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Updated on 10 December 2018

Chapter 3:   THE PEOPLE

Section 3:   Elected members


With adoption of three key documents, momentum accelerates for enhanced E10 impact


The year 2018 has seen a significant strengthening of cooperation and coordination among the elected members (E10) of the Security Council, as regards both working methods and substance.  In the second half of the year, this greater cohesion has particularly taken form through agreement on three key documents: 


1)  The “Ten Elements for Enhanced E10 Coordination and Joint Action”, agreed in September 2018;

2)  The letter dated 13 November 2018 (S/2018/1024) signed by all ten elected members of the Council,[1] as well as the five incoming members;[2] and


3)  The Co-Chairs’ Summary of the E10 Dialogue hosted by South Africa and Sweden in Pretoria from 13 to 14 November 2018 and attended by the 15 countries which signed the 13 November letter.


While each of these documents is slightly different in its focus, taken together, they constitute a strong statement of the intention of the elected members to play a more activist role on the Security Council than ever before.


In the Council’s earlier decades, various elected members, particularly those belonging to the Non-Aligned Movement, periodically aligned with each other to press the Council to make progress on substantive issues and procedure.  However, it has been particularly since 2011 that an unprecedented level of close coordination has been developing among the elected members as a group.  Initially these efforts involved the ten members serving at the same time on the Council.  More recently, they have included the incoming five members (I-5) as well. 


Several factors have fostered this growing coordination.  Over recent years, the Security Council has visibly failed to take decisive steps to resolve several prominent conflicts on its agenda, owing to sharp differences among the permanent members (P5).  These blockages engendered intense frustration among the elected members, who generally feel a sense of responsibility towards the wider UN membership, which elected them, to help ensure that the Council effectively exercises its Charter-mandated responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security.  Rather than passively accepting these stalemates among the P5, the elected members began proactively looking for areas where some progress might be possible.


For example, after the P5 repeatedly negated each other’s efforts to address the political aspects of the worsening crisis in Syria, successive small groups of elected members had the discernment to realize that the Council could nonetheless reach agreement on humanitarian aspects of the situation, and a series of resolutions which they drafted to that end have been adopted.[3]  With regard to the use of chemical weapons in Syria, in 2017, several E10 initiated documents aimed at reaching a compromise that would have extended the mandate of the Joint Investigative Mechanism, including a draft resolution by Japan which was ultimately vetoed by the Russian Federation.[4]  On the issue of Israeli settlements, in December 2016, elected members from four different regional groups – Malaysia, New Zealand, Senegal and Venezuela – successfully brought to a vote a draft resolution originally submitted by Egypt on behalf of the Arab Group.[5]  Also in 2016, Egypt, Japan, New Zealand, Spain and Uruguay achieved adoption of their joint resolution on protecting medical facilities and personnel.[6] 


In parallel, E10 frustration that some P5 were using their privileged position to block political initiatives aggravated long-simmering resentment among the elected members over the unequal apportioning of responsibilities within the Council.  A succession of E10 countries began to directly challenge the P5 to accept more equal power-sharing among both categories of Council members.  Their efforts have focused primarily on three goals:  1) Gaining more opportunities to serve as the “penholders” who draft the Council’s outcome documents; 2) Attaining more authority over the process whereby the elected members are appointed to chair the Council’s sanctions committees and other subsidiary bodies; and 3) Improving the functioning of these subsidiary bodies, especially the processes through which sanctions regimes are imposed, overseen and modified.  


On this third topic, in 2016, upon the initiative of Venezuela, a breakthrough Note by the President (S/2016/170) was adopted which set out new guidelines for improving a) the transparency of the Council’s subsidiary organs; b) the process for selecting and preparing incoming Chairs; and c) the interaction and coordination among the Council’s subsidiary organs and between these bodies and the Council as a whole.[7]  Later in 2016, a presidential note drafted by Japan, in its capacity as Chair of the Council’s Informal Working Group on Documentation and Other Procedural Questions (IWG), carried these guidelines further (S/2016/619).[8]  Previously, elected members were designated Chairs by a P5 coordinator, with minimal input or transparency, and often just before they were to assume their new responsibilities.  As a result of pressure from incoming members for a more inclusive, orderly process, S/2016/619 provided that consultations on chairmanships should include “the participation of all Council members”; that the appointments should, if possible, be finalized no later than three months before the Chairs are to take up their duties; and that the process would be “facilitated jointly by two members of the Security Council working in full cooperation”.[9]  In a subsequent press conference, it was confirmed that one co-facilitator would be a permanent member, while the other would be the elected member chairing the IWG. 


A third initiative with respect to sanctions was a 2016 letter initiated by New Zealand (S/2016/658).  Signed by all 10 of the elected members serving as sanctions committee chairs, the letter set out an “Administrative delineation of correspondence” for these committees.  The letter was unprecedented in that it marked the first time that the E10 issued guidelines for all sanctions committees agreed among themselves, and without the stated concurrence of the P5.[10]  Overall, the success of these initiatives by elected members emboldened their successors by demonstrating that the E10 could, through united and consistent pressure, bring about incremental change to areas of the Council’s working methods which are important to them.


While efforts to rebalance power were gaining momentum within the Security Council, among the wider UN membership a comparable movement was taking place.  In 2016, the General Assembly, working in tandem with civil society organizations, introduced an unprecedented degree of transparency and accountability into the appointment process for the UN Secretary-General, a process which formerly, at the behest of the P5, had been largely conducted in secret.  Moreover, in Assembly dialogues with the various announced candidates, a number of Member States pressed for an end to the practice whereby incoming Secretaries-General felt obligated to appoint P5 nationals to high positions within the Organization.  In another challenge to P5 influence in the United Nations, in 2016 the General Assembly denied the Russian Federation a seat on the Human Rights Council.  The following year, the Assembly failed to re-elect a United Kingdom national as Judge to the International Court of Justice, marking the first time that all five permanent members were not represented on the Court.  


Against this backdrop, the three key documents agreed by the E10 in 2018 constitute a further noteworthy landmark in efforts to readjust the balance of power and privilege within the Security Council.  The breadth of support among the elected members for these types of initiatives is evidenced by the fact that the initiators represent four of the Council’s regional groups:  the Latin American and Caribbean States (Peru); Asia-Pacific (Kuwait); Western European and Other States (Germany and Sweden); and Africa (South Africa).


Each of the three documents is slightly different in its focus and presentation.  The “Ten Elements for Enhanced E10 Coordination and Joint Action” in some instances broke new ground, while in others, this document confirmed practices that had been developing informally among the E10 over time.  The elected members having previously instituted the position of an E10 coordinator, rotating in English alphabetical order every month, this role fell to Peru in June 2018.  During its tenure, Peru introduced the draft that became the “Ten Elements”, which was then negotiated under that delegation’s leadership over a three-month period.  Reflecting inputs by all of the 2018 elected members, it was finalized and agreed by all of them in September 2018. 


Of the “Ten Elements”, five relate to Procedural aspects and the other five, to Substantive aspects.  Concerning procedure, the document confirms the position of rotating E10 coordinator, and commits the coordinator to convene at least one meeting per month of the elected members at the level of Permanent Representative, and another meeting at the level of Political Coordinator, both preferably in the first or last week of each month.  Incoming new members, upon their election, may be invited to observe such meetings.  Regarding resolutions and presidential statements, the E10 committed to sharing their drafts with each other at an early stage, with a view to presenting them with the support and/or sponsorship of all elected members.  In addition, the E10 stated that they would enhance their informal interaction, as a group, with the Secretary-General and Under-Secretaries-General, as appropriate.  At the time of agreeing to the “Ten Elements”, the E10 had already held several meetings with the Secretary-General. 


Concerning substance, the elected members committed in the “Ten Elements” to hold meetings to consider how to enhance the Council’s efficiency and effectiveness, particularly with respect to its working methods.  While acknowledging their national positions, the E10 also agreed to contribute to building the Council’s unity and cohesion in addressing pressing issues of international peace and security.  In this context, the elected members concurred that joint oral or written E10 statements might be delivered on specific substantive issues. 


In fact, two such joint statements were made in 2018.  The first was delivered on 23 February 2018 by the representative of Kuwait, the country which, together with Sweden, was serving as co-penholder for the text which became resolution 2401 (2018).  Later adopted unanimously, this resolution initiated a humanitarian ceasefire in Syria in order to allow for the delivery of humanitarian relief.  At the stakeout, all eight of the other elected members stood with the representatives of Kuwait and Sweden, and the representative of Kazakhstan also made some remarks in his capacity as E10 coordinator for that month.  The second joint statement in 2018 was made on 5 September, at the Security Council stakeout area, on the risk of a humanitarian catastrophe in Idlib, Syria.  It was delivered by the E10 coordinator for that month, the representative of Poland, flanked by the representatives of the other elected members. 


Two substantive issues in the “Ten Elements” relate to the equitable sharing of responsibilities among all Council members:  1) the issue of “penholding”, that is, serving as the lead country for draft outcome documents and Council missions on specific issues; and 2) the apportionment of chairmanships for the Council’s subsidiary bodies.[11]  Concerning the former, the “Ten Elements” reiterates the right of all Council members to pursue initiatives on meetings, outcomes and missions, and also recalls the stipulation in the comprehensive presidential note on working methods, S/2017/507, that any Council member may be a penholder.  Moreover, the “Ten Elements” affirms that subsidiary organ chairs are, by default, “co-penholders”, a right which they can choose to exercise.  With respect to chairmanships, the document underscores that pursuant to S/2017/507, as noted above, timely consultations are to be undertaken with incumbent chairs and all Council members prior to deciding on these appointments. 


Two months after the “Ten Elements” were agreed, the elected members reached concurrence on two additional documents.  The first of these was a letter dated 13 November 2018 and signed both by that year’s ten elected Council members and by all five of the 2019 incoming members (S/2018/1024).  The letter was initiated by Kuwait (a Council member and Chair of the IWG) and Germany (which would join the Council in 2019).  The letter opens by recalling that all 15 of these countries were “elected with large margins by the General Assembly”, and adds that consequently they “bring added legitimacy to the Security Council.”  This responsibility, the letter states, is one that they take seriously, including the conduct of their chairmanships of the Council’s subsidiary bodies.


In this connection, the 15 signatories stated their strong belief “that a more equal distribution of work among all members is not just a matter of fair burden-sharing,” but that it would also “positively affect the overall effectiveness of the Council.”  Specifically, they contended that the permanent members should also serve as chairs of the Council’s subsidiary bodies, and that “as a general rule, no member should chair more than two subsidiary bodies”.  (For 2018, four elected members exceeded this number of chairmanships.[12]  For the 2019 Council, three incoming members are expected to hold more than two chairmanships.[13])


In addition, the 13 November 2018 letter, echoing the “Ten Elements”, advocates that the Security Council


“should make better use of the expertise that the Chairs of sanctions committees develop on the situations discussed in their respective committees, and should consider promoting their role as penholders and the automaticity of their role as co-penholders on the related dossiers, should they so choose.”


The third important document agreed by the elected members in 2018 was the Co-Chairs’ Summary of the E10 Dialogue hosted by South Africa and Sweden in Pretoria from 13 to 14 November 2018, and attended by the same 15 countries which signed the 13 November letter.  The Summary acknowledged that the disparities in the Council stemming largely from the permanence of the P5, as contrasted to the elected members’ limited two-year terms, “required cooperation to be overcome.”  The Summary affirmed that “the current geopolitical environment created the opportunity and necessity for E10 members to foster greater collaboration to ensure unity of the Council in pursuit of its central mandate.”  Empowering elected members would benefit the Security Council as a whole, the Summary declared, because the E10 provide “credibility, legitimacy and accountability to the Council”, through their mandate from the General Assembly. 


Reinforcing some of the positions taken in the “Ten Elements” and the 13 November 2018 letter, the Summary set out the following general goals for the elected members:  a) to pursue a principled approach to the Council’s actions; b) to encourage greater coordination with the entire UN system; c) to work towards the elaboration and finalization of the Council’s Provisional Rules of Procedure; d) to consult further on the equitable distribution of labour and burden sharing as pertains to the allocation of responsibilities, including subsidiary bodies and penholdership; and e) to strengthen the capacity of elected members in taking up their duties and to bridge gaps in institutional memory.


The “Conclusions” section of the Summary asserted that elected members’ cooperation should reflect their shared commitment to multilateralism and to “ensuring a united, credible and effective approach to the maintenance of international peace and security”, while reviving trust and accountability in the Council, “taking into account all the pillars of the United Nations in the interest of all UN members.”  Like the “Ten Elements”,[14] the “Conclusions” emphasized the importance of E10 coordination meetings.  In particular, the elected members were encouraged to build on the Pretoria meeting by convening an annual “engagement”, the main venue for which would be New York.  The possibility was also raised that the E10 would meet at ministerial level on the margins of the 74th General Assembly session.


The “Conclusions” then listed a number of ideas which were discussed in Pretoria.  These include:


  • More effective use of horizon scanning meetings;[15]

  • Passing the baton on thematic issues, including the idea of collectively pursuing thematic issues;

  • Pursuing co-penholdership, including with chairs of sanctions committees;

  • Utilizing different diplomatic levels of the E10 for coordinating and engaging with various levels of UN Secretariat interlocutors;

  • Proactive engagement with the media to contribute to setting the narrative;

  • Drawing on the strengths of regional approaches, acknowledging the diversity of regional perspectives represented among the E10, as well as their links to regional organizations;

  • Acting as bridgebuilders to overcome deadlocks; and

  • Contributing to the quality and effectiveness of field missions.


Taken together, the three E10 documents agreed in 2018 constitute a precise and ambitious road map.  Some of the goals which these documents set out, such as specific modalities for E10 coordination, will be immediately implementable.  Other objectives are longer term and will probably be attained in stages.  For example, at present, the vast majority of Council decisions and press statements are drafted by France or the United Kingdom, with others prepared by the United States, and very few authored by elected members.  More balanced sharing of this responsibility is likely to be achieved gradually, and less through the abandonment by the P3 of their “pens” than, at least as an intermediate step, through “co-penholding”, a modality supported by all three of the 2018 documents.[16]

More equitable distribution of the responsibility for chairing the Council’s subsidiary bodies – the prominent goal, in particular, of the 13 November 2018 letter – may be more difficult to attain.  There is no doubt that chairing these bodies can tax the resources of the E10, and can also subject them to considerable political pressure.  However, there may be certain practical and image-related problems associated with having P5 also serve as Chairs.[17]  Nonetheless, it remains possible that in the future, agreement might be reached for at least some permanent members to lead a subsidiary body for which such an appointment would not generate prohibitive controversy.   


The issue of adjusting power-sharing is not before the Security Council in a vacuum, but rather in the context of a number of highly divisive substantive issues presently on the Council’s agenda.  In this connection, it is important to recognize that E10 dissatisfaction over the outsized influence of the P5 is not the only schism among Council members.  Notably, the question of whether it is appropriate for the Council to consider the human rights situations in individual countries has divided the members not along the lines of P5 versus E10.  Rather, proposals by like-minded permanent and elected members that the Council consider the human rights situations in Myanmar, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Syria, Venezuela, Iran and Nicaragua have met with firm opposition from other P5 and E10 delegations.  These differences have led to procedural votes or have been resolved only through tense compromises. 


As suggested in the Pretoria Co-Chairs Summary, unsettled conditions such as those prevalent in “the current geopolitical environment” can create opportunities for initiatives to render the Security Council more effective.  In other cases, however, discord among Council members over substance has made some of them less willing to compromise on any aspect of the Council’s work.  At present, while the P5 certainly are not in complete agreement with all the points being raised by the elected members, it appears that so far the E10 initiatives have not had a disruptive, polarizing effect within the Council.  For the longer term, it remains to be seen what the specific impact of the growing E10 coordination will be on the Council’s substance and procedure.  At minimum, however, it is clear that by banding together, the elected members are significantly augmenting their influence on the Security Council. 


[1] Bolivia, Côte d’Ivoire, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, the Netherlands, Peru, Poland and Sweden.

[2] Belgium, Dominican Republic, Germany, Indonesia and South Africa.

[3] Resolutions 2139 (2014), 2165 (2014), 2191 (2014), 2258 (2015), 2332 (2016), 2393 (2017) and 2401 (2018).

[4] S/2017/970; S/PV.8107 of 17 November 2017.

[5] Resolution 2334 (2016).

[6] Resolution 2286 (2016).  The E10 have successfully proposed Council decisions with respect to several other thematic topics, occasionally overcoming initial opposition from some P5 members.  These include resolution 2417 (2018), drafted by Côte d’Ivoire, Kuwait, the Netherlands and Sweden, on the link between violence and food insecurity.  For other examples of joint E10 initiatives, see Security Council Report, October 2018 Monthly Forecast, “In Hindsight:  Emergence of the E10” 

[7] See related article on this website. 

[8] See related article on this website.  

[9] These guidelines were later incorporated in a subsequent presidential note, S/2017/507, of 30 August 2017.

[10] See related article on this website.  

[11] There are 24 sanctions committees, counter-terror committees, and working groups listed in the yearly Note by the President naming the chairs and vice-chairs for each (document S/[year]/2).  In addition, by its resolution 2242 (2015), the Council established the Informal Expert Group on Women and Peace and Security, which is the only subsidiary body of the Council which has two co-chairs.  The chairs of the Military Staff Committee (established by Article 47 of the UN Charter) and the Peacebuilding Commission are not appointed by the Security Council.

[12] Kazakhstan has chaired three:  Resolution 751 Somalia sanctions committee; Resolutions 1267/1989/2253 ISIL/Da’esh and Al-Qaida sanctions committee; Resolution 1988 (Taliban) sanctions committee.  Peru has chaired five:  Counter-Terrorism Committee; Resolution 2140 (Yemen) sanctions committee; Resolution 1566 Working Group (relating to terrorism); Informal Working Group on International Tribunals; Co-chair of Informal Expert Group on Women and Peace and Security.  Poland has chaired three:  Resolution 1518 committee (assets freeze relating to Iraq); Resolution 1591 Sudan sanctions committee; Resolution 2206 South Sudan sanctions committee.  Sweden has chaired four:  Resolution 1970 Libya sanctions committee; Resolution 2374 Mali sanctions committee; Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict; Co-chair of Informal Expert Group on Women and Peace and Security.  Peru and Poland are expected to fulfil the same functions in 2019.

[13] Belgium would chair three:  Facilitator for implementation of resolution 2231 (Iran); Resolution 751 Somalia sanctions committee; Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict.  Germany would chair three:  Resolution 1718 sanctions committee (DPRK non-proliferation); Resolution 1970 Libya sanctions committee; Co-chair of Informal Expert Group on Women and Peace and Security.  Indonesia would chair three:  Resolution 1540 non-proliferation committee; Resolutions 1267/1989/2253 ISIL/Da’esh and Al-Qaida sanctions committee; Resolution 1988 (Taliban) sanctions committee.

[14] To which the Pretoria Summary affirmed the elected members’ commitment.

[15] In fact, in November 2018, the E10 met with the Secretary-General in order to ask him to reestablish this practice with regional/subregional and thematic foci.

[16] The comprehensive S/2017/507 presidential note on working methods states that “More than one Council member may act as co-penholders, when it is deemed to add value”. 

[17] There have been a few instances in the past when permanent members have chaired subsidiary organs of the Security Council.  The Committee of Inquiry established by resolution 496 (1981) in connection with Seychelles was chaired by France, pursuant to resolution 507 (1982).  The first Chair of the Counter-Terrorism Committee was the representative of the United Kingdom, and he was succeeded in the chairmanship by the representative of the Russian Federation.  The representative of France served as the first Chair of the Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict.  However, as noted in the book (pp. 556-557), from the outset, “there was a general trend for the Council’s subsidiary organs to be chaired by elected, rather than permanent, members.  The rationale for this practice has been obscured, but it may relate to an understanding reached in 1946 among the wider UN membership that the permanent members would have virtually continuous membership in some of the other United Nations principal organs or their governing bodies.  As part of that understanding, it was reportedly agreed that the permanent members would not serve on the bureaux of those organs or governing bodies, so as to give the opportunity to other Member States to serve in leadership positions.  It is possible that, in parallel, the same principle was applied to the bureaux of subsidiary organs of the Security Council.”



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