By Natalie Reid
Unless it decides otherwise, the Security Council shall meet in public.
Rule 48 of the provisional rules of procedure
The rules of procedure of the Security Council of the United Nations, decided upon in 1946 and revised little since, make only one provision for a meeting of the Council. Since the procedural rules put in place over fifty years ago have never been replaced by a ‘permanent’ set, the Council has never "decided otherwise", and a formal public meeting remains the only official gathering of the fifteen-member body. In the context of the post-war birth of the United Nations, the need was felt to mark a rupture from the (failed) international relations of the past, including its discredited practice of secret diplomacy. Yet as early as 1946, in the debate on the rules in the Preparatory Commission, the representative from Norway seemed to warn that if the Council could not hold closed meetings, it would resort to informal meetings and that even greater secrecy would be the result. (1) That warning has proved to be prophetic.
A burst of activity in the Security Council has accompanied the end of the Cold War. There has been a spurt in the rate of production of resolutions and presidential statements. More peacekeeping missions were authorised in the last decade than in the previous four decades of the existence of the United Nations. Following the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait and the war that ensued, Council-authorised sanctions have become one of the principal means of expressing the displeasure of international society with certain violations of international law. This increase in the official activity of the Council, accomplished in formal meetings that now rarely last more than an hour, has been far outstripped by the rise in the number of informal consultations in which the Council meets. In recent years, (in the context of the reform of the United Nations and its most powerful organ) these meetings have become the focus of much criticism and a few efforts at reform.
While there are several different types of informal gatherings of members of the Council (and though all are at one time or another referred to as ‘informal consultations’), there is one essential defining characteristic of an informal consultation, and two main categories of informal meetings. First, there is only one meeting of the Security Council-the formal public meeting described in provisional rule 48. All others are informal gatherings of members of the Security Council, and are neither bound by the same rules of procedure nor required to be recorded in any way.(2) Second, the two main types of informal meetings, simply enough, are informal consultations of the whole and consultations other than informal consultations of the whole.(3) Within this second category, the meetings or meeting groups which have attracted the most attention have been the ‘Group of Friends’ and the ‘Contact Group’.
Secrecy and Informal Consultations of the Whole
Informal consultations of the whole, otherwise known as ‘global consultations’, ‘informals’ or ‘formal informals’,(4) are perhaps the single most important procedural loophole in the functioning of the Security Council. As the representative from France said in 1994: "[i]nformal meetings are not even real Council meetings; they have no official existence, and are assigned no number. Yet it is in these meetings that all the Council’s work is carried out."[citation] There are no written records, and only Council members and certain Secretariat staff may attend.
This purportedly informal gathering of all the members of the Council has in fact become increasingly formalised over the years, and it is in the informal consultation chamber, next to the Security Council chamber, that the travaux pr