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Preventive diplomacy is key to peace

By | August 27th 2010

By Ban Ki-moon

The former UN Secretary-General, Dag Hammarskjˆld first coined the term "preventive diplomacy".

Since his time, the Good Offices of successive secretaries-general have helped in the peaceful resolution of inter-state wars, civil conflicts, electoral disputes, border disputes, questions of autonomy and independence and a range of other problems.

In today’s fluid geopolitical landscape, we have new challenges to address. Preventive diplomacy must evolve to deal with increasingly complex civil wars, organised crime and drug trafficking, and other transnational threats.

In recent years we have witnessed the very welcome emergence of stronger policy frameworks in favour of conflict prevention, particularly in Africa, with a growing capacity for operational response.

peace processes

Preventive diplomacy today is being conducted by a broader array of actors, using a wider range of tools, than ever before. This makes it possible to consider multifaceted preventive strategies of a kind that were previously not an option.

Over the past three years, we have sought to strengthen the Department of Political Affairs so that it is capable of effectively carrying out its lead role in this area. In the last year alone, the United Nations has supported, often in partnership with others, more than 20 peace processes, and responded to many more disputes that did not reach that level.

We have improved our response capacity at UN Headquarters; we have regional diplomacy and peacemaking offices on the ground; we cooperate more effectively within the UN system and with regional and sub-regional organisations.

With the support of member states, we are continuing to professionalise our mediation support capacity, which is seen as an increasingly valuable resource within the UN system and by our partners.

We have also attempted to develop new tools, including the use of investigative mandates to help defuse tensions in judicial cases with political implications.

We are helping national authorities to build their capacity for dispute resolution, in addition to development programmes that can help address some of the structural causes of conflict.

And most Security Council-mandated missions today include an important mediatory role, typically carried out by the Head of Mission, in recognition of the fact that the need for diplomacy persists throughout the conflict cycle.

All of this holds promise for our preventive diplomacy in Africa. We see a need to focus in particular on four fronts: First, we must continue to strengthen our partnerships. Successful peace processes require the contributions of a range of actors, at both the regional and international levels.

Our Dakar-based West Africa office has forged innovative working relations with the African Union and Ecowas to address political crises throughout the sub-region, a model that could usefully be replicated elsewhere.

Other noteworthy developments include the increasing use of international contact groups and elders structures.

Recent engagements in Guinea, Niger, the Comoros and Kenya have shown what we can achieve through partnerships that yield a combination of influence, impartiality, capacity and capability.

Second, we must be prepared to persuade. Effective preventive action depends critically on the will of the parties to the conflict.

The better we understand motives, calculations, and incentives to use violence, the better we can target our response.

We must be willing to use all available leverage to persuade the key actors that it is in their own interest to accept diplomatic assistance to avert conflict. Neighbouring countries and sub-regional organisations, who are closest to event on the ground and may have unique influence, can be key allies here.

Third, the international community should continue to invest in prevention.

The global economic crisis has put new pressures on resources, and there is an overall trend towards doing more with less. Diplomatic approaches and responses, when successful, are highly cost-effective.

Fourth, we must do more to support and encourage the role of women in prevention.

Time and again, women in Africa and elsewhere have demonstrated a strong commitment to working to achieve sustainable peace.

Security Council Resolution 1325 reaffirmed the important role of women in the prevention and resolution of conflicts and in peacebuilding. Yet women are still underrepresented in the formal stages of conflict prevention. We can and must do better.

detect warnings

According to recent studies, 15 years’ worth of development aid to Africa has been effectively cancelled out by the cost of war on the continent.

The case for preventive diplomacy is compelling, on moral, political and financial grounds.

We have improved our ability to detect warning signs of impending crises, and have at our disposal a growing range of tools and instruments to address them.

We must now set our sights on building our capacity for international preventive diplomacy, so that when called upon, we can respond reliably and promptly.

We must now set our sights on building an international preventive diplomacy capacity that can respond reliably and promptly when asked to do so.


The writer is the UN Secretary General

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