From Poverty to Climate Crisis, ‘Connect the Dots’ Among Drivers of Instability, Secretary-General Tells Security Council Debate on Conflict Prevention
Following are UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ remarks at the Security Council’s open debate on the maintenance of international peace and security through preventive diplomacy, held today:
Thank you for shining a light on the importance of preventive diplomacy. Prevention does not always get the attention it deserves.
Perhaps, because it is difficult to measure the results of a conflict averted, a war forestalled or the suffering of thousands of people avoided altogether.
But, prevention is absolutely vital to lasting peace. Prevention is the ultimate goal of this Council’s work and your resolutions to help countries forge peace and stability, and settle their disputes before they spiral into armed conflict. And prevention is the very reason the United Nations exists. This Organization was created out of the ashes of the Second World War with the intention, embedded in our Charter, to never again subject humanity to war’s inhumanity.
For 76 years, the United Nations system has given the world a home for dialogue, and tools and mechanisms for the peaceful settlement of disputes. From the judicial dimension of prevention provided by the International Court of Justice, to the Economic and Social Council, which works to address conflict by advancing sustainable development.
To the twin resolutions adopted by the General Assembly and the Security Council in 2016, which reminded us once again that prevention must be at the heart of our collective goals of building and sustaining peace. To the women and men of this Organization who are working every day to forge, build and maintain peace in some of the most difficult and dangerous places on earth.
Prevention is essential. That is why I placed my agenda of prevention at the centre of my mandates for my first and second terms as Secretary-General. I called for a surge in diplomacy for peace, to ensure that political solutions remain the first and primary option to settle disputes. This includes reviews of all of the tools that comprise the United Nations peace architecture, and a better integration of prevention and risk-assessment across the United Nations decision‑making.
It includes more innovation and more foresight — including a much more robust system of regional monthly risk reviews, senior decision-making and stronger support to Member States in managing and addressing crisis risks. And it includes “connecting the dots” among all of the drivers of conflict — including poverty, inequalities and climate change. Because history has shown that conflicts do not emerge out of thin air. Nor are they inevitable. Too often, they are the result of gaps that are ignored or not properly addressed.
Gaps in access to basic necessities like food, water, social services and medicine. Gaps in security or governance systems — where aggrieved groups can coalesce and find a pathway to power by force. Gaps in trust — in Governments, in institutions and laws and in one another. Gaps in tolerance and social cohesion — rooted in discrimination, prejudice and grievances old and new — or gaps in equality, between rich and poor, among and within countries and between men and women. All of these gaps are potential flashpoints for violence and even conflict.
Prevention is ultimately the business of stopping wars and conflicts before they happen. Of defusing — through dialogue — the tensions that spark division and war that put millions of lives in danger every day. But, prevention is also the business of making sure that no mother has to skip a meal to feed her children. Of bringing hope for a better future through education, health care and the possibility of an income.
Of fostering tolerance, trust, equality and respect for human rights — all the ingredients of a peaceful society. Of closing the development gaps that lead to conflict, and bringing the promise of the Sustainable Development Goals to life for all people, equally. Of reversing the vicious cycle of conflict and division, and instead, setting in motion a virtuous cycle of development and peace. And diplomacy has a vital role to play in carrying this virtuous cycle forward.
My report on Our Common Agenda proposes a New Agenda for Peace that takes a comprehensive, holistic view of global security. One that not only includes efforts to consolidate peace, build resilience in fragile contexts and avert conflict relapse. But also one that recognizes the importance of sustainable development to prevent violence and conflicts from happening in the first place. For the women and men of the United Nations, preventive diplomacy and development go hand in hand. There is no separation.
We know that preventive diplomacy works. I have consistently used my good offices — sometimes publicly, sometimes behind the scenes — to seek to defuse conflicts and advance peace. From border disputes to constitutional and electoral crises and fragile peace talks, we can point to example after example where our regional offices, Special Envoys, special political missions and peacekeeping operations are working around the clock and around the world.
A central part of our prevention strategy is working with reginal and subregional organizations, from the African Union to subregional organizations throughout Africa to the European Union to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and beyond. These organizations are vital voices of peace and play a key role in promoting confidence-building and dialogue as we work to prevent and resolve conflicts.
Our work together with our partners to help prepare for, and ensure, peaceful elections is another critical part of our preventive efforts — including past elections in Madagascar, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Central African Republic, Malawi, Zambia and São Tomé and Príncipe. In Somalia, we’ve joined forces with the African Union and the European Union to work with parties to prevent the escalation of tensions in the midst of a fraught election. In Libya, we are working closely with the transitional authorities to ensure that the ceasefire holds, and that the country seizes this moment for peace in the lead-up to next month’s elections.
Beyond elections, our Regional Centre for Preventive Diplomacy for Central Asia is bringing the region’s Governments together to jointly develop common approaches to share water resources and counter terrorism. In Mali, together with the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and partners, we’re supporting the political transition to ensure a peaceful and timely return to constitutional order, sometimes against all odds.
In the Great Lakes region, my Special Envoy is focused on building mutual confidence and trust between countries and leaders. The Special Coordinator for Development in the Sahel is working shoulder to shoulder with all entities to build peace and support people in that subregion. The Peacebuilding Commission is supporting the peace process in Papua New Guinea and peace programming in South Sudan.
And in the context of COVID-19, our Resident Coordinators and country teams are supporting the response to the pandemic, while also serving people’s needs in the midst of humanitarian emergencies from Haiti to Yemen to Myanmar. While we’re proud of our work, we also know that we must do far more to join up our humanitarian, peace and development efforts.
My report on Our Common Agenda calls for a new social contract within all societies — anchored in human rights, and focused on accelerating progress towards the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
This means urgent investments in universal health coverage, social protection, and education — and of course, COVID-19 vaccines for all. It means working to end inequalities that deny entire groups of people access to civil and economic life and the levers of decision-making. It means, finally, ensuring that we balance the scales of power and participation equally for women. And it means transforming our commitment to human rights from words to practice in every context. This is also an essential element to preventing crises.
But, it also means strengthening all the tools of preventive diplomacy for the future, as proposed in the Agenda for Peace. This means stronger early warning systems and strategic foresight tools — including better data and analytics — so we can develop a shared understanding of threats to detect and avoid looming crises.
It means stronger mediation capacities — the front lines of our diplomatic efforts to build peace in communities around the world. It means expanding the pool of women leaders to serve as envoys or mediation specialists, just as we’ve increased the number of women peacekeepers and women leading our field missions. And it means more joint work across the United Nations family, including the Peacebuilding Commission, to bring together systemwide expertise through regular reports and dialogue.
Prevention is not a political tool, but a practical pathway to peace. In order for preventive diplomacy and development to contribute to the peace we all seek, we need the full support of this Council, and indeed all Member States. Too often, prevention opportunities have been lost because Member States mistrusted each other’s motives. This is understandable.
We live in a world where power has been historically unequal. A world of double standards, where principles have been applied selectively and unfairly. Where prosperity and development are unequally distributed. And where entire groups of people have been left behind by poverty and discrimination.
Lasting and sustainable peace calls for consistent work with leaders, communities and partners alike to build the stability that only inclusive development provides. My message to this Council and to all Member States is: Stand with us as we seek to build peace and development through dialogue and collaboration. This is the only sustainable pathway for our common future.