Updated on 6 June 2017
Chapter 3: THE PEOPLE
Section 3: Non-permanent members
General Assembly confirms Italy-Netherlands split term arrangement for 2017-2018
On 2 June 2017, the General Assembly elected Côte d’Ivoire, Equatorial Guinea, Kuwait, Peru, and Poland to regular two-year terms on the Security Council for the period 2018-2019.
On the same day, in a separate by-election, the Assembly elected the Netherlands for a one-year term to fill the seat allocated to the Western European and Other States Group (WEOG) to which Italy was elected in 2016. Italy had announced that it would vacate that seat on 31 December 2017, in implementation of a decision taken by it and the Netherlands during the previous year’s election, after five rounds of inconclusive voting, to split the 2017-2018 term. (For background on this decision, see related article on this website.)
After Italy and the Netherlands announced their decision in June 2016, another round of balloting took place on 30 June, at which time Italy was the only announced candidate for the vacant WEOG seat. That same day, two Security Council members – the Russian Federation and Egypt – addressed letters to the General Assembly President registering their reservations about splitting the term.
The Russian representative stated that he was writing to underscore that the decision taken by Italy and the Netherlands to split the 2017-2018 term should not “set a precedent or lead to an arrangement” for splitting future Council terms. He appeared to suggest that the better course to be followed in the case of inconclusive balloting, as had been done in all other close elections that occurred following the Council’s enlargement in 1965, would be for one of the candidates to withdraw, or for a third, “compromise” country to be nominated. Citing the Council’s high volume of work, and the important role of elected members in chairing sanctions committees, he stated his belief that split terms were not “conducive to the sustainable and continued functioning of the Security Council and could compromise its ability to react to crises in a prompt and effective manner.” (A/70/791)
The letter from the Egyptian representative similarly stressed that the decision by Italy and the Netherlands should not “lay the groundwork for such a practice to become the norm in the future.” Like the Russian Federation, he recalled that no split terms had occurred since the Council’s enlargement in 1965, and asserted that deviating from the normal two-year term “would run the risk of negatively impacting the functionality of the Council as the principal body responsible for maintaining peace and security.” He noted, in addition, that the UN Charter “clearly delineates the term of membership in the non-permanent category.” (A/70/974)
In the balloting held on 30 June 2016, out of the total 190 valid ballots, 179 were cast for Italy, while eleven Member States either abstained or voted for other candidates. At least some of this lack of support for Italy’s candidacy was ascribable to a lack of support for the split-term arrangement.
However, when voting in the bi-election took place in the Assembly on 2 June 2017, out of the total 188 valid ballots, 184 votes were cast for the Netherlands, there being four abstentions and four invalid ballots. This number of abstentions was within the normal range for regular elections to the Security Council, as can be seen by the fact that in the elections for two-year terms held the same day, there were two abstentions in the voting for the Eastern Europe seat (to which Poland was elected), and five abstentions in the voting for the Group of Latin American and Caribbean States seat (to which Peru was elected).
While some of the four abstentions in the 2017 voting for the WEOG seat, and four of the invalid ballots, might reflect continuing opposition to the split-term arrangement, still it can be seen that acceptance of the arrangement grew at least slightly since it was announced last year. One Assembly member has suggested that with the votes so evenly balanced between Italy and the Netherlands in 2016, most UN Member States appreciated that the split-term agreement had spared them the potential of weeks of fruitless voting. Nonetheless, at the 2 June 2017 meeting, the representative of Egypt took the floor to re-emphasize his concern that the split term of Italy and the Netherlands should not set a precedent for the future, which would have a negative impact on the Council’s functioning.
One interesting aspect of the split-term arrangement involving Italy and the Netherlands is that when the Council embarks on the process for appointing the 2018 Chairs of its subsidiary organs, two more positions will be available than would normally be the case. In addition to the fourteen chairmanships that will be vacated by Egypt, Japan, Senegal, Ukraine, and Uruguay when they depart the Council at the close of 2017, Italy will be relinquishing its chairmanship of the Committee established pursuant to resolution 1718 (2006) – relating to the nuclear programme of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea – and also its role as Facilitator for the Implementation of Security Council resolution 2231 (2015) – relating to Iran.
(This update supplements pages 132 to 139 of the book.)