‘Small-5’ Propose GA Resolution on Improving Working Methods of the Security Council

17 May

Known as the ‘Small-5,’ Costa Rica, Jordan, Liechtenstein, Singapore, and Switzerland presented a draft resolution that seeks to improve the working methods of the Security Council without proposed amendments to the UN Charter. As such, these states advocate that this resolution will have no bearing on the ongoing and separate negotiations for reform and expansion of the Security Council. Member states such as India and Brazil have opposed the resolution given their interest in and support for an amendment to the Charter that would expand the Security Council’s membership and give their delegations a permanent seat. The P5 members have also made clear their opposition noting that they do not see a role for the General Assembly in offering recommendations to the Security Council.

Led by the mission of Switzerland and its Permanent Representative Ambassador Paul Seger, this group has worked for improvement in the working methods of the Security Council since 2006. In March 2012, the S-5 tabled a resolution and have since undertaken several rounds of consultations with member states, in particular the P5, to identify a way forward with regards to these recommendations. This effort has been pursued both in the General Assembly and through cooperation with the Security Council’s Informal Working Group on Documentation and other Procedural Questions. The S-5 had decided it is time to bring the resolution to a vote in the GA and allow member states, although the adoption of such a resolution would not be binding, to communicate a political and moral message on improving the accountability, transparency, and effectiveness of the Council. However, as of Friday 18 May, Ambassador Seger of Switzerland decided to withdraw the resolution after increasing pressure from opponents of the resolution. Faced with the prospect of procedural wrangling that would “engulf the entire Membership and leave everyone confused”, he said the S-5 had decided to withdraw the text.

Ambassador Seger addressed the GA this week under the agenda item “Follow-up to the outcome of the Millennium Summit” offering remarks on the content of the resolution. He gave a similar presentation in April 2012 describing the S-5’s proposals.

The principle recommendations include:

  • A greater role for the troop-contributing countries (TCCs) and those that make large financial contributions in the preparation and modification of mandates for peacekeeping missions
  • Standing invitations to the Chairs of country-specific configurations of the Peacebuilding Commission to participate in relevant debates and, when appropriate, informal discussions
  • Better access for interested and directly concerned States to subsidiary organs
  • Establishing a working group on lessons learned in order to analyze reasons for non-implementation or lack of effectiveness to suggest mechanisms aimed at enhancing implementation of decisions
All the proposals are based on long-standing dissatisfaction with the way in which the Council does its work. In particular, GAPW would welcome strong and institutionalized methods of ‘assessment’,  particularly on questions of implementation, of resolutions and decisions of the Council.  The lack of assessment was no more apparent than in the case of Libya in which the Council lost control of the ‘narrative’ after adoption of the original resolution. This was indicative in part by the fact that the resolution barely surfaced in the discourse around NATO’s implementation of it. It wasn’t until the operation itself ended that the resolution was cited. In its aftermath, both Russia and China expressed serious concerns over the implementation of Resolution 1973, which has undoubtedly contributed to the decision by these P5 members to veto an subsequent Western-sponsored resolution threatening sanctions against Syria for the killings of civilians.
It seems the most ‘controversial’ proposals deal directly with the use of the veto. The S-5 proposes what they consider to be “nothing radical or revolutionary” noting that they fully respect the Charter-based right to the veto. P5 states are called to:
  • Explain the reasons for resorting to a veto or declaring its intention to do so by circulating a copy of the explanation as a separate Security Council document to all member states
  • Refrain from using the veto to block Council action aimed at preventing or ending genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity (as legally defined in the Rome Statute for the ICC)
  • Establish a practice, in appropriate cases, of declaring  that when casting a negative vote on a draft resolution it does not constitute a veto thus allowing the P5 member to cast a negative vote while not blocking the action altogether

Many members of civil society have advocated for such a provision to be added to the veto power– requesting that P5 members consider refraining from using their vetoes on action aimed at preventing or ending genocide, warm crimes, and crimes against humanity as defined in the Rome Statute. Civil society and member states alike cite paragraph 139 of the 2005 World Summit Outcome document, stating that “the international community, through the UN, has the responsibility to use appropriate diplomatic, humanitarian and other peaceful means to help protect populations from genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity; and that when a state is manifestly failing, the international community has a responsibility to take timely and decisive response, including measures authorized by the Security Council under Chapter VII.” Nonetheless, it goes without saying that garnering support for recommendations to change the highly politicized issue of the veto are fraught with challenges. In order to combat this spirit of contention, the S-5 has tried to make clear that their intention is not to abolish the veto, but to provide recommendations only on how and when it should be used.

It seems that the primary concern of the S-5 is the lack of access for non-members of the Security Council to the Council’s work due to weak transparency and accountability measures, rather than a concern over the composition of the Council. The S-5 has tried to make clear that what they propose is a way forward through which Council members can seek the view of member states outside the Council without prejudice to the need for often timely action on sensitive  matters. Striking this balance is a difficult, but important goal for moving forward successfully with these recommendations.

—Katherine Prizeman

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