By Ramesh Jaura
Within days of taking up the post of the United Nations Secretary-General, António Guterres has urged the influential Security Council to undertake new, strengthened efforts to build and sustain peace ranging from prevention, conflict resolution and peacekeeping to peacebuilding and sustainable development.
Supporting Guterres, Sweden’s Foreign Minister and Security Council President for January, Margot Wallström emphasized that a close and proactive working relationship between the Council and the Secretary-General was the cornerstone of the Organization’s ability to deliver lasting peace and security.
In an impassioned debate on January 10 on “Conflict prevention and sustaining peace”, Wallström pointed out that in 2016, the urgent need for “a global commitment to multilateral solutions to conflict and to collaborative security had been exposed”.
“Can we afford an ever-growing list of crises slipping into violent conflict and needless human misery?”, she asked, stressing that investing in prevention was not only morally right, but also “the smart, economically sound and sustainable thing to do”.
It required addressing the root causes of conflict and instability before they reached the front pages or the Council’s agenda. “We have the tools. What we need now is a new political consensus in support of prevention,” she declared.
Sweden’s Foreign Minister highlighted the priority actions, which included the need to make prevention a priority for the entire United Nations system, and to ensure that the Organization worked closely with other international, regional and sub-regional actors. Furthermore, it was critical to improve the capacity of the UN to recognize and address the root causes and drivers of conflict.
She also emphasized the need to harness the capacity of women to create sustainable peace through inclusive processes, and to recognize that there could be no humanitarian solution for a political crisis.
In his first address to the Security Council since taking office on January 1, the new Secretary-General said that the UN must fully deliver on the promise of its Charter to “save succeeding generations from the scourge of war”. The Organization had been established to prevent war by binding the international community in a rules-based international order.
“Today, that order is under grave threat,” Guterres stressed, noting that millions of people in crisis looked to the Security Council to preserve global stability and to protect them from harm.
However, the enormous human and economic cost of conflicts around the world showed how complex and challenging that was. It was unfortunate that the international community spent far more time and resources responding to crises rather than preventing them.
While the causes of crisis were deeply interlinked, the UN response remained fragmented, he said. The interconnected nature of today’s crises required the international community to connect global efforts for peace and security, sustainable development and human rights, not just in words, but also in practice.
The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the General Assembly and Security Council resolutions on sustaining peace demonstrated strong intergovernmental support for an integrated approach. The challenge now was to make corresponding changes to our culture, strategy, structures and operations.
“We must rebalance our approach to peace and security,” Guterres said. For decades, the focus had been largely on responding to conflict. In the future, the international community must do far more to prevent war and sustain peace, he said, stressing that the reforms he was setting in motion aimed to achieve that.
“I have started with the decision-making processes in the Secretariat,” he said, noting that the newly established Executive Committee would increase the ability to integrate all pillars of the United Nations under a common vision for action.
Also, he said, he had appointed a Special Adviser on Policy, whose main task would be to map the prevention capacities of the United Nations system and to bring them together into an integrated platform for early detection and action.
That would enable the Organization to link the reform of the peace and security architecture with the reform of the United Nations development system, while respecting the competence of the Security Council and the General Assembly.
“The primary work of conflict prevention lies with Member States,” he continued, stressing that the entire United Nations system must be ready to help Governments implement the Sustainable Development Goals.
As societies became multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multicultural, the international community needed greater political, cultural and economic investments in inclusivity and cohesion, so that people could appreciate the benefits of diversity rather than perceiving it as a threat.
All groups needed to see that their individual identities were respected, while feeling that they belonged as valued members of the community as a whole. Civil society, to that end, had a role to play in raising the alarm when that respect was threatened or lost.
He went on to emphasize the need for a surge in diplomacy, in partnership with regional organizations. “We will launch an initiative to enhance our mediation capacity, both at United Nations Headquarters and in the field, and to support regional and national mediation efforts,” he said, expressing readiness to support the Security Council through the use of his good offices and his personal engagement.
“Too many prevention opportunities have been lost because Member States mistrusted each other’s motives, and because of concerns over national sovereignty,” he said, stressing that such concerns were understandable, in a world where power was unequal and principles had sometimes been applied selectively. Prevention should never be used to serve other political goals.
On the contrary, prevention was best served by strong sovereign States, acting for the good of their people. “In taking preventive action, we need to avoid double standards,” he underlined, adding that preventive action was essential to avert mass atrocities or grave abuses of human rights.
International cooperation for prevention, and particularly translating early warning into early action, depended on trust between Member States, and in their relations with the United Nations, Guterres said. He stood ready to foster a more trusting relationship and to improve communications with the Council, with consistency, candour and transparency.
Disagreements about the past could not be allowed to prevent the international community from acting today. On the contrary, the international community needed to demonstrate leadership, and strengthen the credibility and authority of the United Nations, by putting peace first. “Ending the boundless human suffering and the wanton waste of resources generated by conflict is in everyone’s interests,” he stressed.
“War is never inevitable. It is always a matter of choice: the choice to exclude, to discriminate, to marginalize, to resort to violence,” he said, noting that, by restoring trust between Governments and their citizens and amongst Member States, the international community could prevent and avoid conflict.
However, peace, too, was never inevitable. It was the result of difficult decisions, hard work and compromise. “If we live up to our responsibilities, we will save lives, reduce suffering and give hope to millions,” he concluded.
“People are paying too high a price. You, the Member States, are paying too high a price. We need a whole new approach,” he declared.
The man calling for a whole new approach was the Prime Minister of Portugal from 1995 to 2002 and Secretary-General of the country’s Socialist Party from 1992 to 2002. He served as the President of Socialist International from 1999 to 2005. In the following ten years, he headed the UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR.
Parts of his remarks to the Security Council echoed some of the comments by Nobel Laureate Willy Brandt – then West German Chancellor – who was Socialist International’s President from 1976 to 1992.
In famous remarks, Brandt said: “Peace is not everything, but without peace, everything is nothing.” – “Peace is something more than the absence of war, although some nations would be thankful for that alone today. A durable and equitable peace system requires equal development opportunities for all nations.” – “Peace, like freedom, is no original state which existed from the start; we shall have to make it, in the truest sense of the word.”
The West German leader played an important role in supporting the Portuguese Socialist Party and Mário Soares, former Portuguese Prime Minister (1976 to 1978) and Portuguese President (1986 to 1996) and who died at 92 in Lisbon on January 7.
Guterres said that his mentor’s “legacy goes far beyond Portugal”. Not only because he was responsible for Portugal’s full integration into the international community, “but also because his commitment to freedom and democracy make him one of those rare political leaders of true European and global stature”.