Expected Council Action
In January, the Council will hold a ministerial-level open debate on “conflict prevention and sustaining peace”. Margot Wallström, Sweden’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, is expected to preside. Newly appointed UN Secretary-General António Guterres will be the sole briefer. At press time, it did not appear that there would be a Council product; however, it is anticipated that Sweden will produce a summary of the debate.
Key Recent Developments
On 29 June 2015, the Advisory Group of Experts (AGE) submitted its report on the UN’s peacebuilding architecture. The AGE report was a product of the review process mandated by the Security Council and the General Assembly for the tenth anniversaries of the Peacebuilding Commission (PBC), the Peacebuilding Fund (PBF) and the Peacebuilding Support Office (PBSO).
The AGE report’s overarching thesis was that peacebuilding is an activity that happens not only in post-conflict situations but also as a process before, during and after conflict. Peacebuilding should therefore be seen as a responsibility of the entire UN system, and greater emphasis should be placed on conflict prevention. The AGE suggested that a more appropriate term to reflect this broader understanding of peacebuilding could be “sustaining peace”.
The report triggered an intergovernmental review process, led by Angola on behalf of the Council and Australia on behalf of the General Assembly, to consider the findings of the AGE. That culminated in the concurrent adoption by the General Assembly and the Security Council of identical resolutions on the peacebuilding architecture on 27 April 2016. According to the resolutions, sustaining peace includes “activities aimed at preventing the outbreak, escalation, continuation and recurrence of conflict … and should flow through all three pillars of the UN’s engagement [peace and security, human rights and sustainable development] at all stages of conflict”.
New Secretary-General António Guterres’s views on conflict prevention are in keeping with the sustaining-peace agenda. In his April 2016 vision statement, he called for the development of “a comprehensive, modern and effective operational peace architecture, encompassing prevention, conflict resolution, peacekeeping, peacebuilding and long-term development—the ‘peace continuum’”. Emphasising that prevention is a priority for the UN, he said during his 12 December 2016 swearing-in ceremony that prevention must be integrated into the three pillars of the UN’s work.
The Advisory Group’s review of the peacebuilding architecture was one of three major reviews of the UN’s peace and security work produced in 2015; the others were the report of the High-Level Independent Panel on Peace Operations (HIPPO) and the Global Study on Women, Peace and Security. Like the Advisory Group’s report, the HIPPO report and the Global Study underscored the need for improved conflict prevention. Yet implementation of the recommendations of these reports with regard to conflict prevention has been limited at best.
Guterres takes office at a time when the Security Council and the broader UN community are failing to effectively discharge their prevention mandate under the UN Charter. The number of civilian casualties from warfare has been on the rise in recent years. Also, in large part because of the proliferation of conflicts, there are over 60 million displaced worldwide, the highest number in the post-World War II era.
Sweden has circulated a concept paper in preparation for the debate. The concept note describes the “conflict prevention and sustaining peace” debate as an opportunity for the new Secretary-General to outline his vision for a renewed focus on conflict prevention. It says that the debate will offer member states the chance to discuss how the Council can support the sustaining-peace agenda. The concept note further says that the discussion will explore how the Security Council and the Secretary General can work together more productively on conflict prevention.
As a springboard for the discussion, Sweden has proposed a series of questions for the consideration of member states. Among the issues are how the Council can make better use of its tools to prevent conflict and sustain peace, how the relationship between the Council and the Secretary-General on conflict prevention can be made more effective and how the Council and the broader UN membership can provide the necessary political leadership to advance the sustaining-peace agenda.
The Council’s last open debate on conflict prevention occurred on 17 November 2015, focusing on “security, development and the root causes of conflict”. A ministerial-level debate at which UK Secretary of State for International Development Justine Greening presided, it featured briefings by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon; Ambassador Olof Skoog (Sweden) in his capacity as Chair of the PBC; and Ouided Bouchamaoui, President of the Tunisian Confederation of Industry, Trade and Handicrafts and a member of the Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet, a collection of four civil society organisations awarded the 2015 Nobel Peace Prize for their “decisive contribution to the building of a pluralistic democracy” in Tunisia after the 2011 revolution. Ban called for a greater emphasis on conflict prevention, noting that this would require an enhanced focus on human rights, increased coherence in UN system and sufficient financial support for the UN’s good offices work, country teams, and the Peacebuilding Fund. Skoog underscored that “building peace is a primarily political process that requires sustained and long-term engagement”. Bouchamaoui noted that Tunisia had “been able to avoid conflict through dialogue and compromise” and that it is important for the “Tunisia model” to succeed to “demonstrate that Islam and democracy are indeed compatible”.
The primary issue is how the Council can use the debate as a springboard to implement the sustaining-peace agenda into its country-specific work in concrete and effective ways. Several related matters for the Council include:
- generating the political will to engage meaningfully in situations not yet on its agenda;
- strengthening coherence and coordination in prevention among the Council, the broader UN system, regional and subregional organisations, member states and civil society;
- enhancing the flow and quality of information between the Council and other actors engaged in prevention; and
- determining what combination of tools and actors is most effective in different types of scenarios that constitute a risk to peace and security.
One option is for the Council president to produce a summary of the meeting that is circulated to the wider membership.
The Council might also consider adopting a presidential statement that:
- welcomes the new Secretary-General’s commitment to conflict prevention and encourages cooperation between the Council and the Secretariat on this issue;
- highlights that conflict prevention should integrate political, human rights and development approaches;
- underscores the importance of developing synergies among the Council, the Secretariat and other UN entities to implement the “sustaining peace” agenda; and
- emphasises the need to continue to integrate human rights, including through the Human Rights Up Front initiative, into all aspects of the UN’s work.
All Council members have expressed their support for conflict prevention. However, the Council’s recent track record on prevention—evident from recent failures in the cases of Syria, Mali, South Sudan and Yemen, among others—does not match the thematic support. The indecisiveness of the Council in prevention stems from the resistance of member states to early international engagement and to political divisions, especially among the P5, which tend to block action by the Council in cases where national interests could be at stake.
There have also been differences among members on what situations belong on the Council’s agenda and what measures might be appropriate. Some members, including Russia, seem to be wary of the Council’s taking on issues that they perceive as beyond the Council’s mandate to maintain international peace and security. For example, at the Council’s 17 November 2015 debate on conflict prevention, Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said, “Questions of international law, human rights and development…should fall to the General Assembly”. Other members, including the P3, have a more expansive view of what constitutes a threat to international peace and security; thus, they are generally more amenable to discussing the connections among human rights, development and peace and security in the context of the Security Council.
UN DOCUMENTS ON CONFLICT PREVENTION
|Security Council Resolution|
|27 April 2016 S/RES/2282||This was a concurrent resolution with the General Assembly on the review of the UN peacebuilding architecture.|
|25 September 2015 S/2015/730||This was report of the Secretary-General on conflict prevention.|
|Security Council Meeting Records|
|27 April 2016 S/PV.7680||This was the meeting at which resolution 2282 was adopted.|
|17 November 2015 S/PV.7561||This was a ministerial level open debate on “Security, development and the root causes of conflict”.|
|29 June 2015 S/2015/490||This was the report of the Advisory Group of Experts on the Peacebuilding Architecture.|