Updated on 5 July 2015
Chapter 6: VOTING
Section 9: Abstentions
Resolution passed by minimum number of affirmative votes
On 22 May 2015, the Security Council adopted resolution 2220 (2015) on small arms and light weapons (SALW) by nine affirmative votes, the minimum number required by Article 27(3) of the UN Charter. The other six votes were abstentions by Angola, Chad, China, Nigeria, the Russian Federation and Venezuela.
Only 17 times in the Council’s history has a resolution been adopted with only the minimum number of required votes. As indicated in the table below, four of these cases have occurred after the Council’s enlargement to 15 members as of 1966. The other 13 cases occurred during the period prior to enlargement, when the affirmative votes of only seven of the Council’s eleven members were required.
Until resolution 2220 (2015), the most recent case of an adoption by the minimum number of votes had been resolution 1559 (2004), adopted on 2 September 2004, by which the Council called for strict respect of Lebanon’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and also called for the withdrawal of all foreign forces and the disbanding of all militias. The six Council members abstaining on that vote were Algeria, Brazil, China, Pakistan, the Philippines and the Russian Federation. The next most recent case stretched back to 1972 (see table below).
The rarity of adopting a resolution by the narrowest allowable majority suggests that Council members, especially after 1972, have in most cases avoided putting to a vote a draft resolution which would be expected to pass with such weak support. It is noteworthy that in both the 2004 and 2015 cases, China and the Russian Federation abstained. Since either of these permanent members could have vetoed the draft resolution, it can be concluded that they were not opposed overall to the resolution’s provisions, but wanted to signify their particular reservations.
Those Council members which spoke in support of resolution 2220 (2015) included the Council President for May, Lithuania, whose tireless efforts to reach consensus were widely acknowledged by Council members, irrespective of their position on the resolution itself. The Lithuanian representative acknowledged that resolution 2220 (2015) “is not ideal”. Nonetheless, it contained “new operational impact-oriented elements” which, she affirmed, would “make a difference to those desperately in need” by enabling “specific and concrete actions aimed at limiting the damage and reducing the human costs caused by the illicit spread of small arms and light weapons”. The representatives of Chile, France, Malaysia, New Zealand, Spain, the United Kingdom and the United States, all of whom voted in favour of resolution 2220 (2015), similarly emphasized its strengths, including its provisions for integrating the fight against the illicit trade in small arms into every aspect of United Nations action. The resolution’s support for wider adherence to the Arms Trade Treaty was also mentioned.
The abstention by the Russian Federation on resolution 2220 (2015) was foreshadowed by its abstention on the first resolution adopted by the Security Council on small arms and light weapons, resolution 2117 (2013). As the only Council member abstaining on resolution 2117 (2013), the Russian Federation underscored that the resolution “lacks an important and urgent provision advanced by Russia on the unacceptable nature of the supply of small arms and light weapons to non-State actors”. Such a provision, the Russian representative contended, was opposed “only by those countries that believe that it is justified to arm non-State militias, rebel movements and groups that use violent force to seize power under the banner of fighting totalitarian regimes, tyranny, and so on” (S/PV.7036).”
In the vote on resolution 2220 (2015), all six countries which abstained similarly cited the resolution’s lack of provisions relating specifically to non-State entities. While other Council members noted that the resolution contained provisions aimed explicitly at “armed groups and criminal networks that target civilians and civilian objects”, “illegal armed groups”, “organized crime”, and “terrorists”, the representatives of Angola and Chad underscored that they, together with Nigeria (the third African member of the Security Council), had proposed more explicit language to cover the issue of non-State entities. In the words of the Chadian representative, these African concerns “did not attract even the slightest attention from those who rejected them with some degree of condescension”, leading him to add, “We are deeply disappointed and shocked”. The Angolan representative stated that “in the search for a compromise during the negotiation of the resolution . . . we proposed to explicitly mention in the resolution the exemption of armed private contractors and others similarly engaged in carrying out security missions”, but “to no avail”, thus implying that the applicability of resolution 2220 (2015) to such persons might have been one stumbling block to including specific reference to “non-State actors” in the resolution.
During the related open debate held on 13 May 2015, prior to the adoption of resolution 2220 (2015), the representative of Angola had underscored that small weapons
“are supplied or sold to non-State actors to fuel conflicts against established authorities
and destabilize entire regions and societies, leading in the final resort to the creation of terrorist groups and armed criminal networks. . . . An Angola non-State actor was for
many years armed and funded to challenge State authority, causing death and despair . . . Given the experience we have lived through so recently in building a State founded on
the rule of law, as well as the situation prevailing in so many African countries and other
parts of the world beset with conflict, I think we have, both as the Council and individually,
the moral duty and political responsibility to openly oppose the supply of small arms and
light weapons to non-State actors, in particular. Small arms in the hands of such people
have been the real weapons of mass destruction.” (S/PV.7442)
Concern over the acquisition of small arms and light weapons by non-State entities has long been a concern of African States, as exemplified by relevant provisions in the Common Positions on SALW adopted first by the Organization of African Unity in 2000, and then by the African Union (AU) in 2005. Subregional organizations in Africa have also been concerned by this issue, as evident, for example, in the ECOWAS Convention on SALW of 2006.
Some Council members supporting resolution 2220 (2015), such as Chile and New Zealand, expressed regret that compromise language had not been possible on the issue of non-State entities. However, the United States representative struck a stronger tone with respect to this issue when he criticized those Council members which, because of “an ulterior political objective”, had decided “to cling to one specific term for political purposes” (S/PV.7447).
A second objection to resolution 2220 (2015), alleged by the Russian Federation, was that it contained provisions that infringed on national sovereignty. Interestingly, during the Council’s 13 May 2015 open debate on small arms, the Russian Federation, despite its earlier abstention on resolution 2117 (2013), now favourably contrasted that resolution, “which we believe remains valid”, with the draft for resolution 2220 (2015), because the latter would “infringe on the sovereignty of States”. This interpretation, however, was strongly disputed by the representative of Lithuania.
Some of the Council members supporting the draft for resolution 2220 (2015) decided to try to compensate for its weak support among Council members by calling for broad sponsorship of the draft by the wider UN membership. Whereas the Council’s first resolution on small arms, resolution 2117 (2013), had been co-sponsored by 26 Council and non-Council Member States, resolution 2220 (2015) was co-sponsored by 56 States. The vast majority of these co-sponsors were from the Western European and Other States Group (WEOG) and the Eastern Europe Group. Twenty-three of the 29-member WEOG enlisted as co-sponsors, as did 19 of the 23-member Eastern Europe Group. The other co-sponsors were four members of the UN Africa Group, four members of the Asia-Pacific Group, and six members of the Latin America and Caribbean Group. (This update supplements pages 316-318 of the book.)