10 January 2017 – Delivering his first formal briefing to the Security Council, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres underlined the need for new, strengthened efforts to build and sustain peace ranging from prevention, conflict resolution and peacekeeping to peacebuilding and sustainable development.
“We spend far more time and resources responding to crises rather than preventing them. People are paying too high a price […] We need a whole new approach,” Mr. Guterres stressed at a Security Council debate on conflict prevention and sustaining peace.
He added, however, that it has also been difficult to persuade decision-makers at national and international levels that prevention must be their priority.
“Perhaps because successful prevention does not attract attention. The television cameras are not there when a crisis is avoided.”
In his address, the UN chief, whose five-year term began on 1 January, noted that while most of the contemporary conflicts are essentially internal, their consequences become regional and even global.
Noting that UN’s response to such challenges remains fragmented, Mr. Guterres highlighted that changes needed to be made to rebalance the approach to peace and security.
Prevention is not merely a priority, but the priority. If we live up to our responsibilities, we will save lives, reduce suffering and give hope to millions.
“For decades, this has been dominated by responding to conflict. For the future, we need to do far more to prevent war and sustain peace,” he said.
He also informed the Council members on reform initiatives within the UN Secretariat, in particular with regard to the decision-making process and strengthening the capacity to integrate all pillars of the UN – peace and security; human rights and development – and called on the Security Council as well as the 193-member General Assembly for their support.
‘Primary work of conflict prevention lies with [UN] Member States’
Further in his address, the Secretary-General called on all sections of the society for greater political, cultural and economic investments in inclusivity and cohesion, so that people appreciate the benefits of diversity rather than perceiving it as a threat.
“All groups need to see that their individual identities are respected, while feeling that they belong as valued members of the community as a whole,” he stated, particularly emphasizing the role of civil society in raising the alarm when this respect is threatened or lost.
Urging the Council to make greater use of the options laid out in Chapter VI of the UN Charter, dealing with pacific settlement of disputes, Mr. Guterres pledged the support of his ‘good offices,’ as well as his personal engagement.
He also cautioned that many opportunities to prevent conflict have been lost due to UN Member States mistrusting each other’s motives and because of concerns over national sovereignty.
Adding that while such concerns were understandable, in a world where power is unequal and principles have sometimes been applied selectively, he underlined that prevention should never be used to serve other political goals. “On the contrary, prevention is best served by strong sovereign States, acting for the good of their people.”
Trust is the key
Mr. Guterres further underscored that prevention must consistently be seen as a value in itself.
“It is an essential means of reducing human suffering and enabling people to reach their full potential,” he said, and added that international cooperation for prevention, and in particular translating early warning into early action depended on trust between Member States, and in their relations with the UN.
“Disagreements about the past cannot allow us to prevent us from acting today,” he added further, noting that he stood ready to foster a more trusting relationship and to improve communications with the Security Council, with consistency, candour and transparency.
Concluding his address, Mr. Guterres repeated the appeal for peace he made shortly after taking office, saying: “I think it would be naïve to say that 2017 will be a year of peace, but at least it is our obligation to do everything we can to make it a year for peace.”
The debate was convened by Sweden in its capacity as the President of the Council for the month of January 2017. It was attended by senior Ministers from a number of countries.