UN Security Council Part III

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6: Informal processes and pen holding

As a result of an ever-increasing workload for the members of the Security Council, three of the five permanent member states – the United Kingdom, France and the United States (“the P3” – of permanent 3 according to Electronicsmatter) – took the initiative in 2008 to redistribute work, mainly between itself. They claimed the role of pen holder . This role means that a country (or a group) has the initiative in all matters that deal with a specific situation, conflict or topic, such as Libya, Syria, Congo or Haiti. It will be representatives from this permanent member state who then lead the way in the case processing – write notes and proposals for resolutions. In practice, this means that these govern the Security Council’s treatment of the current situation.

Who will be the pen holder in the various cases is seldom the subject of discussion. The choice is usually determined on the basis of strategic interests, logistics and networks. As a pen holder in a case, one P3 country is happy to present a proposal for the other two P3 countries.

These then agree on the text of a proposed resolution before opening negotiations with Russia and China. Russia and China have to a greater extent than P3 chosen to take on a role where they comment on drafts and possibly oppose proposals from the pen holder. Among the permanent member states of the Security Council, we can therefore say that the United Kingdom, France and the United States constitute a proactive group, while China and Russia are to a greater extent reactive in the formulation of the resolutions.

Only after the five permanent member states have negotiated and possibly agreed, is it open to circulate the matter to the other members, the ten elected. In practice, this circulation often serves more as an orientation than a negotiation because one does not want to disturb what can often be a fragile agreement between the five permanent member states. The pen holder practice is a clear example of a more general trend in the Security Council. This means that the design and influence of motion for a resolution is pushed further away from the formal arenas , such as the horseshoe table. Such is the ability to influence matters backstage– before they are formally presented to the Security Council – has become more important than sitting around the table itself. However, this does not mean that a seat at the table is irrelevant; a country’s ability to influence matters backstage – in the back room – is greater when it is also represented in the Security Council.

7: Between legitimacy and efficiency

The pen holder scheme is informal since it is not listed in the Security Council’s procedural rules. However, there are many indications that the scheme has come to stay. Portugal, in 2012 belonged to the ten elected member countries and served as the chairmanship of the committee that handles the Security Council’s working methods. The country proposed to change the practice so that more member countries could have the opportunity to act as pen holders. The Security Council was unable to reach an agreement on this. Portugal’s proposal was dropped, and the division of power between the permanent and the elected member states was further consolidated (institutionalized).

Although this arrangement makes the council less democratic and legitimate, it also has a positive side to it – it helps to make the Security Council more effective . The permanent member states have larger staffs, more knowledge, more experience and more resources available in New York. These are able to handle the ever-increasing number of cases in the Security Council in a completely different way than elected member states, even when they are upgrading their business in New York for the two years they will be sitting around the horseshoe table.

If the Security Council fails to make effective, effective decisions affecting international peace and security, it will lose its relevance in international politics. Considerations of legitimacy on the one hand and efficiency on the other must be balanced. This constitutes a dilemma that has existed in international politics since the League of Nations was established. The League of Nations had great legitimacy, but quickly lost relevance when it was no longer able to make decisions. It was therefore dissolved after just over two decades. The Security Council has, despite a rather deadlocked situation with major contradictions between the great powers during the Cold War, managed to balance the two considerations for seven decades. We can therefore say that the Security Council is a better balancing artist than the League of Nations was.

8: Future prospects

The Security Council is the world’s most important multilateral forum . But the pen holder scheme – together with a number of other informal processes – contributes to pushing aside the elected member countries and thus weakens the Security Council’s legitimacy. Among other things, it counteracts a more democratic and open division of labor, and reduces opportunities to face different points of view. Thus, it is likely that the elected member countries will be more powerless in the Security Council than they were the last time Norway participated (in 2001–2002) when Norway applies for membership next time, probably in 2020. If the trend continues, there is a danger that Norway will left with the catwalk feature as the most important with a possible new membership.

In addition, there is a risk of upsetting the balance between legitimacy and efficiency. The informal arrangements help to make the Security Council better able to make effective decisions and thus make it relevant to international conflicts. However, this means more power to the permanent states than the UN Charter dictates, and thus we can say that efficiency today outweighs legitimacy in the Security Council. Without legitimacy, however, in the long run it will be more difficult for the Security Council to maintain efficiency through relevance in international issues. In other words, if the Security Council does not balance the two considerations well, it will weaken its ability to safeguard international peace and security.

UN Security Council 3