the African Union and with the League of Arab States. Yes, concurred another interlocutor, the debate on relations with the Arab League had been timely ad helpful. A speaker concurred that the Council had been reasonably effective in situations, such as Yemen and the Sudan, where there was a strong regional organization and the Council was willing to threaten consequences for spoilers and thereby to provide strong support for regional diplomatic initiatives. When neither condition existed, as in Syria, the Council had not been successful. In Yemen, commented another discussant, the Council had been slow to back the diplomatic initiative of the Gulf Cooperation Council, but once it did, things turned for the better.
According to one delegate, the level of Council engagement with a regional organization in a particular situation often depends on the internal dynamics in the Council and on factors relating to realpolitik. Sometimes regional views are taken into account and at other times they are ignored. Another discussant acknowledged that a lot of progress had been made, particularly concerning relations with the African Union, as illustrated by the effective collaboration on the Sudan and South Sudan. On Cȏte d’Ivoire, however, the Council tended to pay more attention to the views of ECOWAS (the Economic Community of West African States) than to those of the African Union, though the former was just a sub-regional body. On Libya, the Council backed the position of the League of Arab States rather than that of the African Union, despite the fact that the votes of the three African members of the Council were critical to the adoption of resolution 1973 (2011).
Underscoring how helpful had been the cooperation of the African Union on Sudan and of the Gulf Cooperation Council on Yemen, a speaker recalled that the primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security was solely vested in the Council. It stands above regional efforts and an overly egalitarian approach would be neither feasible nor desirable. Moreover, the Council should not get involved with questions of subsidiarity between regional and sub-regional organizations. Another participant agreed that working with regional organizations and arrangements could be very productive when they have the same objectives as the Council, but this was not always so. The Council’s mandate under the Charter was unique. Concurring with this point, a discussant underscored that the recommendations from a regional body had to be in synch with the priorities of the members of the Council if they were to have a positive impact. According to one speaker, regional organizations have a different mindset from the Council, in part because they believe that they have a better understanding of developments within their respective regions and a better feel for possible solutions to crises in them. The Council has a larger vision and mandate, so it is important to try to maximize the positive potential and minimize the negative potential of regional-global interaction. Though much has been done to facilitate collaboration between the Council and the African Union, too often divisions within the continent spill over into the Council’s deliberations in unhelpful ways.
Following the pattern of earlier Workshops, there was considerable discussion as well of how the Council could sharpen its tools for prevention. One speaker suggested that the Council’s inability to address the fundamental security challenges in the Middle East demonstrated, once again, that the Council is much better at managing conflicts than at preventing them, resolving them, or doing post-conflict peacebuilding. “At last year’s Hitting the Ground Running Workshop,” the speaker recalled, “we all agreed on the importance of conflict prevention, but when we walked out of the room, we forgot about it.” Others agreed on the need for more of a focus on prevention.
Several delegates commented on the use of horizon-scanning briefings by the Department of Political Affairs as a way of drawing the members’ attention to emerging threats to international peace and security. One underscored their utility in complex situations, such as Mali. Another discussant, acknowledging that horizon-scanning briefings can be controversial, asserted that they can be very useful to the Council’s prevention efforts. For instance, the briefing in February covered Madagascar, the Maldives, and Mali, warning that the situation in Mali was of particular concern.
Others saw the briefings as a potentially useful component of a wider prevention strategy, but suggested that improvements in the way they were conducted were needed. One participant, urging the Secretariat to be more transparent about the sources of information on which the briefings are based, called for the briefings to be more relevant to the work of the Council and less procedural. Another, noting that such briefings can make a contribution to the Council’s understanding of an emerging situation, cautioned that care should be taken on which country situations are addressed in such briefings, given sensitivities and worry in some capitals that this could be the first step toward being added to the Council’s agenda. In response, a discussant acknowledged that countries generally do not want to be the subject of discussion in the Security Council, but pointed out that the Council’s mandate demands that it address sensitive questions. If anything, the Council should consider more, not fewer, situations that could pose a threat to international peace and security. Agreeing that horizon-scanning can be useful, a speaker suggested that such briefings should not be limited to relatively peripheral situations. Why did the Council not hold similar discussions of situations, such as Iran and Gaza, which are more central to the maintenance of international peace and security?
One speaker characterized the practice of only discussing items on the Council’s formal agenda as “absurd,” since the Council cannot do conflict prevention if it is limited to discussing situations of ongoing conflict. The failure of the Council to discuss the conflict in Sri Lanka was said to be “an indictment of this body.” Agreeing, a participant recalled the controversies about raising the situations in Myanmar and Zimbabwe, as well as in Sri Lanka. According to that delegate, “our refusal to discuss a problem does not make it go away.”
A discussant commended the Secretariat for its reports on mediation and the General Assembly for its recent resolutions on the subject. The Council had a good record of trying to utilize a range of mediation and conflict resolution measures in various situations. It had made relatively little use, however, of its authority under Article 36 (1) to recommend appropriate procedures or methods of adjustment. Another delegate pointed to the Council’s support in 2011 of the ASEAN-led mediation of the border dispute between Cambodia and Thailand as an example of successful conflict prevention. Two interlocutors questioned the Council’s capacity to stay focused on long-term conflicts. One suggested that the Council needed to break out of the pattern of returning to situations periodically when a mandate is up for renewal, while failing to ensure the implementation of its decisions in the interim. The lack of follow-up, noted another speaker, meant that the Council tends to focus on a situation at one stage, get over that stage, and then go on to other issues. This had been a problem in the Council’s handling of the situations in Guinea-Bissau and Libya.
A number of delegates underscored the critical role played by the Secretary-General’s Special Representatives and Envoys (SRSGs). The process of selecting SRSGs can be haphazard and their quality varies, noted one interlocutor, yet they can make all the difference on the ground. An effective envoy can make the Council’s task much easier. Concurring, a participant called their quality, capacity, knowledge, and ability to interact with others critical, so their selection process should not be determined by political expediency. Another discussant agreed, commenting that the same care should be given to the choice of non-permanent members of the Council. According to one interlocutor, too often the members have permitted the appointment of ineffective SRSGs, reflecting a preference for having the best people serve at headquarters rather than in the field. The members of the Council can be their own worst enemies when they allow a situation to worsen because of a lack of human or financial resources.
As in previous Workshops, the Council’s relationship to the International Criminal Court (ICC) and other international tribunals was the subject of a number of interventions. Through an ICC referral, remarked a participant, the Council can send a strong message of unity and of concern about serious human rights violations. The lack of consensus on how to handle violations in Syria was a setback, but the ongoing dialogue within the Council on its relations with the ICC was aided by an excellent thematic discussion on 17 October 2012 under Guatemala’s Presidency of the Council. Several others echoed this last point. A discussant commended the Council’s referrals of cases in the Sudan and Libya to the ICC. During the transition in Libya, however, countered a delegate, the referrals to the ICC and serious human rights violations were disregarded. In Syria, to address justice issues properly and to bring criminals to justice would require revamping the whole political and judicial system, things that are well beyond the competence of the Council. So we cannot yet address them. Another interlocutor cautioned against applying only victor’s justice, as had been the case in Cȏte d’Ivoire.
It was pointed out that sanctions, and the way the Council employs them, have become much more sophisticated. When smart sanctions are applied in the context of a broader strategy that utilizes a range of tools, they can be quite effective. This has been the case, for instance, with the freeze on Muammar Gadaffi’s assets and with the sanctions on al-Qaeda and the Taliban. This delegate also praised the Council’s unity and employment of carefully targeted sanctions in the cases of Iran and the DPRK, but noted that the Council’s work in both situations was incomplete. In Afghanistan, as well, there was much unfinished work to consolidate the gains that had been made there. That would remain a central challenge for the Council in 2013. In the view of another discussant, some members seem to be more interested in applying sanctions and enforcement measures than in making full use of the range of peaceful measures, such as mediation, under Chapter VI of the Charter. Sanctions are not always a master key, as sometimes they make a difficult situation even more complicated.
A number of participants commented on the role and contributions of thematic debates to the overall work of the Council. One commented that they were essential expressions of the Council’s normative role and that they served an important informational function as well. Though planning these debates sometimes gets mired in controversy and unnecessary negotiations, they have made critical contributions to the members’ understanding of key issues, such as the Council’s relationship to the ICC and to regional organizations, arms trafficking, new threats, women, peace and security, and children and armed conflict. Some of the permanent members, commented another speaker, are not too keen on thematic debates. Though thematic debates are not always attended by permanent representatives, they should not be viewed as routine, however, as they offer an important opportunity for non-permanent members to add their issues to the Council’s agenda. According to a participant, thematic debates are an important dimension of the Council’s work, but they do not always have to produce agreed statements and the Council does not have a mandate to attempt to legislate each of these matters. Another delegate commented that too often thematic debates are viewed as one-time events, which may be revisited many years later. On some topics, everything has been said and there is nothing to add. It does not have to be that way, replied another participant, if members work together on sustaining interest in a topic. For instance, three delegations had arranged complementary debates on new threats to international peace and security. In that regard, it was suggested that the incoming members consider adding issues of cyber security and climate security to the Council’s agenda.
Several speakers urged more attention to women, peace and security and to children and armed conflict as matters that are central to the Council’s mission. One expressed regret that the matter of children and armed conflict had sparked disagreement. Another urged the members to recognize the relevance of these matters in their consideration of specific conflict situations. For instance, the place of women will be critical to the future of the societies in transition as a result of the Arab Spring. In the case of Libya, it was said that the members had forgotten to mention sexual and gender-based violence in those resolutions. Another participant agreed that the Council should mention women, peace and security and sexual and gender-based violence more frequently in its situation-specific resolutions and statements.
Working methods and subsidiary bodies
Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant
Permanent Representative of the United Kingdom
Ambassador Kofjo Menan
Permanent Representative of Togo
Ambassador Gert Rosenthal
Permanent Representative of Guatemala
Mr. Tian Lin
Counselor, People’s Republic of China
· What are appropriate expectations for the open debate on working methods scheduled for later this month? Can more be done to improve relations between the Council and other UN and non-UN organs, such as the General Assembly, the Human Rights Council, and the International Criminal Court, which are addressing issues of importance to the Council and to the maintenance of international peace and security?
· Assessing the implementation of S/2010/507: what has been accomplished and where is more progress needed? Which further steps to improve the Council’s working methods should receive the highest priority?
· Can more be done to make informal consultations more informal and more interactive?
· Is the system of penholders working as it should? Are there recent examples of where it has worked especially well or sub-optimally?
· Are there ways to make the process of selecting the Chairs of subsidiary bodies more transparent and more interactive? How might newly-elected members be more fully briefed about the expectations and workload associated with heading the various subsidiary bodies?
· Has the use of video teleconferencing , of briefings by a wider range of Secretariat officials, of less formal settings for discussing emerging issues, of the enhanced Council web site, and of the horizon briefings improved the basis for Council decisions? Which of these steps have proven the most useful and which could be improved?
· Has the effort to adjust reporting and mandate cycles, as discussed at last year’s Workshop, rationalized the workload and produced efficiencies? Could more be done along these lines?
At this Workshop, as at some previous ones, several speakers asserted that the Council had proven to be the most adaptable inter-governmental organ in the United Nations in terms of adopting a series of modifications in its working methods to increase efficiency and transparency. A number of participants praised its Informal Working Group on Documentation and Other Procedural Questions for sustaining the effort to make the Council a more efficient, effective, accountable, and transparent body. Despite the substantial weight of ritual, custom, and tradition, commented a participant, there had been some progress each year in improving working methods, including through steps to implement elements of the Note by the President of the Security Council (S/2010/507). Many interlocutors, however, also underlined the need for further progress. One contrasted the extensive deliberations on these matters over the years with the comparatively modest progress that had been made in changing the way the Council goes about its vital work. As a discussant put it, the test is less whether the Council’s procedures appear more efficient than whether they are helping to make it more effective in maintaining international peace and security. That connection is why the effort to improve working methods has proven indispensable. Yes, commented another speaker, what matters is the effect on the Council’s work on the ground.
A number of efficiency measures were identified, including several that had been carried out since the last Workshop. Several participants commended the new practice of not scheduling meetings of the Council on Fridays, if possible, to give more time for members to do preparatory work and for the Council’s committees and working groups to meet. Implementing one of the steps discussed at the 2011 Workshop, it was noted that mandate renewals were now scheduled more evenly and strategically throughout the year. The goal was to try to prevent mandate renewals and other predictable matters from falling so heavily on particular months that there would be insufficient time for responding to urgent crises or for initiatives by the President of the Council. The number of opportunities for consultation with SRSGs had grown through greatly expanded use of videoconferencing technology, from once in 2009 to 31 times so far in 2012. This had substantially reduced the amount of time that key SRSGs had had to spend at Headquarters or in transit in order to brief the Council. Though expressing agreement with the thrust of these measures, one speaker stressed that mandate renewals should not be treated as merely routine, because they can address important questions relating to the size and scope of a mission. Another discussant commented that too much of the Council’s agenda is dictated by mandate renewals and reports of the Secretary-General, leading to ritualistic statements by the members. A participant noted that there had been some progress in clustering issues, that there had been significant cost savings through a more efficient use of meeting time, and that the Secretariat was reducing the use of faxes in favor of emails for communicating with the members. In response, a delegate proposed that faxes be eliminated entirely as a means of communicating within the Council and with the Secretariat.
A speaker listed the following steps that had been taken to increase the transparency of the Council’s work: an increase in the number of open meetings and of “Arria-formula” meetings in 2012; the advent of the Council’s new and improved web site, simplifying public access to detailed information about the Council and its work; more active engagement by the President with the media; and the conduct of mini-missions, such as the one to Timor-Leste in November 2012. Another participant noted, however, that one of the most significant transparency initiatives—the establishment of the Security Council Report—had been undertaken privately, without the formal endorsement or encouragement of the Council. An interlocutor suggested that the Council could show respect for non-members and its commitment to transparency by listening carefully at the upcoming open debate on Council working methods to the comments of non-members and by responding to them substantively. Transparency could be enhanced, contended another discussant, by holding briefings on the Programme of Work, by improving consultations with troop-contributing countries (TCCs), by each member holding regular briefings for countries in its regional and other groups, and by making the monthly assessments by the President and the Council’s annual report to the General Assembly more substantive. The new web site and the Security Council Report, commented one speaker, ensured that any non-member could easily find out everything that was going on within the Council, other than having the experience of actually sitting at the table. The new web site had proven to be an extremely useful tool, agreed another discussant, in part because it included the content and scope of mandates. A delegate suggested that mini-missions could be employed with greater frequency, but cautioned that there should be a balance between permanent and non-permanent members participating, which had not been the case in the mini-mission to Timor-Leste in November 2012.
Distinct assessments were expressed about how much progress had been made in increasing transparency. Some speakers suggested that a lot of progress had been achieved, but others disagreed. One commented that, from the perspective of an incoming member, there was insufficient transparency because of the lack of formal, written guidelines for incoming members on matters such as the role of the President, the workload associated with chairing particular subsidiary bodies, and what was expected of a new member. There should be a booklet for incoming members and further training organized by the United Nations beyond the useful Finnish and UNITAR programs. (It was pointed out that the Security Council Affairs Division and the Security Council Report were planning a new training initiative on the work of subsidiary bodies.) According to another delegate, it was often hard to understand why Council members wanted to let non-members know what was being discussed in some cases, but not in others. The dynamics of transparency were themselves lacking clarity.
Within the Council, commented one participant, the lack of transparency between the permanent and non-permanent members remained a problem. Dr. Kissinger’s description of how international diplomacy tends to work—with major powers consulting first and then turning to the wider international community with the results—was apt. In the Council, the typical pattern was for the permanent members to seek common ground and then to inform the rest of the members. Generally you have to take it or leave it: that was a fact of life in the Council. Along similar lines, a delegate commented that the question of transparency vis-à-vis the larger membership of the United Nations had largely been addressed and now non-members were generally well informed about what the Council was doing. The problem, instead, remained a lack of transparency within the Council on how decisions were made. There continued to be resistance when the core interests of the permanent members in maintaining the status quo in terms of the mechanics of intra-Council decision-making were challenged. Another participant concurred that those points remained sensitive and acknowledged having entered the Council with a conspiracy theory about the Secretariat interacting with the permanent members on a qualitatively different plane than with non-permanent members. Experience, however, had dispelled that latter myth, as the permanent members were not always united and the Secretariat sometimes had independent views or information. On “real” issues, such as Iran, the members and the Secretariat were in it together.
Transparency, several delegates commented, was not an end in itself. It, too, had limits. According to one discussant, the common perception that the Council was an obsessively secretive society from which no information flowed to the general membership was grossly unfair. Too often, highly sensitive information leaked out, sometimes in real time. Recently a report fell into the hands of an interested party before all members of the Council had seen it, despite the fact that each copy is inked-marked and each member gets a single copy. Stressing that confidentiality is the responsibility of each mission to the United Nations, a second speaker called for zero tolerance for leaks. In national governments there are laws and penalties for leaking information from sensitive government meetings and documents, and the Security Council Affairs Division had assured the members that it had taken the necessary measures to ensure that it was not the source of such leaks. So it was up to the fifteen members, continued the speaker, not to leak and to recognize that there was a thin red line between responding to national constituencies, such as the media and parliamentarians, and violating confidentiality. Another delegate called for a code of conduct for closed meetings. It was not helpful to have a news agency report remarks that one delegate had made in a closed session, just as it tends to give a distorted view of the discussions when an Ambassador or one of her/his assistants sends text messages about the ongoing deliberations. Such actions damage the institution. If delegates are that irresponsible and that undisciplined, then the Council cannot properly fulfill its primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security.
The candid discussion confirmed that, whatever progress had been made, some of the most difficult challenges to working methods reform in the Council remained. As in other recent Workshops, the most intransigent issue appeared to be how to make informal consultations both informal and interactive. Recalling the agreement at the 2011 Workshop not to make prepared statements or to take to the floor just to repeat points that had already been made, a participant stated that it was clear enough what needed to be done, but so far the will did not exist to implement those simple steps. Though each member’s views mattered and each had a right to take the floor, it would be better to listen more carefully to what the penholders and states with direct interests had to say first. Private meetings tended to be scripted and choreographed, commented a discussant, leaving no room for interactive or lively exchanges of view. This had even been the case with luncheons with the Secretary-General, where Council members demanded to know the agenda ahead of time, so that they could consult with their experts and have prepared positions and talking points beforehand. In that regard, the hierarchical structures of our missions can further discourage informality and interactivity. There had been some progress on interactivity, noted an interlocutor, but much more could be done. There was never a chance to reenter the discussion to comment on what had been said, which was the essence of interactivity. When we had nothing to add or did not know much about the issue, then perhaps we should have had the courage and discipline not to speak. Change would have to start with us, with a willingness to forego the opportunity to speak just to be able to say that we had spoken.
There was a dysfunctional cycle, commented a discussant, in which consultations were held on a particular well-known situation, delegates just repeated their standard positions, and then the Permanent Representatives wrote reports back to their capitals with the same points. That practice wasted time and added to everyone’s workload. According to a delegate, the goal should be to intervene less often and to put more of our statements on the record instead. Though acknowledging that some progress had been made, an interlocutor complained that briefings without an outcome that should take 45 minutes had sometimes taken three hours instead. One answer would be for the President to take a more active role, asking whether delegates wanted to speak to each item on the agenda for that day and occasionally posing some questions to the speakers as well. Several participants suggested that it was not always helpful to take the floor just to agree with what others had already said. It was widely noted that few Ambassadors attended informal consultations on a regular basis, and that those discussions would have to be made a good deal more interesting and interactive before they would participate. As one commentator put it, when delegates do not negotiate texts, they should use their time to discuss the real issues, yet they do precious little of that.
Others agreed on the need for greater interactivity in informal consultations, but underscored the pressures on delegations to speak and to have prepared texts. You could not improvise when you entered the Council, noted a speaker, even in informal settings your capital may have given you instructions to follow and texts to read. There was room for improvement, but it had to come first from the permanent members. One possibility would be to give incoming members three months to familiarize themselves with the work of the Council and then to agree that no one could read statements in informal consultations after that point. Improvement was possible, and it was up to us to decide how and when to achieve it. A participant pointed out that even large delegations were under pressure to speak, as others watched to see what they had to say and some might accuse them of being disinterested in an issue if they did not comment on it. Such a shift in the Council’s culture could only be achieved if everyone was unusually disciplined. Another discussant said that they had also been asked why they had failed to speak on a particular topic, as others get suspicious when you exercise restraint.
As in past Workshops, the matter of how the Chairs of subsidiary bodies were selected and of what was expected of them when they assumed that responsibility was extensively discussed. Asserting that the selection of Chairs could be made in a more transparent manner, a participant suggested that the various subsidiary bodies be presented to the incoming members, that they be allowed to express their views and then be given the choice of accepting or declining whichever Chair positions they are offered. An interlocutor noted that the procedure for assigning Chair positions had still not been explained to incoming members, which will need to prepare and train experts and bring them to New York in a timely manner. The burdens, they had been told, were especially heavy for the Chairs of sanctions committees. The selection process for chairing any of the subsidiary bodies, therefore, needed to be formalized.
It was suggested that the incoming members should receive information about the nature and scope of the workload associated with heading each of the subsidiary bodies, so that they could be certain that they had the capacities required. A mission, for instance, should have an officer assigned essentially full-time to each of the committees or working groups it chairs. Similarly, a discussant underlined the need for the chairs to be actively engaged in the work of the subsidiary bodies, especially of the demanding sanctions committees. Among other duties, the chairs of sanctions committees had to meet with Groups of Experts, who were often the best source of information available to the members. The method of selection of the Chairs made the assumption of these new burdens, including the participation in all of the more than two dozen subsidiary bodies of the Council, that much more sudden and demanding.
The question had then arisen, continued the speaker: why had the permanent members not taken on the burden of chairing any of these groups? A participant responded that there was a conspiracy theory to the effect that the permanent members gave the job of chairing the subsidiary bodies to the non-permanent members as a way of keeping them busy, while the permanent members focused on negotiating and drafting the key resolutions. Noting that permanent members had chaired the very active counter-terrorism committee established pursuant to resolution 1373 (2001) during its early years, a delegate proposed a new compact between permanent and non-permanent members: that the former agree to chair some of the committees in return for the latter assuming some of the penholderships. In response, a participant speculated that permanent members would be widely criticized if they sought to take over any of the key chairmanships. In principle, however, they did not object to assuming such responsibilities. The selection process was acknowledged to be imperfect and ideas for improving it were most welcome, but it had to be recognized that the process could not begin until the election of new members had been completed. Each member had preferences about the committee assignments and there would be several chairs of some committees if the goal was to make everyone happy. Some important assignments, on the other hand, might not have any takers.
In the view of a participant, non-permanent members should be encouraged to take a more active role as penholders. The successful experience of several non-permanent members in that respect over the past year or two should be replicated, as they had demonstrated the utility of sharing that responsibility more widely within the Council. Some of the permanent members had been more flexible than others on that score, added another discussant. Their delegation, in fact, had had a relatively good experience within the Council in terms of being allowed to share the pen on resolutions and statements related to developments in their region. Agreeing that greater transparency was needed in the choice of penholders, an interlocutor suggested that this could give greater credibility to the result. The Council should be careful not to accept a penholder’s draft just because of the press of time, as the country concerned should be consulted as well. In response, a delegate contended that a large and growing number of non-permanent members had been serving as penholders and that there were no barriers to others doing so in the future if they so desired. The perception that this function was restricted to a small circle of members was simply false.
As in the past, a recurring theme in this Workshop was the need to reduce the workload for Council members and to prepare the missions of newly-elected members for the increasing demands Council membership entails. According to a participant, the Council’s Programme of Work needed to be rationalized to streamline the handling of routine matters and to highlight the more pressing threats to international peace and security. The tendency to refer all sorts of matters to the Council that could be more usefully addressed elsewhere should be resisted. We should make full use of all of the United Nations’ bodies and respect their mandates. There were so many meetings of the Council that Permanent Representatives and Deputy Permanent Representatives often cannot attend, commented another speaker. Likewise, a discussant remarked that the workload for Permanent Representatives is so heavy on the Council that it is hard to maintain one’s presence in the General Assembly while serving on both bodies. Incoming members need to bear in mind, however, that they will return to the Assembly soon. All of this, another interlocutor pointed out, puts a premium on delegating responsibilities within one’s mission. Smaller missions, two participants noted, depend on the Secretariat and reports from the Secretary-General for information, since they lack assets on the ground and embassies in many places of concern to the Council. A delegate questioned the advantage of having a large mission in New York or embassies on the ground. Large delegations may have too many officers with clashing views, producing internal debates and a lack of coherent analysis and strategy. Bigger was not necessarily better in terms of a mission’s effectiveness in the Council that participant concluded.
There are other sources of information open to all Council members. As a speaker pointed out, by participating in regional visits or missions by the Council, such as the one to West Africa, each representative, regardless of the size of her or his delegation, could get a first-hand feel of conditions and developments in areas of potential concern to the Council. Panels or Groups of Experts, noted a discussant, had provided valuable information or recommendations in some situations. It was critical, however, for them to follow the highest standards of professionalism in substantiating their allegations and conclusions. Another interlocutor underscored the need for experts to be independent and transparent concerning their methodology. Yet this was not always the case, and the countries most affected were not always consulted.
A delegate expressed some concern over the lack of clear rules about when documents would be discussed at the level of experts and when at a political level. Sometimes Ambassadors were included and sometimes not, without any evident pattern or guidelines. This deserved further discussion. When the President called a meeting at a ministerial level, contended a participant, members should make an effort to be present at an ambassadorial level. There had been occasions when the minister chairing the meeting was left with one or two Ambassadors and a number of experts.
Several discussants raised the issue of relations between the Council and the General Assembly, though the topic received less attention and generated less concern than in earlier Workshops. One suggested that the tensions between the two bodies had less to do with recurrent questions about their respective mandates and more to do with a general sense of malaise about the overall system of governance in the United Nations. Another pointed out that few Ambassadors attended the recent debate in the General Assembly on the Council’s annual report on its work. That poor turnout undermined the contention that there was widespread unhappiness about the Council’s performance. One of the reasons for the traditionally light turnout, commented an interlocutor, was that the report continued to be largely descriptive, with little new information or fresh analysis. The speaker challenged the five outgoing members to participate actively in next year’s debate, engaging with the report and drawing on their recent experience as members of the Council. According to another delegate, the comments made in the Assembly’s debate on the report were unrelated to the report itself. Indeed, as a result of the various transparency steps discussed above, the work of the Council had become so widely known among the larger membership that the report had become less important as a source of information and analysis of the Council’s activities.
Lessons learned: reflections of the Class of 2012
Ambassador Mohammed Loulichki
Permanent Representative of Morocco
Ambassador José Filipe Moraes Cabral
Permanent Representative of Portugal
Ambassador Néstor Osorio
Permanent Representative of Colombia
Deputy Permanent Representative of South Africa
Ambassador Peter Wittig
Permanent Representative of Germany
Ambassador Hardeep Singh Puri
Permanent Representative of India
The outgoing members of the Council presented a range of views on the political dynamics within the Council and on the relationship between the permanent and non-permanent members. One thanked the five permanent members for serving as guides to the incoming members, helping them by providing both facts and opinions, as well as showing them how to put competing claims into perspective and how to handle major crises. Another emphasized the feeling of camaraderie and mutual respect that had grown among the delegates on the Council. These positive sentiments tended to grow on the missions to the field undertaken by the Council, much like they do among school classmates on an excursion. Yes, there were times of deep differences and bouts of staged drama, but there were moments of fun as well. Echoing these “positive notes” about camaraderie, a third speaker called service on the Council a “rare privilege” and the “most enriching” experience a diplomatic career could hope to achieve. Since the effectiveness of the Council depended entirely on its unity, the role of the non-permanent members was inversely related to the degree of unity among the five permanent members. In a divided Council, the non-permanent members had more room to make a difference. Life in the Council was demanding, added a participant, but it was a fascinating experience—a dream of a diplomatic academy. There was plenty of fun, as well as more than a little sarcasm.
Two participants painted a darker picture of political life within the Council. One commented that their delegation had not benefitted from the guidance of the five permanent members. 2011 was an historic year, with all of the BRIC and IBSA countries, as well as Germany and Nigeria, serving on the Council simultaneously. The jury was still out on whether that historic configuration made a difference. Some observers thought that they would attempt to act as a counterweight to the five permanent members, but they chose a different path, seeking to work with the P-2, the P-3, and the P-5, as each issue required. A second speaker cautioned against whitewashing the role of the five permanent members within the Council, because there was a problem in that they acted to limit the Council, which should be a more collaborative body. To a large extent, the permanent five set the agenda. Over their first six months on the Council, the incoming members were closely watched, but, after this initial period, the relations between the permanent and non-permanent members became more relaxed. Therefore, an effort should be made to find a more structured way for the incoming members to be involved more deeply in the work of the Council from the beginning of their term. In any case, it should be recalled that the culture of the Council was to be united more often than not. Unanimity did not always prevail, of course, but there was always a serious effort to accommodate the views of all fifteen members and to find common ground.
As in earlier Workshops, a recurring theme emphasized the opportunities that non-permanent members had to make a difference. There was ample advice in that regard. Remaining on the sidelines was not an option for elected members, contended a participant, even when the situation was one in which one’s country had not been engaged in the past. One’s perspective mattered, especially if it was clearly articulated, even if it was not likely to be determinant of the outcome of the Council’s deliberations. The elected members entered the Council to contribute, not to confront. Yes, added a delegate, sound arguments were generally taken into account. Non-permanent members had the capacity to make a constructive, if modest, contribution. As full members of the Council, commented another speaker, incoming members had no choice but to become fully engaged in its demanding work from the outset.
Two participants stressed the need to find political space and then to use it as fully as possible. Employ that space proactively from day one, urged an interlocutor, who called that the most important lesson from her/his experience in the Council. There were a number of tools for doing this, including the convening of thematic debates. Achieving outcomes had sometimes proven challenging, so the best advice was 1) to look for allies early, as they were essential, and 2) to never give up. Incoming members should seek to become involved in drafting processes as fully and as early as possible. They should submit both their own texts and amendments to existing texts. Asserting that she/he had never bought the argument that the elected members had no role to play in the work of the Council, a second speaker agreed on the need to find or make space and to use it effectively. There had been a time when the non-permanent members had little space to work with, so the incoming members should appreciate how much work it had taken over the years to carve out the existing space. They should avoid appearing pompous or claiming to be guided by a higher moral compass, because both attitudes and actions mattered.
Newly-elected members should be prepared, as well, for their capitals to become very attentive to their work on the Council. Misunderstandings between the mission in New York and policymakers in one’s capital, it was suggested, were less common if the capital had already been engaged with a wide range of global issues and situations. It was essential to keep one’s policymakers fully and currently informed of developments within the Council, because otherwise there could be complications when other capitals contacted them directly. Concurring on the importance of attaining and sustaining the full political backing of one’s capital, another participant recommended employing one’s term on the Council to build both relevant capacities in the capital and sustainable networks between New York and policymakers at home. Part of that task was to get capitals to define the national interest in broader terms.
This session, as in past years, provided an opportunity for discussion of what might be done to spur the process of Council reform. According to a discussant, the question of its structural reform was never assessed nor debated in the Security Council, which left the matter to the General Assembly. There was no progress, leaving the open question whether some of the permanent members favor such far-reaching reform steps. They had the key to reform, but had not yet used it. Another participant urged the incoming members to fight for deep reform of the Council. Since the effectiveness of the Council depended on its unity, a third interlocutor called for limitations on the use of the veto or, better yet, its abolition. Noting that the veto had been employed rarely over the past decade, the speaker suggested that it should not be used in cases of genocide. The permanent members should agree on the circumstances under which it could be employed.
Turning to working methods reform, a delegate characterized the work of the Council as overly choreographed and ritualistic. Yet when it comes to individual situations and thematic issues, a more systematic approach was needed, as the members sometimes focus heavily on a matter one month and then forget about it the next. Consultations were insufficiently interactive, with too much reading from prepared statements and too little opportunity to react or return to what others have said. One recent improvement, noted another discussant, had been the effort to streamline and rationalize the cycle for renewal of mandates, something that had first been proposed at last year’s Workshop. According to a third speaker, more attention should be paid to the role of the Secretariat, which had been expanding over time. The Secretariat had become a virtual sixth permanent member of the Council.
Though strongly believing in horizon-scanning briefings as an asset in the Council’s efforts to become more effective in conflict prevention, a participant contended that the briefing sessions, like the informal consultations, had become too scripted and formal, with both the briefers from the Secretariat and the members reading from prepared statements. The Council needed to find ways of becoming less reactive and more adept at mediation and crisis prevention. The members should not be reluctant to mention situations that were not on the agenda, as it should not be seen as a stigma to have a situation mentioned in the Council. That point needs to be pushed by the incoming members, as there was still some resistance to moving in that direction. It had been useful, for instance, to have the mediator of the dispute on the Cambodian-Thai border speak to the Council about his role and seek the members’ political support for his efforts. When tensions had been rising between Ethiopia and Eritrea, the mere fact that the Council discussed the situation led the parties to downplay the tensions.
In terms of the Council’s relative successes and failures, a delegate called the balance sheet very positive on the whole. There were situations in which the dynamics on the ground were simply beyond the Council’s reach. Though Sierra Leone and Timor-Leste could be characterized as relative successes, serious problems had persisted that would have to be resolved by the peoples of those countries. The same could be said about Haiti or the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The Council had been blocked on Syria and had never been able to engage in a serious or sustained discussion on the Middle East. The United Nations was part of the Quartet, but the Council just held ritualistic and largely non-substantive monthly meetings on the Middle East (including the Palestinian question). Concurring, a speaker asked why there was a part of the world that all Council members agreed posed a threat to international peace and security, yet the Council never discussed it nor received briefings from those who dealt with it most directly. Yet it was a sign of progress, commented another discussant, that all members agreed that certain situations, such as Syria and the Sudan, presented threats to international peace and security even if there was no agreement on how those threats should be addressed.
Several discussants commented on the growing importance of regional organizations to the work of the Council. One pointed out, for example, that the collaboration with the League of Arab States had not been anticipated. Another, on the other hand, suggested that the Council’s failure to find a way to handle the problems in the Democratic Republic of the Congo underscored the need to cooperate more fully with regional groups. In that case, the Council was at risk of slowly slipping into irrelevancy. A delegate contended that resolution 1973 (2011) on enforcement action in Libya had gained African support within the Council in part because it acknowledged the African Union’s role in mediation there. In the view of another speaker, however, it was also important to assess realistically the capacities of the relevant regional organization in each situation.
Regarding other tools available to the Council, a delegate urged the incoming members to avoid the tendency to look at the world from just one perspective. For instance, mediation did not always provide the solution to difficult problems. Sometimes military intervention was needed as a last resort. Referral to the International Criminal Court was one of the important tools that the Council had utilized from time to time, but sometimes realpolitik and double standards influenced how and when the Council used its relationship with the Court. The members, for example, had not consistently demonstrated sufficient interest in whether those indicted had actually been apprehended for trial by the Court.
As in other recent Workshops, the question of how the Council should integrate human rights and human protection issues into its work received considerable attention, including in the final lessons learned session. The increasing integration of human rights and humanitarian matters into the work of the Council, asserted a participant, represented a positive trend. The briefings by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Emergency Relief Coordinator had shaped the Council’s approach to a number of important issues. Noting that the Council had gone much further in defense of civilian protection, human rights, humanitarian issues, and democratic values, another delegate contended that still more progress was possible and needed. Though the word democracy was not in the Charter, supporting democracy, freedom of expression, and the exercise of fundamental rights had to be in the minds of all Council members. According to an interlocutor, the effort to support the protection agenda for children and armed conflict had been more difficult than expected. A discussant contended that the Council had been more responsive to human rights violations in some parts of the world than others. For instance, it had not reacted when black Libyans, suspected of being mercenaries, had been detained and tortured based on the color of their skin. The Council needed to demonstrate that it took its decisions in that regard seriously, commented another speaker. In one situation, the Council had urged closer human rights monitoring, the country in question responded by expelling the one human rights monitor who was there, and the Council did nothing to follow up its decision. Moreover, the members needed to understand that asking peacekeeping missions to take on more and more crosscutting mandates with fewer and fewer resources was not going to work. Smaller missions were especially vulnerable to such financial and resource pressures.
A range of views on thematic debates were expressed. For incoming members, they could represent an important avenue for gaining space, counseled a participant. They could be an important component of the Council’s work, added another, but only if they were properly prepared. Care needed to be taken, cautioned one speaker, to avoid the tendency to add issues to the Council’s agenda that should be addressed by the General Assembly instead. HIV/AIDS and the effects of climate change did not constitute threats to international peace and security. Though the speaker’s delegation favored human rights, there were times when the High Commissioner should have briefed the Human Rights Council instead. A participant countered that the more the Security Council became a normative body, the better its work and contributions became. At times it would be tempting to wind down one body or another in the United Nations, but that was never true of the Council.