Rediscovering Preventive Diplomacy: A View From The United Nations

from Brookings Institution, United Nations
Published on 26 Jul 2010 View Original
Remarks at the Brookings Institute, 26 July 2010

B. Lynn Pascoe, United Nations Under-Secretary General for Political Affairs

Let me begin by thanking Brookings for this opportunity to speak about the work of the United Nations in dealing with conflicts around the world.

While academic studies seem to conclude that conflicts have actually been declining in recent years, it doesn't feel that way from our vantage point in New York. From Sudan to the DRC, Afghanistan to Iraq, Somalia to Madagascar, south Lebanon to south Kyrgyzstan, Nepal to Sri Lanka or the Maldives to Pakistan, there is no shortage of flashpoints to consume our energies.

Crises and conflicts are not disappearing as much as they are evolving in nature. They are still overtaxing the ability of concerned governments, regional and global institutions to respond.

With more blue helmets in the field than at any time in our history, UN peacekeeping has been straining under the burden of trying to contain conflicts. The global financial crisis, meanwhile, only adds to the sense of fatigue internationally with the massive cost of far-away conflicts and their aftermath.

At the United Nations, these factors are contributing to a rediscovery or a rebirth, if you will, of preventive diplomacy and mediation as a cost-effective option for dealing with crises. Member states are seeking better tailored approaches all along the conflict cycle, and in doing so they are having a fresh look at an old art - diplomacy and mediation -- that had somehow become less fashionable than other UN instruments.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has led this effort in New York. From the outset of his administration, he has been pushing for a reinvigorated use of preventive diplomacy. He has made it a priority to rebalance our capabilities so that diplomats and mediators can be mobilized as first responders to trouble. And, of course, he is active in this area every day himself, talking with global leaders in person or over the telephone, cajoling participants in the conflicts to resolve differences and urging others to use their influence to help.

The Security Council is also focusing on this theme, and member states in the developing world, African countries in particular, are among the most enthusiastic. At a special session two weeks ago on preventive diplomacy in Africa, Council members were strongly united in calling for earlier and more frequent use of this tool as a way to save lives and scale back costly military commitments on the continent.

Preventing conflict is easier said than done, of course. The challenge is to translate this political and rhetorical commitment into effective preventive action in the field. My department, the Department of Political Affairs, is at the center of this effort. I want to talk a bit today about the progress we are making and the challenges we face.