Following are UN Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson’s opening remarks, as prepared for delivery, at the World Bank event on “Fragility and Conflict — Addressing Causes and Consequences”, in Washington, D.C., today:
It is a pleasure and honour for me to deliver opening remarks at this important event. I commend the World Bank for convening today’s meeting and for its engagement in fragility and the root causes of conflict. I have spoken about this subject area with colleagues from the World Bank more in the past year than in all previous years combined. This is a great credit to your determined and focused efforts.
The seventy-first general debate of the United Nations General Assembly, which took place a few weeks ago, showcased world leaders’ commitment to our common agenda of maintaining international peace and security and generating sustainable development. It also underscored the magnitude of today’s global challenges.
The number of civil wars has tripled in the past 10 years. Their human toll has been devastating: 65 million have been displaced and forced from their homes — the highest number since [the Second World War] — and 125 million people are in urgent need of humanitarian relief.
In the Middle East and Africa, the effects of violent conflicts or extremism reach far beyond national borders. Boko Haram began in Nigeria, but now affects other countries in the region. Al-Shabaab is no longer restricted to Somalia, but has crossed borders into other East African countries, primarily Kenya.
Conflicts are giving rise to terrorism and violent extremism, which poses a serious threat to global security — mainly through its direct impact, but also through sometimes counter-productive responses. These conflicts are testing the global peace and security architecture established in the wake of the World Wars.
Peacekeeping and humanitarian operations are under serious strain. In the two years between 2012 and 2014, United Nations peacekeeping forces increased by 60 per cent. The UN humanitarian appeals now call for over $20 billion a year, 80 per cent of which is to meet needs generated by conflict.
These wars have shown the limits of conventional conflict resolution. Two thirds of United Nations peacekeepers — and 90 per cent of United Nations political officers — are now working in countries where there is no peace to keep.
In several situations, we now have to deal with non-State actors with conflicting agendas or extremist ideologies, making mediation and diplomacy extremely complex. Also, there is a dangerous trend in turning conflicts inside countries into proxy wars, where the interests of outside powers clash and prolong crises.
Meanwhile there is a growing and blatant disregard for international humanitarian law and human dignity. Hospitals and aid convoys are bombarded, civilians are targeted, and there is impunity for the perpetrators.
Unless we develop political will and policies to work collectively to prevent and end these conflicts, they will create ever deeper suffering, and more profound challenges and dilemmas for the international community.
The imperative to sustain peace was reiterated in 2015 in the major reviews of the tools and approaches the UN uses to respond to conflict. These reviews underscored that while humanitarian assistance may mitigate suffering and peacekeepers may stabilize situations, they cannot create lasting development, security and peaceful societies.
The reviews led to the landmark Security Council and General Assembly resolutions on sustaining peace. These resolutions emphasised that we must move away from militarized responses and towards prevention and political solutions. We need comprehensive approaches that cover security, development and the human rights and rule of law dimensions.
The resolutions are fully in line with the vision of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and the outcomes of the World Humanitarian Summit, held in Istanbul in May. Taken together, these frameworks form a comprehensive and mutually reinforcing development and peace agenda that meets our obligations to people, planet, prosperity, peace and partnership.
Within the United Nations, we have begun a process of bringing the system together, breaking out of the siloes that have for long kept human rights, development, humanitarian affairs, and peace and security separate, instead of dynamically interdependent.
This is not a task that the United Nations can carry out alone. Member States will also need to rethink their approach to the vital work of peacebuilding and conflict prevention along these “horizontal” lines. We need the expertise and sustained focus of Member States in order to gain greater coherence.
We also need their financial resources. Experts estimate that in 2015, violence and conflict around the world cost more than $13 trillion — around $1,800 for every person on this planet. And yet, the United Nations Peacebuilding Fund struggles to raise $100 million per year — the bare minimum it needs to carry out its priority tasks.
Effective prevention and sustainable peace depend on long-term policy coherence across security, political, economic and social pillars. Great strides forward can be made through a combination of investments in security, trade, as well as institutional and socioeconomic development. Using all these tools successfully will require greater interaction between different stakeholders and institutions nationally and internationally.
We need to move forward in all areas simultaneously. In many conflict and post-conflict situations in the past, we focused our efforts on institutional development and security guarantees, without considering the importance of economic and social development.
The UN is working closely with the World Bank to address this. One example was the Secretary-General’s joint trip with President Jim Kim to Jordan and Tunisia earlier this year. The World Bank is now providing important support to Jordan’s economy, as it deals with the strain of hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees, together with UNHCR [Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] and other UN entities.
Together with the World Bank, we are launching an initiative to provide support to five countries and regions, looking at how capacities, finances and multiyear planning can all be brought together around collective outcomes.
We have also made a joint commitment to examine how development policies and programmes can contribute to the prevention of violent conflict. We aim to launch a global study on this at the United Nations General Assembly and at the Annual Meetings of the World Bank Group and International Monetary Fund next year.
In closing, if we think of conflict as a house on fire, the international community has for too long been the fire brigade, rushing to put out the flames and save lives. But, today’s fire brigades must spend much more time on prevention. We must be in the conflict areas when the smoke develops or the arsonist reaches for the match.
For too long, the international community, including the Security Council, has resisted this obvious conclusion when we see the conflicts explode around us. Yes, we must resolve conflicts. But, yes, we need to put far more efforts into addressing the fragility that causes them. We are now both in the Bretton Woods and the San Francisco community committed to working together to make this change. I thank you all for your engagement.