Welcome to the United Nations

Remarks to the Security Council Open Debate on "Maintenance of International Peace and Security: Conflict Prevention and Sustaining Peace"

10 Jan 2017
António Guterres

Madame President, may I first of all thank you very much, and thank the Swedish presidency, for convening this meeting and allowing me to have my first formal presence in the Security Council, discussing what I believe must be the priority of everything we do together – preventing conflict and sustaining peace. And I believe that the massive attendance that we are registering in this meeting proves that indeed this message is something that we all fully recognize. Thank you very much again.

The United Nations was established to prevent war by binding us in a rules-based international order. 

Prevention is not merely a priority, but the priority. If we live up to our responsibilities, we will save lives, reduce suffering and give hope to millions.
Millions of people in crisis look to this Council to preserve global stability and to protect them from harm, but the enormous human and economic cost of conflicts around the world shows how complex and challenging this is. Yet we spend far more time and resources responding to crises rather than preventing them. People are paying too high a price. Member States are paying too high a price. We need a whole new approach. Today, that order is under grave threat. 

It has proved very difficult to persuade decision-makers at national and international level that prevention must be their priority – perhaps because successful prevention does not attract attention. The television cameras are not there when a crisis is avoided. 

But most of today’s conflicts are still essentially internal, even if they quickly take on regional and transnational overtones. They are fuelled by competition for power and resources, inequality, marginalization and exclusion, poor governance, weak institutions, sectarian divides. They are exacerbated by climate change, population growth and the globalization of crime and terrorism. With so many factors at work, it takes very little to trigger a crisis that can engulf a country or a region, with global consequences. 

But while the causes of crisis are deeply interlinked, the UN’s response remains fragmented. 

The interconnected nature of today’s crises requires us to connect our own efforts for peace and security, sustainable development and human rights, not just in words, but in practice. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the General Assembly and Security Council resolutions on sustaining peace demonstrate strong intergovernmental support for an integrated approach. 

The challenge now is to make corresponding changes to our culture, strategy, structures and operations. 

We must rebalance our approach to peace and security. For decades, this has been dominated by responding to conflict. For the future, we need to do far more to prevent war and sustain peace. 

The reforms I am setting in motion aim to achieve this. I have started with the decision-making processes in the Secretariat. The newly-established Executive Committee will increase our capacity to integrate all pillars of the United Nations, under a common vision for action. 

I have appointed a senior Advisor on Policy, whose main task will be to map the prevention capacities of the UN system and to bring them together into an integrated platform for early detection and action. This work will enable us to link the reform of our Peace and Security architecture with the reform of the UN Development System, while respecting the specific areas of competence of the Security Council and the General Assembly. 

But we need the support of both bodies for our efforts to build and sustain peace across the continuum, from prevention, conflict resolution and peacekeeping to peacebuilding and long-term development. 

The primary work of conflict prevention lies with Member States. 

L’ensemble du système des Nations Unies doit se tenir prêt à aider les gouvernements à mettre en œuvre l’Agenda 2030, à renforcer la gouvernance et les institutions et à promouvoir l’état de droit et tous les droits humains, qu’ils soient civils, politiques, sociaux, économiques ou culturels. L’initiative des Droits Humains Avant Tout, qui vise également à intégrer les problématiques de la paix et de la sécurité, des droits humains et du développement durable, permettra de continuer à renforcer les capacités de l’ONU dans ce domaine. 

Et les agences humanitaires et les acteurs du développement doivent travailler ensemble pour aider les états à prévenir les crises et à renforcer la résilience de leurs sociétés. Le dispositif fragmenté actuel ne nous donne pas la capacité de nous attaquer aux causes profondes des conflits. 

Il est fondamental aussi de faire en sorte que les femmes et les filles participent pleinement à l’édification de sociétés inclusives et résilientes. Lorsque l’égalité de genre imprègne le tissu social, lorsque les femmes et les hommes font face aux difficultés en tant que partenaires égaux, les sociétés ont de bien meilleures chances de parvenir à la stabilité et de préserver la dignité humaine et la prospérité. 

Il est aussi crucial de régler le fléau mondial qu’est le chômage des jeunes, non seulement pour garantir leur épanouissement, mais aussi pour prévenir l’instabilité, les conflits sociaux et réduire l’extrémisme violent. Combattre le chômage des jeunes doit faire non seulement une priorité absolue des politiques nationales de développement mais une priorité de la coopération au niveau international. 

As societies become multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multi-cultural, we will need greater political, cultural and economic investments in inclusivity and cohesion, so that people appreciate the benefits of diversity rather than perceiving it as a threat. All groups need to see that their individual identities are respected, while feeling that they belong as valued members of the community as a whole. Civil society has a role to play in raising the alarm when this respect is threatened or lost. 

We must commit to a surge in diplomacy for peace, in partnership with regional organizations, mobilizing the entire range of those with influence, from religious authorities to civil society and the business community. 

We will launch an initiative to enhance our mediation capacity, both at United Nations Headquarters and in the field, and to support regional and national mediation efforts. 

I ask the Security Council to make greater use of the options laid out in Chapter VI of the UN Charter. And I am prepared to support you through the use of my good offices and through my personal engagement. 

Too many prevention opportunities have been lost because Member States mistrusted each other’s motives, and because of concerns over national sovereignty. Such concerns are understandable, in a world where power is unequal and principles have sometimes been applied selectively. Indeed, prevention should never be used to serve other political goals. On the contrary, prevention is best served by strong sovereign States, acting for the good of their people. 

But in taking preventive action, we need to avoid double standards. But that does not mean that there are no standards at all. Preventive action is essential to avert mass atrocities or grave abuses of human rights. And we can achieve this only through reasoned discussion, based on facts and the pursuit of truth. 

Prevention must consistently be seen as a value in itself. It is an essential means of reducing human suffering and enabling people to reach their full potential.

International cooperation for prevention, and particularly translating early warning into early action, depends on trust between Member States, and in their relations with the United Nations. 

I stand ready to foster a more trusting relationship and to improve communications with the Council, with consistency, candour and transparency.

Disagreements about the past cannot allow us to prevent us from acting today. 

Together, we need to demonstrate leadership, and strengthen the credibility and authority of the United Nations, by putting peace first. Ending the boundless human suffering and the wanton waste of resources generated by conflict is in everyone’s interests. 

This Council, working with the Peacebuilding Commission, all other parts of the United Nations system, and regional organizations, can enable faster preventive action when the warning signs are there. The cost of inaction is simply too high. 

War is never inevitable. It is always a matter of choice: the choice to exclude, to discriminate, to marginalize, to resort to violence. By restoring trust between governments and their citizens and amongst Member States, we can prevent and avoid conflict. 

But peace, too, is never inevitable. It is the result of difficult decisions, hard work and compromise. We should never take it for granted; but should prize and nurture it in every country, at every time. 

Prevention is not merely a priority, but the priority. If we live up to our responsibilities, we will save lives, reduce suffering and give hope to millions. 

Allow me to repeat the appeal I made ten days ago in my first message as Secretary-General: Let us make this year, 2017, a year for peace. I think it would be naïve to say that 2017 will be a year of peace, but at least it is our obligation to do everything we can to make it a year for peace. 

Thank you very much.