What's In Blue

Posted Mon 15 Nov 2021

Preventive Diplomacy: Open Debate*

Tomorrow (16 November), the Security Council will hold an open debate on “Peace and security through preventive diplomacy: A common objective to all UN principal organs”, under the agenda item “Maintenance of international peace and security”. The expected briefers are Secretary-General António Guterres; Abdulla Shahid, President of the General Assembly; Collen Vixen Kelapile, President of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC); and Joan E. Donoghue, President of the International Court of Justice (ICJ).

Non-Council member states are invited to participate in person at tomorrow’s open debate or submit a written statement, to be circulated after the meeting.

At the time of writing, Council members were negotiating a presidential statement proposed by Mexico in connection with tomorrow’s debate.

Mexico has circulated a concept note ahead of the meeting to help guide the discussion. While noting that the Security Council is the main organ entrusted with the maintenance of international peace and security, it argues that the other principal organs of the UN system contribute to this goal, including through their role in conflict prevention. In this regard, it notes the General Assembly’s efforts in the development of international law and its codification, ECOSOC’s contribution to the eradication of poverty and the promotion of sustainable development, and the ICJ’s role in adjudicating disputes between states. As such, it maintains that the UN’s purposes, as outlined in the UN Charter, can only be fulfilled through cooperation among these organs. It adds that this should be done with full adherence to each principal organ’s respective mandate.

According to the concept note, the objective of tomorrow’s debate is to facilitate a dialogue between the Security Council and the UN’s other principal organs to identify concrete actions to systematically enhance cooperation on conflict prevention efforts. The concept note invites members to discuss several questions, including:

  • How can the communication and coordination of the UN’s principal organs be strengthened or improved for the purposes of maintaining and sustaining international peace and security, while taking into account their respective mandates?
  • How can this coordination permeate through the rest of the UN system, including its subsidiary bodies, specialised agencies and funds and programmes?
  • How could an expansion of the role of the Peacebuilding Commission (PBC), as suggested by the Secretary-General, contribute to the articulation of these coordination efforts?
  • What can be done to increase the visibility of the interaction and coordination among the UN’s principal organs, thereby fostering the transparency and accountability of the UN system as a whole?

At tomorrow’s open debate, speakers may highlight the various ways in which the UN’s principal organs contribute to preventive diplomacy within their respective mandates. They might also provide recommendations on how to strengthen cooperation among the principal organs, particularly through the PBC.

At his 12 December 2016 swearing-in ceremony, Guterres emphasised that prevention must be integrated into the three pillars of the UN’s work: peace and security, human rights and development. This is a theme that he has reiterated subsequently. At tomorrow’s meeting, Guterres may refer to his “Our Common Agenda” report, published in September, which stresses the importance of system-wide cooperation and the need for greater focus on prevention. The report highlights the PBC’s crucial role in shaping the UN’s response to multidimensional threats to development, peace and security. It suggests consideration of expanding the PBC’s role to address such cross-cutting issues as security, climate change, health, gender equality, development, and human rights from a prevention perspective. The report also notes that member states have been calling for reforms of the UN’s six principal organs. Some of these suggested reforms are: making the Security Council more representative, including through increased consultation with a broader range of actors, such as regional and sub-regional organisations; revitalising the General Assembly’s work and streamlining its resolutions, reporting requirements and committees; and strengthening ECOSOC, including through enhancing its processes and its relationship with the G20.

Kelapile is likely to stress the centrality of development to sustaining peace, describing ECOSOC’s positive contribution in that regard. He may also emphasise the importance of closer cooperation between ECOSOC and the PBC to advance the peace and development nexus and promote coherence and complementarity among the UN’s three pillars (human rights, peace and security, and development).

Shahid might suggest strengthening the PBC’s advisory role, particularly with regard to the work of the General Assembly’s 5th Committee, which considers budgetary matters with implications for the UN’s conflict prevention activities. Several Council members may also urge the Council to strengthen its interaction with the PBC, particularly in the context of peace operations mandates.

Council members are expected to express their commitment to fostering interaction among the UN’s principal organs. Some members might stress that cooperation should take place in accordance with each organ’s respective mandate. For example, some Council members, such as China and Russia, have been wary of Council engagement on issues such as human rights and climate change. They may also emphasise that cooperation should only take place between the principal organs, and that subsidiary bodies of other UN organs are not authorised to interact with the Security Council unless the Council avails itself of their services.

China and Russia have long opposed direct interaction between the Security Council and the Human Rights Council. For example, in April 2019, China and Russia objected to an informal breakfast that took place between Council members and then-President of the Human Rights Council Coly Seck. These members argued that as a subsidiary body of the General Assembly, the Human Rights Council is not authorised to interact with the Security Council and that any contacts between the two entities required the Security Council’s approval in accordance with established procedure. In a 30 May 2019 letter, China and Russia emphasised that they did not view the informal meeting as “the establishment of an informal channel of dialogue between the Security Council and the Human Rights Council”.

*Post-script: On 16 November, the Security Council issued a presidential statement on preventive diplomacy (S/PRST/2021/23) in which it emphasises the importance of a comprehensive approach to sustaining peace, recognises the contribution of the UN’s principal organs to the maintenance of international peace and security, and expresses its continued commitment to fostering regular interactions with other principal organs, in accordance with their respective mandates, on matters relating to preventive diplomacy tools and mechanisms.

It appears that some issues arose during the negotiations on the presidential statement. Silence was broken by India over a reference in the draft text to the Council’s commitment to multilateralism. It seems that India requested that the text specify the Council’s commitment to “reformed multilateralism”— in line with India’s advocacy for Security Council reform. At the open debate, India’s representative maintained that the Council’s composition, which was determined in 1945, “detracts from its abilities to fully harness the capabilities of UN Member States”. As compromise, the reference to the Council’s commitment to multilateralism was removed from the final text of the presidential statement.