Much has been made in the last few years of how division in the Security Council is hampering its ability to manage or resolve conflicts. Just recently, the Council was the scene of an acrimonious debate on the situation in Venezuela, a discussion that went ahead following the failure of a procedural vote to block it. But is confrontation in the Council more common now?
A close look at the Council’s working methods in recent years does show that its members are increasingly resorting to procedural votes and other measures as a means of expressing disagreement. And the number of vetoed and non-consensus resolutions has been rising.
So, growing divergence among Council members does seem evident, even if the impact of this dynamic on peace and security more broadly requires deeper analysis. The reasons for the greater discord are political, substantive and complex. But we also see more disagreement because the Council is doing so much more: more meetings, more outcomes, more travel to hot spots. Indeed, more of just about everything.
For proof, let’s look at some numbers, which bear out the proposition that beyond arguments about its effectiveness, the Council remains an indispensable instrument for managing global crises and conflict.
Jaw, Jaw Beats War, War?
The Council is talking more. A lot more. Since 2008, the number of formal Council meetings has grown 15-20 per cent.
Time spent in meetings has risen exponentially. On the basis of 2018 data, Council members can expect, on average, to sit for over 55 hours in Council meetings per month (formal meetings, informal consultations and “informal interactive dialogues”).
For example, while in 2008 an open debate would last on average about 4.4 hours, by 2018 the figure had almost doubled to approximately 8 hours, owing largely to the much longer lists of invitees to such discussions. There has been a twofold increase in the average number of speakers and a 60 per cent increase in the number of words spoken per hour.
Indeed, the Council is inviting more speakers than ever before, including civil society representatives taking part in country-specific meetings.
In 2018, the Council issued an average of 17 main “outputs” per month -- resolutions, Presidential Statements, Notes by the President, Letters from the President and press statements.
Closer to the Ground
Missions to the field have also increased. While in 2008 the Council dispatched two such missions, it sent five in 2016 and 2017 each. And while in 2018 there were only three missions connected to situations on the Council’s agenda – to Afghanistan in January; Bangladesh and Myanmar in May, and the DRC in October – members last year continued a recent trend of traveling to each other’s capitals. In the last three years, Council members have visited Washington, Cairo, Stockholm, Kuwait and Beijing.
The increase in field missions is also reflected in the activity of the Council’s subsidiary organs.
The number of visits conducted by the Chairs of sanctions committees has increased nearly two-fold - from 6 visits in 2016 to 11 visits in 2018.
Sanctions committees have also enhanced their outreach to Member States on sanctions implementation. While only three briefings to Member States were held in 2016, there were 13 in 2018.
Eyes of the World Still on the Council
It’s impossible to say whether, or for how long, the trend in Council activity will follow this upward trajectory. What is clear is that -- as evidenced by the recent open debate on the impact of climate change on peace and security -- much of the world continues to look to the Council for answers and action on some of the most fundamental issues of our time.