A Job for the UN: A new way to prevent conflicts
By José Manuel Durão Barroso, Prime Minister of Portugal, and Joaquim Chissano, President of Mozambique and President of the African Union.
May 8, 2004
We are no longer surprised to read that yet another nation is torn by civil war. Many countries, even whole regions, are affected by the spread of violent conflicts marked by bloodshed, massacres, even genocide, and by the immense destruction that reduces populations to extreme poverty and hunger.
Often, countries that had returned to normality after one or more international interventions, like Haiti, fall again into civil turmoil and require urgent and speedy attention. This is one of the major threats to world peace.
The international community, and particularly the United Nations, has made enormous efforts in recent years to stabilize countries in crisis and alleviate the suffering of their peoples. Right now there are more than 50,000 "blue helmets" in 17 UN peacekeeping operations around the world. With the exception of the United States, no single country deploys as many soldiers abroad.
This effort stretches the limited resources of the United Nations secretariat in soliciting and organizing forces from member states, and the budget for peacekeeping operations is high. In country after country, these international peacekeepers have, with the benefit of experience gained in long and difficult years of UN interventions, been doing a very good job.
But does this giant collective effort not hide a relative failure of the United Nations system? To be constantly - and increasingly - running to extinguish the fires of war underscores the fact that we are not doing enough to prevent conflict. Many of the conflicts that we are now facing were foreseen and some could have been prevented by appropriate and timely intervention, sparing human suffering and the high financial costs of a peacekeeping operation.
Conflict prevention is, and should be, the main goal of the United Nations. After all, the founders placed at the beginning of the UN Charter the ringing affirmation that "we the peoples of the United Nations" are "determined to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war." And they entrusted the organization, and the Security Council in particular, with taking "effective collective measures for the prevention and removal of threats to the peace." We have been relatively successful in containing the damage, but not very successful at preventing it.
So what can we do to improve our collective record in answering this challenge? First, we should come to a shared understanding of the origins and the nature of this threat. We should then define a common policy of conflict prevention, mobilizing the international resources needed. We should finally provide the United Nations with the instruments that it may need to prevent effectively the emergence and recurrence of conflicts.
The origins and root causes of the recurrence of these conflicts are well known, all the more so since the ideological and political clouds of the cold war have dissipated. Internal conflicts flourish in weak or failed states where governments became ineffective, illegitimate, tyrannical and corrupt.
The tasks facing many of these countries, particularly in Africa, are daunting in the face of the limited resources they have available: to protect the rights of their citizens, to guarantee law and order, to extend education and reduce illiteracy, to provide basic medical care, to develop the economy. They often fail because of the lack of resources, bad governance, including bad economic management, and also, we must recognize, because of the lack of adequate international support.
A government that fails in these tasks loses legitimacy and sometimes resorts to coercion, human rights abuses and suppression of civil liberties. A vicious circle is then created, leading to violence and repression and plunging a country into further poverty, or even anarchy and chaos.
We need to develop an international policy to counter this descent into hell. Recognizing the causes of the crises and the conflicts we face, we should adopt strategies that encompass the three main problems involved.
First, we need to create security and maintain peace, through early warning mechanisms of crises ahead, the disarmament of militias and populations, and a striving for peaceful settlement of disputes. In this respect much can be done in training, disciplining and organizing local military and police forces, introducing basic standards of professionalism and decency, and instilling a culture of respect for the rights of the citizens and obedience to democratically elected governments.
Second, an effective strategy in a weak or failed state must include an adequate effort to reinforce the rule of law and the institutions of the country. Through sustained international cooperation we need to reinforce the judiciary, political institutions, national financial management and the efficiency of services provided to the population.
Third, on the basis of these efforts in security and institution-building, attention must be paid to sustained economic and social development. No regime can be stable and legitimate without hope flowing in from the prospect of a growing economy, rising employment, diminishing rates of illiteracy and better services.
The principal organs of the United Nations, it is true, have no specific competence in promoting development. But they can, and should, integrate and reinforce the parallel but currently dispersed efforts of international financial institutions and of regional and bilateral donors.
Much could be achieved by integrating these three indispensable components of a winning strategy of conflict prevention. Thus far this integration has not been done successfully. That leads us to think that the United Nations lacks an effective instrument for such a policy. That is why we would like to propose the creation of a new commission to promote peace and development, mandated by, and working in conjunction with, the Security Council and the Economic and Social Council, which would both preserve their respective areas of competence.
To fulfill its goals, this commission would have to work closely with the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and UN agencies; the co-sponsorship of the Economic and Social Council might facilitate the coordination.
A commission for peace and development would follow on a regular basis the situations of countries in conflict or at risk of being involved in conflict; ensure the cooperation of international and regional institutions and governments; promote institution-building, justice and the rule of law, good governance and economic and social development; and draw up integrated development strategies for the countries concerned, to be implemented in partnership agreements with those countries.
By joining international efforts in these three areas, the commission would reinforce the prospects for peace and security in countries at risk and create conditions for stronger technical and financial support for development from multilateral organizations, other countries and private investors.
We don't have to wait for the necessary overhaul of the United Nations, which may include a revision of the UN Charter, to take these steps. We are conscious that the basic idea can be completed and - hopefully - improved upon through discussion by all interested UN members, and especially the permanent members of the Security Council.
Once the need for a new mechanism has been recognized, we would have to decide on its exact place in the United Nations machinery, its composition and mandate, its links with other agencies and donor countries, and which nations could benefit from its action, and in what way. In view of the growing urgency of conflict prevention, we hope that the panel looking into the reform of the United Nations takes this idea into consideration.