Press Conference by Security Council President on Programme of Work for July

The Security Council’s programme for July will feature its first-ever discussion on artificial intelligence, its President for the month told a Headquarters press conference today.

Barbara Woodward (United Kingdom) — whose country holds the 15-nation organ’s rotating presidency for July — said that her delegation will also hold high-level meetings on Ukraine and on sexual violence in conflict, as she stressed the need to boost multilateralism and expand the permanent membership of the Council.

Recognizing some Member States’ concern that powerful countries are neglecting their responsibilities, she said:  “We want to be an agent of progress to change that.”  Multilateralism has worked well for the last 80 years, she underscored, as it has underpinned a 40-fold increase in trade since 1950, delivered global vaccines for infectious diseases and even prevented another world war.

However, more remains to be done to promote a more inclusive world and offer others a seat at the table, she observed.  On that, she said that her delegation supports expanding the Council’s permanent seats to include India, Brazil, Germany and Japan, as well as African representation.  “It’s high time the Council entered the 2020s,” she emphasized.

Turning to the ever-evolving world of technology, she said that the United Kingdom will hold a meeting on artificial intelligence on 18 July, chaired by James Cleverly, Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs.  Like many other Member States, the United Kingdom recognizes that “humanity stands on the precipice of this gigantic technological leap forward”.  It therefore wants to encourage a multilateral approach to managing both the immense opportunities and risks that artificial intelligence presents, including its implications for international peace and security.  But, no country can do it alone, she said, as a global effort in this regard is key.

On 17 July, Secretary Cleverly will chair the Council’s regular briefing on Ukraine, she said, noting that the Russian Federation’s “illegal invasion enters its seventeenth month”.  Moscow’s invasion is “the most immediate threat to what the UN stands for”, she stressed — an international order where disagreements are settled peacefully with diplomacy, not death and destruction. 

Another area of focus will be a ministerial-level open debate on conflict-related sexual violence, to be held on 14 July, she noted.  This debate will centre on the need to better implement Security Council resolutions to prevent sexual violence in conflict, and the Council will hear from both a human rights defender and a survivor of such violence.  She expressed hope that testimonies from these women – and others for whom such crises are a daily reality — will inspire cooperation and conviction across the Council.

Additionally, a critical meeting slated for 7 July will focus on the question of cross-border humanitarian aid to Syria, she said, noting her own recent trip to Syria, where she witnessed an “overwhelming” level of humanitarian need.  “I think the Council has a duty to do the right thing, to open more border crossings for longer periods of time, and to be frank, if it were up to us alone, this would mean at least three border crossings for at least 12 months,” she said, stating that this is simply about humanitarian-aid access.

She went on to spotlight the Secretary-General’s annual report on children and armed conflict, released on 29 June, which included the Russian Federation as a country of concern for the first time.  The United Kingdom welcomes such inclusion alongside terrorist organizations such as Al-Shabaab. This is the first time that a permanent member of the Security Council has been so listed for abusing children in armed conflict, she added.

In the ensuing discussion with members of the press, she took several questions on the Black Sea Grain Initiative, the withdrawal of the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) and the upcoming meeting on artificial intelligence.  When asked whether she felt hopeful about a renewal of the Initiative, which expires on 18 July, she said that it has been incredibly important for getting grain to countries that need it.  She added, however, that she did not feel particularly hopeful.  Whenever it is time to renew the agreement, the Russian Federation “plays brinkmanship with the food on people’s tables around the world”, she stressed.

As tensions flare in the Middle East, she was asked whether Palestinians under occupation have a right to defend themselves in the same way that Israel has a right to self-defence.  Responding, she said that, even though every country has a right to self-defence, that right must be exercised in line with international law.  The United Kingdom still believes that a two-State solution is the best way forward for the two countries to live together based on the 1967 guidelines.

Asked to elaborate about the first-ever discussion of artificial intelligence in the Security Council, she said that there is enormous potential in that technology.  For example, it could help close the gap between developing and developed countries.  However, also noting possible risks, she said that it is not difficult to imagine what would happen if, for example, autonomous weapons were not regulated or artificial intelligence was put in control of nuclear weapons.

When asked whether the United Kingdom supports an Arab country taking up a permanent seat on the Security Council, she reiterated her delegation’s stance that introducing India and Brazil would result in wider geographical representation.  The United Kingdom supports bringing in countries that have more influence now than when the original Security Council was put together in 1945.  “I think we sort of drew a line at the four plus the African representation that we had, and that could, of course, include an Arab African country,” she said.

On MINUSMA’s withdrawal, she said that it is no secret that the United Kingdom was very disappointed by the Malian authorities’ decision.  She underscored that withdrawing the Mission’s forces could leave Mali’s security in the hands of Wagner Group mercenaries.  “There’s a huge unresolved question now about who will support and protect the people of Mali,” she said, expressing deep concern over the presence of Wagner mercenaries in African countries.  The Wagner Group breeds human rights violations and promotes the mining and extraction of commodities, she added, which takes such resources — and their profits — from the hands of the people who own them.

For the full programme of work, please see:

For information media. Not an official record.