Security Council Reform Outside the IGN Process

To view updates on non-IGN reform efforts from the current session, see below.

While the Intergovernmental Negotiations (IGN) are currently the official forum for Member States to discuss and debate Security Council reform, they have often been described as slow-moving and repetitive, and many Member States have become fatigued by the process. Increasingly, Member States are turning to other forums and initiatives to address their concerns and voice ideas for reforming the Security Council. Whereas the IGN tend to focus heavily on Security Council expansion, efforts outside the IGN tend to focus on the Council’s working methods, especially the use of the veto, even though these issues are also under consideration in the IGN.

Since 2010, the Security Council has hosted an annual Open Debate on Working Methods as a forum for all Member States to voice their concerns about the Council’s working methods. Common suggestions for reform at these debates include increased Security Council cooperation with other UN organs, such as the Secretariat and General Assembly, the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), and the Peacebuilding Commission; more frequent use of public proceedings and Arria-formula meetings; and improved cooperation with other entities, such as regional organizations and the International Criminal Court. There are also common calls to revise the penholder system, as well as the process of selecting a Secretary General, which many argue are undemocratic.

The issue of the veto, however, is by far the working methods issue that has recently received the most attention from Member States. The veto, a power held by the five permanent members of the Security Council (P5), has been a point of contention among many Member States since the adoption of the UN Charter in 1945. This veto power gives the P5 (France, the United Kingdom, the United States, Russia, and China) the effective power to block any draft resolution presented to the Security Council, unless it concerns procedural issues.

The most recent concerns about the veto focus on the SC’s failure to act in certain crises, such as Russia’s involvement in Ukraine and most notably, the conflict in Syria. Helpful resources to illuminate the history of the use of the veto at the UN have been published by The Guardian and Security Council Report. Because of these cases of inaction, recent efforts to address the veto focus on the importance of preventing, and intervening in, mass atrocity situations, with emphasis on the fact that that the primary responsibility of the Security Council is to maintain global peace and security.

Presently, there are two main proposals seeking to address the veto and the overall working methods of the Security Council: the France-Mexico joint political declaration and the ACT group's Security Council Code of Conduct. The first originated with French President François Hollande’s call at the 2013 UN General Assembly debate for all P5 states to collectively pledge to not use their veto in cases of mass atrocity, which was followed by French Minister of Foreign Affairs Laurent Fabius' op-ed. This call has since evolved into France and Mexico’s joint political declaration for the P5 to restrain their use of the veto in instances of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes.

The second proposal is the Accountability, Coherence, and Transparency (ACT) group’s Security Council Code of Conduct, which is open to all Member States as current, or potential future, members of the SC. The Code of Conduct is a pledge to support SC action in cases of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes, and to not vote against any credible draft resolutions to prevent or end such situations. The Permanent Mission of Liechtenstein circulated an explanatory note inviting all Member States to endorse the Code in early September 2015, and it was formally launched with the support of 104 Member States in late October 2015.

Both of these initiatives seek to prevent inaction on the part of the Security Council in cases of genocide, mass atrocities, and war crimes, and have received broad support from a number of Member States. Notably, many have described the two proposals as “mutually reinforcing,” with the French-Mexican proposal applying only to the P5 and the ACT proposal applying to the entire membership. The drafters of each proposal seem to share this view, and have publicly expressed support for the other’s initiative.

Other groups have also expressed interest in addressing what they see as misuse of the veto. The Elders, in their recommendations for UN reform, include a call for P5 states to pledge not to use, or threaten to use, their veto without public explanation, and commit fully to working to find common ground.

For more information on the subject of the veto, please visit the following sites:

Reform Outside the IGN: Updates from the Current Session

UN Reform at the 70th Session of the UN General Assembly by Jessica Kroenert, 29 October 2015

The 70th session of the UN General Assembly (UNGA) general debates were held from 28 September - 3 October 2015, and featured a number of world leaders reflecting on the achievements of the Organization thus far, as well as discussing reforms that they see as necessary for the future success of the Organization.

ACT group formally launches Security Council Code of Conduct
by Jessica Kroenert, 26 October 2015

On 23 October 2015, the ACT group formally launched their year-long initiative on the Security Council Code of Conduct in a meeting hosted by Liechtenstein, the primary drafter of the Code.

Security Council Hosts Annual Open Debate on Working Methods
by Jessica Kroenert, 26 October 2015

On Tuesday 20 October, the Security Council hosted its sixth annual open debate on the topic of the Council's working methods. Pursuant to the concept note circulated by Spain, Member States primarily focused on how the Council could improve its relationships with other UN organs such as the Secretariat, General Assembly (GA), and Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), as well as regional organizations.

ACT group holds high-level event on proposed Security Council Code of Conduct
by Jessica Kroenert, 15 October 2015

On 1 October 2015, the Permanent Mission of Liechtenstein hosted a high-level ministerial event on “The Code of Conduct regarding Security Council action against genocide, crimes against humanity or war crimes” on behalf of the Accountability, Coherence, and Transparency (ACT) Group.

France and Mexico co-host high-level meeting on "Framing the veto in the event of mass atrocities"
by Jessica Kroenert, 5 October 2015

On 30 September 2015, the permanent missions of France and Mexico hosted a high-level ministerial meeting on their proposal for restraint of the veto powers of the five permanent members (P5) of the UN Security Council in cases of mass atrocities. Foreign Minister of France, Laurent Fabius, opened the meeting with the announcement that 70 member states had signed the statement, with more expected to follow in the coming days.