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UNSC Watch: Antonio Guterres Poised for 2nd Term; Stage Set for New Council Members

While the UNSC takes the driver's seat in recommending the Secretary-General, the General Assembly will be selecting the five nations to replace the outgoing non-permanent members.

New Delhi: The stage has been set for Antonio Guterres to get a formal UN Security Council backing for a second term, even as the wider United Nations community prepares to bring in fresh presences around the horseshoe table.

Nearly halfway through the year, the first week of June was about visibly following the protocols and guidelines that will bring in such changes.

There was essentially a full day of meetings, during which the Security Council unanimously passed two resolutions. The UNSC extended the mandate of the United Nations Integrated Transition Assistance Mission in Sudan and renewed authorisation for member states to inspect vessels suspected of violating the Libya arms embargo.

Besides, the West and Russia sparred both outside and inside the Security Council over Ukraine and Syrian chemical weapons and the question of Yemen.

After taking over Council presidency, one of the first meetings of the new incumbent is with the president of the UN General Assembly (PGA), Volkan Bozkir. However, this time, it was not just a routine meeting.

The Estonian permanent representative Sven Jürgenson met with the PGA on June 3 to confer on the Secretary-General election process. Soon afterwards, Jürgenson announced that the Security Council would be meeting on June 8 privately to formally recommend the name to the general assembly, as per rule 48 of the provisional rules of procedure.

June 8 is five months to the day since Bozkir started the selection process with a letter to Guterres, dated January 8.

With only one official candidate, Guterres himself, the Security Council will wrap this stage up pretty quickly, with none of the permanent members having publicly expressed any objection. The last time that a sitting UNSG did not get a second term was in 1996 when the US shot down Boutros Boutros-Ghali’s chances.

While the UNSC takes the driver’s seat on recommending the Secretary-General, the week will end (June 11) with the General Assembly performing its role by selecting five nations to replace the outgoing non-permanent members.

Members of the United Nations Security Council raise their hands as they vote unanimously to approve a resolution eradicating Syria's chemical arsenal during a Security Council meeting during the 68th United Nations General Assembly in New York on September 27, 2013. Credit: Reuters/Keith Bedford

Members of the United Nations Security Council raise their hands as they vote unanimously to approve a resolution eradicating Syria’s chemical arsenal during a Security Council meeting during the 68th United Nations General Assembly in New York on September 27, 2013. Credit: Reuters/Keith Bedford

Three out of the four regional groups have endorsed one candidate for an unopposed election. That means the UAE, Albania, and Brazil will replace Vietnam, Estonia, and St Vincent and the Grenadines, respectively.

The only contest will be for the two African seats, which Niger and Tunisia will vacate by the end of this year. Gabon, Ghana and the Democratic Republic of Congo have thrown their hat in the ring as well.

To get elected, a candidate, even if running unopposed, has to win a nod from at least two-thirds of the 193 member states of the UN.

The election of the non-permanent members will not materially change the Council’s dynamics, even though all the countries have singled out some priorities during their campaigns. That’s because the functionality of the UNSC is determined by the five permanent members, who remain as sharply divided as ever. This has meant that most major conflict zones – from Myanmar to Palestine to Libya – have not seen any significant breakthroughs.

The three African non-permanent members are known as the ‘A3’ in slang. On paper, the A3 should have a substantial role in influencing the Council’s approach with most of its day-to-day agenda dealing with missions in Africa. 

However, the A3 has not always voted together, even on issues with a clear African position. For example, the UNSC had last month passed a resolution to beef up the sanctions regime against South Sudan, even though regional groups like the African Union had reservations about this approach. Only Kenya, among the A3, abstained during voting, while the rest voted in favour.

The other significant change this month will herald is the return of in-person meetings of the Security Council as the norm, rather than through video conferences.

In a June 1 letter to his counterparts of UNSC member states, the Estonian envoy had pointed out that there had been a considerable decrease in COVID-19 cases in New York and relaxation of restrictions, especially for fully vaccinated people.

“Taking into consideration the above-mentioned positive developments, including the updated risk assessment by the United Nations medical and occupational health and safety personnel regarding meetings of the Security Council held in the Security Council Chamber, Estonia envisages that most of the meetings of the Council in June would be held at United Nations Headquarters, namely in the Chamber,” Jürgenson wrote.

He also “strongly encouraged” vaccination of member delegations and secretariat staff for the meetings in the Council chamber.

From India’s perspective, one of Estonia’s priorities during its presidency is Afghanistan. Estonia, along with Norway, are the ‘penholders’ for Afghanistan for this year. Under the penholder system, a member state leads the negotiation or drafting of a resolution on a particular agenda item.

Afghanistan will be one of the topics for the open ministerial-level discussions that Estonia will convene.

An Afghan man wearing a protective face mask walks past a wall painted with photo of Zalmay Khalilzad, US envoy for peace in Afghanistan, and Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the leader of the Taliban delegation, in Kabul, April 13, 2020. Photo: Reuters/Mohammad Ismail

India is, of course, the current chair of the 1988 Taliban sanctions committee. On June 1, India’s permanent representative, T.S. Tirumurti, released the report of the analytical team and sanctions monitoring team, which observed that the Taliban continues to leverage military advantage to seek concessions from the Afghan government.

The US and its allies are currently withdrawing their troops from Afghanistan at a fast clip. However, there is still no indication of resumption of formal intra-Afghan talks.

“Taliban rhetoric and reports of active Taliban preparations for the spring fighting season indicate the group is likely to increase military operations for 2021, whether  or not a spring offensive is announced,” said the report.

The team’s report also expressed scepticism about the Taliban’s commitment to sever links with Al-Qaida as laid down in the Doha agreement with the United States. Citing information from member states, a significant portion of AQ leadership is based in the border region between Afghanistan and Pakistan. 

“Al-Qaida maintains contact with the Taliban but has minimised overt communications  with Taliban leadership in an effort to “lay low” and not jeopardise the Taliban’s diplomatic position vis-à-vis the Doha agreement,’ said the report.

On the role of Daesh in Afghanistan, the monitoring team recorded the differences between the regional countries on the links with other insurgent groups. “Although some Member States have reported tactical or commander-level collaboration between ISIL-K and the Haqqani Network, others strongly deny such claims”.

The report claimed while the relationship could be based on personal connections, there could also be authorised tactical understanding that specific joint attacks will strategically benefit both these groups. “In this manner, one Member State has suggested that certain attacks can be denied by the Taliban and claimed by ISIL-K, with it being unclear whether these attacks were purely orchestrated by the Haqqani Network, or were joint ventures making use of ISIL-K operatives”.

This week in UNSC

On Monday, the Council will hold open and closed discussions on Central Africa, followed by one on Mali. There will also be a separate meeting under the ‘Any Other Business’ category on Central Africa.

After the private meeting of the UNSC to recommend Security-General on Tuesday, Council members will hold a debate on the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals (IRMCT). During the rest of the week, there are scheduled briefings by the International Criminal Court prosecutor Fatou Bensouda and discussions on the relationship between the UN and European Union.

This is a weekly column that tracks the UNSC during India’s current term as a non-permanent member. Previous columns can be found here.