How the “Arria formula” changed the work of the Security Council

The "Arria formula" is nothing more than arranging informal talks among Security Council members. D. Arria, Venezuela's Permanent Representative to the United Nations, took the initiative for the first time.

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Joseph P Chacko
Joseph P Chacko
Joseph P. Chacko is the publisher of Frontier India, portal publishing news and current affairs. He holds an M.B.A in International Business from the Maharishi University of Management, Iowa, USA. Twitter: @chackojoseph *views are Personal.

On August 11, 2022, the United Nations (UN) Security Council (UNSC) conducted a regular meeting on the “Arria formula,” which was dedicated to the topic of informal curatorship. Since the beginning of the year, 13 meetings have been held using the “Arria formula,” which was the total number of meetings in this format for the entire year of 2016. The unique informal instrument in the hands of the members of the UN Security Council is receiving increased attention.

The format of the meetings and the history of their appearance

The “Arria formula” is nothing more than arranging informal talks among Security Council members. D. Arria, Venezuela’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations, took the initiative for the first time. According to D. Arria’s interview, the situation in Yugoslavia, particularly on the territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina, remained the top priority in March 1992. Recognizing that the main victims of the conflict did not have direct and official access to the Security Council, D. Arria, who was also the chairman of the UN Security Council at the time, decided to organize an informal meeting outside the meeting room with a Croatian priest who had personally witnessed many incidents on the Yugoslavian territory.

Because the Arria Formula is a relatively new practice, it is not surprising that it is not included in the United Nations Charter or the Security Council’s interim rules of procedure. It is worth noting that, despite the fact that the first meeting was organized by D. Arria on behalf of the Council’s President, the second informal meeting was already convened by Venezuela and Hungary as UN Security Council members. Based on this, the UN Secretariat states that sessions under the “Arria formula” can be summoned by individual Security Council members, and attendance is not obligatory. Meetings are held outside the Security Council meeting chamber, as they were in 1992. To organize the meeting, the host nation sends a notice to the other members of the Council informing them of the meeting’s schedule and location, its aims, and the list of participants who plan to attend.

However, the “Arria formula” is not the Security Council’s sole informal instrument. Even before 1992, the Security Council had the authority to undertake informal discussions, which, by the twenty-first century, had become obsolete. These are confidential Security Council sessions, after which a communiqué, or meeting summary, is released. At the same time, it is highlighted that representatives who are not Security Council members are not permitted to consult. An informal consultation turns out to be quite similar to a normally closed session of the UN Security Council. The notion of openness was the revolutionary approach of the “Arria formula” in this situation. Unlike earlier arrangements, the Arria conference can include people, non-governmental organizations, and officials from nations that are not Security Council members. Furthermore, since 2017, international organizations such as the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime have served as co-organizers.

“Formula Arria” as a political tool

Since 2016, the option of online broadcasting and recording of UN Security Council sessions “according to the Arria formula” has been a fundamentally new step in the organization’s operation. If previous meetings were only an opportunity for consultations with numerous actors and individuals, the “Arria formula” has now evolved into a tool for advancing a position on issues that cannot be discussed at formal Security Council meetings due to a conflict with the interests of one or more permanent members.

It is crucial to highlight that the parties determine whether or not to broadcast the meeting by consensus. There is a documented situation in which the United States and the United Kingdom refused to allow the broadcasting and preservation of an informal conference organized at Russia’s suggestion in 2020. In reaction, Russia’s Deputy Permanent Representative to the United Nations, D. Polyansky, stated that Russia would likewise prevent the transmission of the meetings organized by the United States and the United Kingdom. Countries have lately decided not to prohibit broadcasts of meetings “according to the Arria formula” due to the availability of such a system of checks and balances by default. As a result, all of the sessions previously conducted in 2022 were videotaped and placed on the UN website.

Digitalization as a result of the coronavirus pandemic has been a crucial element in increasing the number of meetings on the “Arria formula” in recent years. The videoconference format permits representatives who were unable to attend the meeting in New York in person to express their views. However, since 2015, when the total number of meetings for the year climbed from 7 to 17, there has been a general tendency toward a rise in the number of meetings “according to the Arria formula.” 

In the great majority of situations (75% in 2021), the Arria conference is convened either by permanent members of the UN Security Council or by a coalition that includes non-permanent members of the Council and at least one state with veto power, confirming the vital relevance of the “five.”

According to current trends, the “Arria formula” ranks second only to the right of veto among the most important and successful measures for defending the position of permanent members in the Security Council. For other governments, this is a unique structure that permits calling attention to one or more aspects of the Security Council’s actions, enhancing the Security Council’s standing and prestige in the international arena. 

The “Arria formula’s” relevance will only expand with time, and the attention that diplomats and permanent representatives have begun to give to it is entirely warranted because, as D. Arria himself stated that the success will be the one who most successfully employs this instrument.

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