Article revised on 17 July 2016
Chapter 3: THE PEOPLE
Section 3: Non-permanent members
Decision by Italy and Netherlands to split 2017-2018 Council term
On 28 June 2016, after five rounds of balloting in the General Assembly, Italy and the Netherlands remained evenly supported, each having obtained 95 votes, for the remaining vacant seat on the Security Council allocated to the Western European and Other States Group (WEOG). Thereafter, the Foreign Ministers of both candidate countries announced their intention to “split” the 2017-2018 Council term, with Italy serving in 2017 and the Netherlands in 2018, subject to agreement within WEOG. After consultations among the WEOG members, on 29 June 2016 the Group’s chair for the month of June, the representative of Norway, sent a letter (A/70/964) informing the President of the General Assembly that in light of the two countries’ agreement to split the 2017-2018 Council term, the Netherlands
“has withdrawn its candidacy in favour of Italy. Italy is the endorsed and only candidate of the
Western European and other States. Subject to election at a forthcoming plenary meeting of the General Assembly, Italy shall serve as a non-permanent member of the Security Council as from
1 January 2017. Italy shall subsequently relinquish its seat on the Council at the end of the day of
31 December 2017. In accordance with rule 140 of the rules of procedure of the Assembly, a
by-election will need to be held to fill the vacancy for the remainder of the term 2017-2018. . . .
For this by-election, the Kingdom of the Netherlands is the endorsed and only candidate of the
Western European and other States. Subject to election by the General Assembly, the Kingdom
of the Netherlands shall fulfil the remainder of the 2017-2018 term of a non-permanent member
of the Security Council as from 1 January 2018.”
The following day, the General Assembly elected Italy to serve a two-year term on the Security Council from 1 January 2017. Out of the total 190 valid ballots, 179 were cast for Italy, while eleven Member States, possibly evidencing their lack of support for the arrangement, either abstained or voted for other candidates. Speaking after the vote, the representative of Italy thanked UN Member States “for having understood and accepted the agreement that Italy reached with the Netherlands and that has been endorsed by the WEOG Group to divide the two-year term in the Security Council.” (A/PV/70/108)
Even though Italy and the Netherlands agreed that each would serve a single year on the Council, constitutionally it was necessary to elect only one of them for a full two-year term because Article 23(2) of the UN Charter states: “The non-permanent members of the Security Council shall be elected for a term of two years” (italics added).
There have been a number of cases of split terms on the Security Council, the first occurring in 1955 and the last in 1965 (see table below). In each of those cases, Article 23(2) was respected: The country which would be serving the first year of the two-term was elected by the General Assembly for the full term. Then, towards the end of the first year of the term, that Council member announced its resignation. This cleared the way for the Assembly to hold a by-election to fill the newly-created vacancy for the following year.
The agreement that Italy and the Netherlands will split the 2017-2018 term marks the first time that such a split has been arranged between two countries which are members of the same established UN regional group. The 1959 split of a Council term between Poland and Turkey was ambiguous, since some Western countries contended that Turkey was a candidate from Eastern Europe, and this split was agreed before the 1963 GA resolution 1991 (XVIII) A established a definitive regional apportionment of seats on the Council. In all of the other cases involving split terms, the Council seat was shared cross-regionally.
Interestingly, the Netherlands previously served a one-year term on the Security Council. In 1946, the Council’s first year of existence, the Netherlands (together with Egypt and Mexico) served only that year as the result of a drawing of lots. Those three countries were designated for single-year terms in accordance with the wording of Article 23(2) of the Charter at that time, so that the terms of half of the then six non-permanent seats would come up for election each year.
The book, on pages 132 to 139, details the following precedents for split Council terms:
During the elections in 1955, with three seats to be filled, 36 ballots were necessary. On the first ballot, Cuba and Australia obtained the required majority; Poland and the Philippines did not. After four ballots, Poland withdrew in the hope that Yugoslavia might be acceptable as a compromise candidate. Yugoslavia had the backing of both the Soviet bloc and the Western countries, who hoped in this way to block the de facto reallocation to the “Arab–Asia” Group of a seat formerly filled by a European State. With the contest now between the Philippines and Yugoslavia, 25 further inconclusive ballots were held. On all these ballots except the nineteenth, the Philippines was in the lead, but was always at least seven votes short of the required majority. The accession of an additional 16 States to UN membership on 14 December introduced a new element into the situation, changing the number of votes required for a two-thirds majority. On the thirty-second ballot, the Philippines obtained 40 votes, its highest tally, but still six votes short of a two-thirds majority. At 9:00 p.m. on 16 December, the closing date for the Assembly, the President announced that there had been consultations with a number of delegations, including the two rivals for the seat, with the object of finding an acceptable solution:
"It was felt that this purpose would be achieved if lots were drawn in the President’s office
between the two candidates I have already mentioned to decide which should withdraw from the
present elections. After completing the first year of the term, the [other] candidate would offer its resignation from the Security Council. The agreement is that the vacant seat would then be filled
for the remainder of the term by the election of the [other] candidate at the eleventh session.
"The spirit of this compromise solution, for which I do not hesitate to assume a moral responsibility
that will certainly be shared by the other representatives, must ensure that the agreement will be
"In accordance with the procedure I have outlined, lots were drawn in the President’s office; as
a result the Philippines has withdrawn its candidature at this time in favour of Yugoslavia.
"I am sure that the Assembly, in approving this procedure, will recognize that it does not set a
precedent and will further agree that, in view of the unusual circumstances, the arrangement
should be accepted and carried out." (A/PV.559 (X))
Several representatives expressed reservations about the procedure as outlined. A few flatly stated that it was illegal. Others announced that they had no instructions for such an unexpected development. Still others asserted that they could not commit their governments regarding the future. After an inconclusive debate, finally, on the thirty-sixth ballot on 20 December, Yugoslavia received 43 votes, five more than the required majority. After serving on the Council during 1956, Yugoslavia informed the Secretary-General that it would not be in a position to serve in 1957 (A/3332). A by-election to fill the vacancy was held and the Philippines was elected, obtaining one vote more than the required majority. Following the election, the Soviet representative remonstrated that there had been a flagrant violation of the rights of the Eastern European States (A/PV.612 (XI)).
A similar situation developed in 1959, when Poland and Turkey were candidates for a seat on the Council. Thirty-one ballots were held during October, 12 in November, and six more in December. Turkey let it be known in mid-November that it would consider splitting the term with Poland, and discussions about this took place during the last few days of the session. In a night meeting at the end of the session, from 12 to 13 December, the President stated that following consultations between the two candidates and their supporters, it had been agreed that Poland would be the only candidate, but would resign after one year. Turkey would then be the only candidate for the vacancy thus created. The President concluded by saying, “In the vote, it is understood that the members of the Assembly will confirm that agreement.” At 2:30 a.m., the Assembly proceeded to the election. Poland obtained 71 votes, thus being elected on the fifty-second ballot (A/PV.857 (XIV)).
Subsequently, split terms came to be regarded as a normal option in the case of a deadlock. In 1960, after 13 inconclusive ballots, it was announced that Liberia and Ireland would split a 1961–1962 term. The following year, after nine inconclusive ballots, Romania and the Philippines agreed to split a 1962–1963 term, and a 1964–1965 term was split between Czechoslovakia and Malaysia after ten inconclusive ballots. As can be seen, the phenomenon of “split terms” often represented a compromise between regional groups which wanted to expand the limited opportunities for newer UN Member States to serve on the Council, and European countries which wanted to retain seats they considered allotted to their region.
The last time terms of one year were decided upon was in 1965, in the context of the imminent enlargement of the Security Council. In the balloting that year, New Zealand and Uganda were elected for one-year terms pursuant to the amended Article 23(2) of the Charter. As in 1946, this was for the purpose of staggering the terms of the nonpermanent members so that an equal number – now five – would be elected each year.
In addition to these split terms detailed in the book, Security Council Report has recorded a case in 1964 when four States were competing for three remaining places on the Council, before Council seats were regionally apportioned by the Assembly’s 1963 resolution. In order to avoid inconclusive voting, the Assembly President did not initially conduct formal balloting, but rather consulted privately with UN Member States to ascertain their preferences. On that basis, the President then proposed that the Netherlands and Uruguay serve for two-year terms, and that Jordan and Mali serve one year each of a split term. The candidates were elected as proposed, but in actuality Jordan and Mali did not serve split terms. Rather, as a result of the Council’s 1965 enlargement, each was able to serve a full two-year term. (This update supplements pages 132 to 139 of the book.)