Updated on 18 March 2019
Chapter 7: DECISIONS AND DOCUMENTS
Section 3: Resolutions
To avoid Chinese and US vetoes, Security Council adopts a modest Afghanistan resolution
On 15 March 2019, the Security Council unanimously adopted resolution 2460 (2019) extending the mandate of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) for six months. This was the first time since the Council established UNAMA in 2002 that the Mission was not renewed for a 12-month period. Moreover, the text of the resolution is comprised of merely nine operative paragraphs, in contrast to the previous year’s resolution of forty-five. In fact, resolution 2460 (2019) reproduces the identical mandate for UNAMA as that set out in 2018, without introducing any new elements.
This type of streamlined mandate resolution, adopted for a shorter than normal time period, is known as a “technical rollover”. Such resolutions commonly denote that the Council members have been divided over at least one key point in a text under negotiation. Rather than let the mandate expire – as UNAMA’s would have on 17 March 2019 – the members agree on a simplified extension, of a duration sufficient to allow them to try to resolve their differences.
At the 15 March 2019 adoption meeting (S/PV.8485), it was confirmed by several speakers that the sole issue over which there had been controversy was whether the text, in expressing support for efforts to strengthen regional cooperation, should make explicit reference to China’s “Belt and Road” initiative. Such a reference had first been introduced to the Council’s annual UNAMA mandate resolution in 2016, and then was carried forward in the 2017 and 2018 texts. However, as the United States representative indicated in his statement, his delegation had opposed including the reference in the 2019 resolution.
For the first time since 2002, responsibility for drafting resolutions relating to Afghanistan in 2019 had been vested in not one, but two co-penholders, Germany and Indonesia. In their statements after the vote, both affirmed that given the deadlock which had arisen in the negotiations, their fundamental goal had remained the attainment of a unanimous decision by the Council, and this goal had been achieved. This, however, had been at the expense of leaving out of the resolution provisions relating to the main substantial issues, on which, the German representative noted, “a very strong consensus” had been reached in the negotiations. According to him, these issues included most importantly an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process, and also the July elections in Afghanistan, the participation of women in the peace process, the situation of children in armed conflict, and the nexus between climate change and security.
The Indonesian representative acknowledged that in order to come up with a text that would be agreeable to all Council members, the co-penholders had had to “strike a balance” so as not to give weight to one side of the disagreement over the other. That being the case, the German representative candidly remarked that resolution 2460 (2019) was “a text that can really satisfy none of us”. He stressed, however, that the resolution “has UNAMA’s mandate at its very heart” and demonstrates that the Council members “remain united in our commitment to Afghanistan”.
At the adoption meeting, both the American and Chinese representatives spoke bluntly about their disagreement. The American contended that China had “held the resolution hostage”. In his words, China had “insisted on making it about Chinese national political priorities rather than the people of Afghanistan” when it demanded that the resolution highlight the “Belt and Road” initiative “despite its tenuous ties to Afghanistan and known problems with corruption, debt distress, environmental damage and lack of transparency.” The United States representative expressed the hope that in negotiating the next UNAMA extension, China would “focus on how best to advance peace and security in Afghanistan, rather than using Security Council resolutions as a platform for inappropriately promoting self-serving initiatives.”
The Chinese representative countered by characterizing the remarks of the United States representative as being “at variance with facts” and “fraught with prejudice”. He argued that the “Belt and Road” initiative was conducive to Afghanistan’s reconstruction and economic development, as well as that country’s integration into regional development, and had “nothing to do with geopolitics”. The fact that one member had “persistently refused to accept constructive opinions put forward by other members” had, in China’s view, “poisoned the atmosphere for consultation”.
Not all Council members took the floor during the meeting. The members of the Group of Latin American and Caribbean States (Dominican Republic and Peru), the African Group (Côte d’Ivoire, Equatorial Guinea and South Africa) and Kuwait did not. Those which did uniformly expressed strong support for the efforts of the co-penholders, but regretted that the Council was not able to reach consensus on a more detailed resolution. This, the Belgian representative asserted, had deprived UNAMA of “the necessary political guidance”. The representative of France, noting that the six-month technical rollover was “not the signal that we should be sending to UNAMA,” stressed that it “should in no way set a precedent.”
In their statements, none of the other Council members explicitly aligned themselves with the position of either China or the United States, although several expressed impatience over the deadlock. The French representative regretted that the impasse pertained “to subjects that do not have a direct link to the Mission’s mandate and which are not directly under the responsibility of this Council under the Charter”. The German representative saw it as unfortunate that “issues that have nothing to do with, and are not related to, the excellent work” of UNAMA and its mandate “made it impossible to achieve the resolution we originally aimed for.”
For his part, the Russian representative leveled implied criticism at the United States when he complained that “some of our colleagues decided to go down the path of ignoring the opinions of a number of members of the Council and at the last moment changed tack on previously agreed wording”. This, he stated, “gave rise to a counterproductive scenario which undermines our joint efforts for settlement in the country and pursuit of national reconciliation.”
All Council members who spoke were careful to reassure the Afghan representative, who was present at the adoption meeting, that the fact that the Council was only able to achieve a short-term technical rollover did not in any way signify diminishing support for Afghanistan. In her statement, the Afghan representative expressed regret that “the nature of negotiations on this year’s draft was such that the divergence of views among some Council members led to a situation where UNAMA’s mandate is extended for six months, as opposed to the usual 12-month renewal period.” She underlined her delegation’s understanding that the Council was committed “to a forthcoming 12-month extension of UNAMA’s mandate”. Implying that Afghanistan will seek to be actively involved in the next round of negotiations, she added that “we will utilize the coming six months to develop a more comprehensive and effective mandate and resolution to serve the people of Afghanistan.”
A number of Council members looked ahead to this next round of negotiations, which will need to be concluded by the new expiry date of 17 September 2019. In that next resolution, the German representative noted, the Council will be able to reflect the peace process and the elections held in the interim. (This, however, would no longer be the case when, subsequently, it was announced that the Afghan presidential election would be postponed until 28 September 2019.) The Belgian representative affirmed that the next renewal will give members the opportunity to adopt a more detailed resolution which will allow UNAMA “to have better operational planning”. The representative of Indonesia suggested that in the next round of negotiations, resolution 2460 (2019) will be “a good basis . . . to chart positive developments in Afghanistan” and to address those areas on which the government and people of Afghanistan need the international community’s support.
Council members, and Afghanistan, are clearly dissatisfied that the most that could be achieved in March 2019 was a technical rollover resolution. Yet it is difficult to imagine that the diverging Chinese and United States positions on the appropriateness of referring to the “Belt and Road” initiative will ease over the next six-month period, and this places the co-penholders in a difficult position.
Perhaps not coincidentally, the Indonesian representative noted that the highly streamlined March 2019 text has some positive aspects. Resolution 2460 (2019), he affirmed, “is in a sense revolutionary” because it “does not simply build on past resolutions” in their entirety. Rather, by focusing “on the primary priorities” which are in the interests of the Afghanistan people, it can be seen as responding to the frequently voiced wish of many Council members that Security Council resolutions be more “succinct and to the point”, setting out clear mandates that “can be read and understood”.
A related article on this website describes the readiness of permanent members, during the present decade, to cast a veto in order to highlight their differences. Given this trend, it is a positive development that with respect to renewing the UNAMA mandate, Council members in March 2019 were able to agree to a compromise – however incomplete – which allowed a text to be put to the vote without eliciting either a Chinese or an American veto. The question of Afghanistan is considered too important by all Council members for them to have allowed the UNAMA mandate to lapse outright. However, had a compromise not earlier been reached, a scenario of brinkmanship, right up to the expiry of the mandate on 17 March 2019, was a distinct possibility.
(See the related article on this website on the drafting process for the 2017 UNAMA mandate resolution.)
 Resolution 1401 (2002).
 See resolution 2274 (2016), para. 22; resolution 2344 (2017), para. 34; and resolution 2405 (2018), para. 41.