Security Council President’s Retreat on Preventive Diplomacy and Mediation
Tomorrow (13 January), Norway will convene a one-day Council president’s retreat in Manhasset, New York, on preventive diplomacy and mediation. Held under the Chatham House rule, the retreat aims to provide an informal platform for Council members to discuss how their efforts interact with those of other actors to promote conflict prevention and resolution.
The concept note prepared by Norway ahead of the retreat outlines the complexity of the conflict situations addressed by the Security Council. In addition to the protracted conflicts on the Council’s agenda, there are many emerging situations which may escalate rapidly. In this regard, preventive diplomacy and dialogue are highlighted as crucial tools in building trust between parties to avoid a deterioration into conflict or to achieve a negotiated solution to existing conflicts.
The objective of the president’s retreat is to allow Council members to “reflect on the opportunities and challenges for peacemakers in addressing specific emerging crises and conflict cases”, according to the concept note. Members will hear first-hand experiences from mediators, negotiators and other peacemaking actors from the field to gain a better understanding of the interconnections among different peacemaking tracks, including local and regional efforts, and to draw lessons and ideas for current preventive diplomacy and mediation efforts. Tomorrow’s president’s retreat will be akin to a mini-Oslo Forum—an international peacemaking retreat initiated in 2003 and co-hosted annually by the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue. The Oslo Forum has brought together international conflict mediators, high-level decision-makers and other peace process actors to discuss mediation practice and ways to advance negotiations.
The president’s retreat will include several sessions. It will begin with a lunch with Secretary-General António Guterres, in which he will present his vision for the future of preventive diplomacy as he starts his second term as Secretary-General. In his “Our Common Agenda” report, disseminated in September 2021, Guterres stresses the importance of system-wide cooperation and the need for greater focus on prevention. The report articulates the need for the UN to be able to address the cross-cutting issues of security, climate change, health, development, gender equality, and human rights from a prevention perspective, citing the expanding role of the Peacebuilding Commission in this regard.
There will also be an informal “sofa talk” on “Talking with all conflict actors”. It appears that Norway wishes to underscore the importance of talking with a wide array of conflict actors, including those whom some have labelled as terrorists. Oslo has engaged with such actors in its peacemaking efforts, including during the negotiations on the Oslo Accords of September 1993 between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), which was designated as a terrorist organisation by the US in 1987. Norway’s Permanent Representative to the UN Ambassador Mona Juul was part of a Norwegian team that facilitated the negotiations between Israel and the PLO that led to the signing of the Oslo Accords.
The retreat will include two sessions addressing specific conflict situations in which mediators, negotiators and other peacemaking actors from the field are expected to participate. The first session will be a “Negotiator’s Studio” on Colombia, focusing on lessons learned from the negotiations leading to the November 2016 Final Agreement for Ending the Conflict and Building a Stable and Lasting Peace. The agreement, which was signed between the government of Colombia and the former rebel group Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia-Ejército del Pueblo (FARC-EP), ended over fifty years of civil war. Norway was invited by the FARC-EP and the Colombian government to serve as a guarantor of the 2016 peace agreement along with Cuba. (Several members of the international community had designated the FARC-EP as a terrorist group during the civil war, with some lifting the designation shortly after the peace agreement was signed. The US revoked its designation of the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) as a terrorist organisation more recently, on 30 November 2021.) During the Negotiator’s Studio, representatives from both sides of the conflict and the Norwegian facilitator will discuss their roles in the negotiations, while reflecting on their approach to negotiations, overcoming challenges and incorporating justice and the views of victims in the discussions.
The retreat will conclude with a working dinner on Afghanistan, under the theme “Talking to the Taliban”. Participants are expected to discuss ways to address Afghanistan’s humanitarian crisis, the potential role of dialogue in addressing challenges to the security and stabilisation of its public services, and the future scope and purpose of political engagement with the Taliban.
Discussions on preventive diplomacy have been a fixture of the Security Council’s work, with many members throughout the years seeking to encourage the Council to do more to address emerging conflicts. One recent example is a 16 November 2021 open debate on “Peace and security through preventive diplomacy: A common objective to all UN principal organs”, which was organised by Mexico. In addition, “horizon-scanning” briefings by the UN Secretariat were a regular feature of the Council’s programme of work from November 2010 through September 2013. The UK initiated these briefings to provide the Council with information that might allow for better preventive diplomacy and conflict prevention. In some cases, these meetings served as a way of alerting Council members to situations that had the potential for instability. Subsequently, the UN Secretariat has occasionally held discreet “situational awareness” meetings with Council members.
Despite its strong rhetorical support for prevention, the Council struggles to translate its words into concrete action. It seems that concerns expressed by some members that conflict prevention in practice could be used as a pretext to impinge on the sovereignty of independent states has been a key impediment to broader preventive actions by the Council.