Significance of Groups
Delegations very often work in cooperation with others. When several delegations work together for any sustained period, they are likely to be referred to as a group. Such groups can be called political groups or caucus groups because they focus on political issues. Interaction with the groups in which your delegation participates is one of the main activities of a delegate. You can see a list of the main Member State groups here.
This is particularly important when it comes to the work of the Security Council. Since the membership of the Council is limited to only 15 members at any given time, the participation of regional groups in Security Council meetings is vital to helping it realize the Council’s duty to act on behalf of the entire Membership of the UN as enshrined in Article 24 of the UN Charter. Moreover, calling on regional organizations to assist in responding to international threats to peace and security has become more common in Security Council resolutions. As a result, there has been an increase in the number of requests since the 1990s to include regional organizations in efforts to maintain international peace and security under Chapter VIII of the UN Charter (see example).
The significance of groups
Well organized and long established groups like the G77 and the European Union have well-oiled systems to pool information and develop common policy positions on the large number of issues before a major international conference. For small delegations, the task of keeping track of everything that is going on and concentrating on matters of prime importance to them, would be much more difficult and at times overwhelming if they had to attempt it on their own. There is also a great comfort to delegations in knowing that they are not alone and to have people who (at least to some degree) are like-minded with whom to exchange impressions and concerns.
For larger delegations, participation in groups increases their workload (as they get involved in the coordination, information distribution and development of group positions); but these factors also increase their potential to influence the delegations in their group to see things as they do and this support in turn helps them advance their objectives in dealing with delegations outside their group.
For smaller delegations there is a risk that they will be under pressure to support positions more in accordance with the objectives of other members of the group than of their own objectives. At the same time, there can be opportunities to advance their objectives by getting the weight of the group behind them.
From the point of view of the Council’s work, political groups can make important contributions in a number of ways:
- They are a valuable means of distributing information on the Council’s work. This plays a critical role in making sure that the Council’s work is transparent.
- Likewise, information as to the views and wishes of members of groups and their positions can be gathered and conveyed by the group coordinator and spokesperson during Council meetings when they are invited to speak (see discussion on rule 37 of the Security Council Rules of Procedure).
Groups as pools of information
All political groups discuss issues, exchange information and assessments and in this respect are immensely useful to their participating delegations. Indeed for most delegations, meetings of the groups in which they participate is their prime source of information about developing positions on various issues.
One delegate will bring to the group his/her knowledge and understanding of a particular issue or aspect of the issue, another will have had an informative conversation with the Chairman or delegates from another group, etc. The sum total is far more information and assessment than any individual delegation could bring to the issue. Often members of the same group have a degree of confidence in each other and are therefore able to speak more freely in that context.
Naturally the total amount of information available will be the greater, but also the better analyzed, if all members of the group contribute their knowledge and understanding. Groups also have the benefit of being able to informally agree to divide tasks within the group. For example, Delegate A who has good relations with delegation X outside the group might take on the task of asking them their views on a particular point, Delegate B might have good relations with a different delegation and so on.
Likewise delegates should not feel shy about asking questions about any aspect they do not know or understand. This will not only help them but also other group members who benefit from the clarification. Moreover, such questions can help those who think they know to clarify their own minds or the way in which they articulate the answer. Questions can also help identify points on which the group needs more information or thought.
Meetings of such groups are also an opportunity for delegations to make their views known, to explain their positions and to seek to bring other delegations to think as they do.
Political groups not only pool information and ideas but often seek to develop group positions, for guidance of their members and/or for common statements and/or group negotiating objectives and positions. Often a group spokesperson is chosen to speak or negotiate on behalf of the group. Typically each delegation belongs to several such groups.
Some such groups focus on specific issues on which the members have similar views and on which they wish to develop common positions. On other issues they remain free to take differing, even opposed stances.
One common form of such a group is a co-sponsors’ group. As the name implies, it is a group of delegations that have –or are planning to– put their name to a proposal formally submitted to a conference. As they are all co-owners of the proposal, they need to get together to decide on its original wording and on any subsequent changes. They will often divide the work of lobbying other delegations seeking support for the proposal, report back to each other the reactions they hear from other delegations, discuss and then decide together what to do in the light of these responses.
A co-sponsors’ group is specific to a particular proposal. Any delegation may simultaneously belong to several different co-sponsors groups, each of which has a different composition. And when the proposal has run its course, the group dissolves. Other issue-specific groups are formed by delegations that wish to extend their cooperation beyond a particular resolution and continue to work together on that issue on a long-term basis to develop their common views and plans. Such groups acquire names and some of them last many years. They can hold conferences of their own and may even give themselves secretariats.
These groups can be formed by either:
- delegations that find they have common views, or
- delegations whose governments wish for reasons of policy to unify their positions (even if initially these are far apart)
As with co-sponsor’s groups, many delegations belong simultaneously to several of these issue-specific groups with differing memberships and again they are free to have different views from each other on other issues.
Broader political groups
By definition these are less issue-specific and have in varying degrees aspects of a coalition, a mutual support group, group solidarity and discipline. On occasion common position statements can be developed and articulated by larger groups composed of these groups plus other delegations.
There are many political groups that are important. Such groups at times make statements on behalf of the group but group statements. Within the Security Council, such statements are often heard in the context of thematic debates that organized on a broad range of issues. In accordance with rule 37 of the Provisional Rules of Procedure, delegates are also invited to make statements, on behalf of groups during briefings and other informal meetings when their interests are affected by a particular conflict that the Council is discussing (see verbatim records for 7024th meeting of the Security Council to discuss the Question Concerning Haiti). Groups that are invited to speak usually speak after Council members have been given an opportunity to deliver their statements first.
Inviting political groups to speak has distinct advantages:
- it limits the number of statements from individual Members, many of which may be repetitive, it saves both the time of the conference and the time of individual delegations which need not prepare and deliver an individual statement if they can be associated with a group statement that reflects their views.
- A single or combined statement is far clearer and internally consistent than a multitude of statements with different domestic audiences in mind, national emphases and preoccupations, modes of expression and even contradictions and incoherencies.
- A statement made on behalf of several delegations carries more political weight than one made on behalf of a single delegation.
- A group statement can also be a demonstration of solidarity or of the extent of support for a particular view.
- A group statement can draw on the knowledge and skill of several members of the group. It can therefore be a better statement than any one member of the group could have produced by himself/herself.
Some disadvantages are that when, as is often the case, there are differences of views or emphasis within the group:
- negotiation of a group statement can be very time-consuming and/or
- the group statement may not accurately reflect the views or the flexibility of all members of the group and/or
- it may expose areas of disagreement. (A gap in the statement will be understood by their delegations as an indication that the group does not have a common position on that point)
As a matter of practicality, group statements for large groups tend to be originally drafted by a small number of delegations within the group, but it is essential to then ensure that all members of the group endorse it. This may require further negotiation with individual delegations or in the group as a whole. It is totally destructive of the benefits of a group statement if any member of the group disassociates himself/herself from it –as he/she is likely to do if not enough account has been taken of his/her views.
Indeed, when a Council member makes a statement, it is expected that it will start by associating itself with the statement made on behalf of the group in which it participates (this can be seen in the remarks by France in the verbatim record of the 7024th meeting of the Security Council) even before the delegate who will be speaking on behalf of the group has delivered his/her remarks. The same applies to statements made on behalf of a group whose members are also members of a wider group. Any failure to do so will be noticed by other delegations who may also place their own interpretation on it.
Group statements are given priority on the speaker’s list over statements by individual delegations, and the statement of a large group is given priority over that of a smaller group whose members are also members of that larger group.
Things to Consider when organizing your simulation
If the Security Council simulation is part of a larger conference then it makes it easier to include a wider range of groups in Security Council briefings. However, if the simulation is only focusing on the Security Council then the organizers must decide in advance if it wants to include one or more participants to represent a political group who would be invited to speak in addition to the 15 Council members.