Special political missions

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Special political missions (SPMs) are instruments by which the United Nations can respond to peace and security challenges. They vary considerably with regard to their mandates, scope, institutional design and approaches. They range from special envoys and representatives carrying out good offices mandates to monitoring teams, groups and panels overseeing Security Council sanctions regimes, small field-based missions, and multidimensional operations with comprehensive mandates to support political transitions and efforts to build sustainable peace. Three United Nations regional offices serve as forward platforms for preventive diplomacy and dialogue and work very closely with their regional counterparts on transnational peace and security issues affecting the regions in which they are based.

SPMs can be (1) mandated by the Security Council, (2) established by the Secretary-General following an exchange of letters with the President of the Security Council or (3) mandated by the General Assembly.

SPMs are distinguished from peacekeeping missions by their financing mechanism; SPMs are all financed through the special political mission subsection of section 3 (Political affairs) in the programme budget, while peacekeeping missions are either financed through section 5 (Peacekeeping operations) of the programme budget or through separate special accounts established for individual missions and and assessed under the peacekeeping scale of assessments (see peacekeeping financing).

Typology of missions

Because of the wide range of activities described as SPMs, they are commonly grouped into three clusters, as follows:

  1. Cluster I: Special and personal envoys, advisers and representatives of the Secretary-General
  2. Cluster II: Sanctions monitoring teams, groups and panels, and other entities and mechanisms
  3. Cluster III: Regional offices, offices in support of political processes and other missions

Large missions that would ordinarily be grouped into cluster III, including the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) and the United Nations Assistance Mission in Iraq (UNAMI), are often presented separately given the size of their budgets.

Note that the cluster system is primarily a budgetary typology. SPMs can be field- or Headquarters-based, and they can be mandated by the General Assembly or Security Council (or established by the Secretary-General following an exchange of letters with the Security Council), but these considerations are not directly linked to the assignment of SPMs into a particular cluster.

Although they share similarities to certain SPMs, the following entities are not SPMs as they are not funded through the SPM subsection of the programme budget and have their own subsections:

  • Office of the United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process (UNSCO)
  • United Nations Office to the African Union (UNOAU)

Intergovernmental process

In addition to the intergovernmental actions related to the mandating of SPMs, issues related to SPMs are routinely considered by the Fourth and Fifth Committee of the General Assembly, under three subjects.

Estimates in respect of special political missions, good offices and other political initiatives

The General Assembly, through the Fifth Committee, takes action on estimates in respect of special political missions in the context of its resolutions on special subjects related to the programme budget. SPM budgets are normally considered during the main session (October through December) of the Fifth Committee, and any revised estimates that may arise are generally considered during the resumed session (either March or May).

Session Resolution Date Notes
75 A/75/6(Sect.3)/Add.1 (chapeau)
A/75/6(Sect.3)/Add.2 (cluster I); A/75/6(Sect.3)/Add.3 (cluster II); A/75/6(Sect.3)/Add.4 (cluster III); A/75/6(Sect.3)/Add.5 (UNAMA); A/75/6(Sect.3)/Add.6 (UNAMI)
74 74/263 section XVIII 27 December 2019 A/74/6 (Sect.3)/Add.1 (chapeau)
A/74/6 (Sect.3)/Add.2 (cluster I); A/74/6 (Sect.3)/Add.3 (cluster II); A/74/6(Sect.3)/Add.4 (cluster III); A/74/6 (Sect.3)/Add.5 and Corr.1 (UNAMA); A/74/6 (Sect.3)/Add.6 and Corr.1(UNAMI)
73 73/306 3 July 2019 A/73/352/Add.9 (UNMHA/Yemen 1 July-31 December 2019)
73 73/279B sections III and IV 15 April 2019 A/73/352/Add.7 (Somalia POE);
A/73/352/Add.8 (UNMHA/Yemen 1 April-30 June 2019)
73 73/279 22 December 2018 A/73/352 (chapeau);
A/73/352/Add.1 (cluster I), A/73/352/Add.2 and Corr.1 (cluster II), A/73/352/Add.3 (cluster III), A/73/352/Add.4 (UNAMA), A/73/352/Add.5 (UNAMI);
A/73/352/Add.6, Corr.1 and Corr.2 (UNITAD)
72 72/262C 5 July 2018 A/72/351/Add.9 (UNAMA);
A/72/351/Add.10 (UNAMI)
72 72/262 24 December 2017 A/72/351 (chapeau);
A/72/351/Add.1 (cluster I), A/72/351/Add.2 (cluster II), A/72/351/Add.3 (cluster III), A/72/351/Add.4 (UNAMA), A/72/351/Add.5 (UNAMI);
A/72/351/Add.6 (POE on Mali);
A/72/351/Add.7 (Colombia);
A/72/351/Add.8 (UNSMIL)
71 71/272B 6 April 2017 A/71/365/Add.8 and Corr.1 (OPCW-UN JIM);
A/71/365/Add.9 (POE DPRK)
71 71/272 23 December 2016 A/71/365 (chapeau);
A/71/365/Add.1 (cluster I), A/71/365/Add.2 (cluster II), A/71/365/Add.3 (cluster III), A/71/365/Add.4 (UNAMA), A/71/365/Add.5 (UNAMI);
A/71/365/Add.6 (OSA Burundi);
A/71/365/Add.7 and Corr.1 (Colombia)

Review of arrangements for funding and backstopping special political missions

Given the similarities between peacekeeping missions and large SPMs, including the size of their budgets, some delegations and groups have called for a review of funding and backstopping arrangements for SPMs.[1] These efforts culminated in the issuance of a report on funding and backstopping arrangements (A/66/340) in October 2011.

Informal consultations in the Fifth Committee on this report and its accompanying ACABQ report (A/66/7/Add.21) were inconclusive during the 66th, 67th, 68th, 69th, 70th, 71st, 72nd and 73rd sessions.

Comprehensive review of special political missions

Due in large part to the lack of progress on the funding and backstopping issue in the Fifth Committee, the General Assembly, through the Fourth Committee, adopted resolution 67/123 of 18 December 2012 establishing a new "Comprehensive review of special political missions" agenda item. This effort was spearheaded by Mexico and Finland. The new agenda item was consciously modeled on the agenda item under which the Fourth Committee considers peacekeeping operations and the report of the C-34.

The Fourth Committee considers an annual report titled "Overall policy matters pertaining to special political missions" under this agenda item. The deliberations and resulting General Assembly resolutions are as follows:

Session Summary records Resolution Date Notable elements
74 74/91 13 December 2019 Took note of SG report A/74/338
73 A/C.4/73/SR.21 (5 November 2018) and A/C.4/73/SR.23 (8 November 2018) 73/101 7 December 2018 Took note of SG report A/73/337
72 A/C.4/72/SR.21 (31 October 2017) and A/C.4/72/SR.23 (2 November 2017) 72/89 7 December 2017 Took note of SG report A/72/357/Rev.1
71 A/C.4/71/SR.17 (27 October 2016) and A/C.4/71/SR.18 (28 October 2016) 71/100 6 December 2016 Took note of SG report A/71/330
70 A/C.4/70/SR.20 (6 November 2015) 70/92 9 December 2015 Took note of SG report A/70/400
69 A/C.4/69/SR.19 (3 November 2014) 69/95 5 December 2014 Took note of SG report A/69/325
68 A/C.4/68/SR.20 (4 November 2013) 68/85 11 December 2013 Took note of SG report A/68/223

See also


  1. For example, the African Group statement on SPM budgets during the 66th session stated, "The African Group believes that there would be merit in separating the special political missions budget from the other parts of the regular budget, and that these SPMs should be dealt with financially in a way similar to the peacekeeping missions."