Simon Palombi, a former Lowy Institute Research Associate, responds to Nick Bryant's piece about Australia's UN Security Council presidency:
Just wanted to make a quick ripost to parts of Nick Bryant's otherwise excellent piece on the Australian Presidency of the UNSC. Nick writes:
'For sure, the 'presidency' sounds grander than it is; more of a company secretary sort of role than a galvanising chief executive. The work of the Security Council is also heavily diarised, depending on which mandates are up for renewal or which countries, like DR Congo or Haiti, require on-going situation reports, which means the presidency follows more so than shapes an agenda...Also scheduled every month is an open debate on the Middle East, although the word 'debate' is somewhat misleading since member states simply read out prepared statements rather than engaging in a freewheeling discussion.'
Its a bit cynical to refer to the President of the UNSC as a 'corporate secretary'. While I agree that the president is there to ensure pre-arranged agenda items are followed, the chair can (and does) intervene in the off chance that a stalemate occurs. It is a position that requires a lot of diplomatic finesse and skill in order to do well.
When I was privy to Counter-Terrorism Committee (a subsidiary committee within the UNSC) meetings in 2011, a stalemate did occur over what was a diarised and routine agenda item. No one had thought that some members would object (and one to threaten veto) to the convening of an important international conference. Factions formed and amongst the freewheeling and lively debate, it was then chair India's Hardeep Singh Puri's job to ensure that the negotiations moved forward and a resolution was found.
The presidency, or any chair in the UN system, is an 'in emergency, break glass' position. And it is an important one depending on who you talk to, one that requires leadership. I should add that this was within a closed meeting so I am being necessarily vague with details but it think it gives an idea into what the public, and media, see and what really occurs when the diplomatic shroud is up.