The Security Council needs to be driven by a spirit of cooperation and compromise [fr]
Working methods of the Security Council
Statement by Mr. Nicolas de Rivière, Permanent Representative of France to the United Nations
Security Council – 15 May 2020
I want first to thank Saint Vincent and Grenadines for chairing the working group on working methods of the Council and for organizing this 11th open debate together with Estonia. I also want to thank my old friends Karin Landgren and Edward Luck for their presentations.
This is always a good opportunity to reflect among us and with the other members of the United Nations on our methods and our performance.
As we distance ourselves from our daily work, and thanks to the eagle eye of our great briefers, we can better see our flaws but also our strengths.
I will focus my intervention on the theme of the debate: transparency, efficiency and effectiveness.
But before I start, I want to commend Kuwait for the adoption of 8 notes of the Presidency to adapt our methods of work. France will continue to engage with members of the Council to improve our methods towards more effectiveness, inclusiveness and transparency.
I also want to recognize our collective flexibility to adjust quickly to the constraints posed by the COVID pandemic – the so-called need for agility pointed out in the concept note. As we moved to video conference meetings, we have maintained the transparency, as much as technically possible, and the ability for the Council to make decisions. The only victim alas in this process is multilinguism. The linguistic regime of the UN was set to enable the proper functioning of its deliberative bodies. The legitimacy and efficiency of the UN depend on the respect for this core value. We are confident that the Secretariat will provide us with simultaneous interpretation in the 6 official languages as a matter of priority, 8 weeks after the beginning of COVID19 restrictions. In any case, as French is also a working language of the United Nations, I do intend to conduct the Presidency of the Council next month in French.
As an observer and participant in the work of the Council during the last 15 years, I recognize that its work is more transparent and open than ever. Almost all the reports of the Secretary-General to the Council are made public. We spend now more time in public meetings than in closed meetings. And at these public meetings we hear from interested parties, other members of the UN, troop contributing countries, all relevant UN entities and civil society, women and youth in particular. These public discussions certainly help to better inform our decisions. So transparency and openness to other actors and members must be maintained.
Nevertheless the function of the Council is not to be only an Agora where different points of views on a specific situation are presented.
The Council is an executive body. Its specificity lies in its power to investigate any dispute or situation in order to determine whether they are likely to endanger international peace and security and take a political position or take action on a specific situation, to adopt binding decisions and mandates the Secretary-General and its representatives are asked to implement in order to restore or maintain international peace and security. It is a decision making body, expected to act to stop wars and mass atrocities, and to be an effective one, it needs to be driven by a spirit of cooperation and compromise.
But for the Council to be efficient and effective in this executive role, more private discussions are needed.
All diplomats know that to reach consensus on difficult issues, direct exchanges behind closed doors are often more conducive to an agreement. Similarly, closed conversations between Council members and the Secretariat on the implementation of the Council mandates are more productive than public exposés of national positions.
Over the last few years, precisely since 2017, the Council went very public. From a balance between public and closed meetings, we are now spending more than double the time in public than in closed. But as we went more public, we also adopted fewer resolutions and fewer press statements. Our total number of texts adopted (without counting condemnations of terrorist attacks) went from around 160 per year in 2016 to 110 in 2019. It is a sharp decrease.
The number of texts is not the only measure of the performance of the Council and there are also political reasons to the difficulty of reaching a position in the Council.
But as we look at transparency, efficiency and effectiveness, we should be mindful that our practice of doing more public meetings can also go against the efficiency and the effectiveness of the Council.
The time spent in public exposing national positions is time we cannot use to discuss with the Secretariat on its performance, or to engage one another on text. And we must be mindful that a united Council position will always have more influence on political actors in conflict situation than 15, sometimes contradicting, national positions in a public meeting. We should also make more use of private informal formats like IIDs (or non public Arria meetings) or private official meetings in order to engage directly and constructively with countries and parties concerned, like we do when we are on a field visit.
But for the Council to be effective, it is important to reaffirm the need for a spirit of compromise. As I have said, the recurrent use of the veto threat cannot be a way of negotiating. So Mr President, dear colleagues, I really wish that we collectively find a better balance between the time spent in public and in closed consultations, and that we focus more of our attention and energy on the effectiveness of the Council, with a spirit of compromise to reach solutions to the benefit of the lives of people in conflict situations.