What's In Blue

Open Debate on Conflict Prevention

Tomorrow (13 March), the Security Council will hold an open debate on “Promoting Conflict Prevention – Empowering All Actors Including Women and Youth” under the “Peacebuilding and sustaining peace” agenda item. Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs Rosemary DiCarlo and Chair of the Peacebuilding Commission (PBC) Ambassador Sérgio França Danese (Brazil) are expected to brief. Briefings are also expected from representatives of academia and civil society. Japan has organised the debate as a signature event of its March Council presidency. Council members that have signed on to the Shared Commitments on Women, Peace and Security (WPS)—Ecuador, France, Guyana, Japan, Malta, the Republic of Korea (ROK), Sierra Leone, Slovenia, Switzerland, the UK, and the US—are expected to read a joint statement at the media stakeout ahead of the open debate.

The concept note that Japan prepared for the debate observes that strengthening prevention is one of the Secretary-General’s priorities in A New Agenda for Peace (NAfP), a July 2023 policy brief that outlines his vision for the future of multilateralism and the UN’s work on peace and security. DiCarlo is likely to highlight this focus on prevention in the NAfP, which describes the world’s rising geopolitical fragmentation and calls for boosting preventive diplomacy by making greater use of the UN and its good offices capacities and building or repairing regional security architectures. It underscores that preventive tools outlined in Article 33 of the UN Charter have been underused. (Article 33 directs parties to a serious dispute to settle it by peaceful means, including negotiation, enquiry, mediation, conciliation, arbitration, and judicial settlement. It further asserts that the Security Council “shall, when it deems necessary, call upon the parties to settle their dispute by such means”.)

The NAfP also calls for strengthening prevention at the national level to address the drivers of conflict and violence, which it says can complement diplomatic action. It underscores that prevention at the national level should primarily be the responsibility of nations and governments.

The concept note emphasises the value of a “comprehensive approach” to achieving effective prevention. It says that a comprehensive approach involves bridging the humanitarian-development-peace nexus and requires addressing the root causes of conflict and countries’ vulnerabilities. This can be facilitated through building societies’ resilience by strengthening institutions and empowering all its members, including women and youth. In addition to the open debate’s objective, to consider how to build this resilience, the concept note says that the debate aims to discuss how the Council can support member states in identifying root causes of conflict and encourage them to implement plans and strategies for conflict prevention through a comprehensive approach.

One of the NAfP’s innovations is the Secretary-General’s proposal that UN member states develop national prevention strategies. According to the NAfP, national prevention initiatives should entail “approaches grounded in sustainable development” and be “multidimensional, people-centred and inclusive of all the different components of society”. Such strategies should aim to prevent not only conflict, but also violence committed by extremist groups, criminal groups, and armed gangs, as well as gender-based and domestic violence. The NAfP says that this would be consistent with Sustainable Development Goal 16.1, through which all states are committed to reducing all forms of violence. The UN, when requested, can provide support for the development and implementation of such strategies. The NAfP recommends that the PBC create a mechanism to mobilise political and financial support for national and regional prevention strategies of states that are interested in receiving international assistance for developing and implementing their strategies.

The Security Council has long struggled to engage effectively on prevention, often because of concerns about interference in states’ internal affairs, a particular impediment to addressing intra-state conflict. Past initiatives like “Horizon Scanning” and “Situational Awareness” briefings by the UN Secretariat to help Council members identify potential conflict situations have failed to gain traction, in large part because of these sensitivities over internal interference and the stigma often associated with being on the Council’s agenda. New geopolitical dynamics have made the Council’s preventive engagement even more complicated.

At tomorrow’s meeting, some Council members may still highlight, as the concept note contends, that as the primary international body charged with maintaining international peace and security, the Security Council has a responsibility to prevent the outbreak and recurrence of conflict. The concept note flags the role of the Council in strategically planning and ensuring smooth transitions when peace operations withdraw. It also suggests that the Council can encourage greater coordination in information sharing and early warning within the UN peacebuilding architecture and the UN system while respecting national ownership. A prevention tool that members all appear to value is the UN’s regional offices, namely the UN Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS), the UN Regional Office for Central Africa (UNOCA), and the UN Regional Centre for Preventive Diplomacy for Central Asia (UNRCCA). These special political missions are known for their good offices and early warning activities, including through bi-annual briefings to the Council. They also support sub-regional organisations in developing responses to structural conflict drivers and help promote common analysis and coherence among UN agencies, funds, and programmes for more conflict-sensitive development assistance. Tomorrow, some members may underscore the cost-effectiveness of investing more in prevention—as the Secretary-General calls for in the NAfP—compared to the much greater costs of addressing humanitarian effects and rebuilding post-conflict countries once conflict occurs.

Participants at tomorrow’s debate may highlight the greater potential of the PBC in preventing conflict and its recurrence because of the Commission’s mandate to promote coherence among peace and security, development, and human rights actors, as well as its practice of discussing situations only with the consent of the country concerned. Ambassador França is expected to focus on the connection between prevention and a comprehensive approach for sustaining peace. Along with other speakers, he is likely to underscore the importance of guaranteeing women’s participation in political processes and decision-making and of creating economic opportunities for youth. He may also note that the PBC can serve as a platform for countries to discuss their prevention strategies.

The concept note for tomorrow’s meeting provides a series of questions to help guide the discussion at the open debate. These questions include considering:

Tomorrow’s open debate also aims to contribute to discussions leading up to the Summit of the Future, which is expected to be held in September, and the 2025 review of the UN peacebuilding architecture (PBAR). Member states have started negotiations on a Pact for the Future, which may be adopted at the summit and can provide an opportunity to agree on recommendations from the NAfP. The 2025 PBAR will similarly offer an opportunity to agree on specific PBC-related recommendations from the NAfP.

For more information on conflict prevention, see the In Hindsight titled “The Security Council and Conflict Prevention” and the brief on conflict prevention in our March 2024 Monthly Forecast.

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