IPI HomePublicationsPolicy PapersThe UN Security Council and Conflict Prevention: A Primer

 

print print  |  share share back back

UN Photo/Ryan Brown

Policy Papers - October 26, 2011

The UN Security Council and Conflict Prevention: A Primer

Paul Romita

 

 

In September 2011, the office of the UN Secretary-General released its first report focused specifically on preventive diplomacy; the report was subsequently discussed at the Security Council. This paper aims to contribute to these ongoing discussions by providing a primer on the UN’s work on conflict prevention and ideas for improvement.

This report seeks to answer the following questions:

  • What is conflict prevention, and what is its relationship to the work of the Security Council?
  • What elements of the UN Charter undergird the council’s conflict-prevention activities?
  • What is the historical background of the council’s conflict-prevention work?
  • What are its recent activities in this area?
  • Why has the council been focusing its attention on prevention at this particular moment?
  • What are some of the challenges to the prevention work of the UN in general and the council in particular?
  • What are some ideas for improving the council’s work on conflict prevention?
Some key findings of the report include the following:

  • The council has consistently taken a comprehensive view of conflict prevention, emphasizing that there are many interconnected elements to effective prevention strategies, including (but not limited to) early-warning mechanisms, mediation, disarmament, postconflict peacebuilding, and longer-term development.
  • The council has also consistently been aware that it is one small part of the prevention puzzle. In its resolutions and presidential statements, it has underscored that prevention also requires the engagement of national actors, regional and subregional organizations, various parts of the UN system, and other multilateral actors.
  • The council appears to have developed a renewed interest in conflict-prevention-related issues in recent times. Its monthly “horizon scanning” briefings with DPA, which explore threats to peace and security at both country-specific and thematic levels, are a testament to this. While counterterrorism and small arms have long been on its agenda, it is also beginning to focus with greater regularity on other “systemic issues” such as drug trafficking and transnational organized crime. Finally, as part of a strategy to prevent conflict relapse, it has in recent years focused significant time and energy on postconflict peacebuilding.
  • Many factors account for the council’s current interest in conflict prevention, including, most notably, the perceived overstretch and high financial cost of UN peacekeeping operations and the human and material toll of warfare. In many ways, this renewed interest mirrors the council’s earlier engagement with the topic in the late 1990s and early 2000s after some high-profile failures of UN peacekeeping missions in the 1990s.
  • At the country-specific level, the council has done much conflict-prevention work since August 2007 under the agenda item “peace and security in Africa.” This has enabled the council to pass resolutions and issue presidential statements on emerging crises, without taking the more politically sensitive step of placing these situations on the council’s agenda in a country specific context.
  • While the council has invested considerable time and energy in conflict prevention and achieved some successes over the years, these efforts are hindered by the council’s formal working methods and the political inequalities inherent in its design. More substantive interactive discussion could be useful in generating enhanced conflict-prevention strategies. At the same time, it is a reality of international politics that the veto-wielding permanent members have the ability to determine whether the council will respond to emerging crises.

The Global Observatory

Year in Review: Top 10 Peace and Security Reads
The International Peace Institute and its Global Observatory offered research and analysis on a range of topics in peace and security in 2014.

Key Global Events to Watch in December
A list of key upcoming meetings and events with implications for global affairs.

2014 Top 10 Issues to Watch in Peace & Security: The Global Arena
A list of ten key issues to watch that are likely to impact international peace and security in 2014, compiled by IPI's Francesco Mancini.

The Global Observatory, produced by IPI, provides timely analysis on peace and security issues, interviews with leading policymakers, interactive maps, and more.

Recent Events

December 15, 2014
Fathi: Iran and the Struggle Between Hardliners and Reformers
Discussing her new book The Lonely War: One Woman’s Account of the Struggle for Modern Iran at IPI on December 15th, author Nazila Fathi said that 35 years after the revolution, Iran is divided between hardliners and a large moderate middle class, but admitted that it is still unclear which of the two sides will gain the upper hand.

December 12, 2014
Effective Governance Key to Africa’s Rise
Good governance is the key to Africa’s rise, but structural challenges are pulling the continent back, according to a new report launched at a December 12th IPI policy forum entitled “Effective Governance in Challenging Environments.”

December 09, 2014
Small States in a Multilateral World
Despite their size and limited resources, small states have an important and crucial role to play in the multilateral system and can leverage their power through cooperation.

View More