Open Debate on Conflict Prevention and Sustaining Peace
Tomorrow (10 January), the Security Council will hold a ministerial-level open debate on “conflict prevention and sustaining peace”. Margot Wallström, Sweden’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, will preside. Ten Council members, as well as several non-Council members, are expected to be represented at ministerial level. The new Secretary-General António Guterres will address the Council for the first time. Sweden is expected to produce a summary highlighting key points made in the debate.
Guterres takes office at a challenging time for the Council and the broader international community, with a number of complex conflicts with grave humanitarian consequences, including South Sudan, Syria and Yemen, proving difficult to resolve. The number of civilian casualties from warfare has been on the rise in recent years. In large part because of the proliferation of conflicts, there are over 60 million displaced worldwide, the highest number in the post-World War II era.
The meeting will offer an opportunity for Guterres to present his vision for conflict prevention and “sustaining peace” and for member states to describe how they can collaborate with the new Secretary-General in promoting international peace and security. The concept of sustaining peace is drawn from the 2015 report of the Advisory Group of Experts on Peacebuilding, which argued that peacebuilding is an activity not only to be carried out in post-conflict situations but as a process before, during and after conflict. Peacebuilding should therefore be seen as a responsibility of the entire UN system, with greater emphasis being placed on conflict prevention. In resolution 2282 of 27 April 2016, the Council called sustaining peace “a goal and a process to build a common vision of society…which encompasses activities aimed at preventing the outbreak, escalation, continuation and recurrence of conflict.”
Guterres’ views on conflict prevention appear to be in keeping with the sustaining-peace agenda. In his April 2016 vision statement submitted as a candidate for the position of Secretary-General, he called for the development of “a comprehensive, modern and effective operational peace architecture, encompassing prevention, conflict resolution, peacekeeping, peacebuilding and long-term development—the ‘peace continuum’”. Emphasising that prevention is a priority for the UN, he said during his 12 December 2016 swearing-in ceremony that prevention must be integrated into the three pillars of the UN’s work: peace and security, human rights, and development. In interviews he has emphasised the need for a “surge in diplomacy for peace.”
Guterres is expected to emphasise that the UN needs to become more effective at preventing conflict and sustaining peace. In this regard, he may note that conflict prevention was one of the core reasons for the founding of the United Nations. He may further emphasise the need for the Secretariat to provide better analysis of the drivers of conflict, drawing from all parts of the system in a more coherent, less fragmented way. He may call on the Council to demonstrate the political will to engage early on potential crises, and to provide the necessary political backing for his preventive diplomacy and mediation efforts. Another area of focus may be the importance of women’s inclusion in peace processes and the promotion of human rights as strategic issues needed to foster international peace and security.
More broadly, it is possible that Guterres will describe how he plans to incorporate recent thinking elaborated in the three 2015 peace and security reviews on peace operations, peacebuilding, and women, peace and security into the Secretariat’s work. While these reviews have been the topic of considerable discussion, there is a need for further implementation of their recommendations.
Sweden has circulated a concept paper in preparation for the debate. It states that the aim of the debate is to develop a “more proactive form of cooperation between the Security Council and the Secretary-General, with a view to enabling more strategic responses.” Besides providing an opportunity for the new Secretary-General to outline his vision for prevention, the paper notes that the meeting will offer Council members the chance to discuss how they can provide political support to the Secretary-General’s approach, as well as how the Council can use its preventive tools.
As a springboard for the discussion, Sweden has proposed a series of questions for the consideration of member states. Issues raised by the questions are: how the Council can make better use of its tools to prevent conflict and sustain peace; how the relationship between the Council and the Secretary-General on conflict prevention can be made more effective; and how the Council and the broader UN membership can provide the necessary political leadership to advance the sustaining-peace agenda.
In theory, all Council members support the commitment to conflict prevention as a thematic concept. However, in practice this commitment at the thematic level has frequently been undermined by concerns about state sovereignty and by the political interests of influential states. Some members have argued that the Council is overreaching its mandate when efforts are made to apply prevention to country-specific situations or to structural and systemic issues viewed as root causes of conflict, such as development and climate change. Thus, while some members, including the P3, have an expansive view of what constitutes a threat to international peace and security and warrants Council engagement, others, including China and Russia, are more circumspect about discussing issues that could potentially lead to conflict, such as human rights violations, in the Security Council.