Global Governance post-COVID-19
Expected Council Action
The Security Council is expected to hold a summit level debate on global governance post-COVID-19 during the virtual high-level week of the General Assembly. Expected briefers are Secretary-General António Guterres and Chairperson of the AU Commission Moussa Faki Mahamat.
Key Recent Developments
The World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 a global pandemic on 11 March. Twelve days later, the Secretary-General called for a global ceasefire to combat the pandemic in conflict-affected countries. On 1 July, the Security Council sought to support the Secretary-General’s call in resolution 2532-–which took a laborious three months to negotiate because of US-China tensions—by demanding a cessation of hostilities in all situations on its agenda and calling for all conflict parties to engage in a humanitarian pause for at least 90 days.
A sticking point in the negotiation of resolution 2532 was US opposition to mentioning the WHO, which the administration of President Donald Trump has criticised during the crisis, in addition to its criticism of China. China, conversely, wanted a reference to the UN agency, which is mentioned in previous Council resolutions on health crises. A compromise was finally reached by adding language that said the Council had “considered” the General Assembly’s 2 April resolution on “Global solidarity to fight the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19)”; that resolution acknowledged the crucial role played by the WHO and called for the application of the agency’s relevant guidelines.
Since the pandemic began, the Council has had three specific meetings on the crisis at which members considered the risks that COVID-19 poses to peace and security by worsening conflict drivers. At the Council’s 9 April closed videoconference (VTC), the Secretary-General identified these as increasing tensions from the socio-economic fallout of the pandemic and around upcoming elections, eroding trust in public institutions and aggravating pre-existing grievances. He recalled these at the Council’s 2 July ministerial-level open debate.
The Council more recently discussed the crisis at a high-level open debate on “Pandemics and the Challenges of Sustaining Peace” via VTC on 12 August. In addition to Guterres, former Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, now with the organisation The Elders, briefed. Ban criticised the Council for its delayed agreement on resolution 2532, saying that “valuable months were wasted in arguments over the details of the text”. Sarah Cliffe of New York University’s Center on International Cooperation described the significant economic threats, including rising inequality, that could result from the pandemic and noted research showing that conflict risks rise significantly when economies contract by five percentage points. She said the global economy is likely to experience a 5-6 percent contraction in 2020. Cliffe also highlighted the pandemic’s secondary impacts on peace processes and elections as well as increased food insecurity, declining remittances and the potential of unequal access to vaccines as conflict drivers. She underscored the importance of conflict prevention activities and for the UN system to integrate more conflict-sensitive analysis.
Council members have discussed the impact of the pandemic in most country-specific and thematic meetings. At a briefing on conflict-induced hunger in April, World Food Programme Executive Director David Beasley warned about rising food insecurity from the pandemic, estimating that the number of people world-wide facing crisis levels of food insecurity would almost double by the end of 2020 from 135 million to 265 million, mostly as a result of the pandemic’s economic and trade impacts.
The pandemic has been a concern for the AU and the AU Peace and Security Council (PSC). AU Commission Chairperson Faki issued an appeal similar to the UN Secretary-General’s for a ceasefire on 27 March. In a 14 April communiqué, the PSC reiterated this call by Faki and Guterres, asking “all belligerents to fully embrace and uphold the Global Ceasefire in order to facilitate efforts being deployed against the COVID-19 pandemic”. Since April, the PSC has held at least nine meetings on the impact of COVID-19, including its peace and security implications; progress in controlling its spread; its impact on displaced persons, the security and welfare of children, multilateral cooperation, and electoral processes in Africa; and socio-economic effects on peace and security in Africa.
Women, Peace and Security
A joint policy brief titled “COVID-19 and Conflict: Advancing Women’s Meaningful Participation in Ceasefires and Peace Processes” was published in August by the Department of Political Affairs (DPPA) and UN Women. It examines how the COVID-19 pandemic has a different impact on women in conflict settings, what conditions are conducive to the meaningful participation of women in peace processes and how these conditions are affected by the pandemic. According to the policy brief, women are increasingly exposed to the virus, caused by their disproportionate roles in unpaid and paid care work; a rise in domestic violence; and overwhelmed health care systems. This results in a loss of access to sexual and reproductive health care and livelihoods. At the same time, a shift in resources away from support for women’s political participation carries a risk of “harmful intergenerational consequences for women’s rights”. Those consequences include issues such as women’s economic empowerment and education for girls. The policy brief argues that an enabling environment is essential for women to meaningful participate in peace processes. It lists elements constituting such an environment as including equality before the law, inclusivity as a social and cultural norm, security and protection from violence, social services such as childcare, access to knowledge and training, financial support, and logistics support such as transportation. These elements are in danger by the effects of the pandemic. DPPA and UN Women therefore call for gender-responsive COVID-19 commitments to be included in ceasefire and peace agreements. Women’s civil society organisations have further underlined the need to have provisions in such agreements related to topics like humanitarian and public health access, social protection and economic assistance in order to support women’s rights.
Key Issues and Options
One purpose of the high-level session is to discuss the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and how to adapt the global security architecture to respond to such events in the future. The Council’s consideration of the pandemic over the recent months, and the response of the world system in general, demonstrate the need to re-evaluate how existing mechanisms address non-traditional security threats that can emanate from pandemics but also, for example, from climate change, environmental disasters or economic crises. Discussion may also include the issue of making unilateral sanctions more flexible during such crises—sanctions have hindered some countries’ ability to respond more effectively to the COVID-19 pandemic—as well as debt relief and post-pandemic economic recovery.
In addition to a possible presidential statement of the Council and a summary by the presidency of the interventions, the Council may continue to hold regular meetings to consider and stay aware of the potentially destabilising impacts of the pandemic. Such meetings could help prepare the Council to react to looming peace and security threats as a result of the COVID-19, but perhaps more significantly, bringing attention to these socio-economic impacts and linkages to peace and security could prompt other relevant actors to address identified problems.
Health crises are a non-traditional security threat, but after China and South Africa raised initial concerns in March about the link between the pandemic and peace and security, members have not questioned the Council’s discussing the pandemic. Members have highlighted concerns about how the pandemic exacerbates frequent conflict drivers such as economic conditions and social tensions during Council debates. Russia and South Africa have at times stressed that it was important for Council discussions about the pandemic to focus on situations on its agenda and not to involve itself in, for example, economic aspects, which are the responsibility of other UN organs and entities—though during last month’s open debate, South Africa underscored the socio-economic impacts of the crisis in its statement, perhaps reflecting an evolution in its view. Members have diverging positions on the issue of waiving sanctions that can undermine countries’ capacity to respond to the pandemic, an action which the Secretary-General has previously suggested.
The protracted negotiations on resolution 2532 stemmed from US-China tensions, fuelled by US criticism of and rhetoric about China regarding the pandemic amid the major US outbreak. Developing countries on the Council that are more reliant on the WHO expressed concerns during negotiations about the negative signal that would be sent by not mentioning the agency.
Elected members have actively sought to have the Council address the pandemic. Tunisia served as co-penholder with France on resolution 2532. The Council’s first meeting on COVID-19 was held at the request of nine elected members (with South Africa being the exception). Germany and Indonesia organised debates in July and August, and, with Niger and the UK, organised an informal interactive dialogue on the pandemic with Peacebuilding Commission representatives in July.
UN DOCUMENTS ON COVID-19
|Security Council Resolution|
|1 July 2020S/RES/2532||This resolution demanded a general and immediate cessation of hostilities in all situations on the Council’s agenda and called upon all parties to armed conflicts to engage immediately in a 90-day humanitarian pause.|
|Security Council Letter|
|8 July 2020S/2020/663||This letter contained the records of the briefings and statements from the 2 July open debate on the peace and security implications of pandemics and international health crises.|
|General Assembly Document|
|2 April 2020A/RES/74/270||This resolution reaffirmed the General Assembly’s “commitment to international cooperation and multilateralism and its strong support for the central role of the UN system in the global response to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic”|