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Beyond Words and Resolutions: An Agenda for UNSCR 1325
Beyond Words and Resolutions: An Agenda for UNSCR 1325
Op-Ed / Global

Beyond Words and Resolutions: An Agenda for UNSCR 1325

The text below is a chapter from the forthcoming book "Women and War: Power and Protection", to be published by the United States Institute of Peace

For advocates of the empowerment and protection of women in conflict situations, these are heady times.  The past two years have seen a growing international awareness not only of the personal costs to women for our failure to protect them in the context of armed conflict, but also of the tremendous collective costs we pay as a global community for failing to achieve our goals of building peace, pursuing development, and reconstructing post-conflict societies.  The result of this awareness has been a spate of UN Security Council resolutions, national action plans, impressive speeches, and structural changes that have hopefully set the stage for real progress.

It is tragic that it has taken graphic images of women raped in the eastern Congo, and young girls with acid thrown in their faces in Afghanistan for daring to return to school to shame our collective conscience, but the world is responding.  At the United Nations, UN Action Against Sexual Violence in Conflict has been formed to coordinate enhanced work by thirteen dozen separate agencies under the tagline, “Stop Rape Now.”[fn]The thirteen entities are the Department of Political Affairs  the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Peacebuilding Support Office, the Joint Program on HIV/AIDS, UN Development Program, UN Population Fund, High Commissioner for Refugees, UN Children’s Fund, UN Development Fund for Women, World Food Program, and World Health Organization.Hide Footnote Security Council resolutions – 1820, 1888, and 1889 in particular – have created an office of a special representative for eliminating violence against women, mandated new measures of accountability, called for structures to name and shame offending parties, authorized the use of UN sanctions in such cases, and defined widespread sexual violence itself as a threat to international peace and security.[fn]UN Security Council Resolution 1820, 19  June19 2008 Women , Peace and Security  available at http://daccess-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/N08/391/44/PDF/N0839144.pdf?OpenElement; UN Security Council Resolution 1888, 30 September 2009, Women, Peace and Security, available at http://daccess-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/N09/534/46/PDF/N0953446.pdf?OpenElement; UN Security Council Resolution 1889, 5 October 2009, Women, Peace and Security, available at  http://daccess-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/N09/542/55/PDF/N0954255.pdf?OpenElement
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No Security Council peacekeeping mandate can be passed now without a paragraph requiring forceful civilian protection, especially for women.  The anticipated creation of a new UN gender entity has the potential to end the disarray that has bedeviled the efforts of the UN Development Fund for Women, the Special Advisor for Gender Issues, the Division for the Advancement of Women and their sister agencies, if key steps are taken to ensure its effectiveness and relevance.  The same promise and caveats apply to the High-Level Steering Committee for Women, Peace and Security, chaired by Deputy Secretary-General Asha Rose Migiro, and is backed by a civil society advisory group led by former Irish President Mary Robinson and head of the Femmes Africa Solidarite Bineta Diop.

Other international and regional organizations – notably the European Union, the African Union and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe – are taking similar steps.  The EU has adopted a “comprehensive approach” for implementing resolutions 1325 and 1820, which includes provisions for building political will, training political and military officials, exchanging information on best practices, cooperating with international actors, monitoring and evaluation.[fn]Council of the European Union, 1 December 2008, Comprehensive Approach to the EU Implementation of the UN Security Council Resolutions 1325 and 1820 on Women, Peace and Security, available at http://www.consilium.europa.eu/ueDocs/cms_Data/docs/hr/news187.pdf
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The EU is also articulating an action plan on gender equality and women’s empowerment, complementing national action plans adopted by nine EU member states.  The Spanish Presidency in the first half of 2010 made gender considerations in the context of armed conflict prevention one of its top priorities.  The EU has reached out to civil society groups, including the European Peacebuilding Liaison Office, with which it is developing indicators for it to use on gender considerations.  

The Nordic countries have long shown the way in this agenda, but now they are joined by other governments.  In the United States, a fortified and re-energized office for global women’s affairs was established at the State Department under respected activist Melanne Verveer.  New programs within USAID and the State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration, and the leadership of President Barack Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and UN Ambassador Susan Rice are encouraging.  Secretary Clinton highlighted the tragedy of sexual violence during her first visit to Africa, reaffirming the centrality of gender issues to the achievement of U.S. foreign policy objectives globally.  In Congress, Senator John Kerry, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Congressman Bill Delahunt have sponsored and gained new support for the International Violence Against Women Act, legislation that outlines comprehensive measures to strengthen  U.S. and UN initiatives on these issues.  A former sponsor, Vice President Joseph Biden, is in a new position to push for its enactment.

But against this backdrop, two “inconvenient” questions bedevil us.  First, has this effort had any tangible effect on the ground?  Substantive and anecdotal evidence suggests that we are making little progress against sexual abuse, impunity and systematic disengagement of women in conflict situations.  Rape continues to be used unabated as a weapon of war.  The voices of women are still excluded from peace tables, resulting in agreements that ill reflect ground truth and fail to bring lasting peace as often as they succeed.   Issues related to trafficking in persons, reproductive health care, girls’ education and accountability for past abuses continue to be lost in the shuffle.  Warring parties still frequently begin peace processes by granting amnesties to each other for heinous crimes committed in the fighting – tantamount to men with guns forgiving other men with guns for atrocities taken against women. 

A second nagging doubt is whether the expression of political will by senior policy-makers has been translated into a higher priority for gender considerations when national security policies are adopted.  Regrettably, strategic decisions are still generally taken with little if any regard for their impact on women.  In the eastern Congo, for example, regional powers were backed by the world’s super-powers and even the United Nations in attacks in 2009 against the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda and the Lord’s Resistance Army.  These are indeed horrendous groups, but the attacks produced few if any strategic gains against them and were structured so as to virtually invite massive retaliation against the local population.  The predictable results were targeted rapes against women and massive displacement of hundreds of thousands women-led households.  And it was not just the retaliation of renegade forces that violated international humanitarian law: the very Congolese and Ugandan forces who led the attacks are themselves charged with brutal human rights abuses against women.  Similarly, in Afghanistan, we still hear domestic and even international policy-makers argue that long-term security and counter-insurgency efforts depend upon winning the support of warlords, traditional leaders and even Taliban figures, whom we cannot afford to alienate through an over-emphasis on women’s rights and protection.  

Thus, the real challenges we face are how to translate our growing awareness and activism into concrete improvements on the ground, both by prioritizing these issues in the corridors of power and by ensuring the adoption and implementation of effective programs and projects with rapid impact.  

The Promise of UNSC Resolution 1325

To design an action agenda for UNSC Resolution 1325, it is important to view the resolution in its proper historical context.  Based on the Namibia Plan of Action on “Mainstreaming a Gender Perspective in Multidimensional Peace Support Operations”, adopted in Windhoek in May 2000, the resolution’s eighteen articles called for greater representation of women in national decision making, especially in prevention and resolution of conflict; incorporation of a gender perspective into peacekeeping operations; new financial and logistical support for gender dimensions of peacebuilding and post-conflict reconstruction; greater consideration of women and girls in resettlement, rehabilitation, and demobilization programs; respect for women’s human rights and an end to impunity for crimes against women; new efforts to combat sexual violence in armed conflict; and greater consultations with local and international women’s groups.[fn]UN Security Council Resolution 1325, 31 October 2000, Women, Peace and Security, available at http://daccess-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/N00/720/18/PDF/N0072018.pdf?OpenElement
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But Resolution 1325 was a product of its times.  It reflected a clear cautiousness among the Security Council members in 2000 about wading into thematic issues and a lack of confidence in declaring that these issues themselves constituted a threat to international peace and security.  Thus, its language is hortatory rather than directive: it “urges,” “encourages,” “requests,” and “invites” rather than “demands” or “instructs.”  The resolution lacks time-bound targets for achieving its goals, accountability or measurement provisions to secure its implementation, working groups or special representatives to monitor and prod action, new funding or personnel dedicated to the issue, reporting mechanisms vis-à-vis the Security Council, watchlists of countries failing to meet its objectives as a naming and shaming exercise, or provisions for sanctions against state and non-state violators.  Contrast this approach with that of UNSC Resolution 1612 on children and armed conflict, which was passed five years later and included each of these provisions.

Some observers believe that these gaps doomed Resolution 1325 from the outset.  This is unfair.  As documented elsewhere in this volume, there has been notable progress within UN structures, especially in terms of awareness, expansion of the numbers and roles for gender advisors, gender training gender for peacekeepers and senior officials, adoption of some outstanding guidelines for field action, development of small-scale and in-situ programs, and more.  But the approaching tenth anniversary of the resolution reminds us that its promise is still largely a dream deferred for women in conflict.  There is a growing realization that October 2010 must not be a celebration, nor even a stock-taking exercise, but an impetus for urgent new action to address the most serious problems.   Concrete steps, elaborated below, must be taken to bring women to the peace table, expand assistance for gender-related post-conflict reconstruction, empower the soon-to-be-established UN women’s entity, strengthen women’s associations in conflict-affected countries, mandate time-bound goals and accountability mechanisms for implementing the resolution, protect displaced women from sexual abuse, engage women in security sectors, and use moral suasion to force member states to make formal commitments to specific actions over the next three years to promote the resolution’s provisions.  

Where We Are; Where We Need to Go

In preparing for the second decade of action under Resolution 1325, UN officials have recognized that the United Nations can accomplish little unless it partners with member states and activists from around the world who can bring their expertise, experience, and especially ground-truth to this exercise.  One key step has been the appointment of a fourteen-member UN Civil Society Advisory Group on Women, Peace and Security, fourteen independent experts to advise senior UN officials on ways to better protect women in conflict situations, and to ensure that their voices are heard in peace processes and post-conflict reconstruction and governance structures.”[fn]Members of the panel are Mary Robinson (Ireland) co-chair, Bineta Diop (Senegal) co-chair, Sanam Anderlini (Iran/UK), Thelma Awori (Liberia/Uganda), Sharon Bhagwan-Rolls (Fiji), Lahkdar Brahimi (Algeria), Nyaradzai Gumbonzvanda (Zimbabwe), Swanee Hunt (U.S.), Hina Jilani (Pakistan), Elisabeth Rehn (Finland), Zainab Salbi (Iraq/U.S.), Salim Ahmed Salim (Tanzania), Donald Steinberg (U.S.), Susana Villaran de la Puente (Peru)Hide Footnote Its mandate and methodology are instructive. 

As a first step, the advisory group is assessing the status of implementation of Resolution 1325: what has worked well; what has worked at the local or grass-roots level but has not been replicated elsewhere or brought to scale; and where we have simply failed to meet our commitment. 

Second, the advisory group will establish realistic and achievable time-bound goals for the areas of improvement identified.  For example, what percentage of women do we need sitting at peace tables by what year?  What reduction in sexual violence around UN-run camps for refugees and internally-displaced persons must we achieve and by when?  What portion of funds contributed at post-conflict donors conferences must be dedicated to gender-based projects, such as reproductive health care and girls’ education?  The advisory group is supporting UN efforts to identify to devise indicators to measure these outcomes, provisions to identify the entities and individuals are responsible for achieving them, and accountability mechanisms to put pressure behind their implementation.   

Finally, the advisory group is addressing the principal constraints to progress by assessing the institutional changes needed within the UN, other international and regional organizations and member states to facilitate progress.  It is also addressing the need for additional financial and personnel resources, including a quick-disbursing trust fund available to UN officials leading peacekeeping mission to facilitate rapid response to impending situations of sexual violence or other abuses.  The advisory group is also serving as a catalyst to bring the voices and ground-truth of women impacted by armed conflict to the attention of global decision-makers.

A Cautionary Tale from Angola

Before turning to the specific measures that should comprise the action agenda for UNSC Resolution 1325 for the next decade, it is also instructive to review a practical example of the costs of failing to involve women in peace processes.  In this regard, my experience in Angola provides a cautionary tale for our efforts.

In 1994, while serving as President Clinton’s special assistant for African Affairs, I supported negotiations to end two decades of civil war in Angola that had killed a half million people and left four million homeless. When the Lusaka Protocol was signed,[fn]The Lusaka Protocol, signed 15 November 1994, is available at Digital Collection of Peace Agreements, United States Institute of Peace http://www.usip.org/files/file/resources/collections/peace_agreements/lusaka_11151994.pdf
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I was asked by a journalist how the agreement took into account the needs of war-affected women. “Not a single provision in the agreement discriminates against women,” I said, a little too proudly.  “The agreement is gender-neutral.” 

President Clinton then named me ambassador to Angola.  It took me only a few weeks after my arrival in Luanda in June 1995 to realize that a peace agreement that calls itself “gender-neutral” is, by definition, discriminatory against women and likely to fail.

First, the agreement did not require the participation of women in the Joint Commission, the peace implementation body.  As a result, a typical meeting of the commission saw 40 men and no women sitting around the table.  This imbalance silenced women’s voices and meant that issues such as sexual violence, human trafficking, abuses by government and rebel security forces, reproductive health care, and girls’ education were given short shrift, if addressed at all.   

The peace accord was based on thirteen separate amnesties that forgave the parties for atrocities committed during the conflict.  One amnesty went so far as to forgive the parties for any action they might take in the coming months.  Given the prominence of sexual abuse during the conflict, the amnesties introduced cynicism at the heart of our efforts to rebuild the justice and security sectors.  In effect, it showed Angolan women, as well as other key civil society actors, that the peace process was intended for the benefit of the ex-combatants and not them.

Similarly, demobilization programs for ex-combatants depended on lists provided by the warring parties.  As a rule, they defined  a combatant as anyone who carried a gun in combat.  Thousands of women who had been kidnapped or coerced into the armed forces and served as cooks, bearers, messengers and even sex slaves (so-called “bush wives”) were largely excluded.  Further, camps for demobilized soldiers and even for displaced persons were rarely constructed with women in mind, such that women risked rape or death each time they left the camp to collect firewood or used latrines in isolated and dimly-lit settings.

Male ex-combatants received demobilization assistance, but were sent back without skills or education to communities that had learned to live without them during decades of conflict.  As in all such situations, the frustration of these men exploded into an epidemic of alcoholism, drug abuse, divorce, rape and domestic violence. This was especially true for young boys, who had never learned how to interact on an equal basis with girls their own ages.  In effect, the end of civil war simply unleashed a new era of violence against women and girls. 

Even such well-intentioned efforts as clearing major roads of landmines to allow four million displaced persons to return to their homes backfired against women.  Road clearance sometimes preceded the demining of fields, wells and forests, resulting in premature resettlement and return.  As women in this environment went out to plant the fields, fetch water and collect firewood, they suffered a new rash of landmine accidents.

Over time, we recognized these problems and brought out gender advisers and human rights officers; launched programs in reproductive health care, girls’ education, micro-enterprise, and support for women’s NGOs; and involved women in planning and implementing all our programs.  But by then, civil society – and particularly women – had come to view the peace process as serving only the interests of the warring parties.  When the process faltered in 1998, largely because of the intransigence of rebel leader Jonas Savimbi, there was little public pressure on the leaders to prevent a return to conflict, and war soon re-emerged.  Permanent peace only came when Savimbi was killed in February 2002.

A key lesson from this experience is that peace itself is not enough to protect and empower women.  How we make peace determines whether the end of armed conflict means a safer world for women or simply ushers in a different and in some cases more pernicious era of violence against them. 

Sadly, we have not learned this lesson very well, as shown by developments in Afghanistan.  Given the Taliban’s abhorrent record on women’s rights during its reign, it is stunning that that the insurgents are scoring some debate points by arguing that women in Afghanistan today suffer more broadly from the lack of security, corruption, rights abuses and civilian casualties.[fn]See International Crisis Group Asia Report N °158, Taliban Propaganda Winning the War of Words?  24 July 2008Hide Footnote Indeed, advances in political participation by women and school attendance by girls have been offset by a failure to insist on accountability for warlords whose forces committed sexual violence during the years of conflict and continue such abuse today.  Instead, a number of these criminals have been given positions of power. 

The murder of women leaders and human rights defenders in Afghanistan and the failure of the government to identify and prosecute their assailants underline the impression of a lack of national commitment to women’s rights.  Not only has the administration of Hamid Karzai failed to publicly articulate a vision of women’s rights that is both home-grown and consistent with traditional Afghan Islamic society, but it has treated women’s rights as a bargaining chip to win support from traditional leaders.  Thus, it has ceded the debate to those who erroneously argue that such efforts are an alien concept imposed on Afghanistan by foreigners and their Afghan “puppets.”

An Action Plan for Revitalizing UNSC Resolution 1325

We can no longer afford to exclude the talents and insights of half the population in the pursuit of peace or to treat them as mere victims.  Eight specific actions should be prioritized.

First, those charged with leading and supporting peace processes, especially mediators from the UN and regional bodies, should commit to bring women to the table as peace negotiations are conducted and peace agreements are implemented. Around the world, talented women peace builders face discrimination in legal, cultural and traditional practices, and threats of violence make even the most courageous women think twice before stepping forward.  Ground-breaking research under Anne-Marie Goetz, chief advisor for governance, peace and security at UNIFEM. suggests that only one in thirteen participants in peace negotiations since 1992 has been a woman.[fn]UN Development Fund for Women, April 2009, Women’s Participation in Peace Negotiations: Connections Between Presence and Influence available at http://www.realizingrights.org/pdf/UNIFEM_handout_Women_in_peace_processes_Brief_April_20_2009.pdf.   The research is on-going and data is updated as additional information is received.
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Recent accords in Indonesia, Nepal, Somalia, Cote d’Ivoire, the Philippines and the Central African Republic have not had a single woman signatory, mediator, or negotiator.  Of 300 peace agreements negotiated since 1989, just eighteen contain even a passing reference to sexual violence.  Peace accords on Bosnia, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Somalia – where such violence was a dominant feature of the fighting – are silent on this issue. 

The usual rejoinder is that there simply are not women capable of participating in these processes due to the male domination of security and conflict resolution issues.  And yet in many of the affected regions, it is women who serve as the mediators of disputes at the community levels; in others, educated and successful women are active in sectors involving similar negotiations, including government, business, law, and academics.[fn]See International Crisis Group Africa Report, N °112, Beyond Victimhood Women’s Peacebuilding in Sudan, Congo and Uganda, 28 June 2006Hide Footnote In northern Uganda, for example, women’s associations such as the Teso Women’s Peace Association, Kitgum Women’s Peace Initiative and Gulu District Women’s Development Committee groups have played a key role in local dispute settlement and as peace activists, yet were excluded from negotiations between the Ugandan government and the Lord’s Resistance Army.  In Sudan, the systematic exclusion of women from peace negotiations on Darfur in particular has contributed to the failure of all accords, including the May 2006 Darfur Peace Agreement, notwithstanding the existence of a vast pool of talented and educated Sudanese women, including graduates of the remarkable Afhad University in Khartoum, where some 5,000 women are currently training.

The Security Council must insist that the mandate for every UN peacekeeping mission protects women peacebuilders by providing them personal security and promotes their participation through training, financial stipends, and other means.  The Council should demand that negotiations led by the UN include a critical mass of qualified women on all sides – starting at 25 per cent – even if it takes quotas to do so.[fn]Mona Lena Krook, Quotas for Women in Politics: Gender and Candidate Selection Reform Worldwide, Oxford University Press, May 2009Hide Footnote Critics charged that such quotas are an aberration and represent reverse discrimination, but in fact, they are now the norm around the world: for example, political parties and national legislatures in more than 100 countries have quotas for female candidates for elected office. 

Second, bilateral contributors and multilateral institutions should insist that post-conflict recovery packages prioritize issues of importance to women, in particular reproductive health care and girls’ education.  In emergency funding projects to support 23 post-conflict situations since 2006, only 3 per cent included specific funding for women and girls[fn]UN Development Fund for Women, Funding for Women’s Needs within Post-Conflict Needs Assessments (PCNAs), July 2009.  Again, the research is on-going and data is updated as additional information is received.Hide Footnote – this despite our knowledge that girls’ education, for example, is one of the best investments in promoting stable societies, reducing unwanted pregnancies, improving agricultural methods, and eliminating sexual violence.  It has been said: “Educate a boy and you help a person; educate a girl and you help a community.” 

Donors should also help women to attain economic independence through land ownership, micro-enterprise and skills training.  All post-conflict recovery plans should be subjected to gender-impact analysis and specify the funds dedicated to women’s needs.  At the same time, gender considerations must be mainstreamed, such that the health minister views reproductive health care as a top priority, the commerce minister promotes women’s engagement in all levels of business activity, the education minister stresses girls’ education from primary to tertiary levels, and so on.  Women’s issues are too important to be left to the women’s ministry alone.

Third, the countries most instrumental in creating the new UN women’s entity must ensure that it has the power, resources, and global reach to make a real difference.  The creation of this office was a Faustian bargain: advocates abandoned their dream of a single agency with global reach and a billion dollars in dedicated funding, a so-called "UNICEF for Women."  In exchange, the General Assembly agreed to create a high-level office to oversee the significant but often competing contributions of UNIFEM, the Special Adviser for Gender Issues, the Division for the Advancement of Women, and other bodies, and to raise the profile of women’s issues at the UN Secretariat in New York and in UN missions abroad.  The EU and U.S. in particular must extend generous voluntary contributions and political support needed for the head of this office to be a forceful and ever-present advocate throughout the UN system and beyond.  The new under-secretary-general must be a world-class figure, with the capacity to generate public attention, mobilize political will among governments and “work” the UN system.  Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon must give her – yes, it should be a woman – the  respect and resources needed to do her job, including direct access to the General Assembly and Security Council.

Fourth, bilateral donors and multilateral institutions should expand assistance for private women’s groups in conflict-affected countries.  Civil society organizations are often the first victims of the polarization that accompanies internal armed conflicts.  Women must have the institutional strength to influence local and global decisions that impact their lives.  They should identify women’s organizations as local implementing partners for projects: contracts for the distribution of humanitarian assistance, dispute resolution and election monitoring can be of even greater support than programs directed specifically at institutional strengthening, especially if accompanied by mentoring programs.  The principle must be: “Nothing about us without us.”

The training provided by the NGO, “Pact”, is instructive.  Among its other programs, Pact organizes long-term training and mentoring program for promising local non-governmental organizations in the basics of management, grant proposal drafting, bookkeeping to international standards, and so on, and then supports these NGOs throughout their development process.[fn]More information about Pact is available at http://www.pactworld.org/cs/who_we_are/welcome.Hide Footnote In 2009, Pact assisted more than 12,000 organizations in 62 countries, including groundbreaking women’s empowerment projects under its “Worth” program. 

Fifth, the Security Council must demand that the UN adopt time-bound goals backed by monitoring, accountability provisions and enforcement mechanisms for reducing violence against women, ensuring participation of women in peace processes, providing reconstruction resources to projects of interest to women, and the like.  The UN is currently engaging is a useful exercise to identify indicators in this regard in line with Resolution 1889, but the process must go further in mandating rewards for UN institutions and individuals for achieving these objectives and punishment for failing to do so.  Further, to bring Resolution 1325 up to date, the Security Council should establish a permanent working group on sexual violence; a watch-list of countries and non-state actors of concern to be named and shamed into improving their records; periodic reports by the Secretary-General to the Security Council on these issues; and the enshrined principle that sanctions can be imposed on governments and non-state actors that abuse or fail to protect women.  Similar measures should be prioritized at regional organizations, including the African Union, the Organization of American States and ASEAN. 

Sixth, international humanitarian community should join together to protect one of the most vulnerable groups in conflict: those displaced from their homes and seeking refuge in camps for refugees and internally-displaced persons (IDPs).  A priority should be to prevent the rape of women and girls during the collection of fuel; an expansion of livelihood, health, and education programs; mainstreaming of psycho-social considerations in all protection and services; training for camp managers and protection forces alike; proper configuration of camps and engagement of women refugees and IDPs in decision-making on these issues.  Excellent guidelines are now in place from various UN bodies, including the High Commissioner for Refugees, on gender-based violence interventions in these humanitarian settings.[fn]UN High Commissioner for Refugees May 2003, Sexual and Gender-Based Violence Against Refugees, Returnees and Internally Displaced Persons: Guidelines for Prevention and Response, available at http://www.unhcr.org/cgi-bin/texis/vtx/refworld/rwmain?docid=3edcd0661&page=search

Inter-Agency Standing Committee Guidelines for Gender-Based Violence Interventions in Humanitarian Settings: Focusing on Prevention and Response to Sexual Violence In Emergencies,  September 2005 at http://www.unhcr.org/refworld/docid/439474c74.html; Inter-Agency Standing Committee Protection Cluster Working Group, 2007,Gender-Based Violence, Part, V.4 Inter-Agency Handbook for the Protection of Internally Displaced Persons, available at http://www.unhcr.org/cgi-bin/texis/vtx/refworld/rwmain?docid=4790cbc02&page=searchHide Footnote
However, knowledge of these guidelines is incomplete and sometimes non-existent among host governments, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), displaced persons, peacekeeping forces and even implementing UN agencies.  The systematic implementation is even sketchier, reflecting not only a lack of knowledge and familiarity with the guidelines, but also inadequate financial and personnel resources, lack of high-level attention and prioritization, weak coordination, the absence of goals and indicators needed to hold individuals and institutions accountable.[fn]One recent example of this failure is in the humanitarian response to the earthquake in Haiti.  Despite clear IASC guidance regarding the design of sanitation efforts in humanitarian settings, as of April 2010, latrines were  not divided between men and women in most IDP facilities, they did not as have inside locks, and there was insufficient lighting.  A predictable and preventable pattern of rape and other sexual abuse resulted in these areas.
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The global body for official humanitarian agencies, the UN Inter-Agency Standing Committee, recently adopted guidance on addressing rape in the context of firewood collection, including the provision of cooking fuel in humanitarian settings, based on recommendations from the Women’s Refugee Commission and other advocacy groups.[fn]See Women’s Refugee Commission, Beyond Firewood: Fuel Alternatives and Protection Strategies for Displaced Women and Girls, March 2006, available at http://www.womensrefugeecommission.org/docs/fuel.pdf; Inter-Agency Standing Committee Task Force on Safe Access to Firewood & Alternative Energy in Humanitarian Settings, April 2009, Matrix on Agency Roles and Responsibilities for Ensuring a Coordinated, Multi-sectoral Fuel Strategy in Humanitarian Settings Version 1.1 available at, http://www.unhcr.org/refworld/pdfid/4ac5f1b22.pdfHide Footnote The donor community should ensure funding to implement these provisions fully, starting with the high-risk regions of Sudan, Chad, eastern Congo, and the huge Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya.

Seventh, leading external supporters of security sector reform in post-conflict situations – the EU, U.S. and UN in particular – should ensure that their support to rebuild and reform armies, police and other security forces includes effective training in gender issues for all personnel and requires ample incorporation of women into those forces.  Bringing women into these forces is particularly important to ensure that women who have been abused will come forward with their accusations, as is establishing “family safety units” within police systems  Foreign troop-contributors should also lead by example: the presence all-female peacekeeping units – such as the Indian battalion in Liberia – is a welcome novelty, but it is far from enough.  The EU and U.S. should commit to providing teams of women military observers to peacekeeping mission and ceasefire monitoring teams.  NATO, the African Union, African sub-regional organizations and other sources of peacekeeping forces should adopt similar programs.

Finally, there must be new financial resources dedicated to these efforts, provided both through assessed and voluntary contributions.  There must be a quantum leap in the resources dedicated to these issues, especially for projects in conflict impacted countries – $1 billion per year, or just about 30 cents per woman.  An important initiative to mark the tenth anniversary of Resolution 1325 would be a global presidential- or ministerial-level pledging conference, where member states would be under international suasion to come forward with formal commitments on concrete actions they will take over the next three years to promote the resolution’s provisions.  Partnerships should be encouraged, perhaps linking new resources from donor countries and new political will from conflicted-affected countries, on the model of the commitments made under the Clinton Global Initiative.[fn] The Clinton Global Initiative brings together international civil society actors, the business community, governments, foundations and international organizations to make joint commitments to achieve time-bound goals in key social and economic sectors.  Since its formation in 2005, the initiative has fostered  1,700 commitments generating some $57 billion in new resources.Hide Footnote

How to Make it Happen: Lessons from Resolution 1820

What lessons can advocates of this agenda learn and adapt from the success in promoting action in international bodies over the past two years?  Key lessons come from the efforts of like-minded advocates in civil society, the UN Secretariat and key member states during the first half of 2008 to pass a Security Council resolution on sexual violence in conflict.

Growing recognition of the rising phenomenon of rape used as a weapon of war set the stage for action in early 2008, but it was advocates recognized that it was important to document and personalize the phenomenon. The importance of data from the ground on the patterns and prevalence of sexual violence in conflict cannot be overstressed.  The most important use of such data is in developing projects and policies to prevent such violence and assist its victims[fn]Key insights can be derived from identifying the profile of perpetrators, for example.  If most rapes are carried out by government security forces, then there is a clear need for expanded programs of security sector reform, prosecution of individual soldiers/police and their commanders, expansion of the numbers of women in security forces and new training in protection of civilians.  A different kind of intervention is required if most rapes are perpetrated rebel forces, family members or unknown assailants.  Similarly, if the data show broad unreported numbers of rapes, there should be steps to facilitate women’s access to the justice system, to bring women into the police forces and expand community policing, to look at social mores that condone such behavior and to conduct civic education programs to make individuals aware of their rights.Hide Footnote , but hard numbers also help create political will so that policy-makers are prepared to dedicate scarce resources – including their own attention – to the problem.  There are three critical elements: first, credible data to show that the problem is real and pressing; second, a convincing linkage between addressing the problem and achieving broader policy objectives; and third, a credible case to show that a reasonable application of resources and attention can, if not solve, at least make a tangible improvement in the problem.  Put simply: is real, important, and solvable?   Elsewhere, I have referred to the need to meet a “threshold of credibility.”[fn]Speech by Donald Steinberg, Deputy President, International Crisis Group, given 17 December 2008 (Geneva) to UN Action Against Sexual Violence in Conflict, Combatting Sexual Violence in Conflict: Using Facts From the GroundHide Footnote

The "poster child" of this effort was the tragic situation in eastern Congo.  Personal accounts of sexual assaults was vital. Visits to foreign capitals by victims of rapes and those who treat them – including the courageous Dr. Denis Mukwege, who directs the Panzi Hospital in Bukavu, which treats rape victims from the region – had a major impact.[fn]Further information on the work of Denis Mukwege and the Panzi Hospital in Bukavu available at http://www.panzihospitalbukavu.org/Hide Footnote But it was important to go beyond testimonials and be able to say with full confidence that there were 27,000 reported cases of rape in the South Kivu province of eastern Congo, or some 70 every day.

The fifteen ambassadors to the Security Council, all men, were lobbied by advocates, including their spouses. For example, they were made to watch films on sexual violence, such as the graphic The Greatest Silence by director Lisa Jackson.[fn]Lisa Jackson, The Greatest Silence, 2007.  For more information, upcoming screenings and events,  and DVD purchase, see http://thegreatestsilence.org/Hide Footnote Efforts by UN Action against Sexual Violence in Conflict, including the hosting of a conference on peacekeepers’ role in preventing  sexual violence at Wilton Park outside London, helped personally invest key policy-makers such as U.S. Ambassador Zalmy Khalilzad in this effort.  Support from like-minded UN missions and Secretariat officials was essential.  Pressure also came from U.S. Congressman Bill Delahunt, who headed the House of Representatives oversight for the United Nations and held hearings on the effect of conflict on women in advance of the Security Council debate.[fn]Bill Delahunt, Chairman, U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on the International Organizations, Human Rights and Oversight, UN Security Council 1325:Recognizing Women’s Vital Role in Achieving Peace and Security, Thursday 15 May 2008, at http://foreignaffairs.house.gov/hearing_notice.asp?id=988Hide Footnote

The result was UNSC Resolution 1820, passed on June 19, 2008 under the U.S. presidency of the Council.  The resolution breaks new ground by mandating wide-ranging and concrete actions by the UN Secretariat, member states and non-state actors to combat sexual violence in conflict.  Its passage is clear evidence of the wisdom of Margaret Mead’s statement: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world.  Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”[fn]The efforts of two talented and dedicated officers – Laurie Phipps and Phil Staltonstall at the U.S. and UK missions to the UN respectively – cannot be overstated. Hide Footnote

But even in this success story, there is a cautionary note.  Members of the Security Council were by no means satisfied that they had a clear picture of the phenomenon.  Resolution 1820 called for an "analysis of prevalence and trends, benchmarks for measuring progress, and plans for a lasting solution to the dearth of reliable sexual violence data."  It was as if the Council was saying to the advocates: "We know this is a serious problem, but we do not know enough about what is going on or how to address it."  This gap has delayed its implementation and even required the adoption of additional measures – UNSC Resolutions 1888 and 1889 – more than a year later to give real teeth to the efforts.

The Road Ahead

We must move beyond words, resolutions and stock-taking exercises to establish and implement an ambitious but achievable agenda for action on women and armed conflict.  The success of our efforts will not be measured by the reports we issue, the resolutions and legislation we pass, the publicity we generate or even the money we spend.  It will be measured by the degree to which we protect the lives and well-being of women and girls faced with the horrors of war; empower them to play their rightful and vital role in peace processes and post-conflict reconstruction and governance; prevent armed thugs from abusing them in conditions of displacement; hold government security forces and warlords alike accountable for sexual abuses; prevent traffickers from turning women and girls into commodities; build strong civil society networks for women; and end the stigma of victimization that confronts women leaders.   

This dream embodied in UNSC Resolution 1325 must be deferred no longer.  Langston Hughes reminds us of the incumbent risks: “What happens to a dream deferred?  Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun?  Or fester like a sore – and then run?  Does it stink like rotten meat?  Or crust and sugar over like a syrupy sweet? Maybe it just sags like a heavy load. Or does it explode?”[fn]Rampersad, A. & Roessel, D (Eds.). 1995, The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes. Vintage Classics: LondonHide Footnote


The United Nations Security Council meets about the situation in Venezuela in the Manhattan borough of New York City, New York, U.S., 26 January 2019. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri
Special Briefing 1 / Global

Council of Despair? The Fragmentation of UN Diplomacy

Wracked by divisions and political infighting, the UN Security Council is failing to respond to some of the world’s most pressing crises. To overcome dysfunction and retain credibility, the council’s members should prioritise the few cases where international cooperation is still possible.

What’s new? Longstanding doubts about the effectiveness of the UN Security Council are intensifying, due to deepening tensions among the U.S. and its allies and between Western powers and Russia and China.

Why does it matter? As tensions build on the Security Council, there is a risk that irreconcilable differences over select issues – Israel-Palestine and Ukraine, for example – could paralyse the body, undermining its broader credibility.

What should be done? Security Council members should preserve the forum’s utility by finding compromises where possible – such as on Sahel military missions, Libya and Venezuela – while accepting that some disputes may be intractable.

I. Overview

In the first four months of 2019, the UN Security Council faced a series of significant crises in the world – and failed to make a significant impact on any of them. Council members have sparred bitterly over Venezuela, struggled to sustain the Yemeni peace process, and failed to come to common positions on events in Sudan and Libya. This lacklustre performance is symptomatic of worsening tensions between the forum’s five veto-wielding permanent members and the wider erosion of international cooperation. The Council’s inaction means that current crises have the potential to escalate international tensions, further eroding the UN’s credibility. If Council members want to the body to retain some leverage – and act as a vehicle for their own influence – they need to restore some sense of common purpose.

Council ambassadors are attending an annual retreat on 2 May 2019, which offers a chance for them to discuss ways to ease relations. They should take steps to de-escalate simmering arguments on issues where agreement among the permanent five could be within reach. First, France and the U.S. should end a cycle of unproductive disputes in the Council about the costs and goals of UN and non-UN military missions in the Sahel, instead settling on a joint approach to stabilising the region, which is in both their interests. Secondly, the Council as a whole should overcome dangerous splits over how to handle the worsening violence in Libya, with an immediate focus on securing a ceasefire and relaunching UN-brokered talks. Lastly, all Council members should suspend their public arguments over Venezuela, which have made it harder to agree on political and humanitarian strategies there. Even if the Council can ease tensions on these crises, it may well split over issues such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But to retain a minimum of credibility, Council members need to hang together where possible.

II. Council Diplomacy: From Bad to Worse

The Council has been in trouble for most of the last decade, divided over the war in Syria and largely irrelevant to international tensions from Ukraine to the South China Sea. Many diplomats and commentators wrote the body off years ago, assuming that worsening relations among the U.S., Russia and China would inevitably paralyse it. Some predictions of the body’s demise have been overstated. The Council stepped up to tackle the Korean crisis in 2017 – imposing powerful sanctions on Pyongyang – and united to back the fragile peace process in Yemen at the end of 2018. It continues to oversee peace operations involving 90,000 personnel in Africa and the Middle East. But the Council is showing new signs of strain.

This briefing, based on discussions with diplomats and UN officials in New York as well as Crisis Group’s work in the relevant conflict areas, offers an overview of these strains – and ideas about how Council members could ease them.[fn]Except where otherwise indicated, this briefing is based on Crisis Group interviews conducted in New York between 25 April and 15 May 2018. It also draws from Crisis Group’s extensive work on many of the crises on the Security Council’s agenda. The Council ambassadors’ annual retreat is scheduled for 2 and 3 May 2019. The last such retreat, held in Sweden in April 2018, allowed ambassadors to address and reduce tensions over the use of chemical weapons in Syria and the Salisbury poisoning incident. Security Council Report, “Security Council’s retreat with the Secretary-General”, What’s in Blue?, 20 April 2018.Hide Footnote It highlights three damaging trends in the Council: (i) growing divisions between President Donald Trump’s administration and traditional U.S. allies, including France and Britain, in New York; (ii) persistent and often worsening distrust between the Western powers and China and Russia; and (iii) tensions between the permanent and elected members of the Council over how the institution should work, including African states’ mounting frustration with how the UN treats their continent.

New and surprising splits are emerging among the five permanent members of the Council.

These factors are combining to hamstring the Council’s collective response to crises. This is disturbing for three reasons in particular. The first is that, for all its flaws, the forum remains the best available mechanism for major powers to formalise compromises over severe crises such as North Korea’s nuclear tests. A second is that the Council’s support remains essential to UN mediators grappling with peace processes and regional conflicts from the Sahel to Syria. Divisions in New York complicate these peacemakers’ already daunting tasks. Third, and perhaps less tangibly, the Council’s frequent public failures validate widespread talk of a “crisis of the international order”, encouraging populist and nationalist forces that reject multilateralism.

Some of the causes of the Security Council’s malaise are deep-seated and far beyond the ability of ambassadors in New York to resolve. Security Council diplomats often note in private that they would like to work together better, but that their political masters in capitals are not interested in compromise. Nonetheless, drawing on recent Crisis Group work on crises on the Council’s agenda, this briefing concludes with suggestions on how Council members could de-escalate current tensions and restore some sense of order at the UN.

III. U.S. Policy and UN Divisions

New and surprising splits are emerging among the five permanent members of the Council, or P5. In the course of the Syrian war, diplomats became accustomed to the three Western P5 members (Britain, France and the U.S.) clashing with China and Russia. But there are increasing frictions within the Western bloc, too. France and the U.S. have butted heads over whether the UN should support regional counter-terrorist operations in the Sahel and how to handle Hizbollah in Lebanon.[fn]Colum Lynch, “Trump weighs vetoing France’s African anti-terrorism plan”, Foreign Policy, 13 June 2017. The U.S. also threatened to veto the annual renewal of the mandate for the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) in 2017 over the mission’s failure to contain Hizbollah. The mandate renewal for UNIFIL in 2018 was less contentious, but the issue may resurface this year.Hide Footnote The U.S. threatened to veto a British-drafted resolution on Yemen because it included language on humanitarian issues and human rights that Washington felt was weighted against the Saudi-led coalition there.[fn]Crisis Groups interviews, New York, December 2018.Hide Footnote The Americans also failed to engage with UK calls for a ceasefire in Libya after the upsurge in fighting there in April 2019.

Such divisions are hardly unprecedented – Britain, France and the U.S. have split in the Council over crises from Suez to Iraq – but they reflect the Trump administration’s increasingly sceptical approach to the UN. Since Nikki Haley arrived as Trump’s first ambassador to the UN in 2017, the U.S. has picked fights with its main allies at the UN. Haley angered France by questioning the budgets of UN operations that Paris prioritises, such as those in the Central African Republic and Democratic Republic of Congo. She fell out badly with both the British and French over the Trump administration’s decision to move the U.S. embassy to Israel to Jerusalem in December 2017.

By late 2017, one French diplomat was willing to declare that Franco-British-American cooperation at the UN was “dead”.[fn]Crisis Group researcher’s interview in another capacity, 30 October 2017.Hide Footnote Nonetheless, the three powers managed to patch up their relations despite frequent spats. This was in part due to Haley’s own collegial if hard-headed diplomatic style. Arguments with Russia over chemicals weapons incidents in Syria and the Salisbury poisoning incident also pushed the three Western powers back together in 2018.

These steps cover crises from Venezuela and the Golan Heights to the Sahel and Libya.

Haley’s departure at the end of last year, however, presaged a renewed deterioration of relations. Over the last four months, with no permanent representative at the helm, the U.S. mission to the UN has often seemed adrift (even representatives of countries that regularly oppose American positions are quite nostalgic for the Haley era, when they had a strong interlocutor).[fn]Crisis Group interviews, Asian and African diplomats, New York, 29 March and 15 April 2019.Hide Footnote Nonetheless, the U.S. has taken steps at the UN that have disquieted its allies.

These steps cover crises from Venezuela and the Golan Heights to the Sahel and Libya. In the Venezuelan case, the U.S. has used the UN as a platform to air its demands for President Nicolás Maduro to step aside, rather than a space for real negotiations about the country’s future. In February, the U.S. tabled a call for new elections in the country that Washington knew was bound to be vetoed by Maduro’s supporters Russia and China (it duly was) while in April, Vice President Mike Pence visited the Council to demand that the UN recognise Maduro’s rival Juan Guaidó.[fn]Margaret Besheer, “UN Security Council fails to find consensus on Venezuela crisis”, Voice of America, 28 February 2019; Clyde Hughes, “Pence urges Security Council to revoke Venezuela credentials”, UPI, 10 April 2019. The UN’s recognition of a government and its representatives is a matter for the General Assembly and its Credential Committee rather than the Security Council.Hide Footnote

Britain and France had already recognised Guaidó as Venezuela’s legitimate leader (as have the other three European countries currently sitting in the Council, Belgium, Germany and Poland) but the U.S. approach has left them uneasy. France in particular appears concerned that the U.S. hard line has closed off any chance for compromise with Russia and China over Maduro’s future, and complicated discussions of impartial aid to suffering Venezuelans. It is hard for the Europeans to differ with the U.S. on this issue, especially given support for Guaidó among Latin American countries, but they would prefer to limit fights over it in the Council.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, European diplomats, New York, March and April 2019. These concerns about U.S. policy parallel those of European officials in Latin America. Crisis Group interview, European diplomat, Bogotá, 1 April 2019.Hide Footnote

President Trump’s March decision to recognise Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights caused a more open rift with the Europeans, leaving them in another tricky diplomatic spot. While rapidly reasserting their position that the Golan is Syrian territory, the Europeans avoided a showdown in the Council or UN General Assembly over Trump’s decision comparable to that over Jerusalem in 2017.[fn]“Europe at UN says Golan is not Israeli territory”, AFP, 26 March 2019.Hide Footnote Though Kuwait, the sole Arab country on the Council at present, worked up a draft resolution condemning Trump’s position, U.S. allies concluded that tabling it risked a destructive argument over the validity of longstanding UN resolutions on Israel – notably Resolution 242 of 1967, which remains a central plank of discussions of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – that could worsen the situation further.

European diplomats and other U.S. allies worry that the Trump administration may force an ugly debate over these issues in the near future anyway by tabling a Middle East peace plan that does not offer the Palestinians a sovereign state.[fn]For evidence of this potential approach, see Anne Gearan, “Trump peace package for Middle East likely to stop short of Palestinian statehood”, The Washington Post, 14 April 2019; and Jacob Magid, “In apparent dismissal of the two-state solution, Kushner says past efforts ‘failed’”, The Times of Israel, 23 April 2019.Hide Footnote If the U.S. takes this path it is likely to find itself isolated and subject to considerable criticism in the Council. Yet it is possible that Trump will take precisely this course on purpose, repeating his unilateral approach to the Jerusalem and Golan questions, effectively marginalising the Council’s role in Israeli-Palestinian affairs. This would be a serious slight to the Europeans, who have always prized the Council’s status as an arbiter on Middle East affairs as a source of diplomatic leverage.

In the meantime, the U.S. and France appear to be limbering up for lower-level but trust-sapping arguments over the deteriorating security situation in the Sahel. Over the last two years, France has pushed for the Council to both reinforce the UN Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) and offer practical support to the parallel regional counter-terrorist force, the G5 Sahel. The U.S. has consistently questioned both priorities on cost grounds.

Frictions between the UK and U.S. are noteworthy in part because British diplomats have long prioritised keeping the Americans close when they can.

While Security Council ambassadors visited Mali and neighbouring Burkina Faso in March at France’s instigation – and came away gloomy about the UN’s ability to contain jihadists in the region – the U.S. continues to indicate that it will block significant assistance to the G5 Sahel. It has also threatened to table cuts to MINUSMA unless the Malian government advances domestic political reforms and re-establishes state services in the north of the country rather than, in the view of American officials and other analysts, rely excessively on the peacekeepers for security. The U.S. would also like MINUSMA to focus more attention on central Mali, where violence is rising, though this could mean redeploying peacekeepers from the north of the country. French officials worry that this would allow jihadists to gain strength in the north.[fn]U.S. priorities for the Malian government include: (i) progress in redeploying administrative and security services in the northern Kidal region; (ii) progress on the disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration of armed groups; and (iii) constitutional reforms. Crisis Group interview, UN official, Bamako, 3 April 2019.Hide Footnote

This MINUSMA debate will come to a head this summer and, if past bouts of Franco-American diplomacy over the G5 Sahel are any guide, could be time-consuming and toxic. This should be put in perspective: past U.S. administrations, including President Barack Obama’s, have tussled with France in the past over the costs of stabilising its former colonies in the region. Many UN officials are sceptical about the utility of MINUSMA, which has lost over 100 personnel to jihadist attacks, and feel that France should be more open to criticisms of the G5 Sahel’s patchy military and human rights records.[fn]See Crisis Group Africa Report N°258, Finding the Right Role for the G5 Sahel Joint Force, 12 December 2017.Hide Footnote While U.S. and French officials recognise that they share an interest in stabilising the Sahel – and Council members as a group are especially worried by jihadist advances in Burkina Faso – there is a risk that Franco-American discussions will be spoiled by financial disputes and diplomatic brinksmanship.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, New York, April 2019.Hide Footnote

By contrast, frictions between the UK and U.S. are noteworthy in part because British diplomats have long prioritised keeping the Americans close when they can. Nonetheless, UK-U.S. relations foundered this April after General Khalifa Haftar launched an all-out assault on Tripoli. The British rapidly put together a resolution calling for a ceasefire and singling out Haftar for criticism.[fn]Michelle Nichols, “UN Security Council considers demanding Libya ceasefire”, Reuters, 16 April 2019.Hide Footnote This ran into objections from Russia (which backs Haftar) and African Council members (who have questioned the Council’s role in Libya since it authorised the 2011 intervention). But the biggest obstacle proved to be the Americans. According to differing accounts, U.S. diplomats either refused to discuss the British text or offered differing positions on it.[fn]Crisis Group interviews and correspondence, New York, April 2019.Hide Footnote Some observers assumed that the Americans simply lacked clear instructions, though there is growing evidence that President Trump and his National Security Advisor John Bolton tacitly or actively encouraged Haftar’s advance – reversing overnight four years of U.S. policy backing unconditionally the Tripoli-based government – leaving the UK diplomatically exposed in New York.[fn]See “Trump discussed ‘shared vision’ in phone call with Libyan warlord Haftar”, AFP, 19 April 2019.Hide Footnote

Many diplomats see a pattern in these divisions between the Americans, British and French: they assume that Bolton, a veteran and acute critic of the UN, and Secretary of State Michael Pompeo are quite deliberately taking steps to minimise the Council’s role and limit the scope of UN conflict management tools like peace operations. While it may be possible to overestimate Bolton’s involvement in every last decision involving the UN (the administration was instinctively anti-multilateral before he came on board, after all), the U.S. does now seem intent on circumscribing the Council’s role. Some diplomats hope that this will change when Haley’s successor, former U.S. ambassador to Canada Kelly Craft, arrives in New York at some point in the coming months, but this is far from certain.[fn]Crisis Group interview, New York, April 2017. Trump’s initial pick to replace Haley, Heather Nauert, withdrew over questions about the immigration status of a former domestic employee. At the time of writing, Ambassador Craft (previously based in Ottawa) has not faced a Senate confirmation hearing. Diplomats speculate that she will arrive in New York in June or July. Steve Holland, “Trump picks envoy to Canada Kelly Craft for UN ambassador”, Bloomberg, 23 February 2019.Hide Footnote

The current lack of strategic unity among the Western members of the Security Council has created diplomatic space for Russia and China to advance their interests.

In the meantime, efforts by the European members of the Council to mount a systematic defence of the Council and multilateralism have yielded mixed results. France and Germany, which happened to hold successive monthly presidencies of the Council in March and April, did a good job of presenting their back-to-back tenures as a single package, highlighting issues such as international humanitarian law. The UK, conscious of its potential isolation after Brexit, has made a point of working closely with its EU partners and in particular Germany.[fn]While France turned down a German suggestion that the two countries should be joint diplomatic leads (“penholders”) on Mali in the Security Council, the UK agreed to “share the pen” on both Darfur and resolutions concerning sanctions on Libya.Hide Footnote In public relations terms, the Europeans have done well at the UN. But the U.S. has not allowed EU members to project their multilateral ideals unchallenged. Washington threatened to kill a German-drafted resolution on sexual violence in conflict in April because of a passing reference to “sexual and reproductive health”, which the U.S. read as pro-abortion. The Germans finally backed down.[fn]Nonetheless, the resolution “for the first time makes specific calls for greater support for children born as a result of rape in conflict, as well as their mothers, who can face a lifetime of stigma. It also gave prominence to the experiences of men and boys”. Liz Ford, “UN waters down rape resolution to appease US’s hardline abortion stance”, The Guardian, 23 April 2019.Hide Footnote

Contretemps like these highlight the underlying reality that the Western group is splintering in the Security Council, is liable to fragment further while President Trump remains in office and could indeed break down even more fundamentally over an issue like the two-state solution.

IV. Russia and China’s Strategies

The current lack of strategic unity among the Western members of the Security Council has created diplomatic space for Russia and China to advance their interests in New York. The extent to which there is a coordinated Sino-Russian front at the UN is source of constant diplomatic speculation. The two powers frequently align their positions closely, generally insisting that the Security Council should avoid overreach, especially where human rights are concerned. In some cases, they table joint resolutions articulating these minimalist positions as counters to Western texts.[fn]In the February Venezuela debates noted above, Russia tabled a minimalist resolution calling for a political solution but putting no real pressure on Maduro. China supported this, but few other Council members did so. In the German-initiated debate on sexual violence in conflict, China and Russia devised a joint resolution setting out a more limited approach to the issue than the German text, but this also gained little support. There are rumours that the Chinese and Russians also collaborated on a resolution on sanctions relief for North Korea before this year’s Trump-Kim summit in Hanoi, but had to drop it when the meeting fell apart.Hide Footnote Yet in many cases, China seems less keen to invite controversy than Russia, and has a solid track record of compromises with the U.S. and Europeans.

Russia, having weathered a prolonged period of condemnation in the Council over its Syrian policy, continues to grow more assertive in UN debates. The Russian mission has been vocal in countering the U.S. anti-Maduro push at the UN, bringing together a caucus of pro-Maduro ambassadors for a photo shoot with the Venezuelan foreign minister at the Security Council in February.[fn]Farnaz Fassihi, “Venezuela’s Maduro government form UN coalition against foreign influence”, The Wall Street Journal, 14 February 2019.Hide Footnote

Behind the scenes, Russia has moved to limit the Council’s room for action in cases involving its friends. As noted above, it opposed any condemnation of the Haftar offensive in April. A little earlier in the same month, it also blocked (with African support) British and German proposals for a UN statement on the fall of President Omar al-Bashir of Sudan. Having cultivated good relations with the Sudanese government as part of a broader strategy to gain influence in Africa, the Russians insisted that his replacement was a domestic matter. While German ambassador Christoph Heusgen, the president of the Council, briefed journalists that the Council was “dealing with the issue”, it issued no formal collective statement on the coup – an astonishing development, given the UN’s history of intense if difficult engagement with Sudan over many years.[fn]“Sudan’s military removes al-Bashir: All the latest updates”, Al Jazeera, 12 April 2019. See Heiko Nitzschke, “Sudan,” in Sebastian von Einsiedel, David M. Malone and Bruno Stagno Ugarte, The Security Council in the 21st Century (Boulder, 2015).Hide Footnote

More broadly, Russia is becoming more systematic in its approach to opposing U.S. and European initiatives that it does not like at the UN. In the early years of the Syrian war, Moscow appeared intent on defending President Bashar al-Assad in the Security Council, but was less assertive on most other conflicts, Ukraine aside. It largely allowed the U.S., French and British to set the agenda on African peacekeeping questions, for example. This is changing. Russia has increasingly refused to go along with the Western powers on such matters. Last year it strongly objected to, and ultimately abstained on, a resolution on renewing the UN Stabilisation Mission in the Central African Republic (CAR) that did not recognise Moscow’s efforts to mediate the conflict in collaboration with the Sudanese through the “Khartoum process”.[fn]Russia also wanted the Security Council to recognise its role in arming and training CAR’s armed forces. France and other Western members of the Council remain suspicious of this.Hide Footnote This March, it abstained again on a new mandate for the UN Mission in South Sudan over a minor point of language that even China accepted.[fn]Russia may, however, have expected China to join it in this abstention. Crisis Group interview, New York, 15 March 2019.Hide Footnote

Abstentions of this type lack the power of vetoes, and receive concomitantly less attention.[fn]In 2018, China and Russia jointly abstained on resolutions concerning Western Sahara (on the grounds that the U.S. was attempting dictate terms without sufficient consultation) and Haiti (arguing that it referred unnecessarily to the Council’s Chapter VII enforcement powers).Hide Footnote Nonetheless, historical precedents suggest that a P5 abstention on a resolution will reduce its political credibility with the parties to a conflict.[fn]In 2006, for example, China and Russia abstained on a resolution to deploy a UN peacekeeping operation to replace African Union (AU) troops in Darfur. The Sudanese government correctly interpreted this as a signal that the Council would not back up the mandate robustly and dragged out negotiations on a compromise UN-AU option into 2007.Hide Footnote Russia’s willingness to flag its dissatisfaction with recent resolutions in this way arguably is in part indicative of its growing interest in African matters (symbolised not only by Moscow’s diplomatic overtures to Khartoum but also by the deployment of private military contractors to CAR last year). But it is also procedural. The Russians have long felt that the Western powers do not take their views sufficiently seriously in consultations on many Security Council issues, including African cases. Their abstentions may be a signal that, in future, Moscow will demand a still more active role in these negotiations.

Nonetheless, the primary concern for Moscow in the Security Council remains Syria – and here there has been very little movement at the UN in recent months. The lack of progress on UN efforts to create a new constitution-drafting process in Syria, despite heavy Russian engagement, and the appointment of a new envoy to the country (Geir O. Pedersen), have put Security Council discussions of the situation into a sort of limbo. The Council continues to discuss Syria on a regular basis, but without the intensity with which it did at the height of the war. This is partly good news for Russian diplomats, as it means they face less public criticism. But it also leaves them no closer to winning UN support for a settlement in Syria that takes some of the burden of reconstruction off Russia’s shoulders.

While China often joins Russia in abstentions, its broader strategy continues to be opaque. Chinese diplomats still tend to be cautious in Security Council negotiations, unless direct national interests are at stake. In some cases, as in recent months on Myanmar, they have refused to engage substantively at all.[fn]China’s non-engagement on Myanmar followed a successful effort by other Council members (including Britain, France and Germany) to invite the leader of a Human Rights Council fact-finding mission to brief on the plight of the Rohingya. See UN document S/2018/926.Hide Footnote This level of caution contrasts to a marked growth of activism among Chinese diplomats in other UN forums, such as development committees and the Human Rights Council in Geneva. Nonetheless, Beijing is asserting itself in Security Council matters, too, often by applying pressure on other members through their capitals rather than bargaining in New York. For example, through these means, China worked with Russia in December 2018 to persuade other Council members to block a debate on the human rights situation in North Korea.[fn]“U.S. scraps UN meeting on North Korea human rights”, AFP, 8 December 2018.Hide Footnote

Both the Chinese and Russian approaches arguably reduce the effectiveness of the Council.

China also benefits from the fact that the Council’s Western members want to avoid developing confrontational relations with it similar to those they have with Russia. The UK, which leads discussions on Myanmar, has avoided pushing the Chinese into a situation where they would veto a resolution on the Rohingya crisis. This April, China came close to a veto when the U.S. and UK tabled a resolution imposing sanctions on Masood Azhar, the leader of Pakistan’s Jaish-e-Mohammed militant group (JeM). China has long opposed sanctions against Azhar as a favour to Pakistan, but the British and Americans wanted to flag this issue after JeM claimed responsibility for killing forty Indian paramilitary police in Kashmir in February, sparking a series of Indian-Pakistani clashes.[fn]Michelle Nichols, “U.S. steps up push for UN to blacklist Kashmir attack leader”, Reuters, 27 March 2019.Hide Footnote In this instance, the Chinese seem to have compromised to save face, persuading the U.S. to drop its resolution but agreeing to discuss sanctions on Azhar further.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, New York, April 2019.Hide Footnote

In sum, though China and Russia continue to cooperate on many matters in the Security Council, the two powers have developed quite different relations with the U.S. and the Europeans. While the Russians are locked in a confrontational relationship with the Western powers, China appears to be pursuing mutual accommodation. This can break down – for instance, Chinese diplomats were highly frustrated that other Council members refused to include a positive reference to the Belt and Road Initiative in a recent resolution on Afghanistan – but keeps public spats limited.

Both the Chinese and Russian approaches arguably reduce the effectiveness of the Council. While arguments with Russia can bring UN diplomacy to a sudden halt, China has the ability to draw out talks on a problem like Myanmar indefinitely. It is possible that the U.S. may take a harder line toward China at the UN in future – National Security Advisor Bolton in particular is reportedly worried by Beijing’s influence there. For now, however, the main Western members of the Council appear to be more focused on pursuing disputes with each other.

V. Elected Council Members: Second-class Citizens?

The elected members of the council – or E10 – have grown increasingly impatient with the P5’s management of UN affairs in recent years. A number of European elected members in particular have recently tried to make the Council more effective and scored a few successes. Sweden, for example, played an important role in engineering the current Yemeni peace effort last year. A nascent “E10 culture” has emerged in recent years, with small and medium-sized countries working together across regional divides to make their presence felt – Kuwaiti diplomats have, for example, become heavily engaged on reforms to the Council’s working methods.[fn]“In hindsight: The emergence of the E10”, Security Council Report, 28 September 2018.Hide Footnote

But the P5 still keep the E10’s ambitions in check. The U.S. pushback against Germany’s resolution on sexual violence in conflict was not an isolated act of spite. When the Netherlands tabled a largely common-sense resolution on improving mandates for peacekeeping operations at the end of last year, Russia and the U.S. squashed the initiative on the grounds that it could tie their hands in future debates over blue helmets.[fn]See Is Christmas Really Over? Improving the Mandating of Peace Operations (New York: Security Council Report, 2019), pp. 9-10.Hide Footnote Poland floated ideas for getting the UN more involved in conflict resolution in Ukraine in 2018, but ran into opposition from France, which worried that this would undermine the Normandy Format.

The current group of elected members also have quite diverse views of multilateralism that mean they struggle to pull together as a group. As observed above, Germany has worked with France to project a strong sense of EU identity and purpose at the UN. But Indonesia and South Africa, which joined the Council at the same time as the Germans this January, have signalled their commitment to a “Southern” agenda, questioning Western initiatives and often taking positions that are closer to China and Russia’s on issues such as Venezuela. On Middle Eastern matters, notably Yemen, Kuwait frequently takes positions close to those of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (meaning that the U.S. does not always need to speak up for its Gulf allies directly). In this context, the elected bloc in the Council is unlikely to be a united force in the near future.

The E10 still have ways to complicate Council business. The African members (or A3, currently comprising Côte d’Ivoire, Equatorial Guinea and South Africa) have been particularly active this year. In January, South Africa used procedural means to slow down Council discussions of the Democratic Republic of Congo’s disputed elections (countering a push for early talks by France), limiting the UN’s ability to influence events there. South Africa and Equatorial Guinea opposed the Council making a statement on the Sudanese coup. All three African members raised objections to the draft UK resolution on Libya and Haftar in April on the grounds that it did not reflect the views of the African Union (AU).[fn]The African Council members insisted that the Council should adopt language from an AU Peace and Security communique on Libya. See AU document PSC/PR.COMM.DCCCXXXIX, adopted at the 839th meeting of the Peace and Security Council, 9 April 2019.Hide Footnote

The poor state of the Security Council is ultimately a symptom of the overall poor state of international cooperation, and there are few signs that this will improve soon.

While the A3 do not always work together coherently, their positions on these issues reflect a broader dissatisfaction with the P5’s approach to taking decisions on African issues, and recurrent lack of deference to the AU. These feelings have been magnified by a messy diplomatic battle in the Council in December last year, when the U.S. blocked a resolution floated by the African members (which then included Ethiopia rather than South Africa) calling for the UN to finance AU peace operations. The U.S. threatened to veto because of the draft resolution’s cost implications, leaving all sides raw. Diplomats note that both American and African representatives have been “aggressive” in discussing financing in other UN forums in recent months, and the problem will not be resolved soon.[fn]Crisis Group interview, diplomats working on peacekeeping, New York, 27 March 2019.Hide Footnote

Given the importance of AU-UN cooperation in cases such as Somalia, these diplomatic ruptures potentially have serious consequences for crisis management and counter-terrorism operations on the ground. A forthcoming Crisis Group paper will explore AU-UN relations in more detail, with specific reference to the AU Peace and Security Council and UN Security Council. In the meantime, the question is whether the UN Council can recover some sense of strategic purpose.

VI. Conclusion: Reducing Council Tensions

The poor state of the Security Council is ultimately a symptom of the overall poor state of international cooperation, and there are few signs that this will improve soon. It is highly probable that tensions between the U.S. and other major powers over issues such as Israel-Palestine will complicate Council diplomacy in the coming months. Current American efforts to destroy the Iranian nuclear deal – which the Council has tried to avoid discussing in any depth to date – could also create new ruptures in New York. If nuclear talks between the U.S. and DPRK break down, and Pyongyang returns to regular missile testing, there will inevitably be a new spate of debate over sanctions in the Council. It is not guaranteed that China, Russia and the U.S. could collaborate as well on DPRK as they did in 2017. Council members should, therefore, be ready for some bruising debates.

Nonetheless, there are issues where cooperation is still possible. In 2018, following extremely serious differences over Syria in the first half of the year, P5 members recognised that some sort of political process over Yemen could be a point of cooperation. This recognition helped frame the terrain for the launch of the December 2018 Stockholm agreement and ensuing efforts to build a Yemeni peace process, despite the Anglo-American differences noted above. The difficulties of implementing the agreement have turned into a headache for the Council.[fn]See Crisis Group’s series of Yemen updates in the spring of 2019.Hide Footnote But the fact that the Council got behind the process shows that its members can still identify islands of agreement.

Such points of consensus are likely to involve crises that (i) fall below top-level sources of international division (so not Ukraine or Israel) and (ii) where the P5 have no other clear ways forward. In this context, there are three possible areas for better diplomacy over the coming months:

  • Mali and the Sahel: Recurrent Franco-American divisions over MINUSMA and the G5 Sahel are deleterious to the Council, and also weaken the international response to the crisis in the region. Rather than enter a new round of disputes over MINUSMA’s mandate and budget, France and the U.S. should pause to consider what steps are necessary to stabilise the region. The ingredients, as Crisis Group has argued in previous reports and commentaries, are well-known to diplomats working on this file: (i) focusing on security in central Mali; (ii) ensuring that G5 Sahel and other regional forces adopt a political approach to operations rather than a predominantly military one; and (iii) strengthening state structures and service delivery as fast as feasible across the region.[fn]See Jean-Hervé Jezequel, “Centre de Mali : enrayer la nettoyage ethnique”, Crisis Group Q&A, 25 March 2019.Hide Footnote French and U.S. officials should work bilaterally to identify a shared approach to these priorities at the UN.[fn]As noted in Section III, one obstacle to such a compromise could be that a new focus on central Mali by MINUSMA would most probably mean shifting UN assets from the north of the country. This could in turn complicate French counter-terrorist operations in the north, which partly rely on the UN for logistics and security assistance. The U.S. and France would need to work out a budgetary and operational agreement that ensured that a UN shift to central Mali did not weaken French operations, without creating major additional costs.Hide Footnote
  • Libya in the wake of the Haftar offensive: While the Haftar offensive in Libya divided the Council, members need to come back together as quickly as possible to stop the current fighting from morphing into a costly war of attrition that will ultimately benefit no Council member. Again, the basic principles for action (outlined in a Crisis Group statement early in the fighting) are fairly obvious: (i) securing a ceasefire on the basis of forces’ current positions; and (ii) working with the parties to recreate conditions for UN-led peace talks that were thrown into disarray by the offensive; and (iii) taking diplomatic steps to limit outside interference in the political process.[fn]Crisis Group Alert, “Averting a Full-blown War in Libya”, 10 April 2019.Hide Footnote The Council should work on a diplomatic pathway back toward this outcome. It might also take a more serious approach to the UN arms embargo on Libya, which P5 members have largely ignored (or flouted) to advance their interests.
  • “Do no harm” in Venezuela: The Council’s discussions of Venezuela to date have been counterproductive. If the U.S. hoped to use the UN as a mechanism to advance pro-Guaidó cause, this has backfired, as Russia has countered with a strong pro-Maduro push and U.S. allies have grown nervous about the entire agenda. While the final outcome of the Venezuelan crisis is unclear, it is possible that the UN may be needed to step in to help bring the parties back to the table if and when the crisis worsens. In the meantime, Council members including the U.S. and Russia would be well advised to agree on a tacit “do no harm” approach to the crisis at the UN, avoiding using the Council as a platform for public diplomacy. This sort of restraint may increase the chances of the UN playing a constructive role later on.

These are all limited steps to restoring some sense of transactional, cooperative diplomacy in the Council. They are short-term priorities, and do not address broader strategic differences among the P5 and other Council members. Nor are they politically straightforward; each requires P5 members and other powers to compromise on often hard-fought positions. But such limited steps are what the Council needs to get back on track now. Without such progress, it is liable to slip further into dysfunction, unable to make even the most limited statement on the crises of the moment – let alone attempt to solve any of them.

New York/Brussels, 30 April 2019