Interview: The Challenge Facing the UN in Peace and Security is how to be and be seen as truly relevant

Peace Operations Blog

The UN Needs Urgently to Keep Pace with Evolving Challenges and Threats to International Security From Climate Change to Violent Extremism and Terrorism and Beyond.

H.E. Mr. Mogens Lykketoft is the President of the 70th session of the General Assembly. One of his key initiatives upon assuming office was to propose a collective reflection on the key pillars of the United Nations – development, peace and security and human rights – and how the United Nations and the next Secretary General in particular can confront new challenges and transform them into opportunities.

On 10 and 11 May 2016, he will host a high-level thematic debate on UN, Peace and Security in order to examine how to strengthen the role and the performance of the United Nations’ engagement in these matters. The Global Peace Operations Review’s Jim Della-Giacoma and Lesley Connolly recently interviewed Mr. Lykketoft about his initiative.

Jim Della-Giacoma (JDG): What motivated you to organize this High-level Thematic Debate?

Mogens Lykketoft (ML): Since taking office in September 2015, it has become clear to me that just as multilateralism is re-asserting itself in relation to sustainable development, regrettably, in the area of international peace and security, the opposite appears to be happening.

This is partly related to the perception that the Security Council is unable to deal with some of the most complicated and dangerous conflicts the world has witnessed in recent years, including in Syria. The result is a lack of credibility and a declining image of the UN.

The international community needs urgently to engage in a serious and dispassionate reflection on the role of the United Nations in today’s world across the three inter-related pillars of the organization: development, peace and security and respect for human rights. This reflection needs to inspire all members of this organisation as they start considering who – as the next Secretary-General – will lead the UN in all those equally vital tasks.

The high-level thematic debate on UN, peace and security of 10-11 May is an integral part of this process. I will host two other complementary high-level thematic debates on Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals on 21 April and on human rights on 12-13 July.

I hope that those debates will constitute adequate opportunities for the members of the United Nations to recommit to the purposes and principles of the Charter.

JDG: What do you hope to achieve from this debate?

ML: There is a good reason why the recent reviews – on UN peace operations, peacebuilding and on women, peace and security – were undertaken coincidentally: they are all inspired by the sense that the UN needs urgently to keep pace with evolving challenges and threats to international security, from climate change or violent extremism and terrorism which are now at the top of the global agenda.

They all seek to address weaknesses that undermine the efficiency and credibility of the UN, and its ability to meet the objectives outlined in the Charter. The three reviews coupled with the process for selecting and appointing the next UN Secretary General, constitute genuine opportunities to reassert the role of the UN in matters of peace and security.

I hope that my high-level thematic debate will contribute to this momentum and provide Member States with the right platform to engage in a strategic reflection about those challenges and the ways to enhance the efficiency and credibility of the UN.

Lesley Connolly (LC): What are the key issues from the three reviews of 2015 that will help keep the UN effective in the face of the changing nature of conflict?

ML: The reviews contain a remarkable set of converging recommendations – for example, regarding the need to recognize the primacy of politics; to increase investment in prevention; to strengthen the protection and participation of women in any conflict situations; to advance a people centred approach to peace and security and to strengthen partnerships in this area, particularly with regional organizations.

But I would like to encourage the General Assembly to look also at other global challenges.

Look at the refugee crises in Eastern Mediterranean and in Eastern Africa and the dramatic consequences of an international response which was not immediately commensurate with the magnitude of the needs. Failure to prevent conflicts and to address their effects at an early stage has also a cost – a cost that is becoming unbearable. As the report on humanitarian financing shows, $15 billion are needed for a decent effort to deal with refugees. It will require the right system of financing and better interaction between all parts of the UN.

In matters of peace and security also, there is no alternative to the establishment of a more predictable and sustainable financing mechanism for international action – be it for peace operations carried out by the UN or the Africa Union for example.

Another crucial dimension of any reflection on those matters is the interconnectedness between development, peace and security and human rights. We need to consider peace and security coupled with development. Genuine commitment to the implementation of Goal 16 is the best way to prevent conflict and put human dignity at the heart of governance. The two go hand-in-hand.

JDG: Ahead of the debate, you have been encouraging a number of consultations around the world with civil society organizations in Brussels, Geneva, Brasilia, Addis Ababa, Cairo, Shanghai, Monrovia, and other places. What has been the most valuable outcome of these consultations and how do they relate to the even in New York?

ML: When I announced my intention to convene a high-level thematic debate on UN, peace and security, I was approached by a number of prominent research institutions, civil society organizations, think tanks with global and regional reach – all of them with a genuine wish to contribute to this reflection and inform the debate.

I encouraged them to work together, organize regional debates and meetings that would be open also to experts from Member States, regional and sub-regional organizations and the private sector.

The task was to bring the perspective of Europe, Asia, Africa, America and the Arab world, to go beyond abstract terms and identify the concrete implications of the primacy of politics, conflict prevention and mitigation. During the high-level thematic debate, they will be given an opportunity to outline their conclusions and recommendations, to inspire our action and the next UN leadership.

LC: It is vital for the Member States, civil society and other stakeholders to form a consensus on the role of the UN in the field of peace and security. How will the thematic debate approach this?

ML: The high-level thematic debate will combine a high-level plenary segment with interactive sessions to discuss today’s threats, challenges for sustainable peace, and how the UN system can support Member States as the primary actors.

Member States will be invited to participate at the highest possible level. Observers, UN entities, civil society, media, and other stakeholders will be invited to attend and some of them will have a special role to play.

I believe sincerely that civil society has a very important role to play in the field of peace and security. The contributions of civil society organizations are very diverse. They have field experience and ideas about what kind of system will be needed in the future. They are able to offer perspectives that are unique and important for us to hear.

Finally, it is also my intention to invite all declared candidates for the position of UN Secretary General to be present so that they are fully aware of what lies ahead of them, if selected.

JDG: This is the year that the new Secretary General will be selected. How do you see the high-level debate contributing to their future agenda?

ML: Clearly, the challenge is not only the reform of the Security Council, which is a core issue, but its interaction with the Secretary General and General Assembly.

It is very important that those who want to hold this office understand that the role of the UN Secretary General is very much to be the right moral authority towards the principle organs. The Secretary General needs to call the Security Council at the right time and challenge it if necessary while making all efforts to ensure that it takes action in the face of a crisis.

LC: How effective will a UNGA debate be in unlocking the entrenched positions of the P5 or G77 on these issues and challenges?

ML: You mentioned only two of many constituencies within the General Assembly and two constituencies that are also deeply divided on important issues such as the link between SDGs and sustainable peace.

I hope that a transparent and inclusive debate in a format that is carefully designed to be adequate to a particular discussion on the role of the UN in matters of peace and security can make a difference, go beyond the usual recognition of an ‘ill defined’ need for change to focus instead on concrete steps to make that change happen.

Only the search for a common ground on key threats and appropriate international responses to them will strengthen the will and ability of the Security Council to act in a more timely and efficient manner. Take terrorism and violent extremism, for example. Even the most powerful State on earth cannot address this threat alone. It has to be a concerted action from all the major world and regional powers. And it is not possible to deal with such threat with military might only.

JDG: One of the themes from the HIPPO report is that the UN should not work alone; it has to work with others and it should be conceived more as a facilitator rather than an implementer. What is your vision for the role of regional organizations in these peace and security challenges and how do you think the debate will bring these out?

ML: The nature of conflict has changed. It is widely recognized that the nature of conflicts has changed and that the vast majority of conflicts do not take place any more among States but within States and involving non-state actors – but at the same time with increasingly regional consequences, from a political, humanitarian, security point of view.

It requires obviously a change in the international approach, taking into consideration the regional dimensions of conflicts and the risk of spill-over. Designing and implementing regional strategies constitute only one of the responses to this phenomenon.

Another one if enhanced partnership with regional organisations. But it requires also from regional organisations to be ready for it. What has enabled the African Union to become an effective actor in the field of peace and security is firstly a political consensus on key values and key approaches, such as the principle of ‘non-indifference’ – sometimes opposed to the principle of non-interference – but also, very importantly, its concrete capacity to act. Building requisite administrative and military capacity has paid off. Today, the partnership between the AU and the UN is a concrete reality and it will only be further strengthened in the future.

LC: What will be the greatest challenge for the UN in peace and security moving forward?

ML: The challenge facing the UN in matters of peace and security is how to be and be seen as truly relevant.

In all my interaction with the General Assembly and its committees over the last few months – as the reviews and the way forward were being discussed –, I have urged member states to translate recommendations into action within a reasonable time frame.

There is a need to define both the division of labour between the UN and the regional organizations and ensure that policies, practices and funding mechanisms are adequate to the challenges linked with the objective to build sustainable peace. But a number of recommendations outlined in the reviews require more than a decision – it takes a change in mind-set to recognize the primacy of politics and put conflict prevention at the forefront of the international approach.

There is a need for a new vision, a new agenda that the next UN leadership will need to formulate and translate into action.

Mogens Lykketoft is the President of the 70th session of the UN General Assembly. | Twitter: @UN_PGA

Jim Della-Giacoma is the Deputy Director of the Center on International Cooperation. | Twitter: @jimdella

Lesley Connolly is a research assistant at the Center on International Cooperation | Twitter: @LesleyConnolly3

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