International peace and security up to 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic arose in the context of a resurgence of nationalism, and of great challenges for multilateralism and the United Nations during a landmark year — that of its 75th anniversary.

In multilateral diplomacy, progress takes time. It is normal. If we take national examples, parliamentary work involves long processes. This happens in parliaments with only three political parties as much as it does in those with 10 or 30 parties. Multilateral processes in the United Nations encompass the 193 States, each with their own perspective, in addition to regional or transregional visions and shared interests.

Often those interests may be conflicting. In the Security' Council, 15 countries vote, including five with individual veto power, but in the General Assembly the 193 Member States have one vote, on equal terms. That is why it takes time to arrive at specific agreements. Ideally those agreements are made on a consensual basis, which will allow for a stronger political commitment and an easier implementation, though they could also be reached by a vote.

Therefore, processes and transformations in the UN require different motivations, and substantive or often symbolic factors, as well as the leadership of one or more countries pushing for a specific initiative. Sometimes it could rely on the leadership of a diplomat -not necessarily a country. The President of the General Assembly can also boost or lead a process, as can the Secretary-General of the United Nations, which is seen more frequently.

A recent example is the Secretary-General led reform processes on peace and security, which aimed to prioritize prevention and sustain peace; enhance the effectiveness and coherence of peacekeeping operations and special political missions; and continue moving towards a single, integrated peace and security pillar, more closely aligned with the development and human rights pillars, in order to create greater coherence and cross-pillar coordination.6

Although it may seem simple or banal, anniversaries are among the driving forces, because they favour a greater involvement of relevant stakeholders and media, as well as monitoring and follow up. That is why in the United Nations the declaration of international days, or years or decades are relevant. What better anniversary to promote the great transformations that multilateralism requires today than the commemoration of the 75 years of the United Nations Organization?

Among examples of substantive elements that have accompanied, caused, or even resulted in transformations, are the decolonization process; the fall of the Berlin Wall; and the 9/11 attacks in 2001. These occurred a year after a symbolic moment such as, in the case of the latter, the beginning of a new century and a new millennium in 2000. Of course, the material circumstances absolutely determined the development of security diplomacy, regardless of what the symbolic landmark of the western calendar could have expected or generated.

Today, the substantive factor — that is, the COVID-19 pandemic - fully coincided with the symbolic milestone of 75 years of the United Nations. On the one hand, it pulverized some organized and planned diplomatic preparations and efforts, often bureaucratic but needed. On the other hand, it shook the international community — and with it the United Nations. At the time of writing, we see two alternative futures: the first being that of a possible lost year 2020, with the subsequent setbacks on the ground; and the second that of a definitive leap into a new era for multilateralism, which would benefit peace and security. This book privileges the second option, while recognizing that the story will continue to be written by all the States in the world, and most of it will revolve around persistent conflicts and the implications of COVID-19 for peace and security. In other words, whether the new era on peace and security is better or not depends on countries, governments, international organizations, Non-Governmental Organizations, academia. Simply put, it depends on people.

Another point of relevance to the 75th Anniversary of the United Nations comes from recalling its origins. The core purpose of the United Nations in 1945 was the maintenance of Peace and Security. In a way, its role has been key to avoid a third World War. The year 2020 also marked 75 years of humankind healing from the horrors of World War II.

Yet, significant challenges continue to emerge with regards to the UN objective of a global peace. Indeed, the understanding of peace in and of itself has evolved. Peace is not only limited to the absence of disturbance, or the absence of war, but rather the presence of justice, freedom and development.7 Sustaining peace8 is key in framing the focus of this chapter - there can be no peace without development and no development without peace.9

The perception of threats has also evolved over time. In 2003, the former Secretary-General Kofi Annan established the High-level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change to deep divisions among the Member States on the nature of existing threats and the possibility of using force to address them collectively.10 In their report, the Panel stated:

We endorsed the emerging norm that there is a collective international responsibility to protect (R2P), exercisable by the Security Council authorizing military intervention as a last resort, in the event of genocide and other large-scale killing, ethnic cleansing or serious violations of international humanitarian law which sovereign Governments have proved powerless or unwilling to prevent.

While the concept of the Responsibility to Protect (commonly referred to as “R2P”) was adopted during the 2005 World Summit,11 further consensual agreement on its implementation has not been achieved, due to the concern of a number of Member States that it could be used as a pretext to justify military intervention.

Interestingly, in spite of the lack of consensus, a highly influential Permanent Representative to the United Nations and supporter of the responsibility to protect confided in the President of the General Assembly in 2019, stating that the concept of Sustaining Peace is so successful, that without causing major difficulties, it actually quietly incorporated all the substance from the concept of R2P.

The 15th anniversary of the Responsibility to Protect in 2020, contrasted with its inclusion in the provisional agenda of the United Nations General Assembly only by a vote.1213 121 countries supported it, 13 were against and 32 abstained, on 4 September 2020, during the second in-person meeting of the 74th General Assembly since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. On 18 September 2020, during the second meeting of the 75th General Assembly, The only item not to be adopted by consensus out of 183 was the responsibility to protect and the prevention of genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity,14 which was included again by a vote of 110 in favour; 13 against and 22 abstentions.

The Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change was also at the genesis of the current United Nations Peacebuilding Architecture, as it proposed the establishment of the Peacebuilding Commission and the Peacebuilding Support Office, created in 200515 and strengthened in 2016.16 We will see in the next section how the COVID-19 pandemic affected the 2020 Review of the Peacebuilding Architecture.

Today, justice and equality are not the only ingredients missing for a global peace; while no other World War has arisen, violence, conflict and war have not disappeared. Today, war is still a reality, and many sources of future conflicts persist.

With this, the sources of today’s war and conflict cannot be attributed to the pandemic. Instead, the pandemic could be attributed to existing insecurities resulting from the insufficient sustainability in development and the over-exploitation of nature. It is understood that the environmental conditions have caused the development and spread of the virus. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 60 per cent of emerging infectious diseases reported globally are zoonoses, and in the last three decades 75 per cent of all new human pathogens have originated in animals.17

At the same time, this shows that zoonoses are a threat to public health, and therefore to security, if we look at it from the lenses of the concept of “sustaining peace.” The High-level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change addressed the potential international security threats posed by the natural outbreak of an infectious disease in its 2004 report. The report notably suggested the need for the WHO Director-General to keep the Security Council informed of any suspicious or overwhelming outbreak of infectious disease, stating also the responsibility' of the Security Council to be prepared to support the work of WHO investigators or even to deploy experts reporting directly to the Council:18

If existing International Health Regulations do not provide adequate access for WHO investigations and response coordination, the Security Council should be prepared to mandate greater compliance. In the event that a State is unable to adequately quarantine large numbers of potential carriers, the Security Council should be prepared to support international action to assist in cordon operations (...).

Among its findings and recommendations, the report of the above-mentioned Panel, transmitted by the United Nations Secretary-General to the Member States on 2 December 2004, raised concerns about the deterioration of the global health system.1 ’ As such, 15 years before the COVID-19 pandemic, the United Nations was already addressing issues related to global vulnerability to new infectious diseases. The Panel called for a major initiative to rebuild global public health. Although additional efforts for a more robust global health system were developed in the United Nations since 2004, they do not seem to have been enough to overcome the existing obstacles and challenges. It is fair to mention the indispensable role of national efforts by Member States, as illustrated in Chapter 1.

The High-level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change called to start with “building public health capacity at the local and national levels throughout the developing world.” Among its main objectives, it aimed to support the global defence against natural outbreaks of deadly infectious diseases. Notably, the panel stressed the urgency of these issues, emphasizing the need for action ahead of September (2005).

The same report considered that the attacks of 11 September 2001 revealed the failure of Member States and multilateral institutions to “keep pace with changes in nature of threats.”-0 This included the impact of health crises on eroding borders:

The security of the most affluent State can be held hostage to the ability of the poorest State to contain an emerging disease. Because international flight times are shorter than the incubation periods for many infectious diseases, any one of 700 million international airline passengers every year can be an unwitting global disease-carrier. Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) spread to more than 8,000 people in 30 countries in three months, killing almost 700. The influenza pandemic of 1919 killed as many as 100 million people, far more than the First World War, over a period of a little more than a year. Today, a similar virus could kill tens of millions in a fraction of the time.21

Fifteen years later it is clear that the world was insufficiently prepared to immediately counter the COVID-19 pandemic and its effects. As Bill Gates reflected on lessons from the Ebola Crisis in 2015 and again with COVID-19: “we [were] not ready for the next epidemic.”

But what is the actual impact of COVID-19 on security? What are the longterm implications of emerging issues? How is the global pandemic deteriorating the conditions of the population in areas of armed conflict? What fragilities remain as potential sources of future conflicts? These questions will be further considered below.

< Prev   CONTENTS   Source   Next >