Briefing on “Maintenance of International Peace and Security: Promote Common Security through Dialogue and Cooperation”
Tomorrow (22 August), the Security Council will convene for a briefing on “Maintenance of international peace and security: promote common security through dialogue and cooperation”. This is one of the signature events of China’s Council presidency. The expected briefers are UN Secretary-General António Guterres and President of the Tenth Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) Gustavo Zlauvinen.
China has convened several meetings in the past on the UN Charter and the multilateral system. During its February 2015 presidency, it organised a ministerial-level open debate on the purposes and principles of the UN Charter in commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the UN’s founding. China also convened a high-level open debate on “Strengthening multilateralism and the role of the UN” in November 2018 and a high-level videoconference briefing on “Upholding multilateralism and the UN-centred international system” in May 2021.
While tomorrow’s meeting is expected to build on these past discussions, it comes at a time of significant reflection by member states on the future of the multilateral system, as governments around the world continue to grapple with such issues as the COVID-19 pandemic, terrorism, mass migration and climate change. Moreover, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on 24 February has called the core tenets of the multilateral system and the norms that govern international affairs into question.
China has circulated a concept note ahead of tomorrow’s briefing, which says that risks to international peace and security are growing, as traditional threats are compounded by emerging threats such as pandemics and food insecurity. At the same time, multilateral cooperation—including on issues such as arms control—is becoming increasingly fragile as trust among major powers continues to erode. According to the concept note, tomorrow’s meeting aims to provide an opportunity for Council members to consider the concept of security from a broader perspective, including how to address emerging and non-traditional threats. It also seeks to provide a platform for members to explore ways to enhance mutual trust, reduce strategic risks, and promote common security through dialogue and cooperation. The concept note proposes several questions to help guide the discussion, including:
- What are the major challenges to global strategic stability?
- What can be done to enhance mutual trust to reduce strategic risks and avoid a new Cold War?
- How can the Security Council improve its response to security threats based on a more comprehensive understanding of the concept of security?
- What is the role of the UN in promoting dialogue and cooperation to achieve common security?
At tomorrow’s meeting, Guterres is expected to brief on the implementation of the proposals contained in his September 2021 report titled “Our Common Agenda”. The report provides a framework for addressing the cross-cutting issues of security, climate change, health, development, gender equality, and human rights from a prevention perspective. It also proposes a “Summit of the Future”, to be held in 2023, to advance ideas for more effective multilateral governance arrangements across a range of key global issues. Addressing the UN General Assembly on 4 August, Guterres said that he hopes to present a “New Agenda for Peace” to “enhance the UN’s toolbox to prevent the outbreak and escalation of hostilities”. Member states’ broad support for the initiative, he noted, “reflects the urgency with which we need to collectively address traditional and emerging threats to peace and security”.
Council members are expected to express support for the Secretary-General’s initiative and propose priority areas for the “New Agenda for Peace”. Some are likely to argue that the agenda should place a strong focus on prevention, including of non-traditional and emerging threats to international peace and security, such as climate change and cyber-related risks. Some members may also contend that the new agenda should seek to strengthen mediation capacities, including of regional organisations, and be underpinned by the fundamental principles of international law and the UN Charter.
Zlauvinen is likely to emphasise the importance of the NPT as the bedrock of the nuclear disarmament regime. The core objectives of the NPT are to stop the spread of nuclear weapons, achieve universal nuclear disarmament and uphold the right to the peaceful use of nuclear energy. Currently, 191 member states are parties to the NPT, making it the arms control agreement with the widest membership and adherence. Since the treaty’s entry into force in 1970, state parties have held review conferences every five years to assess the treaty’s implementation and discuss ways to advance its goals. (The tenth review conference, which was originally scheduled to take place in 2020, was postponed twice because of the COVID-19 pandemic.)
Zlauvinen may also highlight key challenges facing the NPT, including the intensification of geopolitical competition, tensions among major nuclear powers, and weakening commitments to nuclear disarmament. He may note that although the permanent members of the Security Council (P5) issued a joint statement on 3 January affirming that a nuclear war “must never be fought” and vowing to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons, trust between the major nuclear powers has since eroded. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine prompted, for example, the suspension of the US-Russia Strategic Stability Dialogue, a series of meetings initiated in 2021 that seeks to reduce the risk of nuclear war between Russia and the US. In this regard, Zlauvinen may stress the importance of reaching an agreement on the final document at the review conference. During the last review process in 2015, an agreement was not reached on the final declaration.
Some Council members may criticise Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision on 27 February to place Russia’s nuclear deterrent forces on high alert, reportedly to dissuade NATO from intervening in the war in Ukraine. These members may also condemn Russia for seizing the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant (ZNPP) in Ukraine, which they allege is being used by Russian forces as a springboard to launch missile attacks. It appears that several member states raised this issue at the NPT review conference and called on Russia to immediately withdraw its forces from the ZNPP.
At tomorrow’s briefing, Council members are expected to reiterate their commitment to multilateralism and the UN Charter. They may underscore that issues such as pandemics, terrorism, mass migration and climate change have consequences beyond the scope of one state and therefore can only be resolved by joint efforts. However, members may express divergent views on the key characteristics of multilateralism. Several members are likely to emphasise the importance of what they refer to as the “rules-based international order”, rooted in the respect for international law, including international humanitarian law and human rights law. These members may also emphasise the importance of multistakeholder partnerships and the need to strengthen civil society engagement in multilateral fora such as the UN, including at the Security Council.
Other Council members may underscore the importance of state sovereignty as a key principle of the international order enshrined in the Charter. Some of these members may also condemn what they perceive to be efforts by certain Council members to promote non-inclusive policymaking formats in international fora as well as the use of unilateral sanctions, both of which they allege run counter to the ethos of multilateralism. During the 7 May 2021 briefing organised by China, Russia accused the US, the EU and their allies of rejecting the principles of democracy and multilateralism on the global stage.
Some Council members are also expected to raise the issue of Security Council reform. In this regard, these members may call for a larger and more representative Council and for reform of the use of the veto power by the P5. Some members are expected to welcome General Assembly resolution A/RES/76/262 of 26 April—which stipulates the convening of a formal meeting of the General Assembly within ten working days of a veto being cast by a P5 member—as an important tool to enhance P5 accountability. Others may call on member states—particularly the P5—to join the France-Mexico initiative on the voluntary restriction of the veto in cases of mass atrocities, which has been endorsed by 104 member states.