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Open Debate on Promoting Sustainable Peace through Common Development

Tomorrow (20 November), the Security Council will hold an open debate on promoting sustainable peace through common development under the “Maintenance of international peace and security” agenda item. The anticipated briefers are UN Secretary-General António Guterres; Dilma Rousseff, President of the New Development Bank and former President of Brazil; and Professor Jeffrey Sachs, President of the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network—a non-profit established by the UN to promote implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) at national and international levels—and Director of the Center for Sustainable Development at Columbia University. At least 60 member states are expected to participate in the meeting.

China has chosen to organise tomorrow’s meeting as the signature event of its November presidency, in keeping with its desire to focus on the root causes of conflict this month, as described by Ambassador Zhang Jun during his 1 November press conference on the monthly programme of work. A concept note circulated by China in preparation for the meeting says that the open debate will provide an opportunity to exchange views “on how common development contributes to sustaining peace and security, and how to take a holistic approach to support conflict-affected countries to achieve sustaining peace”. The concept note argues that many regional conflicts are directly linked to inadequate development, which is “often a result of extreme poverty, distribution disparity, lack of jobs, and poor infrastructure”. This requires a response that goes beyond traditional security means, with a particular focus on strengthening the synergy between common development and sustaining peace, according to the concept note.

Tomorrow’s meeting builds on previous discussions on the peace, security, and development nexus, a recurring theme in the work of the UN, including the Security Council, since the 1990s. During the Council’s first ministerial-level debate on Africa in September 1997, held during the US presidency, then-Secretary-General Kofi Annan asserted that “the best way of ensuring peace and security in Africa is to promote sustainable development”. In April 1998, Annan released a report titled “The Causes of Conflict and the Promotion of Durable Peace and Sustainable Development in Africa”, in which he emphasised the importance of good governance and development as key factors in promoting sustainable peace.

During the past decade, there have been several Council meetings that have focused on countering the root causes of conflict, including by promoting sustainable development. Often these have been signature events of Council presidencies. China, for example, convened open debates on “Addressing root causes of conflict while promoting post-pandemic recovery in Africa” in May 2021 and on “Peace and Security in Africa: capacity-building for sustaining peace” in August 2022.

Other relevant meetings have included a briefing on “Prevention of Conflicts in Africa: Addressing the Root Causes” in April 2013 under the Rwandan presidency; a ministerial-level open debate on “Inclusive Development for the Maintenance of International Peace and Security” under the Chilean presidency in January 2015; a ministerial-level open debate on “Security, Development, and the Root Causes of Conflict” under the UK presidency in November 2015; and a high-level open debate convened by Mozambique in March on “Peace and security in Africa: the impact of development policies in the implementation of the Silencing the Guns initiative”.

Presidential statements have been adopted in connection with several of these meetings. The most recent of these was the presidential statement adopted on 31 August 2022, three weeks after the open debate on “Peace and Security in Africa: capacity-building for sustaining peace”. The statement recognises that there can be “no sustainable development without peace and no peace without sustainable development”. It also outlines several priority areas for capacity-building support to African member states, including on countering terrorism, addressing the effects of climate change, combatting piracy and armed robbery at sea, and addressing food insecurity.

The concept note prepared by China ahead of tomorrow’s meeting poses several questions to help guide the discussion, including:

At tomorrow’s meeting, Guterres is expected to brief on the ways in which the three pillars of the UN system—peace and security, development, and human rights—are interconnected. He may also underscore that fulfilling the SDGs is an important means of tackling the root causes of conflict and call for member states to redouble their efforts in this regard. He may further express his concern about rising tensions among the major powers. Rousseff may speak about the work of the New Development Bank, which was created in 2015 by Brazil, China, India, Russia, and South Africa (BRICS) in order to mobilise resources for infrastructure and sustainable development projects in emerging markets and developing countries. Based on his work at the Center for Sustainable Development, Sachs may discuss his ideas for promoting policies that can help member states to achieve the SDGs.

In their statements, some member states may emphasise that building effective and inclusive governance, security, economic and judicial institutions can help states to lay the foundation for sustainable peace. Participants may also discuss the role of UN entities—including peace operations, country teams, and the Peacebuilding Commission (PBC)—in supporting conflict-affected countries in this regard.

Some members may advocate for donor countries to help developing countries to build peaceful and prosperous societies through enhanced debt relief, development assistance, climate financing, and technology transfers. This perspective is consistent with the views outlined in A New Agenda for Peace, a policy brief released in July outlining the Secretary-General’s vision for the UN’s work on peace and security in a changing world. In this report, the Secretary-General underscores that helping developing countries to “close their current financing gaps…is eminently fair”, and a means to “redress past and current injustices, in particular those in international trade and the global financial system”. Some member states may echo the Secretary-General’s call in A New Agenda for Peace for international financial institutions to “align funding mechanisms to help address the underlying causes of instability through inclusive sustainable development”.

Respect for human rights and the rights of women are also expected to be discussed as important factors in promoting development and sustaining peace. The role of women in conflict prevention, peace processes, and post-conflict peacebuilding efforts may be highlighted as well.

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