March 2024 Monthly Forecast

Posted 29 February 2024
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Conflict Prevention

Expected Council Action

In March, the Security Council will hold an open debate on “Promoting Conflict Prevention – Empowering All Actors Including Women and Youth”. Japan is organising the open debate, being held under the “Peacebuilding and Sustaining Peace” agenda item, as a signature event of its Council presidency. Briefings are expected by representatives of the UN Secretariat, academia, and civil society.

Key Recent Developments

The Secretary-General’s July 2023 policy brief, A New Agenda for Peace (NAfP), which outlines his vision for the future of multilateralism and the UN’s work on peace and security in a changing world, calls for member states to prioritise and invest more in conflict prevention. The NAfP stresses the need for UN member states to recommit to multilateralism to prevent or resolve disputes. This is all the more critical, according to the policy brief, because of the world’s current geopolitical fragmentation and rising inter-state conflict. The NAfP calls for boosting preventive diplomacy by making greater use of the UN and its good offices capacities and building or repairing regional security architectures. It further underscore that preventive tools, outlined in Article 33 of the Charter, remain relevant, even though they have been underused. (Article 33 of the UN Charter sets out tools such as negotiation, enquiry, mediation, conciliation, arbitration, and judicial settlement, among others, which the Council can call upon parties to use to peacefully settle disputes.)

The NAfP also calls for increasing the focus on prevention at the national level, which can complement diplomatic action. It stresses that prevention at the national level is primarily the responsibility of nations and governments, who should address the drivers of conflict and violence in their societies. One of the NAfP’s innovations is the Secretary-General’s proposal for all UN member states to develop national prevention strategies. According to the NAfP, national prevention initiatives should entail “approaches grounded in sustainable development” and be “multidimensional, people-centred and inclusive of all the different components of society.” Such strategies should aim to prevent not only conflict but also violence committed by extremist groups, criminal groups, and armed gangs, as well as gender-based and domestic violence. According to the NAfP, this would be consistent with Sustainable Development Goal 16.1, in which all states, not just conflict-affected countries, are committed to reducing all forms of violence. The UN, when requested, can provide support for the development and implementation of such strategies. One of the NAfP’s recommendations is that the Peacebuilding Commission (PBC) create a mechanism to mobilise political and financial support for national and regional prevention strategies.

The NAfP is one of several inputs, including the August 2021 report Our Common Agenda, that the Secretary-General has prepared for September’s Summit of the Future on strengthening global governance. In January, Namibia and Germany began co-facilitating negotiations among member states on a “Pact for the Future”, which world leaders may adopt at the summit. Meanwhile, the PBC, under the chairmanship this year of Ambassador Sérgio França Danese (Brazil), is beginning preparations for the 2025 review of the UN Peacebuilding Architecture (PBAR). The upcoming PBAR will be an opportunity for member states to make operational the relevant NAfP recommendations for the PBC.

On 6 December 2023, the Secretary-General invoked Article 99 of the UN Charter, a rarely used prevention tool that allows him to bring to the Council’s attention any situation that threatens international peace and security, when he wrote to the Council on the threat posed by the humanitarian situation in Gaza.

Key Issues and Options

A key issue is how the open debate can help to generate ideas to strengthen prevention, given the number of ongoing conflicts, the increasing risk multipliers such as climate change, pandemics and food insecurity, and prevention’s cost-effectiveness compared to responding once conflict erupts. It seems that a focus will be placed on “comprehensive approaches”—which the NAfP says are required for effective prevention—that bridge the humanitarian-development-peace nexus, including by strengthening cooperation across the UN system. Related to such comprehensive approaches is the strengthening of institutions to identify and manage challenges that may lead to conflict and building countries’ resilience by empowering women and youth.

The open debate is expected to highlight, as another key issue, the challenges that states face in preventing conflict and its recurrence and how the international community, including the Security Council, can work in support of national efforts to address these challenges. This includes considering how to assist states in taking national ownership in identifying root causes of conflict and encouraging them to develop prevention strategies. In this regard, a key issue is how to improve synergies between the Council, the PBC, international financial institutions, and other relevant stakeholders. The debate is meant to contribute to discussions on the Summit of the Future and the 2025 PBAR.

Options for the Council to increase its engagement in prevention include making greater use of the Ad Hoc Working Group on Conflict Prevention and Resolution in Africa, considering an expansion of the geographic scope of the working group beyond Africa, and more regularly using the Secretary-General’s monthly luncheons with the Council to consider subjects with a preventive scope. Fact-finding or visiting missions to determine whether a dispute or situation is likely to endanger the maintenance of international peace and security, as foreseen in Article 34 of the UN Charter, is another option for increasing Council preventive engagement. The Council may also pay additional attention to states that are hosting large refugee populations and are suffering severe economic, environmental and security strains.

As part of supporting efforts for structural prevention, the Council can continue to strengthen its attention to peacebuilding and draw on the advice of the PBC during its deliberations and mandate renewals (for its part, the PBC should continue its efforts to improve the substance of its advice). The Council can also encourage closer coordination in information-sharing and early warning within the UN system.

Council and Wider Dynamics

The Security Council has struggled to engage effectively in prevention, often because of concerns about interference in states’ internal affairs, a particular impediment to addressing intra-state conflict. Past initiatives like “Horizon Scanning” and “Situational Awareness” briefings for the Council to identify potential conflict situations have failed to gain traction, partially because of these concerns. Even after conflict erupts, states frequently try to block the Council from discussing such situations because of sensitivities over internal interference and the stigma often associated with being on the Council’s agenda. New geopolitical dynamics have made the Council’s preventive engagement even more complicated.

Useful prevention tools that Council members all appear to value are the UN’s regional offices for West Africa, Central Africa, and Central Asia (UNOWAS, UNOCA and UNRCCA), known for their early warning and good offices activities. These offices also support states and sub-regional organisations in developing responses to structural conflict drivers and help promote common analysis and coherence among UN agencies, funds, and programmes for more conflict-sensitive development assistance.

Several Council members are interested in seeing the Council strengthen its engagement in prevention. Japan’s organisation of this open debate is a further expression of its interest in prevention and peacebuilding: in January, Japan, along with Council members Guyana and Mozambique, organised an Arria-formula meeting on “Peacebuilding and Sustaining Peace through Comprehensive Approaches”. The UK has traditionally been a proponent of improving the Council’s engagement in prevention.

Meanwhile, there appears to be rising interest among UN member states in having the PBC become more explicitly involved in prevention, given its mandate to address issues that lie between peace and development and the PBC’s practice of discussing situations only with the consent of the country concerned. Some states remain hesitant, however, to endorse the PBC’s serving as a conflict prevention platform.

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Security Council Resolutions
27 April 2016S/RES/2282 This was a concurrent resolution with the General Assembly on the review of the UN peacebuilding architecture.
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.
Secretary-General’s Reports
5 August 2021A/75/982 This was the Secretary-General’s report Our Common Agenda.
25 September 2015S/2015/730 This was the report of the Secretary-General, “the United Nations and conflict prevention: a collective recommitment”.

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