Conflict Prevention and Mediation
Expected Council Action
In June, the Security Council will hold a briefing on the “Maintenance of international peace and security: Conflict prevention and mediation”. Secretary-General António Guterres and Mary Robinson, the chair of the Elders, a diverse and independent group of global leaders working to promote peace and human rights, are expected to brief. Ban Ki-moon, a current deputy chair of the Elders, is likely to brief as well. Kuwaiti Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Sheikh Sabah Khaled Al-Hamad Al-Sabah is expected to preside. No formal outcome in anticipated from the meeting.
Key Recent Developments
On 29 August 2018, the Council held an open debate on mediation and settlement of disputes under the UK presidency. Guterres; Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, who is a member of the Secretary-General’s High-Level Advisory Board on Mediation; and Mossarat Qadeem, co-founder of PAIMAN Alumni Trust, a civil society organisation that works to prevent violent extremism in Pakistan, briefed. The UK Minister of State for the Commonwealth and the UN, Lord Ahmad, chaired the meeting. Guterres emphasised that prevention “includes an investment in mediation, peacebuilding and sustainable development” in addition to diplomacy. Welby highlighted reconciliation as a means to achieving sustainable peace and preventing the recurrence of violent conflict. Qadeem underscored the impact of women mediators on peace processes, saying that women “place greater relative weight on interaction-specific aspects than men do and often perceive most negotiations to include a relationship dimension” and that “women mediators can ensure that processes and agreements are more gender-sensitive and thus more comprehensive and legitimate”.
The most recent Council outcome on conflict prevention as a thematic issue was a presidential statement initiated by then-Council member Kazakhstan and adopted on 18 January 2018. The statement, which was based largely on agreed language, recalled that a comprehensive conflict prevention strategy should include early warning, preventive deployment, mediation, peacekeeping, non-proliferation, accountability measures, and post-conflict peacebuilding; it recognised that these components are interdependent, complementary and non-sequential. The statement noted the role of women and youth in conflict prevention. It also focused on the importance of addressing the regional dimensions of conflict, including through regional arrangements and diplomacy, and emphasised the key role that civil society can play in promoting efforts to sustain peace.
On 5 March, Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs Rosemary DiCarlo informally briefed members, providing a global overview of the risks and tensions with regard to national elections. This appears to have been an early effort, supported by a number of Council members, towards informal, monthly horizon-scanning sessions with the Secretariat on thematic and regional issues of potential concern.
Key Issues and Options
One key issue is to determine how the Council can conduct upstream prevention or early conflict mitigation, which is particularly challenging given the political sensitivities of discussing issues not already on the agenda. Finding discreet and creative ways to engage with such matters could continue to be explored by members. Monthly informal horizon-scanning meetings, such as the meeting held on 5 March, could provide one modest way of discussing potential risks to international peace and security.
The Secretary-General’s monthly lunch provides another potential avenue for such conversations, on both country-specific and regional aspects. Strategic use of Arria-formula meetings, such as the 13 May meeting on Cameroon, and discussing country situations under regional agenda items offer other fruitful ways to engage on these matters. Next month’s briefing could be an opportunity to grapple with how the Council can hold meaningful discussions about addressing emerging threats and conflicts.
Another issue for the Council is how it can most effectively support the prevention and mediation efforts of other actors within the UN system, as well as regional, sub-regional, national, and local actors. In this regard, the Council could consider requesting the Secretary-General to submit a report with recommendations of the best ways the Council could work with other actors and utilise its comparative advantages to support mediation processes and conflict prevention. The report could outline examples of Council best practices in specific cases that could help inform its future work on prevention and mediation.
A further important matter is how the Council can encourage peace operations to facilitate local dispute resolution mechanisms where useful. This is consistent with the notion that mandates should be driven by the need to achieve political solutions, a key theme of the 2015 report of the High-Level Independent Panel on Peace Operations. In recent years, the Council has begun to pay increased attention, in its mandating, to the importance of community engagement.
A core problem for the Council is knowing when and how to act, and generating the political will to do so, in ways that forestall or mitigate violent conflict. The best information is useless if rhetorical support for prevention is not translated into concrete and appropriate action. Differing views on the nature of state sovereignty—as well as political divisions among the permanent members and other influential member states—have frequently made it difficult for the Council to decide when, how and even whether to act at early stages of crises.
All Council members have expressed their support for conflict prevention and mediation at the thematic level. However, the Council’s track record in countries such as Syria, Mali and Libya, among others, does not match this thematic support. In part, the Council’s shortcomings reflect the complexity of these conflicts, with a proliferation of national and international stakeholders with varying agendas. But the inability of the Council to prevent and mediate conflict effectively also stems from the prevailing political divisions and contrasting views about state sovereignty among the permanent members, which tend to block action by the Council in cases where national interests could be at stake or where there are disagreements about which tools should be used.
Kuwait’s decision to pursue a briefing on conflict prevention and mediation is reminiscent of the signature event of its February 2018 presidency, a ministerial-level briefing on the purposes and principles of the UN Charter in the maintenance of international peace and security. During that meeting, Kuwait emphasised that the Council should “further activate” tools of the Charter in Chapter VI on the peaceful settlement of disputes, such as mediation, negotiation and arbitration. It further stressed “the important and key role played by the Secretary-General in bringing any matter to the attention of the Security Council, pursuant to Article 99 of the UN Charter.”
Recent efforts to resurrect “horizon-scanning” sessions—albeit in a more discreet way than the sessions held between November 2010 and March 2012, which were on the monthly programme as a briefing in consultations by the then-Department of Political Affairs—have been initiated by the elected members.
UN Documents on Conflict Prevention and Mediation
|Security Council Presidential Statements|
|18 January 2018S/PRST/2018/1||This was a presidential statement on conflict prevention stating that a comprehensive conflict prevention strategy should include early warning, preventive deployment, mediation, peacekeeping, non-proliferation, accountability measures, and post-conflict peacebuilding, recognising that these components are interdependent, complementary and non-sequential.|
|Security Council Meeting Records|
|29 August 2018S/PV.8334||This is a meeting record of an open debate during the UK presidency on “mediation and settlement of disputes”.|
|21 February 2018S/PV.8185||This was a ministerial-level briefing on the “purposes and principles of the UN Charter in the maintenance of international peace and security”. Secretary-General António Guterres and former Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon briefed the Council.|