UN must embrace regional groups to improve conflict resolution, peacemaking

UN must embrace regional groups to improve conflict resolution, peacemaking

Last week, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres hosted a high-level dialogue with leaders of about 20 regional organizations. Over two days at the idyllic Greentree Estate, just outside New York City, Guterres and top aides discussed with those groups better ways to work together to deal with various threats — war, terrorism, organized crime, political conflicts, climate change, and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. 

As far back as 1945, the UN Charter dedicated a full chapter to encouraging regional organizations to take active roles in maintaining peace and security, resolving disputes, managing crises, and enforcing Security Council decisions. However, those provisions were not made operational until recently and only in a limited way, because only recently have most regional organizations become capable of carrying out that mandate.

As a result, cooperation between the UN and such organizations has been uneven across regions, over time and in dealing with specific crises. It is true that, over the past several years, it has sought to deploy numerous complex peace operations. There was consensus at the meeting that, while those efforts were meant to forestall the escalation and continuation of violence, the resulting fragmentation has at times created challenges to the coherence and efficiency of the international community’s engagements. At the same time, the changing nature of conflicts, their complex and multidimensional nature, and the multiplication of actors involved in a given situation call for greater global-regional cooperation.

Notice how the Yemen crisis mediation has evolved. Initially, the Gulf Cooperation Council did the heavy lifting in negotiating the terms of the GCC Initiative between the government and opposition parties. It took months to negotiate, until November 2011, when former President Ali Abdullah Saleh conceded power. The GCC then took the lead with the government to prepare for the February 2012 elections, followed by the National Dialogue Conference, which lasted 10 months and produced outcomes that represented Yemeni consensus. The UN was assisting in many of these developments, but it was the GCC, a regional organization, which took the lead. However, cooperation gradually ebbed, the UN took the lead and other players were gradually sidelined. After the Houthi coup in September 2014, the UN instructed its mediators to consult regularly with the GCC and other key actors, but in reality those consultations were at times limited and superficial.

Similar things happened in Syria. Initially, the Arab League and the UN were partners in almost every detail of the mediation. They jointly appointed special envoys and mapped their work together. Gradually, however, the Arab League’s role diminished to that of an occasional observer.

UN agencies and officials can be very capable, but they do not always have the local knowledge and connections that regional organizations have. As such, their work sometimes suffers without that local knowledge.  

It was against that backdrop that the New York meeting discussed how to deal with operational challenges and identify opportunities for stronger cooperation between regional and international organizations. This would involve greater acknowledgement of and capitalization on the comparative advantages of each organization, and better coordination during the planning, deployment, transition and termination of operations, followed by joint review and lessons-learned exercises. It is no secret that such partnerships are not always present. Sometimes they are working at cross-purposes, undermining each other.

There is an urgent need to advance global-regional common approaches and strategies, for both conflict prevention and resolution at the UN.

Abdel Aziz Aluwaisheg

In situations where UN peace operations are deployed in parallel with operations by partner organizations, ensuring effective coordination on the ground is critical. Information sharing and the establishment of liaison officers, joint operations when appropriate, and a clear demarcation of the roles, responsibilities and distinct political mandates and objectives of each entity can enhance the credibility and efficiency of international support to nationally-led conflict prevention and management efforts.

Global-regional operational partnerships based on the principles of complementarity, mutual support and comparative advantages have the potential to yield efficiency gains in the use of the capacities and resources of each organization. 

In Syria, Libya, Yemen and Iraq, the UN could utilize regional organizations as full partners and “force multipliers” to maximize the effectiveness of its programs and augment its funding. Regional organizations are more attuned to the political and cultural landscape and can help the UN avoid pitfalls. 

Another area where such global-regional partnerships could pay off is the UN Action for Peacekeeping initiative set forth by Guterres. This presents an opportunity to enhance operational cooperation and strengthen the coherence of international community efforts to better deliver in the areas of international peace and security. At the strategic level, consultations are underway to develop a declaration of shared commitments to strengthen peacekeeping operations, which would apply to member states and the secretariat of the UN in their capacities as members of the Security Council, members of regional organizations, host countries of peacekeeping operations, bilateral actors of diplomacy, troop and police contributors, and financial contributors. At the operational level, it will allow independent reviews of specific peacekeeping operations to refine peacekeeping priorities and configuration, assess the viability of mandates and strengthen performance.

There is an urgent need to advance global-regional common approaches and strategies, for both conflict prevention and resolution. That requires improving cooperation on the planning and deployment of operations and enhancing information-sharing and coordination on the ground. The UN can benefit from the continuing political support of regional organizations when its peace operations are drawn down and terminated, or transitioned into other tasks.

The UN and regional organizations have to develop ways to benefit from their inherent complementarities and the comparative advantages of each organization in crisis prevention, management and resolution.

Most important is restoring trust and coherence between the global and the regional. They need to meet regularly and candidly discuss differences as well as explore opportunities for joint operational initiatives and actions.

  • Abdel Aziz Aluwaisheg is the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) assistant secretary-general for political affairs and negotiation, and a columnist for Arab News. The views expressed in this piece are personal and do not necessarily represent those of the GCC. Email: [email protected]Twitter: @abuhamad1
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