Research Report

Posted 18 April 2013
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The Security Council and the UN Peacebuilding Commission


This is Security Council Report’s fifth Special Research Report on the Peacebuilding Commission. The full report can be downloaded in PDF.


This Special Research Report examines the work of the UN Peacebuilding Commission (PBC)—a relatively recent addition to the UN system—mainly in the country-specific contexts of its work: Sierra Leone, Burun­di, Liberia, Guinea-Bissau, Central African Republic and Guinea. It will strive to provide new insights into the important issue of Security Council working methods based on how the Council interacts with the work of the PBC and absorbs this relationship into the broader focus of the Council.

Security Council Report has been fol­lowing the PBC through a series of Special Research Reports since its creation in late 2005. The last such report was published in November 2009. Like the previous three Special Research Reports, the 2009 study focused largely on internal UN processes and organisational issues relevant to the set­ting up of the PBC and its reporting mecha­nisms. These issues remain important, but more than seven years after its establishment, it may be useful to examine how the PBC has worked in the countries on its agenda, and what value it has added to the work of the UN in those countries. Another aspect exam­ined in this report is the relationship between the Security Council and the PBC, a body the Council originally insisted on having an oversight of but has since not interacted with enthusiastically.


The six case studies reveal the various challenges faced by the PBC agenda coun­tries and illustrate how the PBC is trying to tackle these challenges and deliver on its promise. How successful, overall, the PBC turns out to be on the ground, depends on a number of factors, some within the control of the PBC, some outside. Among those fac­tors within the PBC control, the following are worth flagging:

  • the ability of the country-specific configu­ration to engage with the host government and achieve a full buy-in for all activities conducted with the input generated by the PBC;
  • the ability of the country-specific con­figuration to simultaneously establish a meaningful relationship with civil society stakeholders in the country and with the pre-existing international NGO presence in the country;
  • the ability of the country-specific configu­ration to relate to and mobilise regional and multilateral financial institutions, as well as to convince member states to align development and technical assistance pro­grammes for the PBC agenda country to the instruments governing PBC engage­ment with that country, such as the state­ments of mutual commitment or joint strategies;
  • the ability to establish a good working relationship with the UN mission on the ground, including a positive working rela­tionship between the configuration chair and the Secretary-General’s Special Rep­resentative (or equivalent) and head of mission; and
  • the ability and capacity of the PBSO to provide meaningful and practical support to the configuration chairs.

Several factors, largely dependent on the Security Council, can determine the effec­tiveness of the PBC on the ground and as such could also enhance the efforts of the Security Council to attain a smooth tran­sition from peacekeeping to peacebuliding and beyond. Worth mentioning in this con­text may be:

  • engagement on the part of the Security Council (if the country is on the agenda of the Council) in the form of substan­tive interactions between the configura­tion chair and the Council, including most notably in Council consultations (current practice includes consultations with the head of the UN mission but not the con­figuration chair);
  • including in Council resolutions and statements on those countries elements tailored to enhance the country-specif­ic and more generic effectiveness of the PBC;
  • encouraging the UN mission on the ground to integrate the efforts of the PBC into its work;
  • including PBC-related issues in the terms of reference of Council visiting missions to the PBC agenda countries also on the agenda of the Security Council;
  • considering the annual report of the PBC on a more timely basis and routinely invit­ing chairs of the country-specific configu­rations to participate; and
  • holding regular interactive dialogues with the chairs of the six country-specific configurations.

Security Council-Peacebuilding Commission Dynamics

The relationship between the Security Coun­cil and the PBC as a whole is multi-faceted due to the significant overlap in member­ship between the two bodies. The dynamics between the Security Council and the PBC, however, do not necessarily always help max­imise the impact on the ground. From 2010 through 2012, eleven out of the fifteen mem­bers of the Council were also on the PBC Organisational Committee, with all five per­manent members of the Council permanent­ly on the PBC. But this has not always pro­duced strengthened institutional ties between the two bodies, at least from the perspective of the PBC and its country-specific configu­rations. Some Council members have shown a greater interest in the work of the PBC than others; South Africa, which left the Council at the end of 2012, was a member of all PBC country-specific configurations, and as one of the three facilitators of the PBC five-year review, was intensely interested in the work of the PBC. Among the P5 members, the UK has probably shown the more consistent and informed interest.

There is general support among Council members for discussions about peacebuild­ing, although some members seem anxious to see more concrete results in country-specific contexts. Some members note that there remains a need for greater coherence and coordination among the multiple inter­national actors engaged in peacebuilding processes, as reflected most notably in state­ments by China, South Africa and the US during the 12 July 2012 Council debate on the PBC.

As of 2013, a number of newly elected Council members have shown a clear interest in the work of the PBC and are likely to exert a positive influence by trying to strengthen interaction between the Security Council and the PBC. Luxembourg has been chair of the country-specific configuration for Guinea since February 2011, and Ambassador Lucas has been vocal in calling for strengthened institutional ties between the Council and the PBC. Since 2010, Australia has shown increased interest in the work of the PBC; it supported the agricultural sector in Sierra Leone through the PBC and also invested in the 2010 election in Burundi through the Peacebuilding Fund. The Republic of Korea organised the Fourth High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness in Busan from 29 Novem­ber to 1 December 2011, leading to the “New Deal for Engagement in Fragile States”, which is seen by some Council members as a good model for the PBC to adopt. Rwanda has shown a consistent interest in the work of the PBC, and its Ambassador, Eugène-Rich­ard Gasana, served as the PBC chair in 2011.

Security Council resolution 1646 which decided that the permanent members will be members of the PBC Organisational Com­mittee and that the PBC would submit its annual report to the Council, did not pro­duce consistent engagement between the Security Council and the PBC. In fact, the permanent members have mostly showed a limited interest in the PBC. The discussions of the annual report of the PBC have some­times taken place with considerable delay after their publication and most debates on the annual reports have been organised by elected members (with the exception of Chi­na who held two such debates in 2008 and 2011). Furthermore, the Council never chose to discuss formally the report from the five-year review of the PBC.

The Relationships on the Ground

In the course of our research, a key concern regarding the PBC, expressed by officials of several of the agenda countries, was that they were getting less out of the PBC than they had bargained for, particularly with respect to resource-mobilisation (fundraising) and the effort to attract serious external investors. It appears that high expectations combined with this perception have limited the leverage that the PBC can wield in these countries. This is an important underlying problem since most of the PBC agenda countries state two key reasons for being on the agenda of the PBC: to benefit from its potentially con­siderable fundraising capacity and to benefit from its wider advocacy in political and other spheres.

However, it may be helpful to keep in mind two basic facts:

  • the PBC is an inter-governmental body, and membership is voluntary; and
  • in principle, the PBC is a partnership of countries interested in assisting, through official development assistance and inter­national political advocacy, specific coun­tries that opt to be placed on its agenda.

In this context, a country-specific con­figuration is primarily an expanded political body of member states based in New York that helps to mobilise international funding for peacebuilding programmes. The country-specific configurations could be seen as the channel through which such advocacy and assistance are conveyed, with the configura­tion chair acting as a kind of special envoy or special advocate.

Another key factor is the relationship between the PBC country-specific configu­ration and the UN peacebuilding or political missions. This relationship is not defined or structured and depends to a great degree on personalities. Where personal relationships do not work well the tendency may be for parallel programmes and channels to develop.

A good working relationship and synergy between the head of the UN mission and the configuration chair helps to enhance the effec­tiveness and minimise any potential conflict.

It goes without saying that the PBC and the UN field missions are at their most effec­tive when they are able not only to synchronise their efforts but also work to mutually rein­force each other. The chair of the country-spe­cific configuration in New York is particularly well-placed to support the role and views of the head of the mission and to afford him or her the opportunity of seeking international consensus, including beyond the UN system, on critical issues regarding the implementa­tion of Security Council mandates. 

Looking Ahead

A persistent issue in discussions about the PBC relates to how the Council could devise effective working methods that would properly support the work of the PBC and, conversely, take a better advantage of the advisory role of the PBC. The PBC’s Working Group on Lessons Learned has over the last two years devoted a considerable amount of time and thought to this matter. The Council has been more reluctant though some members have begun to acknowledge the utility of taking a closer look at possible synergies and the ways in which engagement with the PBC could provide real benefits for the Council and strengthen its ability to contribute to lasting peace. The PBC seems to be the natural plat­form upon which the Council could draw. The Council could also tap into a deeper thematic perspective provided by the PBC on critical peacebuilding priorities of socioeconomic and political dimensions. 

Ways in which this interaction could mate­rialise, might include direct, informal engage­ment on the part of the “penholder” (i.e. the Council member leading the drafting on a particular country situation) with the con­figuration chair who most likely has acquired unmatched familiarity with the PBC agenda country and can serve as a valuable resource to the penholder and the Council as a whole. In this context, the Council could proactive­ly identify areas for the configuration chair to address in meetings or briefings with the Council. Configuration chairs could also on occasion be encouraged to visit the country shortly prior to the Council discussions of that situation.

There are, furthermore, multiple ways that could enhance the effectiveness of the PBC that go beyond the relationship between the Council and the PBC. For countries that form part of the different country-specific configu­rations it might be useful aligning the interna­tional development support provided by some of them bilaterally with the work of the PBC. This is already done by some states but some governments appear to think of the PBC as merely a New York-based entity. The synergy between the configuration and its member states seems to be the best when states opt­ing to be part of any PBC configuration align their development and technical assistance programmes for the PBC agenda country to the instruments governing PBC engagement with that country, such as the statements of mutual commitment or joint strategies.

Moreover, for the PBC to be effective, countries chairing the configurations should ideally have a strong bilateral relationship with, and significant development assistance programmes in, the subject country. This was in fact envisaged in the two founding resolutions of the PBC, which state that the country-specific configurations should be made up of, among others, “major finan­cial, troop and civilian police contributors involved in the recovery effort”, though it has not always been realised in practice.

With some PBC relationships about to reach their seventh anniversary, with the five-year review completed and another one due in three years, and in the overall climate of reduced financial resources, perhaps some serious resolve could emerge within the Secu­rity Council to strengthen substantive inter­action with the PBC. After all, in surprising the General Assembly with resolution 1646, the Security Council showed a marked inter­est in the composition of the PBC. An effort should be made to demonstrate that 1646 was not only about self-interest, but hopefully about substantive interaction and contribu­tion to advance the promise of peacebuilding.