Working Methods of Security Council - Security Council Open VTC

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15-May-2020 01:33:27
COVID-19 pandemic presents Security Council with opportunity to create more transparent, efficient working methods, experts stress in open debate.

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The global COVID-19 pandemic is an opportunity for the Security Council to explore ways to become more transparent, efficient and effective, while also forging closer ties with the broader United Nations membership, experts said during a 15 May videoconference meeting[*] of the Council dedicated to its working methods.

The open debate — under the theme “Ensuring transparency, efficiency and effectiveness in the work of the Security Council” — was informed by the Council’s landmark 2017 Revised Presidential Note 507 on its working methods (document S/2017/507), as well as a related concept note (document S/2020/374).

Karin Landgren, Executive Director, Security Council Report, said that it is time for the Council to expand and deepen its interactions with the wider United Nations membership. It acts on behalf of all Member States, so therefore it should hear from them — as well as their organizations and citizens — consistently. Also, with the nature of security threats shifting, the Council should consider entering into an active dialogue with those responsible for responding to such new challenges. She added that the Council today has a capacity for interaction like never before. “The global pandemic has forced new tools on all of us [and] this is an opportunity not to return to business as usual.” By retaining the best of those tools, the Council can be more agile and responsive, she said.

From time to time, the Council has hesitated to take up climate, cyber and pandemic threats, or root causes of conflict that lie in structural inequality and other chronic human rights violations, she said. “If this Council does not lead on these issues, then who is to do so?” she asked, suggesting that it strengthen exchanges with those bodies — such as the Economic and Social Council and the Peacebuilding Commission — that deal with such global threats. While COVID-19 has brought a halt to Council fact-finding missions, technology makes it possible for Council members to speak directly with those in the field. “There is potential for a more dynamic engagement with the field than the representative beamed in from a room bare but for the United Nations flag,” she said, referring to possible virtual meetings with Heads of Government, parliamentarians, government ministers, civil society, and representatives of United Nations agencies, funds and programmes, even in hard-to-reach places.

“With the United Nations turning 75, we may forget what a radical and determined act its establishment represented and still represents, and the extraordinary powers that Member States have conferred on the Security Council,” she said. When the Council is at risk of an impasse, proactive members can sometimes find a way forward, as when nine elected members called on the Secretary-General to brief on COVID-19. A sustained and regular interaction between the Council and the Secretary-General on the pandemic would convey to the wider United Nations membership the Council’s resolve to remain engaged on the global ceasefire initiative and on the many security threats that the pandemic might unleash.

Edward C. Luck, Arnold A. Saltzman Professor of Professional Practice in International and Public Affairs, Columbia University, United States, said that the Council has been reflecting on its working methods for a quarter-century. This has not always led to better performance on the ground, where its track record is mixed. However, it has bolstered its transparency and efficiency, and gained a reputation as the most agile and adaptable intergovernmental organ in the United Nations system. Reform is a process, not an event, and it should take the form of a layered and extended conversation among the Council’s 15 members. Many say that this approach entails a struggle between the permanent and non-permanent members, and there is something to that, but it is too simplistic.

Looking back, it is remarkable how much common ground the 15 have found on matters that once seemed stubbornly divisive, he said. Given the inherent power imbalances within the Council, how could this be? Either the 10 have more influence than is commonly assumed, or the five are more flexible than they sometimes seem. “At best, perhaps there is a common recognition that in the end they all gain from a Council that functions more smoothly and performs more effectively.”

That leaves the question of how the other 92 per cent of Member States gain a voice in the conversation, he said. Today’s annual debate is one avenue, giving all Member States an opportunity to comment on what has — or has not — been accomplished and to suggest areas for improvement. It is a forum for advising, not deciding, however, and it can only succeed if Council members listen. He based that view on his experience with the “Hitting the Ground Running” workshop, established 18 years ago, where current Council members meet the five incoming ones for a candid talk on working methods and other topics.

Turning to unfinished business, he said that Council members’ agreement in December 2019 on eight notes concerning various issues of importance for the enhancement of its working methods was an impressive accomplishment, but the ultimate test will be how fully and faithfully those measures will be implemented. “Some of the phrasing sounds ambiguous, imprecise, or open to interpretation—in other words, diplomatic.” There is also no consensus on pen-holding, an important yet contentious issue, while a lack of formality and interaction in Council consultations persists, despite many complaints over the years. “The midst of a pandemic may not be an ideal time to make predictions, but it is probably safe to say that current conditions do not appear particularly propitious for quick or sweeping agreements in the immediate future,” he said, adding that there is no doubt that the search for better working methods is here to stay.

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