The fate of multilateralism has been among the top subjects of discussion in and around the United Nations over the past three years. While reports of multilateralism’s demise have been greatly exaggerated, it is undeniable that the system of global governance has come under unprecedented questioning, and pressure, recently. During a 29 January 2020 event at the United States Institute for Peace (USIP), Under-Secretary-General Rosemary DiCarlo addressed the issue by looking at how the UN and the Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs – and their global and regional partners – demonstrate the value of international cooperation by doing. Ms. DiCarlo listed how the UN has modernized its resources for conflict prevention and management to address the changing nature of conflict; how reforms of the UN’s peace and security architecture have improved its effectiveness, and what steps are still needed to make it even more effective. Her remarks are published in full below.
I am very pleased to be with you today to speak about the work of the United Nations in peace and security. Communicating about what we do -- and how we do it -- is always important. But it’s even more important today, as many doubt the value of the work of the United Nations.
The Secretary-General António Guterres has been very clear, and he said it’s not enough to extol the virtues of multilateralism. We have to show results. And this is why Secretary-General has made a surge in diplomacy for peace as one of the main planks of the mandate. At the heart of this approach is prevention – prevention of conflict but also of the phenomena that lead to social, economic and political instability and fragility.
The office that I head, -- and I will call it DPPA for short -- is the lead on conflict prevention, peacemaking and peacebuilding in the UN system. We oversee special political missions around the world, including special envoys facilitating mediation processes in Syria and Yemen. Our special envoys also support political processes in Sudan, Bolivia and the Horn of Africa. We manage regional offices that serve as a forward platform for preventive diplomacy in West Africa, Central Africa, and Central Asia.
We have country-based political missions in Afghanistan, Colombia, Haiti, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya and Somalia. And finally, our mandate is world-wide, so we oversee the UN’s preventive engagements in countries without a stand-alone mission. You can see, we are busy.
Our work is difficult by nature. Today, however, we operate in a particularly complex global and security environment.
The international community’s conflict management capacities – be they military, political or humanitarian – are overstretched, and the multilateral system is, frankly, struggling to respond.
And yet, the world today is still a safer and more prosperous place than probably at any other time in recorded history. Thanks in part to an effective collective security system, the intensity of armed conflict has seen a significant reduction in the last 30 years. Inter-state conflict, one of the central concerns when the United Nations was founded 75 years ago, is not very common in today’s world.
But there are reasons for concern. First, while the overall number of conflicts is on the decline, those that do occur, tend to last longer and cause more suffering, especially among civilians.
Second, conflicts that have begun small and locally are increasingly internationalized. This is due to the involvement of regional as well as global powers not only as supporters or enablers of local actors, but as conflict parties in their own right. We see this in Yemen, for example. There, regional rivalries have manifested themselves in the battlefield. They have also made it much more difficult to find a negotiated agreement to end the conflict.
And third, there’s a greater fragmentation of conflict actors at the local level. Many of today’s conflicts involve a multiplicity of local actors, including non-state armed groups, which often operate in loose and rapidly-shifting coalitions. They pursue widely different ideological and political agendas, and may have links to different external supporters. These conflicts also offer fertile ground for violent extremist groups which are rarely interested in political settlements. The acute fragmentation in Syria is a case in point.
These trends make conflicts significantly more intractable and difficult to resolve. Greater polarization at the global level and weakening support to multilateral processes complicate matters further.
And nowhere has the combination of these negative trends been more visible today than in Libya.
Libya has become an arena for international and regional competition. External actors backing parties on Libyan soil are diminishing the chances for a political solution to the conflict.
The April 2019 offensive to seize Tripoli by forces under the command of General Haftar put a spotlight on the overt role of foreign actors. The UN Panel of Experts which monitors UN sanctions in Libya has presented evidence that both parties to the conflict received outside financial and military support, in blatant violation of the UN-imposed arms embargo.
Now, it is encouraging that diplomatic efforts are underway to try to resume a Libyan-owned political process. I recently returned from the Berlin Conference on Libya, convened by Germany, to bring together some of the most influential international actors. All participants agreed that foreign interference had to stop, and that a ceasefire was urgently needed to put Libya back on the path to peace and stability.
This was an important step. But the fighting continues. It is escalating on the ground. And much work still needs to be done to translate commitments into tangible results.
Now, you may ask: What’s the UN’s response to the challenges that I am talking about? We worked very hard to make our tools better suited to tackle today’s complex conflicts. Our objective is to engage earlier and proactively, and not wait to react to a crisis after it has developed. We aim to focus not only on high-level political engagement but also on building anticipatory relations and addressing stress factors in a more effective way.
And it’s here I would like to take a moment to recognize the crucial role played by Lynn Pascoe, who, as UN Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, spearheaded an unprecedented transformation in the Department, helping to turn it into the operational and field-oriented entity that it is today.
Improving the UN’s ability to prevent and resolve conflicts was also the impetus for the Secretary-General’s 2019 interrelated reforms in the UN’s peace and security, development and management pillars. The reform created a single regional political-operational structure – that’s a really good UN expression – that’s shared by DPPA, my Department, and the Department of Peace Operations, which oversees peacekeeping. It gave concrete expression to the priority we give to finding political solutions to conflict. As the Secretary-General often says: “Politics is primary.”
Today, I would like to highlight several important areas in which the UN has strengthened its capacity to prevent and resolve conflict and to sustain peace.
First, I think we have done a fairly good job of expanded our analytical lens to look at a wider range of “stressors” that may trigger conflict. We have incorporated a political economic approach to our analysis. We have also put emphasis on better understanding the impact of climate change on security – and to developing effective responses. This is not an abstract question. It is a present reality in places like the Sahel, where conflicts between farmer and herder communities are exacerbated by climate change, and they are a major source of instability. Similarly, we are looking more systematically into the impact of digital technologies, such as the increasing role that social media plays in our societies – and how it can be instrumentalized for offline harm, as we saw to devastating effect in Myanmar.
Second, we are putting inclusion front and center in our efforts to promote peace. The very rationale of the Sustainable Development Goals is to leave no one behind. It is a plan for inclusion. This is crucial for peace processes. Women’s meaningful participation in these processes is a major priority in this regard. Progress has been slow. Some might say, we’re back-tracking. But we have to step up our efforts in this 20th anniversary year of resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security. The UN support for initiatives such as the Syrian Women’s Advisory Board and the Yemeni Women’s Technical Advisory Group have made a positive contribution to this agenda.
Third, of course elections are effective ways for citizens to express their voices. But at times they expose underlying tensions or even serve as flashpoints for violence. DPPA oversees the provision of UN electoral assistance to Member States, some of which are in fragile or post-conflict situations. In addition to technical support, we work to mitigate zero-sum politics and offer good offices support well before an election takes place.
This approach has borne results. In Madagascar, for example, our technical assistance in the lead up to the 2018 presidential election, combined with good offices work on the ground, helped ensure a peaceful transition of power after the election. More recently in Bolivia, we deployed a technical assistance team to complement the efforts led by the Secretary-General’s Personal Envoy to overcome the crisis that developed after the elections last October. The efforts of the Special Envoy Jean Arnault include promoting dialogue and building confidence in the lead up to a new presidential election scheduled for May 2020.
And fourth, since 2004, Security Council sanctions regimes, of which there are now 14, have focused on individuals, entities, groups or undertakings. The move away from a blunt instrument not only ensures the reduction in unintended humanitarian consequences, but also greater precision in achieving their goals.
Fifth, in response to increasing demand, we have professionalized our ability to support mediation processes around the world, whether they are led by the United Nations or a partner organization. Through our Standby Mediation team we deploy thematic experts in areas such as ceasefires, constitutions or process-design and can do so anywhere in the world within 72 hours.
Sixth, we place greater emphasis on the links between political and development work to address long-term stress factors such as inequalities and exclusion. In places where we do not have a Security Council mandate, we work closely with UN agencies on the ground to build local capacities for dialogue and peacebuilding.
The recent reforms, the Secretary-General has put forward, have helped us move in this direction. These reforms brought the UN’s Peacebuilding Support Office into what was the Department of Political Affairs, making us DPPA. This was based on the understanding that political analysis, conflict prevention and peacemaking need to happen hand-in-hand with long-term peacebuilding that addresses underlying conflict drivers. This recognition guides our work for example in Burkina Faso today. There, fragility and effects of the ongoing crisis in neighboring Mali have placed significant stress on state institutions and political stability.
I should also note that 2020 marks the 15th anniversary of the creation of the peacebuilding architecture and a review is underway to look at the impact of our support. We greatly appreciate that yesterday, the Alliance for Peacebuilding supported the UN in hosting a consultation with civil society on building and sustaining peace; to look into the progress that has been made and how we should move forward.
And finally, my seventh issue, we are increasing our focus on regional dynamics. As the implications of conflicts or crises are often felt beyond national borders, we need to shift our focus from country-specific to regional approaches. This is where the Secretary-General’s reform of the peace and security pillar has come into play.
In the Lake Chad Basin, we have been responding to the threat posed by Boko Haram with a comprehensive approach across all affected countries. We have also place great emphasis on our partnership with regional and sub-regional organizations, which are often better positioned as first responders to emerging crises in their respective regions.
I have described some of our efforts to improve our effectiveness, and I hope that I’ve demonstrated to some degree that the United Nations remains a vital actor in the peace and security arena.
At the same time, I have to be honest, our efforts are significantly more likely to succeed when Member States are united behind them. Security Council division over Syria has made progress on a negotiated solution that much more difficult, inevitably extending the suffering. A united Council, on the other hand, has made a crucial and positive difference in places such as Liberia and Colombia.
The final reflection I would like to leave with you is this: The UN really needs the United States as a strong partner. U.S. diplomacy can play a vital role in support of collective efforts to prevent crises and make peace.
A strong and effective United Nations is in the best interests of the entire membership. The United States has shaped many of the normative frameworks that guide our work.
The legitimacy conferred by the United Nations remains one of its strongest assets, with the ensuing ability to bring other countries towards a common cause. But the leadership of key Member States like the United States is indispensable.