The Secretary-General’s 2013 Security Council Retreat
The annual Security Council retreat with the Secretary-General begins this evening (22 April) in Greentree, New York, with a full day of discussions tomorrow (23 April). The Secretary-General and senior staff of the UN Secretariat will meet with the permanent representatives of the 15 Council members. (Unlike many informal meetings of the Council this one does not have an expert level attendance although spouses are invited and can sit in on all sessions.) The sessions are expected to cover various aspects of peacekeeping operations, as well as the security implications of climate change.
The first session is expected to focus on the traditional boundaries of peacekeeping, what challenges these present, and what are the alternatives. One key question pertinent to recent Council decisions that is likely to be discussed at length is whether or not UN peacekeepers should engage in peace enforcement activities. In adopting resolution 2098 on 28 March, the Council recently authorised such operations in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) through the establishment of an Intervention Brigade in the UN Organisation Stabilisation Mission in the DRC, though it specified that the brigade ought not to set a precedent.
The prospect of a UN peace enforcement presence has also recently been suggested in the context of the situation in Mali in light of the Secretary-General’s suggestion for a parallel force alongside a UN stabilisation mission. Council members will likely be interested in hearing Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s views on the changing nature of peacekeeping, as well exchanging their own views on the plethora of questions raised by the prospect of UN peace enforcement. Among the issues that are likely to be discussed are the conditions under which peace enforcement could be considered and the consequences of failure. Members are also likely to want to cover the legal, logistical and political ramifications for UN operations.
The second session is likely to cover peacekeeping mandates. Council members will have the opportunity to make suggestions and voice concerns about how to ensure that mandates are realistic and achievable. There has been a trend in the Council towards crafting more detailed and explicit mandates in an effort to maintain control over operations. This, however, can negatively affect the ability of missions to prioritise demands as situations on the ground evolve. Council members may be interested in discussing how to craft mandates that are clear and specific, yet still afford missions enough autonomy to operate with flexibility and responsiveness. The Secretariat may raise the topic of resources, particularly in light of the increasing complexity of mandates and the resultant increased financial and technical capacity needs of missions. Lastly, the Council’s role in providing strategic guidance to missions may be discussed, likely with a view to enhancing its command and control capabilities.
The third session of the day is expected to cover the security implications of climate change, an issue of great interest to the Secretary-General. There has been reluctance from some members to discuss climate change in the Council but over the last three years there have been a number of opportunities for Council members to give their views on this issue. Most recently, on 15 February 2013, Pakistan and the UK co-chaired an Arria formula meeting on the “Security Dimensions of Climate Change”. The aim of the meeting was to have an interactive and frank session on how climate change can negatively impact the maintenance of international peace and security and to highlight the security implications of intensified climate change. A 23 November 2012 debate on “New Challenges to International Peace and Security” also touched on the theme of climate change and security. On 20 July 2011, at the behest of Germany, the then President of the Council, a debate was held on the issue, after which the most significant Council outcome to date on the topic was produced, a presidential statement (S/PRST/2011/15) which expressed concern over the adverse effects that climate change may have on existing threats to peace and security. It also asked for the Secretary-General to provide contextual information on the security implications of climate change in his reports to the Council.
At tomorrow’s session it is expected that various dimensions of the topic will be discussed including the role UN peacekeepers might play and the impact of large peacekeeping operations in environments already affected by climate change. Council members may also want to explore questions of how the Council can encourage states or other actors to work to mitigate the deleterious effects of climate change on security, and how it can help field missions integrate the impact of climate change into planning, operations, and support to host countries.
Last year’s retreat took place on 3-4 April, at which participants discussed improving the on-the-ground impact of peacekeeping operations, the growing challenge that transnational crime presents to peace and security, and the approaches at the Council’s disposal when dealing with gross violations of human rights.
The retreat is often seen as a useful opportunity for senior Secretariat staff and Council members to take a step back from day-to-day Council activity and reflect at a strategic level on key peace and security issues. No formal outcome is produced. Despite the potential for useful policy discussion, in the past it seems that the annual retreat has rarely led to obvious changes in the Council’s dynamic or approach to issues. However it offers a sounding board for the Secretariat to take the pulse of the Council on key strategic issues and for the permanent representatives to network in a more relaxed environment.