Expected Council Action
The UK, as part of its August presidency, is planning an open debate on conflict prevention with Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay as briefers. A resolution or a presidential statement is a potential outcome.
Key Recent Developments
The Council has recently held several events on conflict prevention. On 15 April 2013, there was a briefing on preventing conflicts in Africa (S/PV.6946), with a presidential statement drafted by Rwanda on the root causes of conflict as an outcome (S/PRST/2013/4). On 19 June 2013, the UK organised an open debate on natural resources and conflict prevention (S/PV.6982 and Resumption 1). On 29 January, at the initiative of Jordan, there was an open debate on “war, its lessons and the search for a permanent peace” (S/PV.7105). Most recently, on 16 April there was a briefing on preventing conflict and fighting against genocide (S/PV.7155), with resolution 2150 calling upon states to prevent genocide and other serious crimes under international law as an outcome.
However, during the last few years, there have been several instances when the Council has failed to prevent the onset or escalation of conflicts, including situations that had already been on the Council’s agenda:
- on Syria, the Council responded with an initial meeting one month after the government’s crackdown on protests began in March 2011, but its engagement—which has mostly been held hostage by a political stalemate within the Council—has done very little to mitigate the intensification of conflict (with the recent adoption of resolution 2165 perhaps being an exception);
- in Mali, despite ongoing Tuareg and jihadist rebellions and the 22 March 2012 military coup, the Council failed to take action toward restoring the constitutional order and stabilising the country until 20 December 2012 with authorisation in resolution 2085 for a phased deployment of the African-led International Support Mission in Mali, eventually precipitating an urgent French military intervention in January 2013;
- on the Central African Republic (CAR), the Council issued seven press statements between December 2012 and March 2013 (but otherwise took no action) in response to the Séléka rebellion and its 24 March 2013 seizure of power, and only authorised the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilisation Mission in the CAR on 10 April with resolution 2149;
- on South Sudan, the Council established a new mission through resolution 1996 of 8 July 2011, yet it did not adequately respond to the considerable challenges facing the newly independent country and failed to take effective steps to prevent the descent into full-scale civil war as of 15 December 2013; and
- regarding Libya, other than increasing the frequency of its meetings to monthly in response to a deteriorating security situation, the Council has responded neither to General Khalifa Haftar’s attempted coups on 14 February and 16 May nor to the Libya’s recent request for a stabilisation force in order to prevent a further escalation of conflict.
There are numerous possible explanations for the Council’s disappointing track record on conflict prevention, including:
- insufficient accurate and timely information regarding emerging conflict situations;
- resistance by member states—often citing sovereignty concerns—to being discussed by the Council;
- political divisions among the P5 members, particularly when national interests are at stake;
- differences among Council members regarding what conflict prevention means in practice, including how and when it should be pursued;
- inadequate tools, such as financing and troops, for a rapid preventive deployment of peacekeepers;
- challenges related to attention span combined with a proliferation of Council agenda items to manage;
- patterns of dominance by the penholder and deference by other Council members, yielding to inertia when the former fails to act decisively; and
- standard operating procedures of the Council (e.g., press statements) that may be ill-suited for preventive diplomacy and mediation efforts.
The main issue is that despite the Council’s oft-stated commitment to conflict prevention in principle, Council performance has been chronically poor in practice.
Perhaps the most likely option would be to either issue a presidential statement or adopt a resolution reaffirming the Council’s commitment to conflict prevention.
The Ad Hoc Working Group on Conflict Prevention and Resolution in Africa continues to be underutilised, and could be revamped to address the early signs of conflict in a more timely and meaningful way.
Another option would be for the Council to request the Secretary-General to form an independent panel to review Council conflict prevention practice and offer policy recommendations. The panel’s composition could include scholars with expertise on the Council and conflict prevention as well as former Council practitioners. The purpose would be to provide impartial analysis and fresh thinking on the subject.
Council and Wider Dynamics
In attempting to fulfil the mandate of the Council to maintain international peace and security, there is an irrefutable logic and cost-benefit analysis to preventing conflict. In principle, there is perhaps no issue on which there is greater consensus among Council members: all members are “for” and no members are “against” conflict prevention. Nonetheless, in practice the Council quite frequently fails to take sufficient action to prevent conflict. Some of this failure can certainly be attributed to political divisions, particularly among the P5, which often restrict the degree of latitude for Council action when national interests are at stake. In other cases, differences regarding how and when to pursue conflict prevention may be indicative of a broader split among members regarding what situations belong on the Council’s agenda and what measures are appropriate.
In terms of relations between the Council and UN member states, national sovereignty is perhaps the most significant factor determining the prospects for conflict prevention. For domestic political reasons, most states do not want to be on the Council’s agenda, particularly if there is not yet a situation of full-scale conflict. For many developing countries, resistance to international intervention—even in the various forms of UN conflict prevention—can also be attributed to the legacy of colonialism. On the other hand, assertions of national sovereignty seem to be shifting in other cases—such as the CAR, Mali and Somalia—where governments have requested the UN to take a more proactive role. This also suggests there may be underutilised scope for Council engagement on conflict prevention.
UN DOCUMENTS ON CONFLICT PREVENTION
|Security Council Resolution|
|16 April 2014 S/RES/2150||This was a resolution calling on all states to prevent and fight against genocide.|
|Security Council Presidential Statement|
|15 April 2013 S/PRST/2013/4||This was the presidential statement adopted at the conclusion of the meeting on “Prevention of conflicts in Africa: addressing the root causes”.|
|Security Council Meeting Records|
|16 April 2014 S/PV.7155||This was a briefing on the prevention and fight against genocide to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the genocide in Rwanda.|
|29 January 2014 S/PV.7105||This was a meeting, held at the initiative of Jordan, on “War, its lessons, and the search for a permanent peace”.|
|19 June 2013 S/PV.6982||This was an open debate on conflict prevention and natural resources.|
|19 June 2013 S/PV.6982 (Resumption 1)||This was debate on conflict prevention and natural resources.|
|15 April 2013 S/PV.6946||This was a briefing on “Prevention of conflicts in Africa: addressing the root causes”.|