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Can the Security Council Prevent Conflict?

 

This is Security Council Report’s research report, Can the Security Council Prevent Conflict? To view the full report, please download the PDF.

Introduction 

Few issues at the UN receive more discussion and attention than how the world body can improve its conflict prevention work. Every few years, there appears to be a surge of interest in this issue, brought on by the conviction that the UN system must do a better job of preventing conflict. Renewed interest today is with good reason. New wars have erupted in Mali, South Sudan, Syria and Yemen, among other cases, while political solutions to long-standing conflicts in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Darfur, for example, have proved elusive, with civilians suffering the brunt of the fighting. Humanitarian crises have become more pronounced, and there are now approximately 60 million people displaced by conflict worldwide, the highest number since the establishment of the UN in the wake of World War II. 

As the body responsible for maintaining international peace and security, the UN Security Council’s conflict prevention role is perhaps more pertinent now than at any other time in the post-Cold War era. And yet, despite strong rhetorical support for prevention, the Council struggles to translate its words into deeds, as concrete, meaningful preventive action is too often lacking. Instead, the Council sags under the weight of managing multiple crises, heavily burdened by its conflict management agenda and expending significant time pursuing thematic discussions that could be better spent focusing on specific situations. 

This report seeks to address one basic issue: can the Security Council prevent conflict? It is clear that the Council faces significant political and operational obstacles in discharging its prevention responsibilities. Nonetheless, preventing conflict is one of its most significant responsibilities under the UN Charter, and there are opportunities for this organ to sharpen and expand its preventive capacities. 

In exploring this issue, the report is divided into five sections: 

  • First, the report explores what the UN Charter has to say about conflict prevention and why this is central to the Council. 
  • Second, the report explores the current political and operational hindrances that make it so difficult for this organ to play a more effective preventive role.
  • Third, it provides an overview of the Council’s conflict prevention efforts since the end of the Cold War. Understanding how the Council has addressed this issue in the past provides the contextual background for its current preventive efforts. 
  • Fourth, the report analyses the preventive tools available to the Council. 
  • A fifth and final section offers some observations and options for how the preventive work of the Council can be strengthened. 

 

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