Role of the Department of Political Affairs
The Department of Political Affairs plays a central role in United Nations efforts to prevent and resolve deadly conflict around the world.
DPA monitors and assesses global political developments with an eye to detecting potential crises before they escalate, and devising effective responses. The Department provides close support to the Secretary-General and his envoys, as well as to UN political missions deployed to areas of tension around the world with mandates to help defuse crises or promote lasting solutions to conflict.
With the support of UN Member States, DPA is evolving into a more mobile and agile platform for crisis response, capable of rapidly deploying mediators and other peacemaking expertise to the field and cooperating more closely with regional organizations at the frontlines of conflicts.
The Department has other important functions that also contribute directly to UN efforts to promote peace and prevent conflict. These include DPA’s role in coordinating United Nations electoral assistance activities, and in providing staff support to the UN Security Council and other bodies.
Peacemaking and preventive diplomacy
Established in 1992, DPA is the lead U.N. department for peacemaking and preventive diplomacy.
Where the Secretary-General’s diplomatic “good offices” are employed to help bring warring parties toward peace or to prevent political and armed conflicts from escalating, DPA is typically working behind the scenes to define and plan the mission and to provide guidance and backing to mediators. Where U.N. peacekeepers are deployed it is often after a successful peacemaking effort involving or supported by the United Nations.
Whereas the United Nations today is one of many actors in a diverse field of international conflict mediation, DPA acts as a center of peacemaking expertise whose services are available to UN and non-UN envoys alike.
Effective policy responses begin with sound and timely information and analysis, on having a pulse on events as they develop. Primarily through the work of its regional divisions, DPA monitors developments and provides the Secretary-General with analytical reports and briefing notes to inform his decisions and shape his continuous diplomacy with U.N. Member States, regional and non-governmental organizations and other actors. Senior DPA officials are called on frequently to brief the United Nations Security Council on global political developments, the status of UN peacemaking efforts and the activities of UN political missions in the field.
The Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs and head of DPA is also the focal point for electoral assistance by the United Nations, evaluating requests from Member States and ensuring consistency in the delivery of assistance by the various U.N. agencies and departments involved. This is a growing area of responsibility and expertise, as elections occupy an important place in peace processes and political transitions aimed at ending bloodshed or at establishing or restoring democratic governance.
Servicing the Security Council and other U.N. bodies
In carrying out its crucial functions, the United Nations Security Council relies on staff of the Department of Political Affairs for both substantive and secretariat support. DPA provides similar staff support to two standing committees established by the General Assembly, concerning the Rights of the Palestinian People and Decolonization.
Since 2009, the Department houses the secretariat of the United Nations Counter-Terrorism Implementation Task Force (CTITF), which coordinates UN actions to implement the United Nations Counter-Terrorism Strategy.
The role of the Under-Secretary General
DPA is headed by the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Jeffrey Feltman. The Under-Secretary-General manages the department, advises the Secretary-General on matters affecting global peace and security, carries out high-level diplomatic missions and provides guidance to peace envoys and political missions in the field.
The Under-Secretary-General also serves on the Secretary-General’s Policy Committee, the highest decision-making body within the U.N. Secretariat, and chairs the Executive Committee on Peace and Security, a high-level body for interagency and interdepartmental coordination.
Where complex crises require contributions from a range of U.N. entities, DPA may be called upon to establish an overarching political framework within which political, developmental and humanitarian action proceeds.
In addition to its more than 250 professional and administrative staff at U.N. headquarters in New York, DPA draws from the work of political and peace-building missions under its supervision, which employ more than 1,700 national and international staff in Africa, Asia and the Middle East.
This field presence enriches DPA’s political analysis and provides a forward platform for good offices missions and other preventive initiatives. The Department is working closely with Member States to establish UN regional offices capable of providing support and advice, as required, in conflict prevention and resolution.
Organizational Chart of the Department of Political Affairs