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Updated on 2 June 2016



Working methods relating to Council expansion considered in General Assembly IGN


On 17 May 2016, the Chair of the General Assembly’s Intergovernmental Negotiations on Security Council Reform (IGN), Sylvie Lucas of Luxembourg, sent an “elements paper” to all permanent representatives and permanent observers at the United Nations.  The paper was aimed at reflecting “the main elements of convergence that emerged” from prior discussions on two key issues:  the relationship between the Security Council and the General Assembly; and the size of an enlarged Council and working methods of the Council.


One working methods issue mentioned in the IGN Chair’s elements paper is the “Majority required for decision-making” on an expanded Security Council.  The elements paper states that “Decisions of an enlarged Council should be made by an affirmative vote of approximately 60% of its members, in line with the existing ratio, with the exact number of votes required to emerge from the discussions of Member States on the key issues of ‘categories of membership’, ‘regional representation’ and ‘the question of the veto’.”  The elements paper envisages an expanded Council size from 21 to 27 members, and sets out the number of affirmative votes which would be required in each instance for the adoption of resolutions. 


On pages 674 to 675, our book states that


“The minimum number of affirmative votes necessary to adopt a resolution – also known

as the ‘voting majority’ or ‘action threshold’ – would have to be carefully thought out as part

of any decision in the General Assembly to enlarge the Security Council.  With a Council of

fifteen members, a draft resolution which is not vetoed can be adopted with six Council

members voting against it.  A resolution adopted by such a vote inevitably conveys a

message that support for it on the Council is weak.  If the Security Council were to be

enlarged, for example, to twenty-four members, the equivalent voting ratio would mean

that a resolution which was not vetoed could receive nine or ten negative votes and still be adopted.  Although the legal validity of such a resolution would not be in question, such a significant negative vote might mean that the resolution would be viewed as politically compromised.”


On another working methods issue, the elements paper states that the Security Council should be invited to consider “Ensuring the full participation of all members of the Security Council in its work, including the holding of the Presidency of the enlarged Council by non-permanent members at least once during their tenure”. 


Page 674 of the book brings to readers’ attention that on an enlarged Security Council,


“it will be possible that some elected members will serve their full two-year term on the

Council without holding a Council presidency.  This would occur, for example, when the

country name of an elected member beginning its term came alphabetically just before

the last Council President of the previous year.  That would preclude the new member’s

serving as President during the first year of its term.  (This phenomenon already occurs occasionally with the Council’s present membership of fifteen.)  On an expanded Council,

several additional countries could be elected for the following year which, alphabetically,

would be inserted before the elected member in question.  That could be sufficient for the

rotation to also exclude that country’s serving as President during the final year of its two-year term.”


Not being able to serve as Council President during its term would diminish an elected member’s experience on the Council in several ways.  In Chapter 3 and page 674, the book details how serving as Council President provides many leadership opportunities to individual Council members.  Thus, an elected member which would be unable to serve as President on an expanded Council might feel that it had had an incomplete experience, and that it had made less of a contribution to the Council’s work than those members which did hold presidencies.  Moreover, serving as Council President is educative, thereby improving the functioning of the Council as a whole.  On an expanded Council, elected members which were not able to serve as Council President might be somewhat less knowledgeable about the functioning of the Council than other members.


A related measure, which the elements paper invites the Security Council to consider, would be “Undertaking a revision of the Council’s provisional rules of procedure, in light of the increase in its membership”.  Should it be agreed that non-permanent members on an enlarged Council should hold the Presidency at least once during their tenure, this might require amending Rule 18 of the Rules of Procedure.  Rule 18 provides that “The Presidency of the Security Council shall be held in turn by the members of the Security Council in the English alphabetical order of their names.” 


Alternatively, in a given situation, Rule 18 might merely be suspended in order to permit an elected member to hold the Presidency at least once during its Council tenure.  Rule 18 has been suspended twice in the history of the Security Council, each time in connection with the Council Presidency of Rwanda in 1994, the year of the Rwandan genocide (see page 113 of the book).


The elements paper also invites the Council to consider “the formal adoption of its rules of procedure”.  This is a highly complex issue, and in this connection, readers may wish to read a relevant article on this website: “Why are the Council’s Rules of Procedure still ‘Provisional’?”







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