IPI’s Top 10 Issues to Watch in 2012: The Multilateral Arena

IPI’s Global Observatory took a hard look at items on the international agenda in 2012 and identified the top issues likely to impact the field of international peace and security.

The Global Observatory will publish the list in two installments: (1) the top ten multilateral issues to watch for in 2012 (below), and (2) the top issues in each region of the world.

Here are the first top ten in the area of multilateral affairs, in no order of priority.

1. The Beginning of the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s Second Term. Ban’s first term did not get off to an easy start, but 2011 marked a turning point. His performance over the institutional crisis in Côte d’Ivoire, the referendum on the self-determination of South Sudan, Haiti’s controversial elections, and the volatile situation in the Arab world has been praised by many. Which Ban Ki-moon—the much-criticized early version or the latest, emboldened edition—will be seen during his second term leading the world body in pursuit of international peace and security? Ban’s preference for quiet diplomacy and gradual engagement will arguably characterize his second term in office as well. The Secretary-General will continue to stay away from hot-button issues such as Security Council reform and the Middle East peace process and instead enhance diplomatic conflict management tools, such as preventive diplomacy, mediation, and conflict prevention. A few new staff in his leadership team may also impact the dynamics in the Executive Office.

2. UN Peace Operations. 2012 is the twentieth anniversary of the creation of the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) and the Department of Political Affairs (DPA), as well as the five-year anniversary of the creation of the Department of Field Support (DFS). With new leadership in DPKO and a new head coming to DPA, will the trend toward a more operational political department, combined with a reduced appetite for peacekeeping, continue? Various factors will determine the answer. The missions in Libya and South Sudan will most likely pose serious tests for the new leadership. There are also the continuing challenges of peacekeeping: hostile and complex operating environments, the threat of being targeted by spoilers, and difficult relations with host countries—added to increasing financial constraints and pressure from member states for more cost-efficiency.

3. Dynamics in the New UN Security Council. While the new Security Council is as interesting as the outgoing one in terms of the presence of assertive emerging powers and troop-contributing countries (both India and Pakistan will have non-permanent seats), the events that will impact the dynamics in the council the most are domestic. Four out of the five permanent members have elections (France, Russia, and United States) or a change in the top leadership (China) in 2012. As a result, much of their attention will be consumed by internal politics, with the risk of countries adopting more parochial positions on the big international issues to secure domestic consensus. However, we will also have to look at the interaction between India and Pakistan. While they are rivals on Afghanistan, the flare-ups may occur in other areas. Arguably, there will be new dynamics on counterterrorism and nuclear issues, but also on peacekeeping, including on issues of importance to troop-contributing countries such as mandates, troop and equipment reimbursements, and gaps in peacekeeping capabilities.

4. International Criminal Court. After ten years in operation (doors opened in 2002), the ICC has few tangible results to show for itself and has attracted much criticism along the way for only focusing on cases in Africa. Nevertheless, it has become a standard instrument in the toolkit of international affairs. Newly-elected Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda of Gambia will assume her office at an opportune time (June 2012), when the court’s first trials are expected to conclude. More investigations might also be initiated in 2012, possibly outside of Africa. In the meantime, Bensouda’s African roots could allay concerns over the court’s perceived bias against Africa, and her lower profile and soft-spoken style will be a welcome change, allowing the court to consolidate the progress made so far.

5. G8/NATO Summit in Chicago (May). NATO’s evolving role in “partnerships” bears watching. Afghanistan is the current leading example of NATO’s role in international security assistance. What role will NATO play in the evolving situation across North Africa and the Middle East?

6. Follow-up to the Fourth High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness. The forum held in Busan, South Korea, in November-December 2011 reminded the world that much more work is to be done in improving development outcomes globally, and fragile states’ engagement more specifically. It articulated that new donors, including China and India, as well as the private sector, had a significant role to play and must be better engaged. As we move towards 2015 and the conclusion of the Millennium Development Goals, the world is already starting to think about alternative frameworks. The Rio+20 Summit will provide an opportunity for further reflection on the post-MDG environment (see below). Given the emphasis placed on conflict-affected and fragile states in Busan, this could be an opportunity for the UN to make a real statement on the challenges of development in fragile and conflict-affected states.

7. Rio+20 Summit (June). With the disappointing Durban Agreement at the 17th Conference of Parties (COP17) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), international climate talks are in danger of sputtering. Additionally, as the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) period comes to an end (2015), discussions are ramping up on what will take their place, some of which is focusing on sustainable development. The original UN Conference on The Environment and Development, or Rio for short, brought about the Rio Declaration, the Convention on Biological Diversity, the UNFCCC, and led directly to the UN Convention to Combat Desertification. Twenty years later, Rio+20 offers the chance for renewed multilateral engagement on a range of topics and a reinvigoration of environmental governance and sustainable development. Though the odds are slim of seeing the types of “big” international agreements that came out of the 1992 Earth Summit, there is hope for Rio+20 to breathe new life into the areas of sustainable development and environmental governance.

8. COP18 in Qatar (November-December). The next Conference of all Parties (COP) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) will take place in Qatar from November 26th to December 7th. The outcome of COP17, the Durban Agreement, began to address the shared responsibilities of both developed and developing nations and added substance to the Green Climate Fund (GCF). Unfortunately it punted any agreement on legally binding emissions reductions to a 2015 agreement that will be implemented in 2020. Negotiations will begin in earnest in 2012 and will likely figure highly at the COP18 talks. Additionally, funding and specifics for the GCF must be further fleshed out. This GCF will be instrumental in assisting poor nations in making the transition to a reduced-carbon world and by extension in stabilizing greenhouse gas concentrations at sustainable levels.

9. Middle East Free of Nuclear Weapons. In Finland, a conference will be held next year (no date has been set) on the establishment of a Middle East zone free of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction. This conference will be a major test for multilateral efforts to reduce nuclear weapons and prevent their proliferation, as it will take place in the context of major political developments in the Arab world, unchanged nuclear policy in Israel, and increased concerns about the possible military dimension of Iran’s nuclear program, as documented by the IAEA in its November 2011 report.

10. Cybersecurity. The issue of cybersecurity will continue to figure highly as an emerging challenge for all countries. Unfortunately, this does not mean any consensus will emerge as to what constitutes a threat. A divide will likely remain between those concerned with intellectual property and freedom of expression on the one hand and those concerned with external information threats on the other. The main avenue of cooperation will likely remain that of explicit criminal activity. UNODC will play the largest international role in this regard, primarily through its work on transnational organized crime.

Francesco Mancini is Senior Director of Research at the International Peace Institute.