UN’s political department the focus of plans for stepped-up crisis diplomacy

B. Lynn Pascoe

6 November 2007 – Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is calling on United Nations Member States to endorse his proposals to strengthen and reorganize the world body’s Department of Political Affairs (DPA) so that the UN can respond faster and proactively to conflicts before they become bigger and costlier tragedies.

Briefing journalists today on the plans, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs B. Lynn Pascoe said numerous independent reports, including most recently from the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS), have found that DPA is chronically starved of resources and unable to meet ever-growing demands on the UN to prevent and resolve the world’s conflicts.

Mr. Pascoe said the extra funds required to pay for the expansion of the department’s preventive diplomacy role are small in comparison to the benefits that a more proactive stance can bring.

“It is so obviously cost-effective if we can be successful in stopping the issues, debates, fights, both internal and external,” he said. “It’s so much better if we can do it early on rather than later.”

Last month Mr. Ban told the General Assembly’s Fifth Committee, which deals with administrative and budgetary matters, that boosting the UN’s capacity to prevent and resolve conflicts was “among the smartest investments we can make.”

The department currently has about 220 staff based at UN Headquarters in New York and a two-year budget of some $64 million. The proposed restructuring will cost about $21 million over the next two years.

If the plan is approved by Member States, DPA will gain 70 professional posts and 31 general service staff, while the regional divisions will be re-organized from four units into six: two each for Africa and Asia, and one for Europe and for Latin America.

The department will also establish more regional offices, modelled on the lines of the current UN Office for West Africa (UNOWA), that are designed to help individual Member States and regional organizations with their preventive diplomacy efforts.

Regional offices are planned for Central Asia, and under consideration for the Great Lakes-Central Africa, Central America, South-East Asia and South-Eastern Europe, pending close consultations with Member States in those regions, Mr. Pascoe said.

DPA’s mediation unit and its electoral assistance division, which are both already overwhelmed by high workloads, will also be strengthened.

The Under-Secretary-General said it was vital that the UN be able to both detect crises before they occur and respond more quickly to them when they do. He described the proposals as a necessary and complementary step in strengthening the UN role in peace and security, following the Secretary-General’s earlier reorganization of UN peacekeeping operations.

Mr. Pascoe observed that DPA is already active in dealing with many diplomatic efforts of the UN, including the Darfur conflict in Sudan and the situations in Somalia, Myanmar, Iraq and Nepal.

He added that the proposals have received strong support so far in his initial discussions with Member States, especially in Africa, where governments have called for greater UN assistance on the preventive diplomacy front.

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