Historical archive

Norway’s membership of the UN Security Council 2021–2022

Historical archive

Published under: Solberg's Government

Publisher: Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Norway concluded its two-year term on the UN Security Council at the end of 2022. The period was dominated by the pandemic and a brutal war of aggression in Europe. As an elected member of the Security Council, Norway has been a staunch defender of international law and, among other things, played a key role in ensuring that the Security Council has taken important decisions on complex matters relating to Afghanistan and Syria.

Norway has also helped to strengthen the Security Council’s efforts in areas such as women, peace and security, and protection of civilians, especially children, and to increase recognition of the links between climate change and security. Overall, Norway’s two-year term as a member of the UN Security Council has served to strengthen Norwegian interests. A small selection of the results we have achieved is presented below. 

Condemnation of Russia’s war against Ukraine

On 24 February last year, Russia launched an attack on Ukraine, a sovereign neighbouring country, in violation of international law and the UN Charter. Although Russia used its power of veto to prevent the Council from condemning the attack, the war has nevertheless deeply affected the dynamics of the Council. The hardened fronts in the Council, in particular between Russia and the Western Council members, increased the risk that the Council’s ability to take decisions on matters not related to Russia’s war in Ukraine would also be weakened.

Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre in the UN
Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre, Foreign Minister Anniken Huitfeldt and UN-ambassador Mona Juul in the UN Security Council. Credit: UN

In approximately 50 Council meetings on Russia’s war in Ukraine, Norway did its part to uphold international law by condemning Russia’s war as a violation of international law. Norway also helped to increase the political pressure on Russia by using the Security Council meetings to debunk Russian war propaganda, and by giving Ukraine the right to speak at these meetings.

Norway played an active role in ensuring that the Security Council immediately called for an emergency special session of the UN General Assembly on Russia’s war against Ukraine, after Russia had misused its power of veto in the Security Council to prevent the adoption of a draft resolution condemning the illegal attack on Ukraine. The vast majority of UN member states voted in favour of a resolution condemning the war on 2 March, and repeated this condemnation in further resolutions in the General Assembly later in March and in October. Before the matter was transferred to the General Assembly, Norway clearly voiced its view that Russia, as the aggressor and party to the conflict, should have abstained from voting in the Security Council, in line with Article 27.3 of the UN Charter, rather than using its veto to block the vote.

Together with Mexico, Norway also helped to secure agreement on a presidential statement, which was issued on 6 May last year. This is still the only substantive outcome on the war adopted by the Security Council. The Council members expressed their support for the Secretary-General’s efforts to seek a peaceful solution to the war, including in connection with his initiative to facilitate grain exports from Ukraine via the Black Sea.   

A clear, consistent voice

Norway has defended its core principles and presented a clear and consistent message in its statements in the Security Council – in a total of nearly 800 meetings – in particular on matters relating to international law, but also on matters relating to our identified thematic priority areas such as political inclusion and protection of women; protection of civilians, especially children; and climate change and security, where we have worked systematically to increase recognition of the links between climate change, peace and security in the Council’s ongoing work and its decisions and outcomes.

Norway has worked actively to strengthen transparency of the Council in a number of these thematic areas, for example by inviting civil society representatives, including women human rights defenders, to brief the Council in open meetings. 

Norway has achieved concrete results in its priority thematic areas in the form of stronger wording in Council resolutions and statements, particularly in connection with the renewal of mandates for UN peacekeeping operations, special political missions and sanctions regimes.   

Norway has also helped to make UN sanctions regimes more effective and targeted, for example by strengthening legal safeguards for listed individuals and entities, and including sexual and gender-based violence as grounds for listing, and not least by working to prevent negative humanitarian impacts. It was therefore very significant that at the end of last year, the Security Council adopted a resolution approving a humanitarian exemption to all asset freeze measures imposed by UN sanctions regimes. Norway also played a part in strengthening the legal safeguards in the new sanctions regime targeting criminal actors in Haiti, which was adopted last autumn.

Cooperation to achieve results

Norway has worked systematically – across regional and geopolitical dividing lines in the Security Council – to achieve concrete results in the form of Council resolutions and statements. This has been vital – especially in light of the heightened tensions following Russia’s attack on Ukraine – to ensure that the Security Council could continue to take decisions in areas that were not directly affected by the war, in particular many of the conflicts in Africa and the Middle East that are on the Council’s agenda.   

During its term on the Council, Norway gave priority to maintaining close dialogue and cooperation with the other Council members, including the non-Western members, in particular the African Council members. For example, Norway initiated resolutions together with Niger in 2021 (on protection of education in conflict), and with Ghana in 2022 (on maritime security in the Gulf of Guinea), and cooperated with Mexico in 2022 on a presidential statement expressing support for the Secretary-General’s good offices in connection with the war in Ukraine.

Norway took on a number of key leadership tasks in the Security Council’s subsidiary organs, serving for example as chair of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) Sanctions Committee and the ISIL (Da'esh) and Al-Qaida Sanctions Committee. In this context, we helped to maintain cooperation between the Council members, despite often deeply polarised and deadlocked positions.    

Norway has played an active role in promoting closer cooperation between the 10 elected members of the Council. The importance of this cooperation increased after Russia launched its war against Ukraine, partly because cooperation and dialogue between the five permanent members became much more difficult. Norway succeeded for example in facilitating a common position among the elected Council members on complex issues such as cross-border aid delivery to Syria and on certain issues relating to the war in Ukraine. Norway also helped to secure the support of all the elected Council members for joint media stakeouts on the situation in Afghanistan and in North Korea. In addition, in August 2022, Norway hosted a seminar in Oslo for the Council’s elected and incoming members (expert level), with the aim of strengthening cooperation between elected Council members.     

Leading role in dealing with complex country situations

Throughout their two-year term in the Council, Norway and Ireland have had a special responsibility for following up matters relating to the humanitarian situation in Syria, as co-penholders on the file. This is one of the most complex and politicised items on the Council’s agenda. A key aspect of this work has been leading the negotiations on the mandate for the UN cross-border mechanism that authorises the delivery of humanitarian aid from Türkiye into northwestern Syria. In July 2021, Norway and Ireland succeeded in securing the support of all Security Council members for a resolution extending the mandate for a year. This was the first time in five years that the Council unanimously adopted a resolution on the humanitarian situation in Syria. A year later, in July 2022, after a number of tough rounds of negotiations, including a Russian veto, Norway and Ireland succeeded in securing the adoption of a resolution that extended the mandate for a further six months – until 10 January 2023 – with an intention, conditional on the adoption of a new resolution, to extend it further until 10 July 2023. Norway and Ireland worked intensively to garner support for a new extension before the end of their terms on the Council, and just before the end of 2022, we succeeded in securing agreement on a six-month extension. The resolution was adopted on 9 January 2023.   

Norway has also served as penholder on Afghanistan in the Security Council (co-penholder with Estonia in 2021). This work has been far more politically demanding since the Taliban took power in August 2021. Norway’s overall aim has been to promote a united Council response as far as possible. This has had political significance particularly for the Taliban regime, which as yet has not been recognised by any of the members of the Security Council. In March 2022, after several rounds of negotiations, Norway succeeded in securing agreement on a new, robust one-year mandate for the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA). The resolution was adopted by a vote of 14 in favour with one abstention (Russia), just three weeks after Russia started its war against Ukraine. Among other things, the resolution provides the UN with a mandate to monitor and report on human rights, particularly women’s rights, coordinate humanitarian assistance and facilitate a comprehensive dialogue with all relevant Afghan actors and stakeholders. Given the challenging situation in Afghanistan, it was vital to secure this mandate. 

In addition, Norway proposed and led negotiations on 20 press statements supported by all members of the Council on Afghanistan, including on girls’ right to education and protection of women’s rights. Right at the end of its term as an elected Council member, Norway succeeded in securing support for a Security Council press statement expressing concern about the Taliban’s increasing infringement of women’s rights, including the ban on access to universities and the ban on women working for humanitarian aid organisations. In the many Council meetings on Afghanistan held over the past two years, Norway has consistently promoted the participation of Afghan civil society representatives, particularly women.      

Furthermore, Norway has played a key role in the Council’s discussions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Council members have widely differing positions on this issue. Norway took the initiative for a number of meetings and press statements in connection with the escalation of the conflict in May 2021, May 2022 and in August 2022. As a result of conflicting positions, the Council’s members rarely agree on press statements on this protracted conflict. 

Norway was also involved in initiating a number of meetings on the conflicts in Myanmar and in Ethiopia (Tigray). Both of these escalated during our term on the Council, and we worked actively to ensure that the Council expressed its view, in the form of a statement or resolution. Norway would have liked the Council to play a more active role in preventing escalation in both conflicts. In spring 2021, Norway called for the Council to consider imposing more stringent measures on the military regime in Myanmar. In December 2022, we helped to secure the adoption of the first-ever Council resolution on the conflict in Myanmar. Even though the wording of the resolution was not as strong as Norway had hoped, it was still important. It sent a clear message to the military junta of the need to release all political prisoners and end all forms of violence.

Maritime security

In January 2022, under Norway’s presidency of the Council, Norway and Ghana put forward a draft resolution on maritime security in the Gulf of Guinea. The resolution was the subject of difficult negotiations and was finally adopted by a unanimous vote in May. The purpose was to help to combat and prevent piracy in what are considered to be the most dangerous waters in the world. This is the first resolution on maritime security in the Gulf of Guinea to be adopted in ten years. It was in Norway’s interests as a major shipping nation to ensure that the resolution included a clear reference to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea as the overall legal framework for all maritime activities – which Norway and Ghana succeeded in doing. This had been a major sticking point in the negotiations.    

Women, peace and security

As one of Norway’s four thematic priorities, Norway has worked systematically to strengthen the Council’s efforts to safeguard women’s right to participation, including in peace processes. In particular, Norway has worked to ensure broadest possible support from the Council members for the implementation of previous resolutions, and has helped to secure the incorporation of stronger wording on women’s participation and protection in Council resolutions, for example in the mandates of UN peacekeeping operations and political missions. Despite opposition from certain Council members, Norway and like-minded Council members succeeded in defining commitments in this area more clearly in a number of Council resolutions.    

Norway worked systematically to provide a clear platform to the women who are most affected by violence and conflict and give them a voice, for example through a targeted effort to increase the number of women giving introductory briefings at open Council meetings, in particular women peacebuilders and human rights defenders. These efforts were partly carried out through an initiative under which 15 previous, current and incoming Council members have committed to making the women, peace and security agenda a top priority, and to ensuring it is implemented in concrete and tangible ways during their respective presidencies of the Council. Under Norway’s presidency in January 2022, half of the briefers at Council meetings were women.

During its presidency, Norway organised a ministerial-level open debate on women, peace and security, chaired by Minister of Foreign Affairs Anniken Huitfeldt. This was the first formal Council meeting ever to recognise the importance of women human rights defenders in peace processes and the need to establish a safe and enabling environment for women peacebuilders and human rights defenders. It was also the first time the issue of prevention and response to reprisals was discussed at a Council meeting.

Protection of civilians, particularly children

Another of Norway’s priorities has been to work to strengthen the wording on international humanitarian law and protection of civilians, including children, in Council resolutions and statements. We succeeded in this in relation to certain country situations, for example in the mandates of UN peacekeeping operations and political missions in Mali, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and South Sudan, and of the AU Transition Mission in Somalia (ATMIS).   

During its presidency, Norway also organised a high-level meeting on protection of civilians in urban warfare, chaired by Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre. Shortly afterwards, this issue was tragically brought to the fore by Russia’s attacks and bombing campaigns on cities and civilian infrastructure in Ukraine.

During its term on the Council, Norway chaired the Council’s Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict, where we led negotiations that resulted in the adoption of eight conclusions with concrete recommendations for certain countries, including the Central African Republic, Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. This is a high number compared to previous years, particularly given increased divisions among Council members. All the conclusions adopted during Norway’s period as chair of the Working Group have either contained similar language as in previous conclusions or language that is stronger, for example on protection of schools and education, and on sexual and gender-based violence, including sexual and reproductive health and rights.      

As part of the efforts to enhance protection of civilians, including children, Norway and Niger initiated and led the negotiations on a resolution on protection of education in conflict. The resolution was adopted unanimously by the Security Council in October 2021, and received the support of nearly 100 UN member states. This is the first-ever resolution adopted by the Security Council dedicated specifically to the protection of education and education facilities in armed conflict. Norway and Niger considered it important to establish a broadest possible perspective to encompass not only protection of children and schools, but also higher education, students and other civilians. The resolution, itself a milestone, recalls the obligations of parties to armed conflict under international humanitarian law to protect schools and educational facilities, and encourages member states to take concrete measures that exceed these obligations.

Climate change, peace and security

Another of Norway’s priorities has been to work to increase recognition in the Council of the fact that climate change can cause, and exacerbate, conflicts. Norway has helped to enhance the Council’s knowledge base in this area. We have worked systematically to ensure that the Council recognises the correlation between climate change and conflict in relation to a number of the conflicts on the Council’s agenda – and to depoliticise efforts relating to climate, peace and security. In addition, Norway has worked to encourage the Council to recognise the importance of addressing the links between climate and security in all efforts relating to international peace and security, including peacebuilding efforts.

Despite opposition from a minority of the Council’s members, Norway and like-minded countries have succeeded in securing the inclusion of references to climate change and security in many of the mandates of UN peacekeeping operations and political missions. For example, in 2021, Norway succeeded in securing the incorporation of new wording on climate change and security in the mandates of the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) and the UN Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP). This was the first time the issue of climate-related security risks was incorporated into the mandates for missions in countries outside Africa.

In addition, Norway played an active role in the effort to draw up and promote a thematic resolution on climate and security, which was co-sponsored by Ireland and Niger in autumn 2021. Although Russia used its veto to block the resolution in December 2021, the draft resolution text received cross-regional support from 113 of the UN member states.

In 2022, Norway co-chaired the Informal Expert Group on Climate and Security together with Kenya. As part of their close collaboration in this area, Norway and Kenya held an informal Arria-Formula meeting on Climate, Peace and Security for the members of the Council and the UN member states. The purpose of the meeting was to promote a wider understanding of climate-related security risks in the context of the broader peace and security effort, by demonstrating that closer cooperation on climate solutions can have a beneficial impact on peacebuilding efforts.

Peace diplomacy

During its two-year term, Norway has sought to enhance the Council’s efforts relating to peace diplomacy, mediation and conflict prevention. As part of its presidency, Norway organised a ‘mini Oslo Forum’: an informal gathering for the ambassadors serving on the Security Council and the UN Secretary-General to discuss preventive diplomacy and peace mediation efforts. The purpose of the meeting was to facilitate a frank and confidential exchange of views on the Security Council’s preventive diplomacy efforts. The discussions were based on two complex conflict situations (Colombia and Afghanistan). Conflict mediators and representatives of the parties to the conflicts took part in the discussions. The model for the seminar was based on the established Oslo Forum concept in order to create an informal atmosphere. It was held in an intimate and informal setting outside Manhattan.    

During its term on the Council, Norway also organised a range of informal expert-level meetings among the Council members. The purpose was to facilitate dialogue on country situations that were difficult to raise in the Security Council due to opposition from individual Council members, such as Myanmar and Belarus. These expert-level meetings, which were welcomed by other Council members, also involved the participation of various parties to conflict.   

Norway’s membership of the Council has strengthened Norwegian interests

During Norway’s two-year term as an elected member of the Security Council, we have promoted Norwegian interests. We have for example defended international law, and promoted respect for and compliance with the UN Charter and other international agreements. But we have done much more than this; we have also put forward and secured the adoption of resolutions that benefit Norway directly, such as the resolution on maritime security in the Gulf of Guinea, which is important for the Norwegian shipping sector. Helping to ensure that Russia’s war in Ukraine did not paralyse the Council’s ability to take decisions in other areas – and thereby ensuring that the Council could uphold its ability to maintain international peace and security in challenging times such as these – has also served Norwegian interests. It is crucial for Norway that the UN is effective and able to take decisive action.   

Overall, our efforts over the two-year period – and the results we have achieved – have shown that the composition of the Council matters, and that there is room for an elected member such as Norway to play a role – and to make a difference. This applies to standing up for values and principles, speaking out clearly in defence of international law, as well as to our ability to find diplomatic solutions across relatively entrenched dividing lines in the Council. This has been essential to achieve results in the form of Council resolutions and statements, so that the Council could continue its efforts to maintain international peace and security.  

A number of the resolutions we have initiated and helped to negotiate have been groundbreaking. They contain language and follow-up points that are of great significance – and will have an impact – in the long term too. The resolution on protection of education in conflict is a good example. Many of the Council’s decisions affect thousands of people living in conflict situations. Sometimes the resolutions can mean the difference between life and death. For example, several million people, including internally displaced people, in northwestern Syria have access to live-saving humanitarian aid because the Security Council adopted a resolution extending the mandate for cross-border aid delivery.

Norway has not found conflicting pressures from the various great powers to be a challenge during its term on the Security Council. Our role and efforts in the Council, which have been given high priority and have required considerable resources, have not been at the expense of other important foreign policy priorities, but on the contrary have helped to advance them. All in all, our membership of the Council has strengthened our international position, role and ability to make a difference.