Prevention and Peaceful Resolution of Disputes
Expected Council Action
In October, as one of the signature events of its presidency, Brazil is planning to convene a high-level open debate on “Peace through Dialogue: The Contribution of Regional, Sub-regional and Bilateral Arrangements to the Prevention and Peaceful Resolution of Disputes”.
In July 2023, the Secretary-General issued A New Agenda for Peace, one of 11 policy briefs connected to his 2021 report, Our Common Agenda, which reflects his vision for the future of multilateralism. A New Agenda emphasises the importance of preventive diplomacy, and the “need for strong partnerships between the United Nations and regional organizations”. The policy brief says that the “underutilization of the different tools referred to in Article 33 of the Charter remains one of our greatest collective shortcomings”. The article, in Chapter VI of the Charter, names these tools as “negotiation, enquiry, mediation, conciliation, arbitration, judicial settlement, resort to regional agencies or arrangements, or other peaceful means” that the parties may choose to pursue. A New Agenda also asserts the need for “regional frameworks and organizations, in accordance with Chapter VIII of the Charter, that promote trust-building, transparency and détente”.
The Council has long recognised the importance of regional and subregional organisations in preventing conflict. This is reflected in various outcomes it adopted during the post-Cold War era. In resolution 1625, adopted during the September 2005 World Summit, the Council affirmed “its determination to strengthen United Nations conflict prevention capacities by…supporting regional mediation initiatives in close consultation with regional and subregional organizations concerned”. Similarly, in resolution 2171 of August 2014, it called for “enhanced cooperation and capacity building with regional and subregional organizations and arrangements to help to prevent armed conflicts, their spread and impact, including through cooperation in early warning mechanisms as well as to help facilitate preventive action”.
While the Council has enhanced its interactions with regional organisations during the past two decades, these relationships have been limited and rarely used in the context of upstream conflict prevention. The most developed relationship is with the AU, although even the Council and the AU have struggled to develop a mutually acceptable understanding of roles, responsibilities, and burden-sharing in efforts to prevent, mediate, manage, and resolve conflict. (For more on the Council’s relationship with regional arrangements, see our In Hindsight in the current Forecast, “The UN Security Council and Regional Organizations: a Brief Exploration of Chapter VIII”).
At the same time, the Council continues to engage in many conflict situations in which regional and sub-regional organisations and member states play a prominent mediation role. The East African Community (EAC) and the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) are leading sub-regional efforts to address the situation in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has led regional efforts to mediate the crisis in Myanmar. And the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) is playing a key mediation role in Sudan, while other member states (for example, Egypt, as well as the US and Saudi Arabia) have set up separate negotiation tracks.
Key Issues and Options
The main issue for the Council is how it can make more effective use of Chapter VI tools, which focus on “The Pacific Settlement of Disputes”.
A related issue is how the Council can more effectively support regional and sub-regional organisations and bilateral efforts to prevent and mediate conflicts.
One option would be for Brazil, as the initiator of the open debate, to produce a chair’s summary that captures the key themes of the meeting and circulate the summary as a public document.
In the future, the Council could also consider holding an informal interactive dialogue with representatives of different regional organisations to discuss how the Council can most effectively support their efforts in preventing conflict and mediating intractable crises.
Another option would be for Council members to discuss informally how to encourage enhanced use of the use of tools in Article 33 (for example, conciliation, arbitration, and judicial settlement, among others).
Despite the seemingly strong rhetorical support for conflict prevention, the Council struggles to translate its words into concrete action. Concerns that prevention in practice could be used as a pretext to impinge on the sovereignty of independent states have been an impediment to broader preventive action. The involvement of a powerful Council member, especially one of the permanent members, in a dispute or conflict can also significantly compromise the Council’s involvement. At the same time, some members encourage more frequent use of Chapter VI (Peaceful Settlement of Disputes) and VIII (Regional Arrangements) tools of the UN Charter, rather than sanctions and other coercive measures outlined in Chapter VII (Action with respect to Threats to the Peace, Breaches of the Peace, and Acts of Aggression), which are often more controversial.
Differing perceptions are often at play regarding the Council’s role when regional and sub-regional organisations engage in conflict prevention. For example, African members were wary of Council engagement in Tigray (2020-2022) while the AU was mediating the conflict, whereas the P3 (France, the UK, and the US) and other like-minded members would have preferred more direct Council engagement.
UN DOCUMENTS ON CONFLICT PREVENTION
|Security Council Resolutions|
|21 August 2014S/RES/2171||This resolution requested the Secretary-General to submit a report to the Council on actions taken to “promote and strengthen conflict prevention tools within the United Nations system” by 31 August 2015.|
|14 September 2005S/RES/1625||This was a declaration on the effectiveness of the Security Council’s role in conflict prevention, reaffirming the need to adopt a broad strategy to conflict prevention, which addresses the root causes of armed conflict in a comprehensive manner, including by promoting sustainable development.|