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|Effective Deterrent Action Is Key to Conflict Prevention,
Secretary-General Tells Security Council
NEW YORK, 29 November (UN Headquarters) -- This is the text of an address by Secretary-General Kofi Annan to the Security Council this afternoon on the role of the Council in the prevention of armed conflict:
I am delighted to take part in this vital meeting on one of the greatest challenges facing the United Nations, and one that, since becoming Secretary-General, I have made a priority of my work: preventing armed conflict.
It is clear that prevention is one of the main tasks of this Organization. And yet, far too often, we find ourselves dealing with the effects of conflict rather than its roots. As I wrote in the Introduction to this year’s Annual Report on the Work of the Organization, we need to move “from a culture of reaction to a culture of prevention”.
The case for prevention hardly needs restating. Quite simply, it is cost effective, in financial as well as human terms. Most people now recognize this as a general proposition. But, in a particular case, cogent arguments for refusing or delaying preventive action can always be found.
Those directly involved may be unwilling to see the danger, or may resent interference from outsiders. (This is especially likely to be true of States threatened with internal conflict.) In some cases, one or more of the parties may actually believe that conflict will serve its interests. Outsiders, for their part, may well believe that the proposed action is unnecessary, or indeed that it will make matters worse.
And thus, as Hamlet put it:
“The native hue of resolution. Is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought, And enterprises of great pith and moment. With this regard their currents turn a-wry, And lose the name of action.”
That, Mr. President, is what we mean when we say that the crucial element of political will is lacking. There is no substitute for the recognition by the parties themselves that their actions are moving towards conflict, and that preventive action is needed. But there are ways in which we, as an Organization, could and should do more to make that clear to them.
Over the past two years, I have tried to strengthen our capacity for preventive diplomacy, preventive disarmament, preventive deployment and both pre-conflict and post-conflict peace-building. In particular, we are seeking to improve our early warning and analysis capabilities; improve coordination between the different departments, funds and agencies; and intensify our
Our efforts, however, will fall short unless they are complemented by a renewed commitment to effective prevention on the part of this Council and of all Member States. I hope the Council will use this meeting to examine how it can make prevention a tangible part of its day-to-day work.
Among the steps which the Council could take are the following:
-- Greater use of fact finding missions, either by the Secretary-General or by the Council itself, at much earlier stages of a dispute -- in accordance with the Council’s Charter responsibility to "... investigate any dispute, or any situation which might lead to international friction or give rise to a dispute...to endanger the maintenance of international peace and security".
-- Encouraging States which become aware of potential conflict within or among their neighbours to bring the issue promptly to the Council’s attention.
-- Giving urgent attention to the problems of States which suffer acute economic, environmental and security strains, with consequent risks to their internal stability, because they are hosting large refugee populations from neighbouring countries. Guinea, with 500,000 refugees currently on its territory from Liberia and Sierra Leone, would be a strong candidate for such attention in the immediate future.
-- Establishing an informal working group, or a subsidiary organ, to study early warning and prevention issues and report back.
-- Instituting regular meetings on prevention, at which the Council would identify areas that require urgent preventive action.
Finally, the United Nations needs to address the issue of resources. Although cost-effective, preventive action is not cost-free, yet regrettably there is an endemic paucity of resources for it. Yet, I think we all realize, Mr. President, that operational preventive measures such as I have just outlined, while they must always be tried, will often be too late to make much difference.
In the longer term, it is even more important to address the deep-rooted causes of conflicts, which often lie in the social and economic sphere. Poverty, repression and undemocratic government, endemic underdevelopment, weak or non-existent institutions, political and economic discrimination between ethnic or religious communities: these are the long-term causes of many conflicts. The past decade has provided ample evidence that when dissent and differences are channelled through peaceful means, conflict can be avoided. But when they are met with repression and violence, they grow stronger, more powerful and more violent.
Ultimately, therefore, it is the responsibility of each and every Member State to prevent conflict by practicing good governance. It is Member States who must resolve internal differences peacefully and through negotiation. It is they who must allow dissent, establish the rule of law, protect the rights of minorities, and ensure that elections are free and fair. It is they who must adopt enlightened economic and social policies, which do not allow any group of the population to feel they are systematically excluded from its share of the country’s wealth, or denied any say in decisions affecting their lives.
While war is the worst enemy of development, healthy and balanced development is the best form of long-term conflict prevention.
If any of you recognize that statement, it is because I said it last month in an address to the staff of the World Bank. That was, I believe, an appropriate forum in which to broach that subject. For all its awesome authority, the Council alone cannot help Member States to remove the long-term causes of conflict. Many of these fall within the terms of reference of other parts of the United Nations system, including the Bretton Woods Institutions, UNDP, ECOSOC, and even the International Court of Justice.
Effective action would often require joint action by many different organs and agencies, just as it requires joint action by different government departments within Member States. These different agencies often have separate agendas and, in the past, have not been used to thinking -? let alone working -? together. This is now improving, but there is still scope for much closer co-ordination of policy among them, and also, in many cases, between them and NGOs or the private sector.
The Council may wish to take the initiative in organizing discussion of the many and complex issues involved at the highest level -? perhaps at a meeting to be held during next year’s Millennium Assembly.
Allow me to conclude with one final thought: In the domestic affairs of our Member States, conflict prevention is usually described as the maintenance of order. And a key role in maintaining order is played by deterrence. Citizens are deterred from disturbing the peace by the knowledge that if they do so they are liable to be arrested and brought before a court. I believe deterrence also has an important role to play in maintaining international order. On the individual level, we are seeking to do that through the Tribunals for Rwanda and the Former Yugoslavia, and I hope before long we shall be able to do it worldwide, through the International Criminal Court. But it is perhaps even more important to do it on the collective level -- and that is where this Council has its gravest responsibility.
I really believe that, thanks to the prompt and effective decisions taken by the Council in 1990 and 1991, States all over the world are today in less danger of being treated as Kuwait was then.
But we have also observed that, in these days, many of the gravest conflicts, which come to require the attention of this Council year after year, occur not between States but within them. That is why, in my address to the General Assembly two months ago, I appealed for a new consensus on intervention, defined in the broadest sense. In that address, I noted that armed intervention is itself a result of the failure of prevention, and I stressed the value of deterrence in preventing conflict. Let me repeat, then, that nothing would be more effective, in deterring States and other parties from resorting to the extreme measures that characterize too many present-day conflicts, than a clear demonstration that this Council is indeed prepared to take decisive action when faced with crimes against humanity.
It is my hope that this meeting today will help the United Nations forge a consensus on these vital questions, and restore prevention to its rightful place as the first responsibility of the Security Council, and of the Organization as a whole.
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