Conflict Prevention is “The Priority,” Says UN Secretary-General
UN Photo/Manuel Elias
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At a ministerial-level open debate of the UN Security Council on conflict prevention and sustaining peace, UN Secretary-General António Guterres outlined his vision for a renewed emphasis on prevention.

Margot Wallström, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Sweden, President of the Council, said Council members should support Guterres’ intention to pursue a “surge of diplomacy for peace”.

10 January 2017: At a ministerial-level open debate of the UN Security Council on conflict prevention and sustaining peace, UN Secretary-General António Guterres outlined his vision for a renewed emphasis on prevention, and governments discussed ways to realize the “sustaining peace” agenda. The Council also sought to initiate a “more proactive form of cooperation between the Security Council and the Secretary-General, with a view to enabling more strategic responses,” according to the concept note for the debate.

Opening the debate, Margot Wallström, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Sweden, President of the Council, said Council members should support Guterres’ intention to pursue a “surge of diplomacy for peace.” Guterres, addressing the Council in a formal capacity for the first time as Secretary-General, said prevention is “not merely a priority, but the priority.” He called for a “whole new approach” to shift from the current trend of spending more time and resources to conflict rather than preventing them. Guterres said “war is never inevitable” but is always a matter of choice: “the choice to exclude, to discriminate, to marginalize, to resort to violence.” At the same time, he said, “peace, too, is never inevitable” but the result of “difficult decisions, hard work and compromise.”

Guterres remarked that the UN’s response to crises remains fragmented, while their causes are deeply interlinked, and he called for connecting efforts for peace and security, sustainable development and human rights. Both the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the “sustaining peace” resolutions of the Security Council and UN General Assembly (UNGA) demonstrate strong intergovernmental support for an integrated approach, he said, stressing the need to make corresponding changes in operations and culture.

Guterres announced changes in the Secretariat to link reform of the peace and security architecture with reform of the UN Development System.

In this regard, Guterres announced changes in the Secretariat to link reform of the peace and security architecture with reform of the UN Development System. The changes include a newly established executive committee that he expects to improve the integration of the UN’s pillars under a common vision for action. He has also appointed a senior adviser on policy to map the UN system’s prevention capacities and bring them together in an integrated platform for early detection and action. On 15 December, Guterres had announced the creation of the position of Special Adviser on Policy, and said he would appoint Kyung-wha Kang to the role.

On his proposed “surge in diplomacy for peace,” Guterres said the commitment must be made in partnership with regional organizations to mobilize all parties with influence. He also: noted the upcoming launch of an initiative to enhance the UN’s mediation capacity, both at Headquarters and in the field, and to support regional and national mediation efforts; asked the Security Council to make greater use of the options laid out in Chapter VI of the UN Charter; pledged to improve communications with the Council; and highlighted the importance of trust between Member States, and in their relations with the UN, which he said is the basis for translating early warning into early action.

During the open debate, Sweden, supported by the UK and Ethiopia, said investing in prevention is the smart, economically sound and sustainable thing to do. Japan said that effectively sustaining peace will require reforms of the UN, including removing institutional silos and reinforcing coordination.

Several speakers said the Council’s comprehensive peace reviews provide clear support for a conceptual change, including by abandoning conflict management in favor of prevention and tackling the root causes of conflict. Kazakhstan noted the need for a systemic approach to identifying and preventing emerging crises, including by ensuring that the Council has direct oversight of peacebuilding. On regional cooperation, Bolivia underscored the need for sufficient attention to regions’ efforts, and Rwanda argued that the African Union (AU) is well positioned to respond quickly to conflicts.

The concept note for the debate recalled the reviews carried out in 2015 on the peace and security architecture and recent resolutions underscoring the need to put prevention at the core of the Organization’s work. Related texts, as highlighted in the concept note, include: the High-level Independent Panel on UN Peace Operations (A/70/95-S/2015/446), which emphasizes the primacy of political solutions; the subsequent implementation report of the Secretary-General (A/70/357-S/2015/682), which notes the need to prioritize prevention and mediation in order to break the cycle of responding too late and too expansively; the Secretary-General’s report for the World Humanitarian Summit (A/70/709), which presents “political leadership to prevent and end conflicts” as a core responsibility; the resolutions adopted by the Security Council and the UNGA (resolutions 2282 (2016) and 70/262, respectively) that endorse the new concept of “sustaining peace,” call for a long-term, comprehensive approach to sustaining peace in all UN engagements before, during and after conflict, and call for addressing conflict to a continuous, cross-pillar and cross-sectoral approach to prevention; and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which emphasizes national ownership, universality, inclusivity, people-centered and transformative approaches, and coherent implementation across the UN’s three pillars (human rights, peace and security and development).

The UN Security Council’s membership includes five permanent members, China, France, Russia, the UK and the US, and ten non-permanent members. As of 1 January 2017, the non-permanent members are: Egypt, Japan, Senegal, Ukraine and Uruguay, whose term expires at the end of 2017, and Bolivia, Ethiopia, Italy, Kazakhstan and Sweden, whose two-terms are just beginning. They replace outgoing members Angola, Malaysia, New Zealand, Spain and Venezuela. [UN Secretary-General Remarks] [Meeting Summary] [Concept Note for Debate] [UN Press Release] [UN Security Council Members] [Meeting Webcast, Part 1] [Appointment of Special Adviser on Policy] [UNRIC Press Release]

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