Tag Archives: Peace and Security

Herding Cats: The UNSG Leads Wary Constituents Towards Management Reform, Dr. Robert Zuber

12 Nov

Only in growth, reform, and change –paradoxically enough — is true security to be found. Anne Morrow Lindbergh

An institution or reform movement that is not selfish must originate in the recognition of some evil that is adding to the sum of human suffering, or diminishing the sum of happiness. Clara Barton

Reform, that we may preserve. Thomas Babington Macaulay

This was one of those intense weeks at the UN during which if I were smart enough to write them — and you were patient enough to read them — there could have been a policy-related post emanating from this office every single day.  It was a week for the Peacebuilding Commission to assess the difficult circumstances in Burundi, for the UN General Assembly Fourth Committee to review the UN’s commitment to Palestinian refugees, for the Security Council Counter-Terror Executive Directorate to discuss rights-based ways for military and police to respond to the challenges of returning Foreign Terror Fighters, and for the entire Security Council to listen to commanders and otherwise honor the role of UNPOL (UN Police)in stabilizing communities, building trust with local constituents, and paving the way for easier transitions from peace operations to UN country teams and local security forces.

The highlight of the week from a public-interest standpoint was probably the Security Council debate focused on the report of the Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM) on the use of chemical weapons in Syria.  This was actually the third recent discussion on the report and/or JIM mandate renewal – one previously in the Council that saw Russia veto a proposal to extend the JIM prior to the report’s release and another in the General Assembly’s First Committee that deals specifically with disarmament and weapons of mass destruction.   As the policy lines sharpened this week among Council members and with occasional professional insults hurled at JIM director Mulet, our twitter account literally exploded with commentary, much of it from persons angry or frustrated at what they saw as attempts by (mostly) Russia and Syria to undermine both the methodology and findings of the JIM report, calling its basic integrity and usefulness into question.

Our “for what it’s worth” recommendations in response to this twitter flurry were twofold: to reauthorize the JIM promptly but also to carefully scrutinize its working methods and possible methodological gaps, especially given fresh allegations of chemical weapons use in Syria that will also need to be investigated, hopefully this time with successful on-site inspections.  Given all of the interest in eliminating these weapons and ending blatant violations of the non-proliferation regime, it is essential that these investigations be as “above reproach” as we can get them.

Despite all this impact-filled drama, our preference for a Sunday highlight was a joint Thursday briefing by the president of the General Assembly and the Secretary-General on the SG’s proposals for reform of the UN’s peace and security pillar. The SG’s report on this subject is largely focused on management reform rather than on specific changes to the ways in that the UN conducts its security-related responsibilities.

Following the SG’s opening statement, a number of states came forward with support for reform efforts, specifically lauding the SG’s focus on UN management and his willingness to reorganize across pillars and sectors.  Others cautiously awaited more specifics on proposed changes to the peace and security architecture with some explicitly calling on the president of the General Assembly to exercise oversight of the reform process on behalf of member states.

Given the SG’s management focus, and perhaps due to constraints of time as well as a reticence to get into too many details on how a post-reform UN would conduct its business, there were several matters of critical importance to peace and security that were barely mentioned during the two-hour briefing:

  • The reform of the Security Council (this was noted in passing by Ambassador Kamau of Kenya but ignored by the remainder of speakers, which included several Council members)
  • The architecture and structure of UN Disarmament Affairs. Indeed, the word “disarmament” was not uttered, neither in a programmatic or management context
  • The potential (and actual) prevention-related functions managed by the UN’s genocide and atrocity prevention mechanisms
  • Full-spectrum motivations for this reform initiative, specifically including funding threats emanating from the US government and other member states; their preferences, more and more, leaning towards earmarked funding rather than pledges for core operations.

What was most welcome from the SG’s remarks is his commitment to enhancing the visibility and functionality of the UN’s peacebuilding architecture, something we have long advocated.  With Guatemala’s Amb. Rosenthal in the room (a primary architect of the UN’s landmark peacebuilding review), the SG made a strong case for why the Peacebuilding Commission and Peacebuilding Fund deserved a broader role in the UN system – beyond its current post-conflict confinements – to hopefully become a significant resource for states seeking guidance on conflict prevention and mediation before facing the prospect of turning up on the agenda of the Security Council.

At this point, I can “feel” many of those who chose to read this thinking, well, this is all well and good for the SG, but what are the takeaways?   I think there are several, but will summarize the following:

  • First, for a range of reasons, the “mood of the room” on Thursday was mostly supportive of the SG’s reform push. Uruguay and Japan, as examples, were two current Security Council members who reinforced the SG’s “mandate for change” and sought ways to support that change without seeking to “micro-manage” it.
  • Second, there is a clear and tangible concern among many member states that the UN is simply not delivering “on the ground” in accordance with expectations that we in this policy space have raised but often failed to meet. In an age of austerity for the UN system, the pressure to deliver “more with less” is being felt across the UN and certainly has “raised the bar” for the current leadership.
  • Third, Morocco’s Ambassador and other officials reminded colleagues that reform of one aspect of the UN system changes – at least in potential – all other aspects of the system. Changes in the management structure and architecture of the UN’s security apparatus – including peace operations — will change institutional dynamics and policy options on gender, counter-terrorism, human rights, children’s issues and other key dimensions of the UN’s multilateral contribution.
  • And fourth, there was some helpful recognition in the room that, to use our own analogy, there is quite a difference between planning a wedding and sustaining a marriage. As Algeria’s Ambassador Boukadoum noted near the end of the session, everyone seems to be in favor of reform until they figure out what they are likely to lose (or have to pay for, or change) as reform commences.   Pakistan picked up this theme urging the SG to initiate thoughtful reform “that does not replicate the ills that it seeks to fix.”  The recognition that a push for reform does not, in itself, guarantee successful (or happily embraced) institutional outcomes was a sobering reminder for delegations. This led to one of the more noteworthy comments of the day, a request by Singapore’s Ambassador for a “framework of assurances” to help member states track reform progress but also to help ensure, as noted by the Ambassador of the Solomon Islands, that we all do everything that we are able in order to “get this reform right.”

On Friday, in another reform-minded session with SG Guterres, ECOSOC President Marie Chatardová noted that where matters of reform are concerned, “the devil is in the details, but also the opportunity.” As Amb. Chatardová knows well, the UN does not control many of the variables that can threaten successful management reforms and those changes that could well add to “the sum of happiness” far beyond Turtle Bay.  And many of the variables the UN does control, it controls only in part – such as the actions of major powers in the Security Council or the rates at which states honor funding commitments to urgent matters such as core UN functions and emergency provisions of assistance.

What this reform push does recognize is that this is a time of trial for the entire UN community.  Can we fix the ills that hinder us without replicating them or creating new problems out of the ashes of the old?  Can we assure states – but more importantly constituents – that reform is more than a concession to budget threats but is actually capable of increasing the general threshold of human well-being and building back what has become significantly compromised confidence in multilateral structures?

Like any marriage, UN reforms will be won or lost in the trenches – in the challenges of day-to-day communication, confidence-building measures, systemic trust and steady reassurances.  The SG on Thursday noted that Algeria had once offered haven to political refugees from his home country of Portugal.  He then shared the hope – jokingly we trust — that the current push for UN reform won’t end up with him scurrying to Algeria seeking a safe haven for himself!

But beyond the humor lies a somber recognition: if this community fails to embrace and sustain the changes that can preserve and enhance our collective service to the global community, more than the SG will eventually find their own professional security “up for grabs. “

A Climate Conducive to Peace:  The UN Confronts its Exterior and Interior Spaces, Dr. Robert Zuber

5 Jul

The unofficial theme of this past week at the UN was ‘climate week,’ from the High Level Political Forum in ECOSOC and a General Assembly High Level event, to numerous side events ranging from Oceans to Migrants and an Arria Formula discussion in the Security Council, led by Malaysia and Spain, focused on climate as a ‘threat multiplier.”

Among the features of this week’s events, in addition to momentum-gathering efforts to counter what the Secretary-General referred to as a “snail’s pace” of urgent UN action on climate health, was the high-level presence of policy leaders from the Small Island Developing States (SIDS).

SIDS political and civil society leadership have long called for urgent measures to stem the tide of an eroding climate, a “tide” that is causing mass flooding, the destruction of fish stocks, the pollution of ocean habitats, even what Kiribati activist Alofa cited in the Security Council as the “great sadness” occasioned by the very real possibility of eventually having to abandon her family home.  As Seychelles noted, the SIDS must be considered as a “special development case,” but many states are coming to realize the degree to which SIDS crises have both been ignored and are increasingly being mirrored in other global regions.  As an Italian Minster warned, climate threats “know no borders, require no visas.”

Despite this growing awareness, progress on firm, remedial measures remains stilted. In the General Assembly, Kiribati’s President Tong cited a “loss of hope” from telling the same story over and over and wondering if anyone is listening.   As noted by Palau Minister Beck in the “One Ocean” event, whether we are prepared or not, the dire predictions of last generations’ climate scientists appear to be coming true.  And as Marshall Islands Foreign Minister Debrum prodded the Council (which had last taken up climate 2 years ago), “what has really changed” in our collective response? The answer echoing through all the week’s events was, clearly not enough.  As DSG Eliasson lamented with a good deal of off-the-cuff passion, “we are not at peace with nature.”  We have not, as Sweden shared in the Arria meeting, done our part to “supplant national red lines with nature’s red lines” nor have we fully grasped, as noted by Poland, the full relationship between the health of oceans and other ecosystems and the success of our development efforts to eradicate poverty once and for all.

And while some states wondered if the Council should be heavily invested in climate issues apart from interactions with ECOSOC and other relevant UN agencies and programs, the peace and security implications of climate were also laid bare.  Lithuania was one of several states which highlighted the degree to which a damaged climate can be a “driver of insecurity.”  And Chile provided its own thoughtful statement that underscored climate’s role in bringing otherwise latent conflicts, especially over water access, into the open.  In this context, Chile wisely reinforced the human rights and gender dimensions to any Security Council or other UN actions designed to counter or even reverse climate-related security threats.

All of this discussion – in the Council, in ECOSOC and the General Assembly, in some extraordinary side events – was welcome if perhaps a bit late in the game.  But all of it also pointed to another ‘climate’ dimension, the climate we have created within our diplomatic and UN walls, a climate that equally needs attention and even healing if we expect the global public – and especially younger generations – to trust our ‘strategic sincerity’ to manage this planet-threatening  crisis.

Why indeed, many wonder, is it taking so long for the international community to respond to what is such an obvious external threat, risking an overheated and contaminated bequest to future generations of which we should be at least alarmed and probably also ashamed?  We have our own analysis, but many of the answers lie in the words of the diplomats whom themselves are authors and products of an interior version of our ‘climate’ challenge.

Part of this struggle of internal climate is related to the habits, some helpful some destructive, that we dutifully cultivate but rarely interrogate.  In ECOSOC it was Romania’s MP Borbely who noted how the most “beautiful” sustainability plans are undermined by our “stubborn mindsets.”    South Africa chimed in at the same event, noting our collective consumer culture that has gotten “out of hand,” a habit that is difficult to break but which must somehow be tamed if we are to convince skeptical publics that UN climate policy can truly inspire altered behaviors on the scale needed.

Then there are the other messages we send, often incidentally, that undermine public confidence in our internal climate and the decisions that proceed from it.  For instance, in a discussion in the Security Council this week on Darfur and the International Criminal Court, as is protocol in such matters, the Sudanese Ambassador was given the final word, attacking the professionalism of Prosecutor Bensouda and allowing those who were witness to the statement to come away thinking that the Sudan government was a victim of a witch hunt rather than a perpetrator of abuse on a mass scale.  As is their habit, the Council members had already spoken.  None came to the defense of Bensouda’s mandate amidst the Sudanese assault, and protocol granted no permission for her to come to her own.

The next day in the Council’s monthly ‘wrap up” session the UK’s Ambassador Rycroft called attention to another sometimes dispiriting aspect of our institutional habit – the endless reading by officials of policy statements, largely in impersonal and dispassionate tones. His concern seemed to be in part with presentations that are repetitive, abstract, do not respond directly to other state positions and are, as New Zealand noted during the same meeting, a means of “scoring points” rather than solving problems in places like Yemen, Syria or Palestine. Such failures of political resolve, as Malaysia noted, undermine confidence in a fundamental responsibility of the UN system, and this confidence is eroded further as states address in monotone while onlookers seek some passion.  As someone new around the Council table Amb. Rycroft’s statement suggested, perhaps against hope, that Council members can communicate a more personal, caring and even urgent engagement in their dealings with each other and with respect to the billions of people living at the edge of our policy decisions.

The sometimes tired, habitual  and even mean-spirited messages that can be experienced in many UN meeting rooms may seem unrelated to climate policy, but such messages can collectively undermine public confidence in our ability to adjust institutional habits in constructive ways to fit the world’s urgent circumstances. If we at the UN — people of education and privilege — cannot (will not) shift the energy of the structures and protocols of our institutions and their (in this instance) climate-related decisionmaking, there is little reason to believe that the more modestly situated will be able and willing to do so.  Especially on climate, it is discouraging at best to see stakeholders fussing over ice cream that is seconds away from melting on the floor.

Back at the General Assembly event, the Secretary-General virtually begged delegations to “quicken your pace and raise your ambitions.”   That an existential threat such as climate change would require such a plea is perhaps more telling than the plea itself.   We understand full well that science-generated data sets alone do not drive policy, let alone its consensus.   But the circumstances to which this data points will require all of us one day to answer for any and all vestiges of our stubborn neglect.   By not changing our messaging and (more importantly) our policy content on climate, we risk being roundly scorned in our absence by another generation that will be forced to cope with a crisis that may no longer be able to be resolved.

In that same General Assembly event, President Tong of Kiribati expressed his longing, one day soon, to be able to say to the world’s children “you don’t need to worry anymore” about climate health.  Getting to this ‘peace of mind’ (not to mention ‘peace with nature’) will take more compassion from all of us, as Elder HE Mary Robinson explained during a recent side event; but also an institutional commitment to “prioritize the most vulnerable and least responsible.”  In other words, we must commit more to encouraging that hopeful combination of less change in our external climate, and more change in our internal one.

Highlighting a Human Security Approach

9 May

Co-sponsored by the Human Security Network (Austria, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, Greece, Ireland, Jordan, Mali, Norway, Slovenia, Switzerland and Thailand, with South Africa participating as an observer) and the Human Security Unit (HSU) of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA), a high-level event was held yesterday at UN headquarters both underscoring the importance of a human security approach to multi-faceted challenges and celebrating the recent adoption of General Assembly resolution 66/290. This resolution adopted last September marks the first time the General Assembly (GA) was able to agree on a common understanding of the concept. The high-level event featured remarks from the Secretary-General as well as his Special Adviser on Human Security, Mr. Yukio Takasu, who was appointed in 2011.

Global Action is deeply invested in supporting a cross-cutting, broad-based approach to a robust human security agenda. As noted by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in his remarks to the event, it is imperative to identify comprehensive solutions to an inter-linked program of human security as it is impossible to end poverty without empowering women and girls, to ensure respect for human rights without addressing climate change, or to tackle security sector reform without guaranteeing equitable prosperity in communities. Global Action fully embraces this comprehensive approach and welcomes the inclusion of human security as a central factor, particularly with a view towards developing a robust post-2015 development agenda, which can help address a plethora of interlinked security challenges. The GA resolution provides a solid, basic framework for moving the concept forward and mainstreaming its characteristics across the range of UN activities to better address shifting peace and security concerns.

The human security concept provides a useful entry point for dealing with prevailing security issues. First introduced in 1994 through the UN Development Programme (UNDP) in the “UN Development Report: New Dimensions of Human Security,” the term has evolved over the last decade. The 1994 UNDP report highlighted four characteristics of human security—universal, people-centered, interdependent, and early prevention – as well as seven interconnected elements, namely economic, health, environmental, personal, community, and political. Subsequently, in 2001, an independent Commission on Human Security was established to elaborate on the understanding of the term and to develop it further as an operational concept. In 2004, the HSU was established under the auspices of UNOCHA to mainstream the human security concept in UN activities, which also manages the UN Trust for Human Security (UNTFHS) that finances activities carried by the UN and/or UN-mandated organizations to translate the human security approach into practical actions.

The importance of the consensus adoption of UNGA resolution 66/290, “Follow-up to paragraph 143 on human security of the 2005 World Summit Outcome,” rests in its inclusion of a common understanding of the notion of human security. The resolution also welcomes the “Secretary-General’s Report on Human Security” (A/66/273) from 2012 upon which a GA plenary meeting was held in June 2012 and around which consultations were held. The resolution outlines the following characteristics of human security—(a) freedom to live in dignity and free from poverty and despair; (b) a people-centered, contextual, comprehensive, and prevention-focused approach; (c) recognition of the inter-linkages between peace, development, and human rights; (d) clear distancing from the responsibility to protect norm and its implementation; (e) non-inclusion  of the use or threat of use of force and ; (f) national ownership and governmental responsibility. The resolution also calls on the Secretary-General to submit a report to the sixty-eighth session of the GA on the implementation of the resolution seeking first the views of member states.

A strong commitment to mainstreaming human security and a common understanding of the concept, while allowing some flexibility in its implementation, are welcome developments that will serve the international community well in addressing diverse, root causes of insecurity. The translation of a somewhat abstract concept, human security, into concrete action is also an important exercise that is often not seen in many others aspects of UN work. The UNTFHS has carried out over 200 activities in 80 countries increasingly applying this concept in field operations across all global regions under the primary ownership of local individuals. This conversion of the abstract into the concrete is a challenge for many working simultaneously on security and development issues.

Ultimately, a robust human security agenda cannot be pursued in silos, but rather must take into account cross-cutting contributors to insecurity. As the international community continues to embrace a more well-defined human security concept, the world will be better equipped to humanize the concept of security and help it evolve into one that is much more reflective of today’s transnational challenges.


–Katherine Prizeman

ECOSOC Discusses the Women, Peace and Security Agenda

10 Aug

For those who followed the discussions of the 56th session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) on the theme of “The Empowerment of Rural Women and their Role in Poverty and Hunger Eradication, Development and Current Challenges,”it was disappointing to see that there were no agreed recommendations. It was disappointing not only for the process, but also for what the lack of agreement says about the importance of the issues of rural women. CSW is part of the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) and is a global policy-making body focused on gender equality and the advancement of women. Annual meetings are held during which member states evaluate progress and establish global standards on these issues.

At the recent ECOSOC session, after a statement made by Ambassador Kamara of the Republic of Liberia who chaired the 56th session of CSW, member states discussed the progress that has been made with regard to mainstreaming a gender perspective into all policies and programs in the UN system. While many applauded the creation of UN Women and the work of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), states were nevertheless frustrated about missed opportunities and felt that much more work needed to be done to advance women’s rights. Mexico, El Salvador, the United States, Belarus, Israel, Australia, Indonesia, Argentina, and Japan all mentioned that the inability to reach consensus on rural women at the 56th session was disappointing. Some states indicated that working methods should be reevaluated. Many highlighted forms of gender-based violence and discrimination that they believed should be focus points moving forward.

Nonetheless, the discussion at the most recent ECOSOC session did not just focus on the CSW; a few draft resolutions were also passed but only one of these – Situation of and Assistance to Palestinian Women – was contested. The United States shared its commitment to support women in Palestine and improving the humanitarian situation, but also expressed concerns over how the situation in Gaza and the role of Hamas can be a barrier to women’s fundamental rights. Finally, the US was not satisfied with the status of the text and encouraged ECOSOC to look at mutual goals. Israel and Canada agreed that politicizing the situation of Palestinian women was not justified and reminded the Council of the many human rights violations attributed to Hamas. These states asserted that an ethical draft would have focused on supporting Palestinian women, and would have been written primarily to address the challenges they face. Palestine reiterated that Israeli occupation is a major difficulty for Palestinian women and girls. The draft passed with 30 votes in favor, 2 opposed, and 18 abstentions. By adopting the resolution, the Council encouraged the international community to take special note of the human rights of Palestinian women and girls and to increase measures to help these women and girls in the challenges they face.

Overall, while discussions on the advancement of women are always welcomed and there can never be too many, we hope that more issues will get on the ECOSOC agenda that are complementary to other issues in the UN system, especially as the 57th session of the CSW approaches with the theme of “Elimination and prevention of all forms of violence against women and girls.”

–Melina Lito and Henry Neuwirth