UN official stresses value of preventive diplomacy in conflict solving

Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs B. Lynn Pascoe

26 July 2010 – Preventive diplomacy and mediation are an effective means of resolving crises across the world, the top United Nations political official said today, adding that the Organization is increasingly resorting to the use of diplomacy to defuse tensions before they escalate into conflict.

“Member States are seeking better tailored approaches all along the conflict cycle, and in doing so they are having a fresh look at an old art – diplomacy and mediation – that had somehow become less fashionable than other UN instruments,” B. Lynn Pascoe, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, said in a speech at the Brookings Institution, a non-profit public policy organization based in Washington.

Making the case for diplomacy as a tool for conflict resolution, Mr. Pascoe said that the root causes of most conflicts that may, or have already turned violent were political problems requiring political solutions. Secondly, distrust among rival parties in national conflicts often ran so high that they were unable to arrive at compromises without international mediation, facilitation or diplomatic encouragement.

“Ideally we want to prevent violence from erupting in the first place. But even if that fails, robust diplomacy and mediation is still required to end the fighting through negotiations and then to help countries navigate the difficult politics of reconciliation and rebuilding,” Mr. Pascoe said. “Too many nations fail in this last stage, and slide right back into conflict,” he added.

He gave the example of the post-election violence triggered by disputed polls in Kenya in 2008 as an example of successful preventive diplomacy facilitated by the UN.

“We quickly deployed political officers, electoral, constitutional and security experts that became the main support staff for the mediator [former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan] as he helped the parties forge the agreements to end the crisis. I think few would contest that prompt international mediation in Kenya helped prevent an even larger catastrophe,” Mr. Pascoe said.

He said that Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon had, from the beginning of his term, pursued the use of preventive diplomacy, making it a priority to refocus UN capabilities so that diplomats and mediators can be mobilized as first responders to trouble spots. Mr. Ban was himself active in diplomacy, talking with global leaders in person or by telephone, urging those involved in conflict to resolve differences and other parties to use their influence to end crises.

“The Security Council is also focusing on this theme, and Member States in the developing world, African countries in particular, are among the most enthusiastic,” Mr. Pascoe said.

The main UN platforms for preventive diplomacy were the “political missions” in Africa, Asia and the Middle East. They included the UN missions in Iraq, Afghanistan, Nepal, Lebanon, Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory, Somalia, Burundi, Sierra Leone, Guinea-Bissau and the Central African Republic. There were also regional missions in Central Asia and West Africa, Mr. Pascoe said.

Challenges to preventive diplomacy included reluctance, in some instances, by governments and leaders to accept help, and limited resources to boost the capacity of the UN Department of Political Affairs, Mr. Pascoe said.

“I know that, progress aside, the United Nations and the international community as whole still have a long way to go before we can reliably predict, prevent and respond through diplomacy to reduce the extent of conflict around the world.

“That said, we at the United Nations are in a much better position today than we were even three years ago to make a positive contribution. This trend should continue as the Member governments of the Organization dedicate more of their attention and support to preventive action,” he added.


News Tracker: past stories on this issue

Ban calls for four-pronged approach to preventive diplomacy in Africa

Related Stories