The USA in the Driver’s Seat at the Security Council. But Where To?

The monthly Presidency of the UN Security Council has made its way down through the alphabet once more, landing the United States of America in the driver’s seat of the Council. The first quarter of 2012 has seen South Africa, Togo, and the United Kingdom wield the gavel, each with their own national agenda as they work the overarching mechanisms of the Security Council, reigning both over long-scheduled briefings and votes on peacekeeping mandates and reacting to new crises. By virtue of its permanent seat, the United States, along with the other P-5, has had many more chances than the non-elected members to hold court at Turtle Bay.

Over the next month, we can expect to see the Council focus on several areas, based on the American presidency.


The United States, along with France and the United Kingdom, have been pushing the longest and hardest for stronger measures to be taken to end the year-long crackdown in Syria. The Joint Special Envoy of the UN and Arab League, former Secretary-General Kofi Annan, briefed the Council via teleconference yesterday, and pushed for a strong backing of the announced April 10th deadline that Damascus had accepted to withdraw its troops from cities across Syria. US Ambassador Susan Rice remained skeptical of the likelihood that President Bashar al-Assad will hold to his word, and is circulating, along with France, a draft Presidential Statement in favor of the deadline. Ambassador Rice will likely be politicking behind the scenes for some form of retribution should Syria back out of its agreement, a move that will face significant pushback from Russian envoy Vitaly Churkin.

April 23rd will see a scheduled quarterly Open Debate on the Middle East take place as well. Based on the previous two Open Debates, Syria remains likely to be the main subject under discussion. Following, or in conjunction with, that debate, the United States may push for Syria to have its own place on the Security Council’s agenda. To date it has still only been discussed under the auspices of the broader Middle East.

Sudan/South Sudan

Ambassador Rice has long had a special place in her diplomatic portfolio for the ongoing conflicts in and between Sudan and South Sudan, befitting her role as a former Assistant Secretary of State for Africa during the Clinton administration. The Security Council is discussing the latest quarterly from the Secretary-General on the UN-AU hybrid mission in Darfur, due to the Council on April 16th. Of particular focus is whether the force, known as UNAMID, will see its mandate revised to reduce the total number of armed forces serving in Darfur. A decision may be punt to July, when the mandate is set to expire, but some form of statement will likely be released, even if to only reaffirm the ongoing peace plan.

Ongoing tension and clashes in border regions of Blue Nile and South Kordofan, particularly in Abyei, are also likely to be touched on in the coming days and weeks. The humanitarian situation in these border-states continues to worsen, making a briefing by Under Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs Valerie Amos probable while Ambassador Rice leads the Council. The United States has also been placing pressure on South Sudan’s President Kiir to avoid renewed military confrontation with Sudan as clashes along the border continue to intensify.

Nuclear Non-Proliferation

The United States under President Obama has taken a special interest in seeing that the number of nuclear warheads shrinks instead of grows. Last month, the second Nuclear Security Summit, a Head of State level meeting on non-proliferation issues, met in Seoul. The Summit itself came to being following a US-led push, and was followed-up with a high-level meeting of the Security Council chaired by President Obama himself. A briefing on the issue will be given to the Council on the 19th of April, with a resolution or Presidential Statement likely to be voted upon following its conclusion.

With that in mind, the situation in North Korea will loom over April, as Pyongyang continues extensive preparation for the launch of what it says is a satellite sometime mid-month. The United States and others believe that the launch is really the test of a long-range missile, and a provocation meant to shore up the credentials of new ruler Kim Jong-Un. While the DPRK has not mastered the technology yet that would enable it to shrink its nuclear arsenal to warhead-size, any launch will be in violation of both UNSC sanctions and counter to an agreement with the US to provide renewed food aid to North Korea. Should the launch proceed, we can expect a quick condemnation from the Security Council, likely in the form of a resolution considering previous reactions to North Korean tests.

Likewise, Iran may find its way back into the Council, depending on the outcome of upcoming talks on its nuclear program. While the official date and location of the renewed talks are still somewhat shaky, they will likely be held on April 13 and 14 in Istanbul, Turkey. All six of the P5+1 countries sitting across from Iran are on the Council this year, with Germany hold its seat until the end of 2012. Depending on how the talks proceed, it’s likely that the situation will be discussed with the full Security Council, with a positive outcome endorsed by the Council. How the US will leverage its Presidency in the event of a negative end to the discussions is anyone’s guess at this point.