Remarks at a UN Security Council Arria-Formula Meeting on Penholdership

John Kelley
Political Coordinator
New York, New York
August 11, 2022


Thank you.

Colleagues, the United States takes very seriously the role that the Charter gives to the Council regarding the maintenance of international peace and security, acting on behalf of the entire UN membership. While the Council remains the master of its own procedure, we recognize our procedural work, as well as our substantive work, is ultimately for the benefit of the greater international community.

As a permanent member, the United States’ perspective on the working methods of the Council is based on 76-plus years of experience. We know serving as a penholder is both a privilege and a responsibility. It is a significant time commitment and includes extensive outreach to Member States, civil society organizations, and UN officials. As a penholder, one is responsible for taking into account the myriad views among all 15 members of the wide range of stakeholders and for working to ensure timely decisions by the Council.

Each time there is a proposal to adjust the Council’s working methods, we are lucky to be in a position to evaluate the long-term institutional implications of the proposal. We are aware that there is always room for improvement, and the Council can ever strive toward greater effectiveness, efficiency, and transparency, while taking into account many of its working methods have stood the test of time and are in place for good reason.

On the issue of penholdership specifically, I’d like to briefly recall several of the commitments set forth in Note 507.

First, any member of the Security Council may be a penholder. Members of the Council are encouraged to act as penholders in the drafting of documents, including resolutions, presidential statements, and press statements of the Council. More than one Council member may act as co-penholders when it is deemed to add value, taking into account, as appropriate, the expertise or contributions of Council members on the subjects. Indeed, this happens with frequency: The United States has worked closely with Mexico as penholders on Haiti. We also serve as co-penholders with the Russian Federation on the mandate for UNDOF, an arrangement that has enabled close engagement with the parties on the ground and ensured Council support for this crucial peacekeeping mission.

Further, all members of the Security Council shall be allowed to participate fully in the preparation of the resolutions, presidential statements, and press statements of the Council. The drafting of all documents such as resolutions and presidential statements, as well as press statements, should be carried out in an inclusive manner that will allow participation of all of the Council. These are only a few of the commitments set forth in Note 507, but they have played an important role in guiding Council practice on this issue – and the United States remains firmly committed to their implementation.

I’d like to turn now to the clear rationale behind today’s meeting. We have heard from the Russian delegation that they lament the increasing number of resolutions in the Council that are not adopted unanimously. To suggest this trend is principally the result of penholdership arrangement is baseless.

We need to look no further than the debate last month on the Syria cross-border humanitarian mechanism. The penholders, Ireland and Norway, led an exceedingly open, transparent, and inclusive negotiating process. They sought to find common ground among divergent positions. Even where we disagreed on policy, we welcomed their good-faith efforts to broker agreement. So did the rest of the Council. Yet, one country decided to discount, obstruct, and thwart their efforts: Russia. The Russian delegation instead put forth an alternate draft and sought to hijack the process, holding the entire Council – and the Syrian people – hostage.

With regard to the Council’s recent consideration of the situation in the Central African Republic, Russia proposed text at the last minute that entirely disregarded the negotiations and compromises reached by other Council members.

On Libya, the repeated short-term resolutions offer another troubled example of how one Council member – Russia — has prevented discussion on substantive mandates, despite the will of 14 other members of the Council.

Earlier this year, Russia and China vetoed a resolution drafted by the United States on the DPRK, seeking to address the DPRK’s unlawful WMD and ballistic missile advancements and to help facilitate humanitarian assistance to the DPRK. Rather than engage on text, Russia and China continued to advocate for their own alternate resolution, even though consultations on that resolution in January demonstrated it lacked Council support. And after the U.S.-drafted resolution was vetoed, in their explanations of votes and remarks at the subsequent General Assembly meeting, many members of this Council recognized the inclusive and transparent process we had led as penholders.

It is worth reminding ourselves of the solemn responsibilities charged of all of us on this Council to maintain international peace and stability. That is no easy task and requires difficult decisions and hard compromises.

In our view, the success of the Security Council is based upon an implicit understanding – that our working methods are driven by engagement, not absolutism. And it is exactly that approach that should drive our engagement going forward.

Thank you, Chair.