Secretary-General’s address to the National Defense College of Oman, “The United Nations and Conflict Prevention in a Changing World” [as prepared for delivery]
Muscat, Oman, 1 February 2016
I am honoured to be in Oman for the second time as Secretary-General, and to address the National Defense College.
I thank His Majesty, Sultan Qaboos Bin Said, the Government and people of Oman for their warm welcome.
Before I start, I would like to say a few words about the talks convened by my special envoy, Staffan de Mistura, in Geneva, with the aim of ending the horrific five-year-long conflict in Syria. We are all extremely glad these talks have started. They are long overdue.
I urge all parties to put the people of Syria at the heart of their discussions, and above partisan interests.
Civilians, including children and women, are bearing the brunt of this conflict.
We must urgently see an end to the fighting, the sieges and the other terrible human rights abuses that have characterized this war.
My remarks today will focus on how we can reduce the chances of another Syria, another Yemen. Conflict is taking a terrible human toll and all countries, all governments have a duty to do everything possible to prevent and resolve wars, from the great powers to the regional influencers and those who work quietly behind the scenes for the greater good.
I know that Oman has a long tradition of looking beyond its harbors and borders, and engaging with the world.
Your traders reached China 1,000 years ago.
More than two centuries ago, Ahmad bin Na'aman of Oman ushered in trade relations and exchanges between the Arab world and the newly formed United States of America.
And in our own time, just seven years ago, Mohsin al Busaidi of Oman thrilled the region by becoming the first Arab to sail non-stop around the world.
I would also like to thank you for your commitment to another important part of world heritage: that of the United Nations itself.
Oman is helping us digitize the audiovisual archives of the United Nations. Thanks to you, audiovisual documents dating back to our founding 70 years ago, and that tell the story of the United Nations, will be preserved for all time.
We thank Oman for being a prime mover of this important undertaking, which is critical for the United Nations, its history and its past. All Member States stand to benefit from gaining access to these online archives from anywhere in the world. Oman’s reputation as a strong presence on the world stage can only be enhanced by this generous act. And Omanis will gain archiving skills that will help you to safeguard your own precious cultural heritage.
We are grateful for almost half a century of engagement as a UN Member State.
You have been a generous citizen in our local community, including through strong support for the United Nations International School.
But I am really here to salute Oman’s contributions to our global community – and in particular your commitment to the cause of peace and to the Charter of the United Nations.
I commend your country’s unique role of bringing people together – of facilitating dialogue and finding common ground.
Today we need that involvement more than ever.
Here in the early weeks of 2016, we are striving to get a strong start in implementing the two landmark agreements of 2015: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.
These multilateral milestones provide a roadmap for ending poverty and building peaceful societies on a healthy planet.
At the same time, we know that this vision is at severe risk from the conflicts and crises that characterize much of today’s global landscape, including in the Arab world and Gulf region.
Here at the National Defense College, you will be receiving solid training on the way to becoming your country’s defenders and protectors. Part of every Government’s compact with its people is to ensure their safety and security. I commend your commitment to playing that vital role.
At the same time, our understanding of national security is changing.
In the 21st century, we know that security is less about missiles and fighter jets, and far more a matter of knowledge, health, freedom and giving people opportunities and the prospect of a better life.
We also know that one country’s security depends on much else beyond its borders and beyond its controls. Greenhouse gas emissions in Montreal will eventually make sea levels rise in Muscat. Deadly diseases reach across continents with ease and speed. Governance failures in one country breed grievances that spawn terrorist attacks half a world away.
As future members of Oman’s defense establishment, you will be responsible for acting on this broader vision of security.
Because of Oman’s key role as a bridge builder for peace, I want to focus my remarks on the security we can gain by focusing on prevention and peacemaking.
Prevention -- to keep tensions from spiraling out of control -- and peacemaking -- to stop fighting and reach political agreements.
The mission of United Nations is to “save succeeding generations from the scourge of war” -- in other words, to prevent armed conflict.
Yet the appalling human toll and huge economic cost of conflict is all around us.
Exclusion, human rights abuses, government repression, terrorism, violent extremism, foreign intervention are combining with toxic results.
Conflicts are rupturing the fabric of societies, leaving much suffering, hatred and mistrust.
Humanity keeps letting conflicts erupt, worsen, and last for years or even decades.
Yet we know that it costs far more to end conflicts than to prevent them.
We know that deep-rooted political and social problems can never be solved by military means alone.
And we know that conflicts often end around a peace table, not the battlefield.
We need to do far more to apply these lessons.
Look at Syria. Look at Yemen.
The idea of a so-called “winner” in these conflicts has lost all meaning.
Everyone is losing. And the biggest victims are innocent people, civilian populations.
I condemn the violations of international humanitarian and human rights law that take place in these and other conflicts today.
And I take pride in the heroic work of the United Nations to bring humanitarian assistance and whatever protection we can to civilians trapped and besieged by the fighting and brutal tactics.
The parties must come to the negotiating table, end the fighting and begin a transition to a better future.
Oman has been a critical partner as we try to bring peace to Yemen.
Oman helped secure the release of foreign nationals held in captivity in Sana’a last September, and has opened its doors to hundreds of Yemenis needing medical assistance and temporary accommodation.
I particularly appreciate your support for my Special Envoy, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, including enabling him to meet representatives of the parties to the conflict here in Muscat, ahead of peace talks in Switzerland late last year.
We now have to bring the parties back for a further round of talks. This is the only viable way forward.
On Syria, we have witnessed five years of horror piled upon horror. Destructive geopolitical competition has made a bad problem worse.
At last, the States with the most influence on the Syrian parties have begun to focus on the hard work of ending this war.
They have formed the International Syria Support Group. The Security Council has spoken with one voice to call for peace talks, and laid out a framework for the process.
My Special Envoy, Staffan de Mistura, has worked tirelessly to bring the government and opposition to Geneva.
Progress will not be easy. But we have to start.
The path to ending conflicts may be long and hard. But determined diplomacy has helped end crises in this region.
Here in Oman, you hosted ceasefire negotiations between Baghdad and Tehran during the 1980s. This helped the parties find a way to end that devastating conflict.
And the promise of diplomacy is on display today in the P5 + 1 agreement related to Iran’s nuclear programme.
I thank Oman for hosting discrete talks between U.S. and Iranian officials, which helped set the stage for this agreement.
I hope that Iran’s emergence from years of sanctions will come with increasingly responsible behaviour in the region.
And I hope that both Iran and Saudi Arabia, despite mistrust and difficulties, will bring realism, responsibility and compromise to their dealings, and to the region.
I have spoken of the need for real peace diplomacy in this region, and I am proud of the work that the United Nations has undertaken to advance and deepen it.
We draw on many tools to help societies navigate differences and achieve peace.
But we must do better.
We know it is far better to prevent a fire than to fight a fire after it has started – yet prevention still does not receive the political attention, commitment and resources that it deserves.
Conflict prevention and mediation for peaceful political solutions must move up the agenda.
With record-shattering humanitarian needs across the world – including the largest refugee crisis in decades – we need to think differently.
Let me offer five suggestions for what we must do:
First, let us protect the space for prevention and mediation efforts.
UN representatives need to be able to talk to a wide range of actors -- including those that some Governments will not engage.
Second, we need to be close to the ground, to do the best analysis and to build trust and confidence.
One of the best ways to do this is to have UN regional centres of preventive diplomacy, working in the states and societies concerned. We have these in parts of Africa and in Central Asia, and I hope to replicate this model elsewhere. This also helps us form tighter partnerships with the regional organizations that have a frontline role in addressing the tensions and conflicts in their neighbourhood.
Third, let us invest in the UN’s instruments for prevention, peacemaking and peacebuilding.
Our Political Affairs department – our centre for diplomacy, prevention and action – is deploying widely, engaging and accompanying parties through various processes, and mediating disputes based on clear mandates and the consent of the parties concerned. But the Department is stretched thin, and needs proper resourcing and support.
I thank Oman on behalf of the United Nations for your recent financial contribution for conflict prevention. Efforts to prevent war are a global public good: all countries should invest in them, but few do. Oman is showing the way for governments in the region and around the world.
It is likewise vital, under my “Human Rights up Front” initiative, to build up our capacity to deploy small, light-footprint presences to engage in countries that face dangers of major human rights abuses.
Meanwhile, our UN Peacebuilding Fund helps countries reduce the risk of relapsing into conflict, but needs to be replenished.
Fourth, we must take a system-wide approach to prevention.
We need to use all of the tools at our disposal – development, human rights and political – to address the root causes of conflict.
We are bringing this approach to the challenge of preventing violent extremism.
Experience has shown that short-sighted policies, heavy-handed approaches, a single-minded focus only on security measures and an utter disregard for human rights have often made things worse.
Preventing violent extremism means avoiding policies that turn people against each other, alienate already marginalized groups, and play into the hands of the enemy.
That approach forms a core of my Plan of Action to Prevent Violent Extremism that I launched last month.
Fifth, we must do more to involve women and young people, and ensure the inclusion of traditionally marginalized groups.
Societies that are inclusive tend to navigate social differences peacefully. Societies that empower women, practice tolerance and embrace diversity will promote stability and cohesion. Those that see and treat young people not just as leaders of tomorrow, but leaders of today, will enjoy wide-ranging dividends.
Peace processes themselves need to be inclusive. Inclusive negotiations tend to produce inclusive, more enduring outcomes.
I am pleased that the Security Council recently approved Resolution 2250 on Youth, Peace and Security -- recognizing the potential of young people as peacebuilders. I have appointed the first-ever United Nations Youth Envoy -- Ahmad Alhendawi of Jordan. Our goal is harness the great power of youth to drive positive change.
The world needs you to work within Oman and with your neighbours to promote security in the fullest sense of the word.
As young people in the Arab world, you have seen much in recent years. You have watched many of your peers fill the streets of capital cities in search of an end to corruption and the beginning of a say in the decisions affecting their lives. You have seen conflicts displace many young people from their homes, thrusting them into the uncertain and often dangerous life of a refugee. You have seen youth become primary targets for recruitment by violent extremists. And you have seen your peers -- and perhaps you yourselves at times -- stereotyped as a threat, when all you want is the same opportunities as others to realize your hopes and dreams.
At this time of turmoil, I will count on Oman’s young people to be part of our efforts to build a safer, more sustainable future for all. At this time when many are trying to sow division, I continue to be encouraged by Oman’s commitment to peace and its wide-ranging bridge-building efforts. Together, we can address today’s threats and seize the great opportunities of our era.
Thank you very much. Shukran Jazeelan.
Statements on 1 February 2016