With New Resolutions, Sustaining Peace Sits at Heart of UN Architecture

United Nations Special Representative Aïchatou Mindaoudou Souleymane (left), attends the inauguration of Côte d’Ivoire's Centre for Listening to Women. Duékoué, May 22, 2015. (Abdul Fatai Adegboye/UN Photo)

The United Nations Security Council and General Assembly adopted identical resolutions on a new vision for the UN’s peacebuilding architecture on Wednesday. This was the culmination of a tireless intergovernmental negotiation process guided by the findings and recommendations of last year’s The Challenge of Sustaining Peace report, produced by a group of experts convened by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. But what exactly is “sustaining peace”? And how will the UN’s key peacebuilding instruments work within this new conceptual framework?

The preamble of the dual resolution defines sustaining peace as including “activities aimed at preventing the outbreak, escalation, continuation and recurrence of conflict, addressing root causes, assisting parties to conflict to end hostilities, ensuring national reconciliation, and moving towards recovery, reconstruction and development.” It is an inherently political process that spans prevention, mediation, conflict management, and resolution.

This expansive definition means putting UN member states and their populations in the lead, putting politics and political solutions front and center, giving prevention an uncontested home, and leveraging the UN’s three pillars—human rights, peace and security, and development—in a mutually reinforcing way.

From Peacebuilding to Sustaining Peace

During the General Assembly debate following the adoption of the resolution, most member states hailed the conceptual shift from peacebuilding to sustaining peace as transformative and forward-looking. It means peacebuilding is no longer confined to post-conflict situations but applies to all phases: before the outbreak, during the conflict, and after it has abated.

Sustaining peace is “a goal and a process to build a common vision of society,” according to the new resolution. While this process is hard to define and harder still to break into concrete, operational steps, the resolution offers a number of building blocks to that end. These include greater links between peace, development, and human rights; inclusive national ownership, where local actors have a consistent voice and women and youth play a critical role; and more strategic and close partnerships with diverse stakeholders. All require sustained support and attention by the international community.

Research that was cited by the Secretary-General’s group of experts, as well as the authors of two other 2015 peace and security reviews, amply demonstrates that society-wide participation, including women, is essential to laying the foundations for self-sustaining peace. The resolution’s preamble thus cites “the substantial link between women’s full and meaningful involvement in efforts to prevent, resolve and rebuild from conflict and those efforts’ effectiveness and long term sustainability,” and that “inclusivity is key to advancing national peacebuilding processes and objectives…”

A Revitalized PBC Mandate

There is hope that the newly approved resolution will enable the UN’s Peacebuilding Commission (PBC) to assume a more proactive role in fostering coordination and cohesion and to engage in prevention.

In 2005, when the PBC was established as a unique intergovernmental forum, it set out to “bring together all relevant actors” to mobilize resources, sustain attention, and propose integrated strategies for post-conflict recovery. While its founding resolution tasked the PBC with helping to improve the coordination of all actors—within and outside the UN—on particular post-conflict countries, the commission has yet to effectively play this role, as both its five- and ten-year reviews found. As the latter review recommended, “The PBC should become the advisory ‘bridge’ between the relevant intergovernmental organs it was always intended to be.”

The new resolution seems to endorse this recommendation, judging from the new language focusing on improved coordination and integration, stressing the links between the UN’s three foundational pillars, and expecting the PBC to play a bridging role across the work of the UN’s principal organs in support of sustaining peace.

The new resolution is the first that explicitly links peacebuilding and prevention. The preamble makes eight separate references to prevention, underscoring its central role in sustaining peace. When the PBC’s mandate was confined to the post-conflict situation, prevention was treated solely as a post-conflict mitigation strategy, not as means for averting the outbreak of conflict in the first place.

Looking ahead, the resolution also tasks PBC members with revisiting and revising their working methods. Member states are expected to come together to interpret the resolution in a progressive and proactive way, ensuring that these rhetorical gains for the PBC are translated into its daily practice. The commission has recently benefitted from strong chairs (Brazil in 2014 and Sweden in 2015), with Kenya taking over the helm this year. Given Kenya’s past co-chairmanship of the Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals, we should expect concrete linkages between the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the work of the PBC.

Beyond the PBC

In recent years at UN headquarters in New York, peacebuilding has been defined in increasingly narrow, technical terms, as primarily a series of project-based activities to address post-conflict priorities. The new resolution manages to free peacebuilding from this straightjacket. It recognizes that sustaining peace is everyone’s business, within each UN agency and each mission. Indeed, peace is a long-term process of social change that requires work at various levels. As the resolution puts it, “effective peacebuilding must involve the entire United Nations system,” and tools like joint analysis and effective strategic planning for long-term engagement can move this cooperation forward.

As the resolution sought to enlarge the responsibility for peacebuilding to include all parts of the UN, its provisions explicitly feature strong links to the UN development arm and the leadership role of UN Country Teams in the area of peacebuilding. Sustaining peace as a cross-cutting issue also enlarges the opportunities for implementing some of last year’s recommendations of the High-Level Independent Panel on Peace Operations, particularly those relating to sustaining peace and the primacy of politics, as well as those relating the financing of the peacebuilding component of peace operations and the peacebuilding roles of peacekeepers.

Stalled on Financing

The Challenge of Sustaining Peace proposed new funding mechanisms for UN peacebuilding, including that the Peacebuilding Fund receive core funding equivalent to 1% of the total UN peace operations budget. The new resolution only took note of this recommendation, while encouraging member states to continue making voluntary contributions to the fund.

The resolution does, however, call for a report from the next secretary-general on means of implementation, including on two areas relating to funding: 1) how to ensure increased (and predictable) contributions to peacebuilding activities through assessed and voluntary contributions; and 2) how to ensure the peacebuilding activities of UN Country Teams and peace operations, including special political missions, are adequately funded.

While changes in financing arrangements will inevitably face stiff challenges in the UN’s Fifth Committee budget negotiations, this request provides a platform for the UN system to present a comprehensive analysis of current funding constraints. In the meantime, while waiting for predictable and sustainable financial solutions, member states are pinning their hopes on a pledging conference in September to secure enough voluntary contribution to keep the Peacebuilding Fund afloat.

Indivisible Agendas: Sustaining Peace and Sustainable Development

With “sustaining peace” now firmly in the mindsets of member states, the General Assembly resolution decided that the Assembly will convene a high-level meeting in September 2017 on “Peacebuilding and Sustaining Peace.” And it invited the next secretary-general to deliver a report on the same topic 60 days before the meeting. For the last 10 years this agenda item has been titled, “Report of the Peacebuilding Commission.” The name change is further evidence that peacebuilding has now been elevated to a strategic level through the sustaining peace framework.

In 2016, there is another emerging area of policy that sets out to be a holistic, system-wide framework: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The centerpiece of the agenda, the Sustainable Development Goals, signals a commitment by member states to address the root drivers of conflict, notably social, political, and economic exclusion. The goals have the potential to become the most powerful connector between the various pillars of the UN’s work and their implementation could serve as a conduit for the sustaining peace agenda.

The 2030 Agenda and the Sustaining Peace resolution both have far-reaching implications for peace and security and collective wellbeing in today’s complex and interconnected world. These two comprehensive and integrative frameworks should guide the work of the UN in the years ahead. Sustained proactive leadership is now needed to transform the collective energy behind these agendas into new avenues for implementing their aspirational, ambitious, but achievable goals.