Open Security Council Debates: Substance and Process
The Security Council held an open debate on Conflict Prevention in Africa this week (following up on the implementation of Resolution 1625 (2005)) on the same subject. The debate was notable in substance because of its emphasis on the Council’s role in conflict prevention. The Security Council is the UN’s primary organ with jurisdiction over threats to international peace and security, but its role in conflict prevention has often been contested. Sometimes the objections are related to the Council’s limited capacity to engage in preventative work. The Council is after all a political body meant to act quickly and decisively to international crises. It is made up of permanent and non-permanent members with a small secretariat – it has neither the staff, budget nor mandate to engage in structural issues that may contribute to conflict like poverty (although it has of late been creating working groups and committees to fulfill some of its new responsibilities on counter- terrorism in particular).
Other objections to the Council’s engagement in preventative work arise from states wary of the potential encroachment of the Council’s jurisdiction. For some states, what the Council terms “new and emerging threats” may well be matters of domestic concern they would prefer to manage themselves. This concern was particularly apparent during the Council’s April debate on Climate Change. In this week’s debate, preventative work was discussed primarily with reference to the early warning capacity afforded by greater cooperation with other institutions such as the African Union and the Peacebuilding Commission. As such, it signals the growing relevance of the Council’s legal relationship with other organizations, whether regional, or within the UN system.
In process, this week’s debate is illustrative of the increasingly important role of open debates in the Security Council. In the last two years the Security Council has held open debates on emerging issues such as climate change, natural resources and conflict, the rule of law and threats to international peace and security. Given the failure to date to find a formula for a reformed and more representative Security Council, open debates interject transparency into the working methods of what has historically been a restricted conversation.