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Updated on 13 October 2019


Section 4:   'Periodic meetings', summits, and high-level meetings


Other than the US, Council members are losing interest in convening summits during GA high-level week


The Security Council has convened a total of eight summits, the first one in 1992 and the most recent, in 2018.  Except for the first one, all of the summits have taken place in September, to coincide with the presence in New York of Heads of State and Government (HoS/G) attending the General Assembly high-level week.


The three most recent summits have been convened by the United States which, defying alphabetical probabilities, rotated into the September Council presidency in 2009, 2014 and 2018.  Two other summits have also been convened by permanent members:  the United Kingdom in 1992, and France in 2007.  Only three summits have been chaired by elected members:  Mali in 2000, the Philippines in 2005, and Turkey in 2010. 


The Council has never officially defined a threshold for a meeting to be considered a summit.  However, practice has shown a general understanding that a majority of Council members – that is, at least eight – should be represented at the level of Head of State or Government.[1] 


In keeping with this understanding, two meetings which were originally intended by the convening presidencies to be summits fell short of the necessary attendance to be so considered.   In September 2011, Lebanon planned a summit, but only six Council members attended at that level.[2]  In September 2017, Ethiopia convened a meeting initially expected to be a summit,[3] but which in the end was attended by only seven Presidents or Prime Ministers.[4] 


Reviewing the eight summits, there does not seem to be a particular correlation between the importance of the agenda item and the level of attendance.[5] 


These are the numbers of HoS/G who participated in each summit:


1992 (United Kingdom):  13

2000 (Mali): 14

2005 (Philippines):  14

2007 (France):  11

2009 (United States): 14

2010 (Turkey):  9

2014 (United States):  13

2018 (United States):  8/10[6]


It appears that after the 2007 summit convened by France, interest in Security Council summits began to taper off.  Thereafter, peak attendance was achieved only at the two summits convened by US President Barack Obama, who admittedly had “star power” at the UN. 


The book (page 43) partly attributes the failure of Lebanon’s 2011 meeting to reach the necessary threshold to “summit fatigue”, since it would have been the third summit in as many years.  This was not the case, however, as concerned Ethiopia’s 2017 meeting, because three years had elapsed since the US-convened summit of 2014. 


There was political awkwardness around both the 2011 and 2017 “non-summits”, because HoS/G of additional Council members were in fact present in New York for the GA but decided not to attend.  Similarly, other government officials at that level were concurrently in New York in 2010 but did not participate in the summit convened by Turkey.  Although the delegations in question stressed that their officials’ non-attendance was the result of tight schedules, it was hard to avoid the impression that the respective presidencies were being snubbed.   


Nonetheless, it is true that the GA’s high-level week is increasingly over-programmed, making the convening of Security Council summits during the same timeframe less attractive.  The representative of the Russian Federation spoke to the issue of balancing Council activities with the pressures of high-level week when he briefed the press at the start of his country’s presidency for September 2019.  He explained that because high-level week was “a busy week in itself,” his presidency was “not planning to overburden” the Council’s calendar during those days. 


Among other factors, the book suggests that Council summits may seem less compelling, now that there are more occasions which bring together HoS/G in other settings.  Moreover, as a practical matter, summits present considerable logistical challenges, for both the Presidents and Prime Ministers attending, and the UN Secretariat. 


Overall, in light of uneven past experiences, it appears unlikely that future September presidencies will attempt to organize a summit unless they receive firm commitments of attendance from a sufficient number of Council members, or there is an exceptional political development which merits being considered at summit level.[7]  In the near future, Niger will hold the Council presidency for September 2020 and is not believed to have plans to attempt a summit.


These are details of the eight Security Council summits:


1.  31 January 1992 on “The responsibility of the Security Council in the maintenance of international peace and security”, convened by the United Kingdom and attended by one King and twelve Heads of State or Government


2.  7 September 2000 on “Ensuring an effective role of the Security Council in the maintenance of international peace and security, particularly in Africa”, convened by Mali and attended by fourteen Heads of State or Government


3.  14 September 2005 on “Threats to international peace and security”, convened by the Philippines and attended by fourteen Heads of State or Government


4.  25 September 2007 on “Peace and security in Africa”, convened by France and attended by eleven Heads of State or Government


5.  24 September 2009 on “Nuclear non-proliferation and nuclear disarmament”, convened by the United States and attended by fourteen Heads of State or Government


6.  23 September 2010 on “Ensuring the Security Council’s effective role in maintaining international peace and security”, convened by Turkey and attended by nine Heads of State or Government


7.  24 September 2014 on “Foreign terrorist fighters”, convened by the United States and attended by thirteen Heads of State or Government[8]


8.  26 September 2018, on “Non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction”, convened by the United States and attended by eight Heads of State or Government, one Vice President and one Deputy Prime Minister


(This update supplements pages 41-44 of the book.)


[1] It is important to note that designating a Council meeting as a summit carries no legal meaning and does not, for example, alter the import of any outcome document adopted.

[2] See the book, page 43.

[3] See “Countering Proliferation:  Security Council Summit”, What’s in Blue, Security Council Report, 25 September 2018. 

[4] See related article on this website.  

[5] Dates, agenda items, conveners and attendees of the eight summits are listed at the end of this article.

[6] In addition to six Heads of State and two Heads of Government, the summit was attended by one Vice President and one Deputy Prime Minister. 

[7] Article 28(2) of the Charter provides for “periodic meetings” at which each Council member may, “if it so desires, be represented by a member of the government or by some other specially designated representative”.  Rule 4 of the Provisional Rules of Procedure stipulates that such periodic meetings “shall be held twice a year”.  Although the parameters for identifying a “periodic meeting” can be so broadly interpreted that both summits and ministerial-level meetings might be considered to fall generally within that category, the Council has not convened a formally designated “periodic meeting” since 1970.  (It is not known why the Council members did not convene any further “periodic meetings” after 1970, although the original author of our book wrote that nothing special happened at that meeting.)  In any event, the Council has discerned no need to suspend Rule 4 explicitly.  However, in earlier decades during which no meeting could be conceived of as fulfilling the “periodic meeting” requirement, the suspension of Rule 4 can be considered to have been implicit.

[8] See related article on this website. 



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