In October, the five incoming members of the Security Council—Belgium, the Dominican Republic, Germany, Indonesia and South Africa—will begin attending meetings of the Council, both formal and informal, as well as meetings of the subsidiary bodies. Starting on 1 January 2019, these five members will make up the E10 together with Côte d’Ivoire, Equatorial Guinea, Kuwait, Peru and Poland.
For many years, the diverse nature of the E10 members has made coordination and joint action difficult. However, driven by dissatisfaction with being sidelined on key Council decisions and a shared desire to improve the effectiveness of the Council, especially in the face of P5 paralysis caused by sharp differences, elected members have begun acting as a more cohesive group. The E10 now meet monthly at both permanent representative and political coordinator level. These meetings have allowed the E10 to discuss the working methods of the Council, particularly around the issues of penholders and chairs of subsidiary bodies. The elected members chair all the subsidiary bodies, with the P5 deciding on the distribution of responsibilities. This year the E10 have pushed for a greater role and more equitable distribution in the allocation of chairs of subsidiary bodies. These regular E10 meetings also provide a forum for discussion of issues of substance, and an opportunity to garner support from fellow E10 members for potential new initiatives. The E10 have had several meetings with the Secretary-General, most recently in mid-September together with the incoming five elected members.
The incoming members enter the Council at a moment when the opportunity for elected members to make their mark on the work of the Council appears greater than it has been for many years. In the early 1990s, after the end of the Cold War and lasting for about a decade, elected members frequently took initiatives on important issues and contributed policy options on a full range of matters. However, starting in the mid-2000s, the space shrank for such contributions from elected members, particularly with the emergence of a more rigid “penholder” system. Today, the P3—France, the UK, and the US—are penholders on the majority of situations on the Council’s agenda.
The P3, with their institutional memory and well-resourced missions, are arguably in a strong position to hold the pen on substantive issues in the Council. Being a penholder goes beyond drafting and negotiating texts, however. It also means calling meetings and organising visiting missions, and can work against inclusive Council processes. The penholder practice has often led the permanent members first to discuss and seek agreement among themselves on a draft text before sharing it with the rest of the Council, making it difficult for elected members to provide substantive inputs at an early stage in the negotiations.
In recent years, frustration over being sidelined and concerns at a lack of effectiveness on major Council decisions have spurred elected members to find creative ways of playing a role on key agenda issues. In 2013-14, Australia and Luxembourg (joined by Jordan in 2014) paved the way by drafting decisions on the humanitarian aspects of the Syria conflict. Ever since, elected members have been the recognised co-penholders on Syrian humanitarian issues and have found ways of navigating the divisions of the permanent members on the Syria issue to achieve outcomes on cross-line and cross-border humanitarian access
The increasingly divisive P5 dynamics, particularly over Syria, have been a particular catalyst for E10 action. In April 2017, following the chemical weapons attack on Khan Shaykhun, the P3 and Russia both produced separate draft resolutions, which were then negotiated among the P5. Frustrated at not being consulted in the negotiation process, the E10 in an unusual move produced a draft text that represented a compromise among the positions of the permanent members. The existence of this alternative E10 draft that might have been acceptable to the majority of members apparently made it more difficult for the P3 and Russia to proceed with a vote on draft resolutions that would almost certainly not have been adopted, either because of likely vetoes or not having the requisite nine votes. However, US air strikes that evening on the Sha’yrat airbase outside Homs derailed the attempt by the E10 to bridge the divide among permanent members. The P3 then circulated a draft resolution, largely based on their previous text, although incorporating one element from the E10 draft. That draft was vetoed by Russia.
In November 2017, elected members played an active role in trying to keep alive the Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM) of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and the UN, which had been set up to determine responsibility for the use of chemical weapons in Syria. Renewing the JIM mandate was always going to be difficult, as the P5 held divergent views on how well it had performed its job. Competing draft resolutions from the US and Russia failed to be adopted—the US draft due to a veto, the Russian draft lacking enough votes—on 16 November, one day ahead of the end of the JIM’s mandate. Several elected members then offered options to keep the JIM functioning. Japan circulated a draft text that would have extended the JIM’s mandate for one month while requesting the UN Secretary-General, in coordination with the OPCW, to submit proposals to the Council for a new structure and methodology for the JIM. Following the Russian veto of the Japanese draft, Italy in its role as Council president circulated a draft letter to the Secretary-General requesting that the JIM’s organisational and administrative arrangements be maintained until 31 December 2017, pending a final decision on the renewal of its mandate. Soon thereafter, Sweden and Uruguay circulated a draft resolution to extend the JIM’s mandate for a year with the aim of reaching a compromise among the competing perspectives in the Council. Russia opposed both initiatives, which led to the demise of the JIM, but the energy and dynamism shown by these Council members in the last stretch of the negotiations on a file traditionally monopolised by permanent members was notable.
Even when there is agreement on a Syria-related issue, implementation of these Council decisions is often difficult. In February, the Council unanimously adopted resolution 2401, which demanded a cessation of hostilities in Syria. Sweden and Kuwait, the current co-leads on humanitarian issues, engaged in intense bilateral negotiations with Russia and were able to incorporate enough of its concerns for there to be rare Council unity on a Syria-related outcome. However, the Syrian government did not abide by the resolution, and there was no de-escalation of the violence.
The humanitarian crisis in Yemen, for which the UK is the penholder, is another situation where the elected members have pushed for greater Council attention and more balanced outcomes. Coordination by some elected members on this issue emerged late last year as a result of what were perceived as unbalanced Council draft products on Yemen. This year, a group of Council members—Bolivia, the Netherlands, Peru, Poland and Sweden—have coordinated regularly and taken joint positions on the humanitarian dimensions of the conflict. In particular, members of this group were united on what they regarded as a more comprehensive text during the negotiations on a presidential statement on the humanitarian situation in Yemen adopted in March this year.
There are other examples of elected members with very different foreign policy priorities coming together on issues of shared interest. In May 2016, five elected members (Egypt, Japan, New Zealand, Spain and Uruguay) initiated a resolution on the protection of health care in armed conflict, an issue which is now regularly discussed in the Council. In December 2016, Malaysia, New Zealand, Senegal and Venezuela worked together for the adoption of a resolution on Israeli settlements after the original sponsor, Egypt, had withdrawn the draft under heavy political pressure.
The actions of elected members in the last few years have shown that, although the P5 have the advantages of permanence as well as the power of the veto, elected members, through strategic alliances and greater cooperation as the E10, are able to influence the work of the Council. The incoming elected members are in a strong position to continue this move from the sidelines to working more closely with the P5 in core areas related to the maintenance of international peace and security.