What's In Blue

Posted Thu 17 Apr 2014

Security Council Retreat

The annual Security Council retreat with the Secretary-General will be held early next week—21 and 22 April—in Greentree, New York. The Secretary-General and senior staff of the UN Secretariat will meet with the Permanent Representatives of the 15 Council members. The annual retreat affords Council members a rare opportunity to engage in collective brainstorming on specific issues alongside the Secretariat.

The sessions are expected to cover a range of themes relevant to the Council’s current work, including crisis management in failed or fragile nascent states, responding to popular protests against democratically-elected leaders, and mission transitions.

During the first session, Council members are expected to explore the challenges and opportunities of managing crisis in failed or fragile nascent states. A particular focus may be on the activities of peacekeeping and special political missions, which lay the groundwork for long-term state building, consolidating peace and promoting development. Drawing on their experiences working on countries on the Council’s agenda such as the Central African Republic (CAR), Somalia or South Sudan, Council members may choose to explore the challenges of operating in such situations, including managing multiple priorities, dealing with an uncertain security environment, and maintaining impartiality in politically divisive environments.

The second session will look at another timely issue for the Council—responding to popular protests against democratically-elected leaders. The UN faces a number of challenges in providing good offices in these situations, including engaging with the new authorities while respecting the rule of law and democratic processes. Of relevance to the Council will be the role it may need to play in such situations where uprisings lead to violence, serious human rights violations or humanitarian crises.

In the past few years, some such uprisings, as in Egypt and in Ukraine, have been considered by the Council in various informal formats such as briefings in consultations and horizon-scanning sessions. At the retreat, members will have an opportunity to discuss how best to engage on such issues, in light of the fact that the UN has no formal framework for addressing unconstitutional changes of government. Likewise, members may want to explore how the Council can strengthen its preventative role, as there are often warning signs of large scale uprisings, including poor governance, human rights violations, persecution of minorities and lack of opportunities for youth.

The retreat’s third session is expected to deal with the issue of mission transitions. Council members may be interested in discussing lessons learned from various forms of recent mission transitions, such as the handover from a peacekeeping operation to peacebuilding support office (e.g. Sierra Leone and Guinea Bissau); the transition of some tasks from a UN peacekeeping mission to a UN country team (e.g. Democratic Republic of the Congo); and the transfer from, or integration of, non-UN actors into to a UN operation (e.g. CAR and Mali). Council members may also wish to raise issues related to resource constraints, alignment of mandates and budgets as a mission draws down. An area of interest may also be how the Secretariat can provide better information to the Council during mission transitions.

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 clear changes in the Council’s dynamics or approach to issues. However, it allows both the Council and the Secretariat to think creatively about how they can collaborate more effectively to address important challenges.

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