The UN Needs a New Agenda for Peace

Last Friday, March 16, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon highlighted the key points from the report of his High-level Panel on Global Sustainability. In his presentation to the General Assembly, he emphasized the need for “new or reformed arrangements that integrate the three dimensions of sustainable development – environmental, social, and economic.” This is hardly debatable. What is more notable, however, is that a new agenda is also needed for international peace and security, another key area of UN engagement.

Key Conclusions

Echoing the words of the Secretary-General, there is a genuine need for new and/or reformed arrangements to integrate the four fundamental dimensions for maintaining international peace and security–prevention, mediation, peacekeeping, and peacebuilding. Despite dramatic changes in the nature of the threats to international peace and security in recent years, the UN continues to operate on the basis of the recommendations of its 1992 report, “An Agenda for Peace.” New UN entities were created over the past ten years—for example, the Peacebuilding Commission and the Peacebuilding Support Office—and have led, in practice, to the compartmentalization of the UN’s efforts in the field of peace and security.

Today, there is a pressing need to break down existing institutional silos and to move towards a new “nexus approach,” as Ban called it, not only in the development sector, but also in the peace and security area. The first step, however, should not be a return to discussing structures and processes, but rather the drafting of a new vision and strategy for maintaining international peace and security in the 21st century.


The representation of conflict as a linear phenomenon that moves methodically from crisis to violence to peace rarely conforms to reality and expectations. Managing conflict and achieving peace is a much messier, complicated, and protracted process. Similarly, peacemaking, peacekeeping, and peacebuilding do not necessarily unfold as a linear progression shifting from one “phase” of activity to another. Responses to armed violence often involve, as seen in Sudan today, the simultaneous engagement of diplomatic efforts to implement peace agreements, robust peacekeeping to protect civilians, and early recovery activities to address the needs of devastated post-conflict communities. In fact, peace operations frequently have significant peacebuilding components, with peacemaking often proceeding concurrently with peacekeeping and peacebuilding activities. Such complexity calls for an overarching strategy behind which the international community’s efforts can align.

In recent years, the UN Secretariat has produced a plethora of strategic and operational documents on how to improve the UN’s responses in conflict scenarios. Most of these documents focused on technical aspects, such as partnerships, capabilities, expertise, planning, and prioritizing. Among them there are: “A New Partnership Agenda: Charting a New Horizon for UN Peacekeeping” (2009); “Peacebuilding in the Immediate Aftermath of Conflict” (2009); “Global Field Support Strategy” (2010); “Civilian Capacity in the Aftermath of Conflict” (2011); “Preventive Diplomacy: Delivering Results” (2011); and the “Review of Arrangements for Funding and Backstopping Special Political Missions” (2011).

Without discussing the intrinsic merits of these reports–and there are many–such a proliferation of paper only increases the fragmentation of thinking and the internal competition among departments, programs, and agencies. The desired unity of intent and action is lost in the drafting, with each department pushing its own turf to the forefront. At the same time, these documents provide a solid basis for developing a unified vision and strategy for the Secretariat and the UN system as a whole in the field of international peace and security.

To achieve greater coherence and efficiency, the Secretary-General could establish a task force to organize and review the recommendations of the various reports published in recent years with the aim of consolidating a coherent vision for the Secretariat’s work in international peace and security. This could be termed a new “agenda for peace,” laying out the rationale for institutional adaptation in a changed political and economic environment. For such a document to achieve this goal, the first step should be strategic. What vision and strategy does the UN need in order to respond effectively and in a timely manner to the demands of its member states? What strategies does the UN need to adequately support countries with varying security needs (before, during, and after a conflict) and throughout the stages of transition while facing new and emerging challenges (i.e., transnational organized crime, the impacts of climate change, resource scarcity, etc.)?

The recent report of the Secretary-General’s “High-level Panel on Global Sustainability” offers a template beginning with a seven-page vision for the future; the 2004 forward-looking report of the Secretary-General High-level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change, “A More Secure World: Our Shared Responsibility,” is also instructive in its content and call for a broader, more comprehensive concept of collective security. In such a process, the inputs of the individual departments, agencies, and programs involved will be vital, as will those of member states. Without the full support of the UN’s membership and the wider UN system, little can be accomplished or implemented.

In the face of so many competing demands for time, attention, and resources, success depends on the articulation of an integrated strategy supported by the diverse tools for peacemaking, peacekeeping, and peacebuilding, as well as on high degrees of coherence, coordination, capacity, and the adaptability of the UN as an organization. The ultimate goal should be the development of a comprehensive and achievable strategy that can be carried out by member states and the UN’s departments, programs, and agencies. Such a strategy should also consider the important roles played by regional and subregional organizations, civil society, and the private sector.

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

About the photo: Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon briefs the General Assembly on the final report of his High-Level Panel on Global Sustainability, March 16, 2012. UN Photo/Devra Berkowitz