What's In Blue

Posted Thu 16 May 2024

Arria-formula Meeting on “Unlocking the Potential of Science for Peace and Security”

Tomorrow (17 May), Switzerland will convene a Security Council Arria-formula meeting on “Unlocking the Potential of Science for Peace and Security”. Thomas Gürber, State Secretary of the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs of the Swiss Confederation, is expected to deliver opening remarks and chair the meeting. The anticipated briefers include: Henrietta Fore, former Executive Director of UNICEF (2018-2022) and a board member of the Geneva Science and Diplomacy Anticipator, an independent foundation that leverages science and technology to generate “inclusive and global solutions for a sustainable future”; Dr. Sascha Langenbach, a data scientist at the Center for Security Studies at the ETH Zürich university; and Lieutenant General Mohan Subramanian, the Force Commander of the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS).

The meeting, which will begin at 10 am EST and take place in the Trusteeship Council Chamber, will be broadcast on UNTV.

Switzerland has circulated a concept note, which says that the discussion strives to identify how the Security Council can “better draw on scientific tools and knowledge to respond to existing challenges and to anticipate developments and risk multipliers for international peace and security”. It argues that the Security Council can enhance its decision-making through improved information using data science, such as machine learning, that can support analysis and planning. It also maintains that using science-based tools can support UN peacekeeping missions in implementing their mandates.

This Arria-formula meeting is being held as member states prepare for the Summit of the Future in September. A New Agenda for Peace, which outlines the Secretary-General’s vision for addressing peace and security challenges and is meant to help inform the deliberations at the Summit, notes the effects of technology on the peace and security landscape. For example, it says that member states should “take steps to mitigate risks relating to artificial intelligence-enabled systems in the peace and security domain and develop the necessary frameworks to achieve this goal”.

The concept note poses several questions to help guide the discussion, including:

  • How can science strengthen the Council’s response to global challenges? Are there examples of scientific knowledge and lessons learned that address risk-multipliers preventively and effectively anticipate developments?
  • How can the Council integrate scientific tools and knowledge into its work more systematically and cooperate with other entities within and outside the UN system in this regard?
  • How can the Council integrate scientific capacities and promote data collection and analysis more effectively in its mandating?

Fore is expected to highlight some recent scientific developments that can be used to promote international peace and security. Langenbach might discuss how machine learning can predict challenges facing UN peace operations and inform responses to such challenges. Subramanian is likely to provide a perspective from the field by describing ways in which scientific data is used to strengthen the work of UNMISS.

The Council has periodically explored the potential of science to promote international peace and security in recent years. For example, Council members have received briefings about the scientific data linking environmental factors to security concerns in both formal sessions and Arria-formula meetings. In this regard, Valérie Masson-Delmotte—Co-Chair of Working Group I at the UN International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which assesses the physical science of climate change—briefed the Council in an Arria-formula meeting on the science of sea-level rise on 18 October 2021. In addition, Chief Scientist of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) Pavel Kabat briefed the Council on 25 January 2019 in a meeting on “Addressing the impacts of climate-related disasters on international peace and security”. The Council also held its first formal meeting on Artificial Intelligence on 18 July 2023, a high-level briefing initiated by the UK titled “Artificial Intelligence: Opportunities and Risks for International Peace and Security”.

At tomorrow’s meeting, member states may discuss how scientific data can be used to forecast potential conflict, and how this information can be incorporated into the Council’s conflict prevention work. Some might also explore ways in which science-driven data can be used to counter misinformation against UN peace operations and how to use science to strengthen the quality of the UN Secretariat’s reporting. There may also be discussion on ways in which technology can be used to improve the safety and security of UN peacekeepers. Another possible topic of discussion is how the Security Council can make better use of scientific institutions’ research to inform its decision-making.

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