Secretary-General Tells Security Council Preventing Conflict Would Save $34 Billion in Damages, Stresses Key Role of Regional Organizations to Sustain Peace

SG/SM/19394-SC/13610
6 December 2018

Secretary-General Tells Security Council Preventing Conflict Would Save $34 Billion in Damages, Stresses Key Role of Regional Organizations to Sustain Peace

Following are UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ remarks to the Security Council on Cooperation between the United Nations and Subregional Organizations:  The Role of States, Regional Arrangements and the United Nations in the Prevention of Conflicts, in New York today:

I thank the Government of the Republic of Côte d’Ivoire for convening this open debate on the role of States, regional arrangements and the United Nations in the prevention of conflicts.

Our world is faced with complex threats that are multidimensional, interconnected and unpredictable.  The number of countries experiencing violent conflict is higher than it has been in 30 years.  Low intensity conflicts have increased by 60 per cent in the last 10 years.  We have a responsibility to act – not in isolation, but collectively.

Since assuming office, I have prioritized prevention of all kinds, from conflicts to natural disasters to pandemics and the foreseeable dangers posed by new technology.

There are complex links between these threats, which can reinforce and amplify each other and should not be seen in isolation.  I have therefore called on all parts of the United Nations system to focus on prevention, including obviously – as a priority for us ‑ the prevention of conflict.

We are overwhelmingly managing crisis and conflict when we should put far more effort into preventing them from happening in the first place.  Rather than launching humanitarian aid operations to save lives, we should be in a position to invest in reducing the need for aid.

Prevention is, for us, an end in itself.  It should never be seen as the instrument of any other political agenda.  First and foremost, it saves lives and protects people from harm.  But prevention also makes economic sense.  The recent United Nations-World Bank study, Pathways for Peace, concluded that prevention would save some $34 billion in damage in countries that avoid war.  These benefits are compounded over time to reach over $140 billion after 15 years.

From greater use of my good offices, including through my Special Representatives and Envoys, to investing in mediation, to strengthening the contribution of peacekeeping and peacebuilding to prevention, we are working to improve our capacity.

The endorsement of the Action for Peacekeeping initiative by 151 Member States is a strong sign of support for the central role of our peacekeepers in preventing conflicts from worsening, and in proactively supporting peace.

Beyond the peace and security pillar, the entire United Nations system is tackling the root causes that can make communities and societies vulnerable to violence and conflict.  These often lie in competition over the control of power and resources, inequality and exclusion, unmet aspirations, the marginalization of women, young people and minority groups, poor governance, and the instrumentalization of ethnic and religious divisions.  They are interlinked and exacerbated by climate change, migration, transnational crimes and global terrorism.

All our work to achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, from human rights and humanitarian affairs to gender equality, environmental protection and combatting climate change, has a role in preventing conflict.

Sustainable development is an end in itself and must be considered as such.  But it is also one of the most effective tools for prevention.  Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals will make a significant contribution to tackling root causes and building lasting peace.

While conflict between States has declined, internal conflicts are increasing and account for the majority of humanitarian needs and displacement around the world.

Strong, resilient societies are enriched, not threatened, by diversity.  But such societies do not come about by chance.  As societies become more multi-ethnic and multi-religious, cultural and economic investments in cohesion are vital.  Every member, every group, must feel valued.

We must also invest in education and training for young people, so that they have hope and prospects for the future.  Young women and men must be empowered to participate in making the decisions that affect their lives.  This is a vital goal in itself, but it is also essential to counter the risk of alienation and susceptibility to extremist narratives and even recruitment.

By the same token, we must invest in helping countries and communities that are emerging from conflict.  Justice, truth and reconciliation are essential for societies to heal and move beyond war.

The United Nations works to support such efforts in many countries and regions of the world.  States, subregional and regional organizations are our vital partners in all these efforts, and we are working together with respect and trust.

Our relationship with the African Union is demonstrating the way forward, through our frameworks for enhanced partnership for peace and security, and the implementation of Agenda 2063 and the 2030 Agenda.  I am delighted that the African Union is here to discuss this important issue with us today.

Chapter VIII of the United Nations Charter shows the visionary genius of those who drafted our foundational document.  At that time, regional organizations barely existed.  Seventy years on, regional and subregional organizations are an indispensable part of the rules-based global order.  Chapter VIII even envisages our cooperation on joint peacekeeping operations.

Regional and subregional organizations have the proximity, the experience and the knowledge of local dynamics, the flexibility and relationships to engage more rapidly and effectively when situations deteriorate.

In the Gambia two years ago, the coordinated joint action of the African Union, the Economic Community of West African States, the United Nations and neighbouring countries helped to prevent a political crisis and supported a peaceful, democratic political transition.

In Madagascar, the United Nations worked in close coordination with the African Union, the Southern African Development Community and l’Organisation internationale de la Francophonie to facilitate dialogue which contributed to peaceful presidential elections last month, and we hope that this cooperation will be maintained in the near future.

When crises broke out in Mali and the Central African Republic, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the Economic Community of Central African States were the first to deploy troops and engage in mediation efforts.  The African Union took over the operations, which later became United Nations peacekeeping operations.

In Central Asia, the United Nations Regional Centre for Preventive Diplomacy for Central Asia supports regional dialogue on transboundary water management and promotes water diplomacy in close cooperation with national governments and the International Fund for Saving the Aral Sea.

And in the aftermath of contested elections in Honduras in November 2017, the United Nations maintained close contacts with the Organization of American States to ease tensions and facilitate dialogue.  These efforts should and must be replicated elsewhere.

This was the focus of the high-level interactive dialogue with heads of regional and other organizations that I convened in June, to identify opportunities to strengthen our cooperation, with a particular focus on prevention.  I intend to continue this dialogue and deepen our collaboration to create stable and resilient societies.

I also intend to build on the success of the Joint United Nations-African Union Frameworks, and coordination tools appropriate to other regions.

The reforms I have initiated will help us bring further coherence to our efforts.  This includes strengthening our support to regional and subregional organizations on detecting crises and taking early preventive action.  The ECOWAS Early Warning and Response Network, ECOWARN, is an example to build on.

From climate change to inequality, today’s challenges cannot be managed by any single State or organization.

I urge world leaders to recommit to an inclusive and networked multilateralism, embracing complementarity and subsidiarity, centred on the Charter, with the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals as our universal roadmap.

Commitments to collaboration and early action must be translated into real and tangible results.  Promoting prevention and resilience must form the backbone of our collective efforts.

We have the know-how and resources.  We need courage and political will.  And we need to engage everyone in building stable and resilient societies, working together with the leadership and full participation of women and harnessing the energy and imagination of young people.

Preventing conflict is our collective responsibility.  Regional and subregional organizations are critical to a comprehensive, multidimensional approach, commensurate with the scale of the challenge we face.

For information media. Not an official record.