Press Releases

    DSG/SM/251
    13 April 2005

    With Reform, UN Can Be More Effective Conflict-Prevention Instrument, Deputy Secretary-General Fréchette Tells Stockholm Seminar

    Urges World Leaders, at 2005 Summit, to Make Bold Decisions on Development, Security, Human Rights for Fairer, Freer, More Secure World

    NEW YORK, 12 April (UN Headquarters) -- Following is Deputy Secretary-General Louise Fréchette’s address to the Seminar on “Conflict Prevention and Resolution:  Challenges and Changes for the UN”, delivered in Stockholm, Sweden, today, 12 April:

    There is a particular reason why, as a representative of the United Nations, I am so pleased to speak at a conference that commemorates important events a century ago in this part of the world.  Because, as I am sure most of you know, it was on July 29, 1905, in Jönköping, that Dag Hammarskjöld was born.  At the time, his father was away in Karlstad as a delegate to the negotiations to dissolve the union between Sweden and Norway.

    We can only speculate on the influence this had on the young Dag Hammarskjöld.  But we know for certain how important the Karlstad agreement was for Norway and Sweden, who went on to become good neighbours, close partners in regional Nordic cooperation, and strong and active Member States of the United Nations.

    So I am very pleased to be here, and to see representatives of so many nations brought together to exchange views on the future of UN conflict prevention and resolution, in the lead-up to September’s summit, and the vital reform decisions that have to be taken on that occasion.

    Prevention is central to the work of the United Nations.  Article 1, paragraph 1, of the Charter commits the Member States to take effective collective measures for the prevention and removal of threats to the peace.  Prevention of armed conflict by peaceful means is the cheapest and most effective way to promote international peace and security.  That is why, in his report on the subject in 2001, the Secretary-General stated that conflict prevention must be the cornerstone of the collective security system of the United Nations in the twenty-first century.

    There are many conflicts, in various stages, around the world today.  The UN is not involved in all of them.  And where it is involved, its work varies greatly.  In some, the Security Council is directly engaged.  In others, it is not.  In some, the Secretary-General’s good offices are actively deployed.  In others, they lie dormant, awaiting riper conditions.  In some, we have modest peace support offices.  In others, we deploy large multidimensional peacebuilding missions -- which can, themselves, be seen as instruments of prevention, since the single most reliable indicator of whether a country will experience civil war is if it has experienced civil war in the past.

    There is no one blueprint for effective preventive action in every situation.  And there is no one reform that will ensure that all preventive action will be effective.  But there is one simple fact that should inform our thinking on this subject.  Conflict is expensive, in both money and lives, while prevention is cheap.

    Recent studies suggest that the cost of being what the World Bank calls a “low-income country under stress”, in terms of growth foregone and broader spillover effects, runs to something like $82 billion per country.  This is more than the world’s entire aid budget.  If just two peace agreements in the mid-1990s -- those in Angola and Rwanda -- had been implemented, several million lives, and several billions of dollars, would have been saved.  Because we did not succeed in building long-term peace in Haiti and Liberia during the 1990s, we find ourselves back in those countries today, having to invest a lot more.  Yet, UN diplomatic missions cost very little -- and UN peacekeeping today deploys well over 70,000 troops at a cost of around $4 billion per year.  Indeed, the study I refer to estimates that the money we spend peacekeeping each year yields hundreds of billions of dollars in benefits.

    So effective interventions, even if they require up-front investment, are worthwhile if they help stabilize failing States.  And our success rate is better than most people know.  A major study by the RAND Corporation in Washington concludes that if the basic measure of success in international interventions is enduring peace, then the United Nations has a very good record, despite some well publicized failures.  The results of our work in Namibia, El Salvador, Cambodia, Mozambique, Eastern Slavonia, Sierra Leone and East Timor speak for themselves.  For all its weaknesses, the UN is able to bring a range of capacities to bear -- from mediation through humanitarian assistance and peacekeeping to support for elections and reconstruction -- and we can do it all in a framework of international legitimacy.

    To strengthen this framework, the Secretary-General has placed an agenda of major policy commitments and far-reaching institutional reforms before Member States, for decisions at September’s summit of heads of State and Government.  His report, “In larger freedom”, calls for action on three, interrelated pillars -- development, security, and human rights.

    I think it is fair to say that all aspects of that agenda are highly relevant to our prevention objective.  And nearly every specific recommendation in the report would, if acted upon, contribute to the overall goal of preventing latent threats from becoming imminent, and imminent threats from becoming actual.

    Development, which has pride of place in the Secretary-General’s report, is the indispensable foundation of a collective security system that takes prevention seriously.  The more we alleviate poverty, disease, ignorance and gender inequality, the more lives we will save from these scourges themselves, and from the instability and violence they help breed.

    The United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are the internationally agreed benchmarks for progress by 2015.  The evidence shows that the goals can be achieved, with the right mix of local action and international support.

    From developing countries, we need real commitments to good governance, and comprehensive national strategies to meet the MDGs by 2015.  From developed countries, we need the leadership to achieve a breakthrough in the Doha round of trade negotiations, and an immediate beefing up of resources for development through the establishment of timetables to meet the target of providing 0.7 per cent of gross national income in development assistance by 2015, coupled with an International Finance Facility.  This reflects the bargain struck between developed and developing countries three years ago, at Monterrey.  In 2005, we must make sure that this bargain is kept, and put into practice.

    We also need to look carefully at all development activities, programmes and policies through a conflict-prevention lens.  Inequitable development among regions or different groups within a country can actually exacerbate tensions and ultimately lead to conflict and violence.  So can competition over scarce resources, if the opportunity to benefit from them is not shared equitably and transparently.  If we do not act early, we may be too late to prevent conflict by the time these tensions bubble to the surface.

    Respect for human rights is also critical for effective prevention.  Indeed, human rights violations are often early warning signs of conflict -- particularly when there is little or no means of peaceful redress, owing to the absence of democratic governance.

    For much of the past 60 years, our focus has been on articulating, codifying and enshrining rights.  That effort produced a remarkable framework of laws, standards and mechanisms.  Such work needs to continue in some areas -- including, as the Secretary-General calls for in his report, endorsement of the norm of the “responsibility to protect” as a basis for collective action against genocide, crimes against humanity or other mass violations of human rights.

    But the era of declaration is now giving way, as it should, to an era of implementation.  And the United Nations must be fully equipped to play its part.  The Secretary-General has proposed strengthening the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and the creation of a Democracy Fund to support nations seeking to strengthen democracy.

    His most far-reaching recommendation is to replace the Commission on Human Rights with a human rights council, which would consecrate human rights as a central pillar of the United Nations, on a par with security and development.  A human rights council could operate as a chamber of peer review, sitting throughout the year, and periodically reviewing and promoting, in a more systematic and objective way than is possible at present, respect for all human rights in all countries.  The council could be equipped to give technical assistance to States, and policy advice to States and UN bodies alike.  Its ultimate form and function is, of course, a matter for discussion and decision among Member States -- but I believe they must tackle this important institutional reform.  Advancing human rights is as critical for conflict prevention as it is for poverty reduction, particularly in States struggling to emerge from the legacy of violence.

    The Secretary-General’s proposals in the security sphere are, of course, also directly related to more effective prevention.

    The report calls for a comprehensive anti-terrorism convention, based on an agreed definition of terrorism, which would strengthen our multilateral response to a major cause of violent conflict.  It also calls for a comprehensive nuclear terrorism convention -- and I am very pleased to note that such a convention was recently finalized, and will be formally adopted in the plenary session of the General Assembly tomorrow in New York.

    Progress on small arms, light weapons and landmines is vital, since these drive conflict, depress development, and make it harder to build lasting peace.  And at the other end of the spectrum, the spread of nuclear technology has exacerbated a long-standing tension arising from the fact that the technology required for civilian nuclear fuel can also be used to develop nuclear weapons.  We need tougher IAEA inspection rules -- but we also need to create viable incentives for States to voluntarily forego the development of sensitive aspects of the fuel cycle, and finalize a fissile material cut-off treaty.  All of this should occur in the context of a revitalized regime in which both non-proliferation and disarmament are actively pursued.

    These steps, important as they are, do not obviate the need for better tools to prevent and manage particular crises.  In recent years, efforts to strengthen preventive diplomacy and crisis management at the United Nations have taken many forms -- from working more closely with regional partners through bolstering our genocide early warning capacity to the major peacekeeping reforms following the Brahimi report.  But more reform is urgently needed.

    In the past 15 years, more civil wars have been ended through mediation than in the previous two centuries.  And we have seen the value of UN diplomatic action in many places in recent years -- including in Afghanistan, and also in Iraq.  In each case, UN involvement has been rather like yeast in bread --comparatively small, but an essential part of the recipe for successful international action.

    Yet the United Nations still lacks a dedicated mediation support unit within the Secretariat, and there are just 62 Professional staff at Headquarters covering the entire field of preventive diplomacy and peacemaking around the world.  A modest investment in building Secretariat capacity would strengthen the Secretary-General’s ability to exercise his “good offices”, and help ensure that our mediation-success rate improves -- thereby saving money and lives.

    Sanctions are another vital preventive tool, which can help force parties to change behaviour, and weaken and isolate rebel groups or States that flagrantly violate Security Council resolutions.  To be effective, sanctions regimes should be well targeted and properly monitored.  They must also be carefully structured to minimize the damage to innocent third parties, including civilians, and to protect the integrity of the programmes and institutions involved.

    As for peacekeeping itself, the UN needs to be quicker and stronger out of the starting blocks.  The age-old dream of a UN standing force is a long way off  -- indeed, it may never happen. But Member States should create strategic reserves that could be deployed rapidly in UN operations.  This would add about 3 per cent per year to the peacekeeping budget -- a small price to pay to ensure that we have a predictable and rapid military response to shore up missions against potential spoilers.

    Efforts to strengthen UN peacekeeping would complement the efforts of regional groupings, such as the European Union and the African Union, who are doing the same.  Indeed, we must create an interlocking system of peacekeeping capacities in which the United Nations works with regional organizations in predictable and reliable partnerships.

    We also need change at the intergovernmental level.  While peacebuilding draws in many actors, both within the UN system and outside it, no part of the intergovernmental system currently brings these strands together to effectively address the challenges of helping countries with the transition from war to lasting peace.  When half of all peace agreements fail within five years, with countries reverting to violent conflict, we cannot be satisfied with our success rate.

    That is why the Secretary-General has embraced the High-Level Panel’s recommendation to create a peacebuilding commission, to improve planning and coordination, and help sustain political will and financial support for long-term peacebuilding efforts.  The commission’s membership should include a sub-set of member States from both the Security Council and the Economic and Social Council, and draw in troop contributors, major donors, relevant regional actors, international financial institutions, and the country concerned.  To be effective, such a body would require the dedicated back-up of a peacebuilding support office in the Secretariat, with the right mix of expertise.

    Let me conclude by taking you back to the point I made at the outset.  Prevention is the cornerstone of effective collective security, and by any measure, prevention is cheap.  It pays for itself many times over.  And the United Nations is a more effective prevention instrument than many realize.

    But with reform, it can be far more effective instrument right across the prevention spectrum -- in the long-term preventive efforts to fight poverty and promote human rights, in preventing terrorism and the proliferation of both small arms and weapons of mass destruction, and in preventing violence from erupting, spreading and recurring.  That may require a modest investment of resources -- but this is truly a case where an ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure.

    All of these issues await decisions by world leaders in five months’ time.  If they summon the political will to make bold decisions on development, security and human rights, our world will not only be fairer and freer, but also safer and more secure.  And the United Nations will be a far more effective instrument for saving succeeding generations from the scourge of war.

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