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19.3.2001 Louise Fréchette, YK:n pääsihteerin sijainen: The role of the United Nations in peace building, prevention and crisis management

The Deputy Secratary-General Louise Fréchette:
"The role of the United Nations in peace building, prevention and crisis management"
Helsinki, 19 March 2001

Thank you, Mr. Viitasalo, for that very kind introduction.

Excellencies, Friends, Ladies and Gentlemen:

You asked me to speak about the UN's role in peacekeeping activities. I have deliberately broadened that theme - partly because I know there is very little I could teach a Finnish audience about United Nations peacekeeping, and partly because peacekeeping, today more than ever, has to be seen in a broad political context.

Peacekeeping in its classic form was invented as a confidencebuilding measure in conflicts between states, or at least between regular, disciplined armed forces with clear lines of command and control. By maintaining a cease-fire, it was supposed to give time and space for a political settlement to be negotiated, but was itself quite separate from that peacemaking process.

Since the 1980s, by contrast, peacekeeping forces have more often been deployed either as part of a political settlement or to support and protect humanitarian relief operations, usually in an intra-state conflict. Very often, they have found no clear battle lines or chains of command, but a variety of armed factions for whom the civilian population may be - depending on the time and place - a constituency to be wooed, a strategic resource to be exploited, or an obstacle to be removed by any method available.

In such environments the task of peacekeeping has become more and more complex. It has to include, or to be closely co-ordinated with, a whole range of activities which we have come to describe as peace building.

The most successful peace operations are those that help a society build the institutions, social infrastructure and economic capacities it will need in order to prevent a recurrence of conflict or perhaps we should say, to manage its next round of conflict peacefully, since conflict in itself is an inevitable feature of human behaviour. What is important is that societies learn how to manage conflict peacefully, through appropriate institutions, so that it does not become destructive and deadly.

In mission after mission, therefore, we have found ourselves helping a country or society to put itself together again, so that its members, even if divided into different communities with different traditions and identities, can live together in peace.

The UN was not well prepared, and is still not well structured or resourced, to undertake such ambitious, multi-faceted operations. The learning curve has been steep and painful.

One thing we have learnt is the need for a comprehensive, co-ordinated approach to a very broad range of problems.

There are always many dimensions to a conflict or post-conflict situation, and the way we handle each of them has an inescapable impact on the others.

What is the good of building an efficient police force, if when you arrest criminals you have no jail to put them in, or only one that is run in a way offensive to human decency? What is the good of arresting criminals at all, if they cannot be tried within a reasonable time, by a tribunal that conforms to minimum international standards, or if you lack the resources to collect evidence sufficient to secure a conviction?

And what use are elections, even with the most immaculate voting procedures, if candidates are not free to campaign, or the media to cover them; if the losers are not ready to accept the result, or if the winners treat their victory as a licence to ignore everyone else's views? We cannot bring peace to a country through elections unless we also help it to build democratic institutions, and allow its people at least a glimpse of a solution to their social problems.

Or again, what good does it do to rebuild houses for refugees, if we are unable to persuade them that their safety will be guaranteed when they return? And what good is it persuading them to return, if there is no prospect of economic development to employ their talents and feed their families?

In short, we have learnt the need for a much more holistic approach.

Secondly, no one involved in peace building after a conflict can avoid thinking, almost every day, that the task would have been much easier if only it had been started sooner. While some aspects of peace building can only begin when the guns have fallen silent, many others can and should be undertaken while the conflict is still raging. Peace has to be negotiated between political leaders, but it cannot be confined to them, especially when the content of the agreement requires people on different sides in the conflict to resume living together in one state and one society. How often have we seen such agreements painfully negotiated and signed, only to fall apart because the negotiations had not been accompanied by the necessary process of public education and cultural, social or institutional preparation!

In other words, the foundations for peace need to be laid during a conflict rather than after it, and traditional diplomacy, however essential, is seldom sufficient by itself.

But of course it is better still if peace can be built before the conflict breaks out in the first place. The point is so obvious that it has become a cliche, but it is a great deal easier said than done. Once a conflict has broken out, and especially once the parties are ready to end it, they generally accept the need for external assistance, and may even be willing to accept some external advice. But in the pre-conflict period, when such help and advice might actually be most useful, it is much less likely to be accepted, and also less frequently offered.

On the one hand, States threatened by conflict too often refuse to admit that they have a problem, or to accept external assistance. On the other, many States who would be well placed to assist are reluctant to intervene.

The first group, like patients in denial, fail to see the problem and are offended by offers of help. The second either do not see the danger that problems afflicting their neighbour might also spread to them, or are unwilling to confront friends or allies with unwelcome but necessary pressure and advice.

What can we do to improve the chances of preventing conflict? We are thinking hard about this, and the Secretary-General will submit a further report on the subject to the Security Council in about two months' time. Without prejudging the details of that report, I can indicate some of the general conclusions we are coming to.

We start from the observation that our prevention efforts can only be effective if they are undertaken with the co-operation of Member States. Conflict prevention must be a home-grown process, involving strategies consciously and willingly adopted by government and civil society in the countries concerned.

It follows from this that the tools of prevention are to be found in Chapter VI of the UN Charter, which deals with the Pacific Settlement of Disputes. In particular, Article 33 lists a number of appropriate tools: "negotiation, enquiry, mediation, conciliation, arbitration, judicial settlement, resort to regional agencies or arrangements".

Only in extreme cases, where conflict is clearly imminent or has already broken out, will the Security Council resort to the more coercive measures listed in Chapter VII. Most such actions would come under the heading of enforcement rather than prevention.

But robust enforcement action by the Council, even if it comes too late to prevent the specific conflict to which it is addressed, can help to prevent other conflicts, by showing potential aggressors or egregious human rights violators what lies in store for them if they persist in flouting internationally accepted laws and norms of behaviour.

A second observation is that the aim of conflict prevention must be not merely to postpone disaster for a few weeks or months, but to build the foundations of a sustainable peace. This means that we need to help the State or States concerned form a coherent and comprehensive prevention strategy, into which the various kinds of assistance given by the international community - political, diplomatic, humanitarian, developmental, institutional, etc. - should all fit.

Much of what we are already doing under other headings - in particular, our development work - is, or should be, helping to prevent conflicts. But it will surely do so more effectively if we bear that in mind when planning our programmes, and design them as parts of a coherent strategy.

Thirdly, international support should be offered at the earliest stage possible.

Fourth, it must address the root causes of conflict, in all their dimensions - socio-economic, cultural, environmental, and so on.

Fifth, effective preventive action by the United Nations requires sustained political will on the part of Member States. Our offers of assistance will cut little ice if States do not provide the resources to back them up; and our advice will carry little weight if States do not give us strong political support.

That applies particularly to States which have influence with the parties to a conflict, or potential conflict. Often those will be the neighbours of the country concerned, which is one reason why we feel the need to work more closely with regional or sub-regional organisations, such as ECOWAS in West Africa.

While the Secretary-General seeks actively to co-ordinate the work of different parts of the United Nations system, he is well aware that the UN is not the only actor in prevention. Often, indeed, it may not be the actor best suited to take the lead.

We need good working partnerships. We are reaching out more and more to non-govern mental organisations and the private sector, and we are strongly committed to partnership with other international organisations, including the development agencies and financial institutions. But perhaps our most fruitful co-operation in crisis management is with regional organisations.

As you know, the role of regional organisations or arrangements in maintaining international peace and security is explicitly recognised in Chapter VIII of the UN Charter.

Europe is particularly well endowed with such arrangements, and the UN is co-operating very closely with several of them NATO, the OSCE, and the European Union - in the Balkans.

The EU, especially, plays an important role in projecting stability in central and south-eastern Europe, notably in those countries with a realistic prospect of joining it. It also co-operates with the UN in humanitarian relief, reconstruction and development work in many parts of the world.

Last September, the Secretary-General had a meeting in New York with the European "troika", who said they wanted to put their relationship with the United Nations on a new footing. He very much welcomed this proposal, being convinced - as I am - that the EU can make an even greater contribution in various areas of concern to the United Nations, including international peace and security.

With their military standby capacities and experience in joint military exercises, European countries are particularly well placed to help other regions - especially Africa - to strengthen their capacity for peacekeeping.

As you know, the UN is working hard to strengthen its own capacity in this area. The Secretary-General considers the reforms recommended in last year's "Brahimi Report" a very high priority, and he needs the support of Member States in carrying them out. He also wants the reforms to include measures which will improve our ability to detect and analyse potential conflicts at an early stage, and so give us a better chance of preventing them from breaking out.

And he hopes that the implementation of these reforms will make it easier for EU members to support and participate in UN peacekeeping. Over time, the credibility of UN peacekeeping depends on the willingness of all member states - and particularly those with the greatest resources and military competence - to contribute troops.

We therefore look forward to co-operating with the European rapid reaction force. And we hope the EU will be careful to design its own peacekeeping procedures and standards in such a way as to make it easier, not more difficult, for European troops to work with those of developing countries in the field.

At the same time, it is important for the EU to remember that peace and security depend not only on military and diplomatic operations, but also on building a fairer world in which all peoples have an opportunity to better themselves through sustainable economic development. Europe's role will be crucial in enabling the world to reach the broader goals identified by last year's Millennium Summit, such as poverty reduction, the promotion of trade and investment, the struggle against HIV/AIDS, and bridging the "digital divide".

In this respect, last month's decision by the EU to grant dutyand quota-free access to "everything but arms" from the least developed countries is an encouraging step in the right direction. I hope Europe will persuade other industrialised countries to follow suit, and that it will be equally generous in providing poor countries with the financial and technical assistance they will need in order to benefit from expanded market opportunities.

We at the UN certainly intend to develop a closer working relationship with the EU. Indeed I am now on my way to Brussels to explore ways of doing so.

There is no doubt that Europe can be one of the UN's most important partners, not only in peacekeeping, but in broader peace building, in crisis management, and in long term conflict prevention. I believe that Europeans also have the vision and generosity to assume that role, and I am sure that Finland, which has such a long and honourable tradition of contributing to UN peacekeeping, will be in the lead.

Thank you very much for your attention. Let me now do my best to answer any questions you may have.