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United Nations Global Issues

Peace and Security

Saving succeeding generations from the scourge of war was the main motivation for creating the United Nations, whose founders lived through the devastation of two world wars. Since its creation, the UN has often been called upon to prevent disputes from escalating into war, or to help restore peace when armed conflict does break out, and to promote lasting peace in societies emerging from wars.

The Security Council, the General Assembly and the Secretary-General all play major, complementary roles in fostering peace and security.

UN Peace and Security

Over the decades, the UN has helped to end numerous conflicts, often through actions of the Security Council — the organ with primary responsibility, under the United Nations Charter, for the maintenance of international peace and security. When a complaint concerning a threat to peace is brought before it, the Council's first action is usually to recommend to the parties to try to reach agreement by peaceful means. In some cases, the Council itself undertakes investigation and mediation. It may appoint special representatives or request the Secretary-General to do so or to use his good offices. It may set forth principles for a peaceful settlement.

When a dispute leads to fighting, the Council's first concern is to bring it to an end as soon as possible. On many occasions, the Council has issued ceasefire directives which have been instrumental in preventing wider hostilities. It also deploys United Nations peacekeeping operations to help reduce tensions in troubled areas, keep opposing forces apart and create conditions for sustainable peace after settlements have been reached. The Council may decide on enforcement measures, economic sanctions (such as trade embargoes) or collective military action.

According to the Charter, the General Assembly can make recommendations on the general principles of cooperation for maintaining international peace and security, including disarmament, and for the peaceful settlement of any situation that might impair friendly relations among nations.  The General Assembly can also discuss any question relating to international peace and security and make recommendations, if the issue is  not currently being discussed by the Security Council. 

Pursuant to its “Uniting for Peace” resolution of November 1950 (resolution 377 (V), the General Assembly may also take action if the Security Council fails to act, owing to the negative vote of a Permanent Member, in a case where there appears to be a threat to or breach of the peace, or act of aggression. The Assembly can consider the matter immediately with a view to making recommendations to Members for collective measures to maintain or restore international peace and security.

Two of the General Assembly’s six main committees are involved in matters of peace and security.  Besides the First Committee which is concerned with disarmament and related international security questions, the Special Political and Decolonization Committee deals with a variety of political subjects not dealt with by the First Committee, including decolonization, Palestinian refugees, human rights, peacekeeping, mine action, outer space, public information, atomic radiation and the University for Peace.

The Charter empowers the Secretary-General to "bring to the attention of the Security Council any matter which in his opinion may threaten the maintenance of international peace and security". One of the most vital roles played by the Secretary-General is the use of his "good offices" – steps taken publicly and in private that draw upon his independence, impartiality and integrity to prevent international disputes from arising, escalating or spreading.

CONFLICT PREVENTION

Conflict prevention remains one of the highest objectives of the United Nations. In today’s world, preventive action extends well beyond traditional preventive diplomacy to involve a broad constellation of UN entities working across a wide range of disciplines — poverty eradication and development, human rights and the rule of law, elections and the building of democratic institutions and the control of small arms, to name just a few.  

The Department of Political Affairs plays a central role in these efforts: monitoring and assessing global political developments; advising the UN Secretary-General on actions that could advance the cause of peace; providing support and guidance to UN peace envoys and political missions in the field; and serving Member States directly through electoral assistance and through the support of the work of the Security Council and other UN bodies.

PEACEKEEPING

The first UN peacekeeping mission was established in 1948, when the Security Council authorized the deployment of the United Nations Truce Supervision Organization (UNTSO) to the Middle East to monitor the Armistice Agreement between Israel and its Arab neighbours. Since then, there have been a total of 64 UN peacekeeping operations around the world.

Over the years, UN peacekeeping has evolved to meet the demands of different conflicts and a changing political landscape. Born at the time when the Cold War rivalries frequently paralyzed the Security Council, UN peacekeeping goals were primarily limited to maintaining ceasefires and stabilizing situations on the ground, so that efforts could be made at the political level to resolve the conflict by peaceful means. 

UN peacemaking expanded in the 1990s, as the end of the Cold War created new opportunities to end civil wars through negotiated peace settlements. A large number of conflicts were brought to an end, either through direct UN mediation or by the efforts of others acting with UN support. Countries assisted included El Salvador, Guatemala, Namibia, Cambodia, Mozambique, Tajikistan, Sierra Leone, and Burundi.  As the decade drew to a close, continuing crises led to new operations in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Central African Republic, Timor Leste, Sierra Leone and Kosovo.

The nature of conflict has also changed over the years. Originally developed as a means of dealing with inter-State conflict, UN peacekeeping has been increasingly applied to intra-State conflicts and civil wars. Although the military remain the backbone of most peacekeeping operations, today’s peacekeepers undertake a wide variety of complex tasks, from helping to build sustainable institutions of governance, through human rights monitoring and security sector reform, to the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of former combatants, and demining.  

The Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) provides political and executive direction to UN peacekeeping operations, and maintains contact with the Security Council, troop and financial contributors, and parties to the conflict in the implementation of Security Council mandates. The Department works to integrate the efforts of UN, governmental and non-governmental entities in the context of peacekeeping operations. DPKO also provides guidance and support on military, police, mine action and other relevant issues to other UN political and peacebuilding missions.

In 2007, DPKO was split up, with the establishment of the Department of Field Support (DFS), which provides  dedicated support and guidance to peacekeeping and political field missions in the areas of finance and budget; personnel and human resources; logistics and information, communication and technology.

PEACEBUILDING

The experience of recent years has also led the United Nations to focus as never before on peacebuilding – efforts to reduce a country's risk of lapsing or relapsing into conflict by strengthening national capacities for conflict management, and to lay the foundations for sustainable peace and development.

Building lasting peace in war-torn societies is among the most daunting of challenges for global peace and security. Peacebuilding requires sustained international support for national efforts across the broadest range of activities – monitoring ceasefires; demobilizing and reintegrating combatants; assisting the return of refugees and displaced persons; helping organize and monitor elections of a new government; supporting justice and security sector reform; enhancing human rights protections and fostering reconciliation after past atrocities.

The United Nations has been at the center of expanding international peacebuilding efforts, from the verification of peace agreements in southern Africa, Central America and Cambodia in the 1990s, to subsequent efforts to consolidate peace and strengthen states in the Balkans, Timor-Leste, and West Africa, to contemporary operations in Afghanistan, Haiti and Sudan.

Recognizing that the United Nations needs to better anticipate and respond to the challenges of peacebuilding, the 2005 World Summit approved the creation of a new Peacebuilding Commission. In the resolutions establishing the Peacebuilding Commission, resolution 60/180 and resolution 1645 (2005), the United Nations General Assembly and the Security Council mandated it to bring together all relevant actors to advise on the proposed integrated strategies for post conflict peacebuilding and recovery; to marshal resources and help ensure predictable financing for these activities; and to develop best practices in collaboration with political, security, humanitarian and development actors.

The resolutions also identify the need for the Commission to extend the period of international attention on post-conflict countries and where necessary, highlight any gaps which threaten to undermine peacebuilding.

The General Assembly and Security Council resolutions establishing the Peacebuilding Commission also provided for the establishment of a Peacebuilding Fund and Peacebuilding Support Office.

WOMEN, PEACE AND SECURITY

While women remain a minority of combatants and perpetrators of war, they increasingly suffer the greatest harm.  In contemporary conflicts, as much as 90 percent of casualties are among civilians, most of whom are women and children. Women in war-torn societies can face specific and devastating forms of sexual violence, which are sometimes deployed systematically to achieve military or political objectives. Moreover, women continue to be poorly represented in formal peace processes, although they contribute in many informal ways to conflict resolution.

However, the UN Security Council has recognized that including women and gender perspectives in decision-making can strengthen prospects for sustainable peace. This recognition was formalized in October 2000 with the unanimous adoption of resolution 1325 on women, peace and security. The landmark resolution specifically addresses the situation of women in armed conflict and calls for their participation at all levels of decision-making on conflict resolution and peacebuilding.

Since the agenda was set with the core principles of resolution 1325, three supporting resolutions have been adopted by the Security Council — 1820, 1888 and 1889. The four resolutions focus on two key goals: strengthening women’s participation in decision-making and ending sexual violence and impunity.