Advanced search

UK Mission to the United Nations

New York

London 18:35, 02 Jan 2013
New York 13:35, 02 Jan 2013

'The key test of the Security Council will always be its effectiveness at preventing and resolving conflict around the globe'

26 November 2012

Statement by Ambassador Sir Mark Lyall Grant, Permanent Representative of the UK Mission to the UN, to the Security Council Open Debate on Working Methods
Mark Lyall Grant

Mr President,

Thank you for convening this Open Debate, and thank you to Ambassador Cabral for setting the scene for our discussion and for his energetic chairing of the  Working Group.

We meet today to discuss how we conduct our business, and to listen to the ideas and views of the wider membership. It is an important topic. However, when we consider the question of working methods, Council members must be careful not to give the impression that they are more interested in the process than the product.  

The key test of the Security Council will always be its effectiveness at preventing and resolving conflict around the globe.  What we do here in New York is important as a forum for discussion and for shaping a response to events, but we must not forget that we are here to try to make a difference on the ground and to save innocent men, women and children from suffering in conflict.

Mr President,

As the Council endeavours to carry out this solemn duty, I think two principles need to be balanced in order to guide the methods by which the Council carries out that work.

First, the Council should be ruthless in its pursuit of effectiveness.  Speed can be crucial in dealing with volatile situations or escalating conflict.  We need to be able to come together as a diverse group of nations representing the world, and arrive at swift and decisive solutions that can make a difference on the ground.  The United Kingdom has championed several working methods to improve effectiveness of the Council.  

We have advocated more use of VTCs, which happily have become the new standard in Council consultations.  We have secured time and space for the important work of the Council’s subsidiary organs. And we have argued that the Council must exercise its responsibility for conflict prevention, as well as conflict management, and that is why we introduced monthly horizon-scanning sessions, which, in the case of Yemen, for example, encouraged the Council to pay closer attention to the early warning signs and provided us with the impetus to take decisive action.

I recognise that we have failed to convince all other Council members of the value of this exercise but I am disappointed not to have heard alternative ideas from the opponents for exercising our conflict prevention responsibilities.

Second, the Council needs to be transparent and, therefore, accountable to the UN membership and the wider world. All members have a legitimate interest in what the Council is doing – or indeed not doing.  So it is right that the Council listens to and engages with all other UN members, whether it is through Open Debates like this one today, or other formats, such as informal dialogues or the Arria-formula meetings we and other Council members have championed.  We also share the view of those who think the Council’s official reporting should be more expansive, more analytical and, where appropriate, more self-critical.

Mr President,

We also need to keep the Council agenda fresh and up-to-date.  As far as I am aware, not a single new item of the agenda has been introduced on the formal agenda in the last 18 months.  Has the world really been so static during this period?  

We are in the bizarre situation where the list of items of which the Council is seized includes one regional issue which has not been discussed since 1949, but does not include Syria or Yemen, both of which have been major Council preoccupations during 2012.  

This is not a good advertisement for the responsiveness and transparency of our procedures. How can we properly be accountable to our members if we cannot event be frank about what is on our agenda?

According to George Bernard Shaw, the Golden Rule is that there are no Golden Rules. In today’s Council, our rules and practice and precedent provide valuable guides to our work.  Yet even as we respect the rules set out in the Charter, we must avoid becoming hidebound by past practice, and must be ready to innovate and adapt our procedures to the modern world.  This might mean adapting to modern technology, by using social media and discarding the requirement to use fax machines, but it also means that the Council must do more to engage with the members of the United Nations, and the people they represent in this Organisation.  

Finally, and fundamentally, it is crucial that the Security Council be as effective as possible in addressing the problems faced by the world today, and that requires considering any methods of working that promote well-considered and decisive action in the Security Council.  

Thank you, Mr President.

Search the news archive

See us on Flickr


Stay connected


UK foreign policy news

Receive email updates

Email alerts