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Updated on 25 August 2017


Section 3:   Resolutions


As penholder for Afghanistan, Japan tackles problem of overlong resolutions


As mentioned in the book (page 128), “The situation in Afghanistan” is one of the rare country-specific agenda items for which an elected Security Council member, in current practice, serves as “lead country” or “penholder”.  The designation of the penholder on this item has customarily been decided every one or two years in conjunction with the process by which subsidiary organ chairmanships are allocated to incoming Council members.  Japan, the penholder for Afghanistan in 2017, also served as penholder for this item during its two previous terms in 2009-2010 and 2005-2006.[1]  This frequency of penholding on Afghanistan has given Japan experience and institutional memory with respect to drafting the annual resolution renewing the mandate of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA).


Council resolutions, particularly those relating to mandates of UN operations and missions, have become increasingly convoluted, and long.  This has become a problem not only for the Council itself, but also for non-Council Member States, NGOs, and UN Secretariat offices involved in implementing these resolutions.  Such texts have been called “Christmas tree” resolutions, because various new provisions are hung on the “branches” of previous resolutions on the same subject, without any close examination of the merits of bringing forward the earlier provisions.  The late Russian representative Vitaly Churkin contended that the Council should avoid situations in which its resolutions “contain up to 50 operative paragraphs, and press statements go on for three pages, while the bulk of those documents contain repeated provisions from other documents” (S/PV.7740).


At the 2016 Finnish Workshop (S/2017/468), and in other discussions, these drafting excesses have been ascribed to several causes:

  • The Council replicates language from earlier resolutions on a subject because that language, having been previously agreed, probably will not require new negotiations;

  • There is a lack of strategic thinking about the real requirements of the situation;

  • Penholders, wishing to demonstrate receptivity, take on too many drafting suggestions by other Council members and interested parties;

  • The Council feels obligated to include detailed provisions operationalizing its general statements of principle on cross-cutting thematic issues such as women and peace and security, children and armed conflict, rule of law, etc.

  • It is difficult to trim drafts because various delegations adamantly oppose deleting particular provisions which they support;

  • Senior members of Council delegations are insufficiently involved in the drafting process, generally leaving it in the hands of their experts, who are more reliant on instructions from capitals and therefore often not in a position to effect compromises; and

  • Owing to time pressure, texts are not thoroughly reviewed before being submitted to a vote.


These problems arise not only as concerns operative paragraphs, but also preambles.  The book (page 396) records that “Council humorists have joked that preambles to resolutions have become so lengthy because elected members, feeling thwarted in their attempts to introduce ideas into operative paragraphs, have poured their ideas into the preambles.”


The annual resolution on UNAMA was a perfect candidate for addressing the problem of excessively long, complex resolutions because, among Council resolutions extending mandates, the Afghanistan resolution has been the lengthiest.  In 2016, resolution 2274 (2016) was, in its English version, 20 pages long, and included a seven-page preamble and 57 operative paragraphs.


Well in advance of the expiry of resolution 2274 (2016), Japan, as penholder, began work on a new draft with the intention of drastically reducing its length, so as to make it more concise, targeted, and user-friendly.  The negotiations on the draft were difficult, to the extent that the draft was not agreed in time for adoption at the regular debate on Afghanistan on 10 March 2017.  Rather, it was brought to a vote a week later, on the actual day of the mandate expiry.  However, the outcome of the process initiated by Japan was that resolution 2344 (2017) is only nine pages long, that is, eleven pages shorter than the previous year’s resolution.  The preamble of resolution 2344 (2017) is only two pages, as contrasted to the seven-page preamble of resolution 2274 (2016), and there are only 38 operative paragraphs, 19 fewer than in 2016.


Reducing the length of the preamble proved to be challenging.  Whereas a plethora of programmes, plans, commitments, partnerships, strategies and reviews had been specifically cited and supported in the preambles of previous resolutions, the approach of resolution 2344 (2017) is to endorse these more generally.  Other issues – such as those relating to Afghan security forces, joint programmes with the UN system, anti-terror measures, and opiates – which had been addressed through guiding principles in the preambles of previous resolutions, are, in resolution 2344 (2017), covered in concise operative paragraphs.


In resolution 2344 (2017), minimal streamlining was made to the priorities of the UNAMA mandate itself.  Moreover, the new resolution maintains the practice of expressing support for Afghanistan’s full assumption of leadership and ownership in the domains of security, governance, and development, as well as for government-initiated electoral reform and appropriate outreach to authorized representatives of Taliban groups.  However, these carryovers have been set out more concisely.  Similarly, issues such as justice, human rights, and women’s protection and participation have been addressed in a very targeted way, as compared to lengthier expositions on these issues in prior resolutions.


At the adoption meeting, only the representative of Japan took the floor after the unanimous vote, at which time he expressed his appreciation for “the support and constructive engagement of Council members and all interested parties”.  He made no specific reference to the drafting process by which the resolution had been streamlined, but did affirm that despite “differences in nuance in how Council members assess the current situation”, all members had been “united in recognizing the important role that the United Nations will continue to play in promoting peace and stability in Afghanistan.” (S/PV.7902)


Japan will have left the Council by the time the UNAMA mandate next comes up for renewal in March 2018.  It remains to be seen if the next penholder will follow Japan’s lead in carrying out a significant redrafting of the resolution, or whether it will revert to the pattern of hanging new provisions onto the “branches” of resolution 2234 (2017), in which case subsequent resolutions are likely to expand in length once again.


To date, the dramatic streamlining of the 2017 Afghanistan resolution has had no discernable impact on the length of resolutions on other agenda items.  From the date of the adoption of resolution 2344 (2017) until 25 August 2017, ten additional resolutions have been adopted extending mandates of UN operations or missions:  MONUSCO, MINUSTAH, MINURSO, UNISFA, UNSOM, UNDOF, UNAMID[2], MINUSMA, UNAMI and UNFICYP.  In all but one of these cases, the resolution extending the mandate was the same length, or longer, than the previous year’s.  The only text which was shorter related to the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), and that was explainable by the fact that MINUSTAH had entered a drawdown phase in view of its full withdrawal from Haiti by 15 October 2017.


[1] Other recent penholders for Afghanistan have been Spain, Australia, Germany, and Turkey.

[2] A joint UN-African Union operation.



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