Here’s to you, Mary Robinson: Thoughts on Intertwining Security and Development Goals

9 Feb

It is not news to anyone who follows this space that Mary Robinson is one of our favorite global civil servants, someone who is thoughtful, courageous and committed.  Her ideas exploring the human rights dimensions of climate change is just another example of her encyclopedic understand of the multiple facets of UN policy activity and her skills in bringing those facets into some harmonious, intentional relationship.

As the final sessions of the Open Working Group unfolded, Ms. Robinson was called upon to reflect on the security-sustainability dynamic, one which preoccupied the last phases of this long interactive process and which resulted in many thoughtful presentations by delegations.  As she has done previously, Ms. Robinson hit the mark for many listeners, describing security (and gender) as “cross cutting” concerns impacting any and all consensus Sustainable Development Goals, and reinforcing the need for goals that address the “causes and consequences of conflict.

Many delegations also wrestled in these final interactive sessions with the implications of adding security-related objectives to a lengthening list of SDGs that themselves will likely defy full achievement. For instance, in its statement, CARICOM expressed worry about having too much of the SDG process tied up with security concerns, not because they dismiss such concerns (they have been for instance major supporters of efforts to control illicit small arms, narcotics smuggling and the global arms trade), but because they like other delegations are concerned about the volume of development objectives that states will ultimately be held responsible for.   We share much of this concern, in part because we do not yet feel that we have learned enough from our limited successes with MDG implementation, in part because of the elusiveness of quantifiable definitions of ‘peace,’ and in part because we do not believe that the post-2015 SDG process to date has sought to engage sufficiently other, relevant components of the UN system.

Returning to Ms. Robinson’s remarks, it is important to maintain the dual meaning of ‘cross cutting.’   Often when we use this now familiar phrase, we refer to issues that have to do with each other in the sense that illicit arms contribute to an escalation of violence against women or deteriorating climate can lead to conflict over water and other resources.  But there is another dimension, not about issues and objectives but about structures of implementation.  If peace and security are fashioned into development objectives alongside clean water and poverty reduction, whose responsibility does this become?   To address this question, we need to look beyond the structures normally associated with the development community to the broader capacities of the UN system (and beyond).

There is little doubt among delegations and other participants in the Open Working Group that peace and security are indispensable requirements for just, transparent and sustainable communities, a “development enabler” as it was referred to by the African Group and others. However, as we seek to reduce violence (and as Brazil noted, reduce military expenditures) that impedes participation in civic life, restricts the pursuit of educational or economic opportunity, and exacerbates unsustainable ‘footprints,’ we must look beyond the institutional infrastructure most directly relevant to development to those other agencies and capacities that can help to illumine and address key security challenges.  When we do, we would surely also reaffirm the ways in which pursuit of development priorities are, themselves, ‘enablers’ of more secure communities, fewer illicit weapons, a more reliable system for preventing mass atrocities, a resolution to existing negotiating stalemates on nuclear weapons, and other hopeful outcomes.

Even in a time of budget restraint, the UN as a system maintains many security-related capacity options to support successful development outcomes.   “Cross cutting” is as much about infrastructure effectiveness and responsibility as about issues.  As Mary Robinson’s presence in the Open Working Group reinforced, it is possible to appreciate and draw upon resources beyond the most familiar.   As interaction gives way to negotiation, we urge delegations to integrate a more thorough embrace of the ideas and capacity resources of the entire UN system, not only the parts that have ‘development’ imprinted on their mandates.

At the closing of this interactive process, we would like to thank the co-chairs for their hard work in keeping this process on track, as well as to NGLS and others for their good leadership on a wide range of issues pertinent to the work of setting post-2015 goals as well as other members of global civil society that have sought to impact development priorities.

Dr. Robert Zuber

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