Security Council: Maintenance of International Peace and Security

Note:  A complete summary of today’s Security Council meeting will be available after its conclusion.

Opening Remarks

ANTÓNIO GUTERRES, Secretary-General of the United Nations, said that the Organization had been established to prevent war by binding the international community in a rules-based international order.  “Today, that order is under grave threat,” he stressed, noting that millions of people in crisis looked to the Security Council to preserve global stability and to protect them from harm.  However, the enormous human and economic cost of conflicts around the world showed how complex and challenging that was.  It was unfortunate that the international community spent far more time and resources responding to crises rather than preventing them.  “People are paying too high a price.  You, the Member States, are paying too high a price.  We need a whole new approach,” he underscored.

It had proven very difficult to persuade decision-makers at both the national and international levels to make prevention their priority, he continued, noting that it was, perhaps, because successful prevention did not attract attention.  Most of today’s conflicts were still essentially internal, even if they quickly took on regional and transnational overtones.  They were fuelled by competition for power and resources, inequality, marginalization and exclusion, poor governance, weak institutions and sectarian divides.  Furthermore, they were exacerbated by climate change, population growth and the globalization of crime and terrorism.  With so many factors at work, it took very little to trigger a crisis that could engulf a country or a region, with global consequences.

While the causes of crisis were deeply interlinked, the United Nations response remained fragmented, he said.  The interconnected nature of today’s crises required the international community to connect global efforts for peace and security, sustainable development and human rights, not just in words, but in practice.  The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the General Assembly and Security Council resolutions on sustaining peace demonstrated strong intergovernmental support for an integrated approach.  The challenge now was to make corresponding changes to our culture, strategy, structures and operations.

“We must rebalance our approach to peace and security,” he said.  For decades, the focus had been largely on responding to conflict.  In the future, the international community must do far more to prevent war and sustain peace, he said, stressing that the reforms he was setting in motion aimed to achieve that.  “I have started with the decision-making processes in the Secretariat,” he said, noting that the newly established Executive Committee would increase the ability to integrate all pillars of the United Nations under a common vision for action.

Also, he said he had appointed a Special Adviser on Policy, whose main task would be to map the prevention capacities of the United Nations system and to bring them together into an integrated platform for early detection and action.  That would enable the Organization to link the reform of the peace and security architecture with the reform of the United Nations development system, while respecting the competence of the Security Council and the General Assembly.

“The primary work of conflict prevention lies with Member States,” he continued, stressing that the entire United Nations system must be ready to help Governments implement the Sustainable Development Goals.  As societies became multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multicultural, the international community needed greater political, cultural and economic investments in inclusivity and cohesion, so that people could appreciate the benefits of diversity rather than perceiving it as a threat.  All groups needed to see that their individual identities were respected, while feeling that they belonged as valued members of the community as a whole.  Civil society, to that end, had a role to play in raising the alarm when that respect was threatened or lost.

He went on to emphasize the need for a surge in diplomacy, in partnership with regional organizations.  “We will launch an initiative to enhance our mediation capacity, both at United Nations Headquarters and in the field, and to support regional and national mediation efforts,” he said, expressing readiness to support the Security Council through the use of his good offices and his personal engagement.

“Too many prevention opportunities have been lost because Member States mistrusted each other’s motives, and because of concerns over national sovereignty,” he said, stressing that such concerns were understandable, in a world where power was unequal and principles had sometimes been applied selectively.  Prevention should never be used to serve other political goals.  On the contrary, prevention was best served by strong sovereign States, acting for the good of their people.  “In taking preventive action, we need to avoid double standards,” he underlined, adding that preventive action was essential to avert mass atrocities or grave abuses of human rights.

International cooperation for prevention, and particularly translating early warning into early action, depended on trust between Member States, and in their relations with the United Nations, he said.  He stood ready to foster a more trusting relationship and to improve communications with the Council, with consistency, candour and transparency.  Disagreements about the past could not be allowed to prevent the international community from acting today.  On the contrary, the international community needed to demonstrate leadership, and strengthen the credibility and authority of the United Nations, by putting peace first.  “Ending the boundless human suffering and the wanton waste of resources generated by conflict is in everyone’s interests,” he underscored.

“War is never inevitable.  It is always a matter of choice:  the choice to exclude, to discriminate, to marginalize, to resort to violence,” he said, noting that, by restoring trust between Governments and their citizens and amongst Member States, the international community could prevent and avoid conflict.  However, peace, too, was never inevitable.  It was the result of difficult decisions, hard work and compromise.  “If we live up to our responsibilities, we will save lives, reduce suffering and give hope to millions,” he concluded.


MARGOT WALLSTRÖM, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Sweden, said that a close and proactive working relationship between the Secretary-General and the Council was the cornerstone of the United Nations ability to deliver lasting peace and security.  Last year, the urgent need for a global commitment to multilateral solutions to conflict and to collaborative security had been exposed.  “Can we afford an ever-growing list of crises slipping into violent conflict and needless human misery?”, she asked, stressing that investing in prevention was not only morally right, but also the smart, economically sound and sustainable thing to do.  It required addressing the root causes of conflict and instability before they reached the front pages or the Council’s agenda.  “We have the tools.  What we need now is a new political consensus in support of prevention,” she underscored.

She went on to highlight the priority actions, which included the need to make prevention a priority for the entire United Nations system, and to ensure that the Organization worked closely with other international, regional and subregional actors.  Furthermore, it was critical to improve the capacity of the United Nations to recognize and address the root causes and drivers of conflict.  In that regard, she was encouraged by the concrete steps taken by the Secretary-General to make the Secretariat function more effectively.  Also important was improving system-wide analysis and welcoming independent, authoritative advice from the Secretary-General, including on new and emerging threats and risks, such as climate change.  Among other things, she emphasized the need to harness the capacity of women to create sustainable peace through inclusive processes, and to recognize that there could be no humanitarian solution for a political crisis.

KAIRAT ABDRAKHMANOV, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Kazakhstan, said genuine dialogue was critical in preventing conflicts and attaining sustainable peace.  At the international level, it would require setting the goal of building a world free of nuclear weapons by 2045.  His President’s recent policy address on global partnerships focused on what needed to be done at the regional level, including strengthening peace and security in Central Asia and Afghanistan by addressing the root causes of conflict, proliferation of terrorism and violent extremism.  Lack of trust, stark economic and social inequalities and underdevelopment had prevented progress in the Middle East, he added, reiterating his country’s commitment to hosting Syria peace talks in the capital, Astana.  Dialogue between political and religious leaders should be intensified to find lasting solutions to eradicate terrorism.

During Kazakhstan’s tenure in the Security Council, it would remain dedicated to making the United Nations better equipped for the challenges of the twenty-first century, he said.  Enhancing the level of trust between States required Council meetings at the level of Heads of State and Government.  He welcomed recommendations of United Nations commissioned reports on the Organization’s peace operations and peacebuilding architecture.  A systemic approach should be further developed to identify and prevent emerging crises, take into account new factors, such as cybercrime, and pay foremost attention to development and human rights.  The Council must also have direct oversight over peacebuilding, including through greater cooperation with the Secretary-General, who as an “honest broker” and “bridge-builder” should play a crucial role in conflict prevention at the earliest stages.

ANGELINO ALFANO, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Italy, said that the Council must spare no effort for reconciliation in Libya and Iraq.  Syria required greater investment in inclusive dialogue among all the parties.  He also attached great importance to a successful outcome of the Cyprus settlement talks and said that, in Africa, conflict prevention and diplomacy must prevail over military solutions.  In that regard, a common effort to move from vision to action was needed.  Comprehensive reform that adapted the United Nations peace system to the new global challenges was critical as such challenges required an integrated approach to peace and a United Nations fit for the new purpose.  Reform might entail a revision of the Secretariat structure and a new distribution of roles and responsibilities.

The Secretary-General should not hesitate to bring emerging crises to the Council’s attention before they escalate, he continued.  Reform must also include strengthening local partnerships with regional and subregional organizations, such as the European Union and African Union.  It was also critical to encourage the effective use of early warning indicators of violence, radicalization, extremism and assaults on human rights, religion and culture.  “We shall not be fearful because people in fear are not free,” he said, stressing that fighting terror meant fighting for freedom.  It was vital to address the root causes of instability including climate change and hunger, especially for its connection to disruptive South-South and South-North migrations.  Large movements of people could be both an outcome and a root cause of conflict, but if managed well, the phenomena could turn into opportunity for peace, growth and development.

WORKINEH GEBEYEHU NEGEWO, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Ethiopia, said the credibility of the United Nations and the Security Council was on the line, and that prioritizing conflict prevention was not really an option, but a necessity.  The Secretary-General’s active engagement in preventative diplomacy, mediation and peaceful resolution of disputes through judicious exercise of his good offices would be critical.  His efforts would need to be supported by all available tools — including early warning and rigorous analysis of emerging crisis situations — to enable him to draw the Council’s attention to emerging issues.

His efforts would be in vain, however, if they lacked the Council’s full support, he said.  There was room for a lot of improvement in the working relationship between the Secretary-General and the Council.  It was also essential to address institutional fragmentation and to ensure coherence across the United Nations system, he said, emphasizing also the need to enhance strategic partnerships with regional and subregional organizations, including the African Union, regarding conflict prevention, peacekeeping, special political missions, conflict resolution and peacebuilding.

SAMANTHA POWER (United States), congratulating Mr. Guterres for “hitting the ground running”, underscored the continued importance of the United Nations and the Council in particular.  “We help set the rules for how States should behave,” she said, pointing to its deployment of over 100,000 troops around the world, its use of arms embargoes and its imposition of financial sanctions, among other things.  However, the Council’s great promise existed in contrast to the many conflicts that continued around the world.  Indeed, if the body was serious about preventing conflict, the important principle of State sovereignty could not be a “straightjacket” used to prevent action or a shield to prevent scrutiny for actions by States than ran counter to the United Nations Charter.  For example, she said, in 2014, the Russian Federation had violated Ukraine’s sovereignty by invading and attempting to annex Crimea, but it continued to suggest that the failure to respect State sovereignty was the main driver of conflicts.  Noting that the perversion of the principle of sovereignty also sometimes undermined the Council’s peacekeeping work, she also stressed that States must move away from filling the Council’s meetings with “empty phrases” and “dodging” statements that used the passive voice instead of precisely identifying the perpetrators of abuses.

In that vein, she went on to warn against pursuing consensus as the Council’s only goal, which risked achieving only “lowest common denominator” solutions.  That had been the case with a recent resolution on Aleppo, she said, noting that the agreement had been reached only at the end of a merciless military assault on that city by the Assad regime and the Russian Federation.  While the United States supported efforts by Turkey and the Russian Federation to end the bloodshed in Syria, consensus should not be the measure of success.  Instead, the measure should be impact, and whether Mr. Assad had ended his attacks.  Member States also needed to empower Mr. Guterres and his teams to do their jobs, including the use of Article 99 of the Charter.  Recalling that the United States had supported his appointment in part because he was independent-minded and prepared to fight “bullying and lawlessness” by some Member States, she also emphasized the importance of involving more “real voices” — including from civil society — in the Council’s work, which would serve to make it less sterile and help put people at the centre of its decisions.

MATTHIAS FEKL, Minister of State for Foreign Trade, the Promotion of Tourism and French Nationals Abroad of France, emphasized that the multilateral framework was needed now more than ever, and that the United Nations was the only body that could provide it.  Noting that today’s debate was an opportunity to frame the Organization’s activities over the coming year, he said the first priority was to strengthen prevention and to continue to invest in peacekeeping.  Recalling that Chapter I of the Charter discussed collective preventive measures, he emphasized France’s support for the strengthening of such efforts.  The challenges facing the world today were becoming increasingly asymmetrical and transnational, and early warning systems were urgently needed.  As the Secretary-General played a critical role in that regard, it was critical that he be able to alert the Council on any situation that he deemed a threat to international peace and security.  Meanwhile, the Council should strengthen its work in mediation and good offices, and it must continue to have the ability to impose sanctions in order to stabilize explosive situations, as had been done successfully in both Liberia and Côte d’Ivoire.  He also recalled that France had advocated for barring the use of the veto in order to make sure the Council did not remain blocked in critical situations, such as cases of mass atrocities.

He went on to stress that peacekeeping operations remained critical to ensuring the return of peace and stability, and that flexible mandates were critical in that regard.  Vulnerable countries must be assisted to develop their own capacities, and a “transversal and integrated approach” was needed to bring together the United Nations peace and development activities.  In that regard, France was engaged in building cooperation and providing development assistance in all regions where it was engaged in peacekeeping.  Emphasizing the need to address the issue of climate change — which could itself the cause of many future conflicts — he stressed the need to implement the Paris Agreement and such initiatives as the Great Green Wall in Africa.  He also underscored the importance of strengthening cooperation between the United Nations and external actors, such as national authorities, regional organizations and civil society, and addressed several country-specific situations in Syria, Libya, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Mali.

ALAN DUNCAN, Minister of State for Europe and the Americas of the United Kingdom, said the United Nations must continue to play a major role at a time of wide-spread instability.  Recalling that the Unite Kingdom had been at the forefront of the Organization’s conflict prevention activities since its inception, he said that its response to global challenges had evolved significantly over the last seven decades.  The challenge was now how to use modern tools effectively, he said, endorsing Mr. Guterres’ vision for preventing conflict and maintaining peace.  The United Kingdom shared his view that development was fundamental to achieving peace and stability.  “Together, we must harness the United Nations political and security tools,” he said, also stressing the need to equip the Organization with the expertise needed to take action sooner.  That included supporting United Nations officials when they flagged risks around the world.

Stressing that the Organization should recommit itself to making greater use of Chapter VI of the Charter, and that it must encourage greater regional responsibility, he went on to say that “we must also ensure that United Nations deployments are fit for purpose”.  Each mission should be properly tailored to the challenge at hand, and must deliver on the “three Ps” – planning, pledged personnel and equipment, and performance.  “We must deploy the right tools at the right time,” he said, warning against reactive actions, rather than mediation.  In addition, in the United Nations was to continue to achieve its objectives, it must become simpler and more decentralized.