8 August 2023
Chapter 2: PLACE AND FORMAT OF COUNCIL PROCEEDINGS
Section 1: Formats of meetings
Russia’s blocking of US presidency calendar for August 2023 raises issue of what are, and are not, requirements for entries
On 1 August 2023, a Russian representative confirmed on Twitter that his delegation had blocked adoption of that month’s programme of work (POW) proposed by the incoming Security Council presidency of the United States. The Russian delegation was able to block the programme because it is established Council practice that each POW must be agreed by consensus. This means that the objection of even one Council member is sufficient to prevent adoption.
Blockage of a POW, although rare, has happened in the past. Oddly enough, some cases earlier in this millennium occurred over mere footnotes. More recently, cases of blockage occurred in 2018 under a United States presidency (over a proposal by the United States to meet on Nicaragua) and in 2019 during the presidency of Equatorial Guinea (over the frequency with which the Council should take up the matter of Kosovo).
In explaining Russia’s objections to the proposed August 2023 POW, the Russian representative correctly stated that each month’s programme of work “is purely informal and indicative, published on the UN website solely for the convenience of UN members.” He was also correct in stating that each formal meeting listed on the calendar becomes “agreed upon only when the Security Council members approve the agenda before the meeting and the presiding officer strikes the gavel.” In other words, adopting the POW has no legal significance and does not commit the Council to hold all meetings described therein, because the moment of decision to hold a formal meeting does not occur until the adoption of the agenda for that meeting as the first order of business under Rule 9.
However, the Russian representative then went on to present what his delegation considers to be the conditions for determining the contents of each month’s POW:
“From the very beginning of the Security Council's work, a scheme has been established in which meetings arising from the UN Secretariat-controlled mandate-reporting cycle are included in the program. That is, either if there is a need to approve the mandate of the UN presence or panel of experts, or if any of the Security Council decisions include a request to the Secretary-General to regularly prepare reports on a particular issue or report on the activities of peacekeepers, sanctions experts, and so on.”
Although the Russian representative stated that such a “scheme” had been established “from the very beginning of the Security Council’s work”, the adoption and public dissemination of the monthly calendar in fact is a relatively recent aspect of Council transparency. It was not until 1998, with the adoption of presidential note S/1998/354, that the Council formally decided to make the POW publicly available.
As to the contents of the POW, it is important to note that the conditions described by the Russian representative represent only the personal viewpoint of his delegation. Neither in the 1998 presidential note, nor in relevant later notes, has the Security Council set out a requirement that entries on the calendar be limited only to matters for which there are mandate expiries or fixed reporting cycles. Moreover, the Council as a whole has never informally agreed to such a standard, or acted consistently in conformity with it.
On the contrary, there is a history of including some matters on the POW, such as the monthly Middle East meetings, which have no mandate or reporting cycle whatsoever. In other instances, matters have been included on the basis of open-ended requests for reporting which allow for flexibility as to when the Council takes up the matter. This was the case, for example, regarding Kosovo from 1998 until a fixed reporting cycle was established by a 2019 presidential note (S/2019/120).
In his tweet, the Russian representative confirmed that his delegation’s particular objection was to including on the POW a meeting on Ukraine on 24 August. He observed that because the Security Council had not adopted any mandates or fixed reporting cycles relating to Ukraine, his delegation could not support including this meeting at the outset in the calendar. He added, however, that “we are not against discussing Ukraine at the request of Ukraine itself or certain colleagues in the Security Council”. In other words, his objection was to a pre-planned decision for the Council to meet on Ukraine, as distinct from a later request by one or more Council members (pursuant to Rule 2) or by any non-Council Member State (pursuant to Rule 3).
Moreover, the Russian representative asserted the concern of his delegation that allowing for a pre-planned meeting on Ukraine in August would create “a precedent that we cannot support”. In this connection, he noted that Albania’s Council presidency would follow in September 2023, and suggested that the Albanian delegation might similarly propose including in its POW a meeting on Ukraine.
Actually, precedents for adopting POWs with pre-planned meetings on Ukraine already exist. For example, during the French presidency of September 2022, three such meetings were on the calendar as adopted on 1 September:
6 September: meeting in “Briefing” format on the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant requested in advance by Russia;
7 September: meeting in “Briefing” format on the forced displacement of Ukrainian civilians requested in advance by Albania and the United States (the Council’s Ukraine penholders); and
22 September: ministerial-level meeting in “Briefing” format on Ukraine entered on the POW as one of the signature events planned by France for its presidency.
Similarly, the February 2023 calendar adopted at the start of Malta’s Council presidency included four planned meetings on Ukraine:
6 February: meeting in “Briefing” format on the humanitarian situation requested in advance by Ecuador and France (the Council’s penholders for humanitarian issues relating to Ukraine);
8 February: meeting in “Briefing” format on Western arms supplies to Ukraine requested in advance by Russia;
17 February: meeting in “Briefing” format on the “Package of Measures for the Implementation of the Minsk Agreements” requested in advance by Russia; and
21 February: a high-level meeting in “Briefing” format to mark the one-year anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine entered on the POW by Malta.
It can be seen that although ample precedents exist for entering on the POW pre-planned meetings on Ukraine – as proposed by presidencies, penholders or Russia itself – such precedents did not preclude Russia from blocking the United States August 2023 calendar. Therefore it is clear that precedents for or against including pre-planned meetings on the calendar when initially adopted are not sufficiently strong either to uniformly allow such entries or to uniformly preclude them.
An additional justification put forward by the Russian representative for blocking the August 2023 POW was that
“many developing countries openly express dissatisfaction with the exaggerated attention of the UN Security Council to the Ukrainian situation at the expense of other equally pressing, and sometimes more acute, problems in the world, primarily in Africa.”
This argument is disingenuous at best, considering that approximately one-third of the meetings convened by the Council on Ukraine since February 2022 have been at the request of the Russian delegation.
In the case of the blocked September 2018 POW, the Council simply operated without a published programme of work until the controversial meeting on Nicaragua in fact was held on 5 September. The disagreement being thus resolved, the September 2018 calendar was thereafter adopted without objection. Similarly, in 2019, after a presidential note issued on 7 February resolved the question of the periodicity of meetings on Kosovo, the February 2019 calendar was then adopted. It is thus possible – although it would come quite late in the United States presidency – that the August 2023 POW will be adopted thereafter if the controversial meeting on Ukraine takes place on 24 August.
What was innovative in February 2019 was that pending resolution of the Kosovo periodicity issue, the presidency of Equatorial Guinea published in the interim an informal “Plan of Action” (POA), which in fact was its proposed POW. Because not yet adopted by the Council, the POA could not be posted on the Security Council website. Nonetheless, publishing the Plan allowed Equatorial Guinea to circulate it to attendees at its briefings for, respectively, the press, the wider UN membership, and civil society.
For its August 2023 POW, the United States has similarly published on its Mission website a “Plan of Work” which comprises the calendar it proposed to the Council. Again, not having been adopted by the Council, this “Plan of Work” cannot be posted on the Security Council website, but can be circulated and referred to by those following the Council’s work in August.
To summarize, because it is established Council practice that each programme of work must be adopted by consensus, the objection of even one Council member is sufficient to block a POW. At the same time, the Council has never taken any decisions to define precisely what are acceptable entries. This being the case, it would be advisable for any member objecting to a proposed calendar to do so based on individual political positions, rather than trying to invoke principles which have not been adopted by the Council and are not borne out by past practice.
(This update supplements pages 69 and 118-119 of the book.)
 See related article on this website.
 The UN Secretariat does not “control” the Council’s mandate and reporting cycles, but rather compiles records of those cycles as agreed through Council decisions: https://www.un.org/securitycouncil/sites/www.un.org.securitycouncil/files/reporting_and_mandate_cycles.pdf
 See Security Council Report, “Programme of Work for September 2022, Security Council Report’s “What’s In Blue”, 1 September 2022:
 See Security Council Report, “Programme of Work for February 2023, Security Council Report’s “What’s In Blue”, 1 February 2023: https://www.securitycouncilreport.org/whatsinblue/2023/02/programme-of-work-for-february-2023.php