United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay  and other senior United Nations officials have once more exhorted the UN Security Council to “heed early warning indications of potential conflict”, during a day-long meeting on conflict prevention at the United Nations on August 21. In response, the UNSC adopted Resolution 2171, resolving to better utilize available early detection and conflict prevention strategies and tools, specifically noting that Chapter VI mechanisms “have not been fully utilized.” 

During her final briefing to the UNSC in her role as High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay was forthright and pulled no punches. Today’s conflicts “hammer home the full cost of the international community’s failure to prevent conflict”, she said. The narrow, short-term political interests of the member states have too often prevailed over the shared responsibility of maintaining peace and security, Pillay explained, preventing the Council from greater responsiveness and saving thousands of lives. This indictment of the UNSC is nothing new; any time the five permanent members of the Council even raise the possibility of a veto, resolutions are weakened and watered-down, and what is politically acceptable fails to have the desired impact on the situation. 

Indeed, as reiterated in Resolution 2171, there is a persistent, Westphalian notion that States are primarily responsible for peace and security (“the prevention of conflicts remains a primary responsibility of States and actions undertaken within the framework of conflict prevention by the United Nations should support and complement, as appropriate, the conflict prevention roles of national Governments”). As the most powerful nations in the world continue to affirm their right to place their national self-interest above the global interest in peace and security, the UNSC will always be somewhat limited in its ability to truly, and wholly, maintain international peace and security.

The new Resolution, however, is somewhat encouraging, suggesting that some of these structural weaknesses can be overcome in an effort to increase the UNSC’s effectiveness. The recognition that non-military solutions have not been fully utilized, and the UNSC’s new determination “to make and call for the greater and more effective use of such tools”, offers some measure of hope that the UNSC will be more creative in the deployment of the vast array of tools at their disposal to help prevent conflict from metastasizing using peaceful means. The UNSC, in this new Resolution, promises to make better use of tools “including negotiation, enquiry, mediation, conciliation, arbitration, judicial settlement and resort to regional and subregional organizations and arrangements.” 

As Navi Pillay pointed out, none of the crises the world is facing today were unpredictable. The UNSC has a a stong early warning system at its fingertips, with the UN Human Rights Council (among many other UN agencies of the UN and other organizations) monitoring the state of human rights protection and the health of democracy and societies around the world. Unfortunately, all too often, the political will to act has eluded the UNSC. Perhaps focusing on the use of “soft power” and the Chapter VI tools enumerated above will provide the UNSC a new, maybe more effective avenue to carry out their role.  

Photo Credit: Bjørn Smestad’s Flickr Photostream

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