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At Security Council Workshops, Candid Talk


Mirsada Colakovic (left), deputy permanent representative of Bosnia-Herzegovina, with Caroline Ziade, deputy permanent representative of Lebanon, in the Security Council chambers in December. J.C. McILWAINE/UN PHOTO

BERLIN — It is a big challenge for a small- or medium-size country to learn the subtleties and intricacies of the procedures and working methods of the Security Council after it has been elected as a nonpermanent member. This is particularly so if it is the country’s first or even second term on the council.

Preparation time before the job starts is short: the elections take place in October and the term starts on Jan. 1. Moreover, the country does not have much time to learn on the job, since the term is only two years; on top of that, most new member countries often have only small UN missions in New York with a few diplomats at their disposal.

Fortunately, two practical resources help new members learn some tricks of council politics in the brief period between election and starting work. One is a several days’ orientation course on the Security Council, taught by the UN Institute for Training and Research (Unitar) in mid-November, and the other is a succeeding two-day workshop, called “Hitting the Ground Running,” organized by Finland with the Security Council Affairs Division of the UN Secretariat.

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Frank talk in a private setting

The Unitar course offers newcomers a package of essential knowledge about the council — its functions, procedures and practices. It also assesses the current main issues before the council and analyzes, among other things, the role of the council president and informal consultations. Unitar began these courses in 1989.

The November course has been complemented since 2003 by an informal group-dynamic workshop that convenes the five newly elected members together with the current council members and outside experts. The object is to help familiarize the “freshmen” (and “freshwomen”) with the council through discussions in a relaxed setting, so that they “hit the ground running” when they begin in January.

The charm of this workshop is that it provides the new members a chance to interact easily with their fellow members and to listen to their experiences in a confidential atmosphere, without cameras and journalists about.

The Russian ambassador, Vitaly Churkin, with Li Baodong, China's ambassador, right before a group photo in December. RICK BAJORNAS/UN PHOTO

But frank discussions on the council’s working methods, its cooperation with other UN bodies and the comments it receives from other member states, nongovernmental organizations and the media are also valuable to the council as a whole. Not only do these programs give all members a moment to reflect on lessons learned during the preceding year, but they also allow outgoing members a chance to analyze their work, and the permanent-five members (Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States) can listen to others’ experiences and voice their own thoughts as well.

The workshop debates are published as official Security Council documents, where can they be found on the Internet, albeit in a summary and without revealing identities and affiliations of participants. The reports – the 2010 report is published as UN Doc. S/2011/484 – provide UN researchers with insight into council dynamics and the various standpoints on political issues and working methods.

Member complaints

They reveal, for instance in the 2010 report (P. 15), the frustration of elected council members over the role of outside “groups of friends” of UN member countries putting forward “pre-cooked” draft resolutions with the support of permanent members, thus pushing elected members aside.

They also show the appreciation of elected members for the role of the UN Secretariat – “useful in developing a common information base for the council decision-making” (report 2009, UN Doc. S/2010/177, P. 7) or for the “informal interactive dialogue,” a new council format in which members can meet privately with relevant parties on an issue without placing it on the agenda; the results being “a blunt, candid and productive exchange of views …” (report 2009, P. 14).

These workshops not only benefit new and seasoned members, but they also provide UN scholars with empirical material on council dynamics and its ability to assess its own work.

[To find a complete list of the reports in the UNBISNET search engine’s keyword search modus, insert “hitting the ground running”]

Additional resources

New Members, New Chances? Security Council Elections

We welcome your comments on this article.  What are your thoughts?

Helmut Volger

Helmut Volger has written and edited several books about the UN, including A Concise Encyclopedia of the United Nations, of which the second revised edition was published by Brill Academic Publishers in 2010. He is also a co-founder of the German UN Research Network (

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