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Doctrines Derailed?: Internationalism's Uncertain Future
Doctrines Derailed?: Internationalism's Uncertain Future
Navigating the Storms at the UN Security Council
Navigating the Storms at the UN Security Council
Speech / Global

Doctrines Derailed?: Internationalism's Uncertain Future

Global Briefing 2013 opening speech from the International Crisis Group's President & CEO Louise Arbour.

Doctrines Derailed?: Internationalism's Uncertain Future

Global Briefing 2013 opening speech from the International Crisis Group's President & CEO Louise Arbour. CRISIS GROUP

I’m delighted to welcome you to Crisis Group’s 5th annual briefing.

My name is Louise Arbour and I’m the President and CEO of International Crisis Group.

Many of you know our work well, some are relative newcomers. In the course of today and tomorrow you’ll have an opportunity to interact with Crisis Group’s staff and board, and you will get, I’m sure, an excellent insight into who we are.

Rather than describe to you here our mission and methodology, I want to steal this opportunity to share with you some personal thoughts developed over my four years in this position, as well as during my previous work in different, related capacities.

It is well known that our work is geographically based, rather than thematic. And you will get, in the course of this Global Briefing, a very good exposure to the breadth of our geographic work, and to a wide spread of detailed views and opinions on the evolution of the conflicts in the regions and countries that we cover.

What we do less often, though, is remove ourselves from this intensely contextual approach to reflect on the state of ideas and institutions that play a more global role in the management of conflict and the advancement of peace and security. Many of these feature regularly in our work, but not always explicitly and usually through the lens of a single conflict or crisis.

Allow me therefore to look at what events over recent years tell us about some of these doctrines and institutions.

I want to look briefly at four issues: (i) the pursuit of international criminal justice; (ii) the Responsibility to Protect, or R2P; (iii) peacekeeping, or perhaps now better put peace-enforcement, missions; and (iv) the international promotion of the Rule of Law.

All these were embraced, albeit some with more enthusiasm than others, in this still relatively new post-Cold War era as desirable investments in the promotion of international peace and security.

When, by tomorrow evening, you have finished surveying with us the state of what I’m sure will appear a rather un-peaceful world, you may ask yourselves what some of these post-Cold War doctrines and institutions have actually contributed.

If the answer is “not enough”, then it might be useful to pause and examine what, thus far, has gone wrong.

Working as we are on some of the most difficult, volatile and war-torn parts of the world, this two-day briefing risks leaving a rather bleak impression and possibly even a sense of doom.  I certainly don’t want to add to that. Not all is negative, of course – the peace process in Colombia, the top-down reforms in Myanmar, potentially positive change in Iran, the first handover from one democratically-elected government to another in Pakistan – not all news is bad.

So as I begin to highlight the shortcomings of existing frameworks for conflict prevention, I want to stress that some of it is working, and that all is fixable. But not if we refuse to take a critical look at the ideas and institutions we have championed for fear of seeing modest gains unravel.

Let me turn first to international criminal justice, now anchored in a full decade of work by the International Criminal Court. We all repeat the mantra that there can be no lasting peace without justice; and that’s true enough. But I don’t think that we have yet resolved the inevitable tensions between the two in a workable fashion.  

Security Council referrals to the ICC are, I believe, particularly problematic. Two referrals by the Security Council to the ICC, in the cases of Darfur and Libya, have done little to enhance the standing and credibility of the ICC, let alone contribute to peace and reconciliation in their respective regions. Last week the judges of the ICC, at the request of the government of Libya, ruled one of the two Libyan cases inadmissible, clearing the way for President Qadhafi’s spy chief Abdullah al-Senussi, to be tried in Libya where investigations are already underway.

There have been talks about the Security Council referring Syria to the ICC, amidst a general sense that, first, it will not happen anytime soon and, second, even if it did it would do little to advance a mediated end to the war, which currently appears the only remotely feasible way of ending the fighting. The Security Council’s actions in response to allegations of human rights violations in Sudan and Libya is also in stark contrast to its silence in the face of equally credible allegations of gross violations of human rights and international humanitarian law by government forces in Sri Lanka, where the last few months of the war in 2009 saw tens of thousands of civilians killed in indiscriminate attacks.

It’s true that Security Council referrals expand the reach of accountability to countries that have chosen not to be parties to the Rome Statute that established the ICC. But they do so at a cost that any justice system should find difficult to bear: three permanent members of the Council are not party to the Statute and all five can use their veto power to shelter themselves and their friends from this expansion of responsibility. Indeed, Security Council Resolution 1970 referring Libya to the ICC specifically excluded nationals of states not party to the Rome Statute from the ICC’s jurisdiction – Americans for example – except, of course, Libyan nationals.  So much for the Rule of Law, premised as it is on equality before the law.

Security Council referrals therefore expose the Court to charges of politicisation, while providing the Court with no compensatory benefits such as additional financial, political or operational support. And in the end, Council referrals may in fact underscore the Court's impotence rather than enhance its alleged deterrent effect, given that in Darfur Security Council backing has achieved so little, while in Libya there is a sense in some quarters that the Court withdrew from a contentious arena leaving the indictees to be tried in a judicial system under severe stress.

Another serious challenge to the Court is emerging from the election of Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto, as President and Vice-President of Kenya, after having been indicted by the ICC, and their subsequent efforts to drum up opposition to the Court in Africa. The two are casting their election as evidence of national reconciliation that their trial could compromise. This conveniently obscures the failings of the Kenyan system that permitted indicted criminals to stand for public office. But it highlights the reality of post-conflict environments where justice can be brandished as a further threat to peace.

And finally we will discuss in more detail this afternoon the tensions between the objectives of peace and of justice in the negotiations currently taking place in Havana between the Colombian government and the FARC.

So recent events – whether the Security Council referrals, the difficulties the Court faces in Africa, or its balancing act in Colombia – appear to challenge the assumption underlying the international justice enterprise: that holding military and political leaders accountable for war crimes would contribute to peace, by deterring such conduct in the future and encouraging national reconciliation.

This is not to say that we should abandon the fight against impunity. And there’s no question that we must support the Court’s work. But it means that we need to be more strategic about the convergence of justice with the resolution of armed conflicts.

In my view this cannot be done by either peace or justice trumping the other – as in effect it would through sequencing one before the other – but rather by seeking in every case an outcome that maximises both. This in turn requires compromise – both sides have to give. Many justice advocates, however, wary of losing ground, are unwilling to support that approach.  An alternative – creating a model whereby the political and justice tracks are parallel rather than criss-crossing – remains out of reach, although it has, in my view, considerable merit.

Let me now turn to the Responsibility to Protect, or R2P, as, first, a doctrine reflecting a modern articulation of state sovereignty as entailing not just states’ rights but also their responsibility to look after the welfare of their citizens and, second, a framework for intervention in the domestic affairs of a state, including through military action, in order to prevent mass atrocities.

Despite early attempts to focus on prevention by all means short of the use of force, in reality the debate over R2P has focused mostly on its sharp end: how to mobilise international support for using military force against a government unwilling or unable to protect its own people.

Combined with some dysfunction in the Security Council – to put it mildly – the doctrine has become hostage to politics, and to public opinion.

It was designed to mitigate the harm to civilians caught in war. But in Libya it was instrumentalised also to effect a change of regime. Whether this showed its potency or will lead to its demise is unclear. Since then the doctrine has proved useless in mobilising the international community to protect civilians in Syria, where well over 100,000 people have been killed so far. In fact it may even be part of the problem: some Security Council members have been reluctant to pass any resolution on Syria claiming to fear it could then be stretched to justify military action.

Still, the idea of using external force to prevent atrocities continues to have currency. It is in fact a requirement of international law under the widely ratified genocide convention; it recently led French foreign minister Laurent Fabius to call on Security Council veto holders to undertake voluntarily not to use their veto to prevent actions designed to stop mass crimes (with the not insignificant caveat that they should feel no such restraint where their national interests are at stake).

R2P was articulated as a humanitarian doctrine, not as a conflict resolution one. Whether it can ever be purely the former remains to be seen: once Qadhafi was declared a murderous threat to Libyans, how could the NATO intervention have ended in any way other than regime change? The failure to recognise this fact opens the doctrine up, inevitably, to a politicisation that will render its utility, I suggest, questionable in the short to medium term.

Third, let me say a few words about Peacekeeping. More blue helmets are deployed today than maybe at any other time in UN history. UN peacekeepers have, undoubtedly, played crucial roles in moving societies from war to peace.

Over recent years, however, their responsibilities have changed almost beyond recognition – with perhaps the most dramatic shift being from peacekeeping to peace “enforcement”. The newly deployed intervention brigades in the DRC, the ambiguous environment in which the UN is deploying in Mali, and the latest calls by the UN Secretary General for more, and more robust, troops to take on Al-Shabaab in Somalia, may herald a new era at the UN of peacemaking by warfare.

This is particularly troublesome as the UN-deployed missions are often required to side with governments of questionable legitimacy; and the weaker these governments are or become, the more the strong arm of the UN will be called upon to prop them up.  In this emerging configuration, the structural drivers of conflict – such as poverty, marginalisation, rising extremism, resource disputes and so on – risk being further neglected.

In addition, the call, as expressed by Lakhdar Brahimi years ago, that UN missions have the means commensurate to their mandates has never been fully implemented. Mandates express ambitious protection of civilian agendas, while troop contributing countries are wary of putting their forces in harm’s way to do just that.

Given also the military vigilantism of drone strikes and special forces operation that the second decade of the war on terror has sought to legitimise, there are reasons to be concerned about the increasing appeal to the use of force in the pursuit of peace, and its search for legitimacy, including in weary public opinion.

On the Rule of Law, Crisis Group has written extensively on the importance of building rule of law institutions in fragile or conflict-affected states.

The link between the rule of law and armed conflict – particularly internal armed conflicts, the most common form today -- could not be better expressed than it was in the preamble of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948:

“Whereas it is essential, if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, that human rights should be protected by the rule of law”.

Rule of law institutions are important and the development agenda has long neglected them even under the heading of governance. In most conflict-prone areas we spend, for example, more money and political capital on elections and support for the executive than on the establishment of a competent, professional and independent judiciary. This is true from Afghanistan, the DRC and Somalia to Guatemala, Sri Lanka and the Central Asian republics: weak or corroded judicial systems are both a product of crisis and a sign of crises to come.  

There is also a tendency to conflate the concept of rule of law with the security sector. We do invest in developing the capacity of police and militaries, but we should guard against pretending that this is what the rule of law is mostly about.

Law enforcement is not a bad thing in and of itself and tends to be popular even with, indeed particularly with, authoritarian regimes, as long as there are no constraints imposed on them about the content of these laws.

But understood properly and substantively, the rule of law expresses the requirement of equal benefit and equal protection of the law embodied in Lacordaire’s famous insight that “between the rich and the poor, between master and servant, between the strong and the weak, it is freedom that oppresses and the law that sets free”.

It is difficult to get any traction on recommendations that call for such a substantive and long-term investment in conflict prevention, mitigation and resolution. But short of pressing for such fundamental policy engagement in countries at risk, our work will mimic that of Sisyphus pushing that rock up the mountain.

Again I don’t want to leave you with this image of the futility of our efforts. Quite the opposite; it is only by acknowledging the inadequacies of our approaches that we have any chance of improving them. As the US prepares to pull out of Afghanistan, there will be a lot of so-called lessons learned about a wasteful decade. Throughout that decade, we have published extensively on the need to invest in the long-term effort to build rule of law institutions in Afghanistan. As others are calling for a repudiation of short-termism in addressing the defining issues of our time such as climate change and economic inequalities, so it is in the field of conflict prevention.

So I will leave you with this invitation. Keep in mind, over the next two days, that events each year expose new weaknesses and contradictions in the doctrines and institutions – the tools – of conflict management. To identify these is not to dismiss those tools altogether – they have, for the most part and despite their shortcomings, been sources for positive change.

Rather to do so should encourage further thinking on how to fine-tune them and use them more wisely to advance peace and security.

Many thanks.

General view is seen during the UN Security Council meeting at the UN headquarters in New York, U.S.on December 20, 2019. Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency
Commentary / Global

Navigating the Storms at the UN Security Council

Tensions are mounting among the permanent five members of the UN Security Council. After a series of rows over the Middle East, and with further disputes on the horizon, the five should convene a September summit as proposed by France and Russia to contain their differences.

Splits among the five permanent members of the Security Council or P5 (China, France, UK, Russia and the U.S.) on issues from Syria to Venezuela are now a regular and frustrating feature of UN diplomacy. Nevertheless, meeting at a Holocaust commemoration in Israel last month, French President Emmanuel Macron and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin reportedly discussed convening a leader-level meeting of the five at this September’s UN General Assembly session. Does this initiative suggest that relations among the P5 are about to take a turn for the better?

Perhaps marginally, but the outlook for Council relations remains fairly bleak. Looking at the Council’s agenda for the next several months, there are reasons to believe that the P5 face a factious 2020, risking more divisions over crisis situations from Mali to North Korea, and above all the tangle of conflicts in the Middle East. That said, putting a summit on the calendar for September – if only as a symbolic reminder of the P5’s role in founding the UN 75 years ago – could create a modest incentive to ease their differences.

A Time of Tensions

P5 cooperation at the UN is both close and, in many cases, dysfunctional. The five retain a tight grip on most major Council processes, drafting resolutions and only intermittently permitting the ten elected Council members a substantive role. By most accounts, personal relations among P5 representatives are mostly decent behind the scenes despite their public differences. While arguments over the Syrian war poisoned intra-P5 relations through the last decade, and continue intermittently, the generation of diplomats involved in the most vicious disputes – such as that over the fall of Aleppo in 2016 – has now largely moved on from New York. Some P5 members suggest that, leaving the Syria conflict aside, the overall state of Council diplomacy is not quite as bad as UN critics like to claim.

P5 cooperation at the UN is both close and, in many cases, dysfunctional.

This view holds up only if one focuses on the Council’s negotiations on issues like peacekeeping in Africa, which only rarely inspire serious P5 rifts. But a brief survey of Council diplomacy on non-African issues – and even more contentious African questions – belies the assertion that P5 relations are broadly all right. For example, after a series of clashes among the U.S., Russia and China over the crisis in Venezuela in early 2019, the Council has stopped discussing the topic altogether. Another source of friction is that U.S. and European members of the Council have – as we noted in November – started questioning China’s treatment of the Uighur minority in Council consultations, sometimes catching the Chinese off guard. They surprised Beijing’s delegation in mid-January, for instance, by raising the Uighur subject in a discussion of UN conflict prevention in Central Asia. For its part, China has pushed for Council talks on India’s policies in Kashmir, even though the rest of the P5, including Russia, oppose any UN pressure on Delhi.

Nonetheless, the most serious disputes among the P5 centre on the Middle East and North Africa. Over the last two months, the five have sparred repeatedly over humanitarian aid to Syria, the U.S. killing of Iranian general Qassem Soleimani in Iraq, and the war in Libya.

The latest Syrian dispute focused on the Council’s mandate – initially passed in 2014 – for UN bodies to deliver humanitarian assistance across the borders of neighbouring countries to areas of Syria outside government control, without Damascus’s permission. Russia has frequently queried if cross-border assistance is still necessary, and threatened to veto its continuation in 2017. Last December, Moscow called for the closure of two of the four crossing points that previous resolutions authorised aid agencies to use, and China joined it in vetoing a compromise text prepared by Belgium, Germany and Kuwait that aimed to keep three of the crossings open. In last-minute haggling in January, Russia got most of what it wanted, as the Council agreed to mandate just two crossing points for six months. In a curious climax to the argument, China and Russia abstained on the resolution (arguing that it said too little about Syria’s sovereignty) and the UK and U.S. did so, too (because they thought it was too weak). France, having tried to act as a conciliator with Russia during the dispute, was left as the one P5 member to vote in favour.

After the U.S. killed Soleimani in Iraq on 3 January, China and Russia signalled their displeasure by refusing to sign off on a routine condemnation of Iraqi protesters’ attack on the U.S. embassy in Baghdad.

January’s turmoil in Iraq also highlighted differences among the P5, creating tensions not only between the Western and non-Western members of the group, but also among the U.S. and its allies. After the U.S. killed Soleimani in Iraq on 3 January, China and Russia signalled their displeasure by refusing to sign off on a routine condemnation of Iraqi protesters’ attack on the U.S. embassy in Baghdad the previous week. (Normally, the one thing diplomats in New York can agree on under any circumstances is that it is unacceptable to attack diplomats.)

Moreover, the episode resulted in a behind-the-scenes split between France and the UK, which some European officials fear could presage more serious divisions in the post-Brexit era. When France proposed that the Council hold closed talks on regional de-escalation after the Soleimani affair, the British – presumably wishing to avoid any implication that they were critical of Washington – refused to join other European members of the Council in calling for these consultations. Paris backed off. Although the UK worked collegially with France and other EU Council members after the 2016 Brexit referendum (increasing, as we observed last year, the number of E3 statements with France and Germany at the UN on issues including Iran), European officials fret that it will now start to tilt toward Washington more frequently.

The situation in Libya, a perennial source of Council tensions since 2011, also fuelled P5 bickering in January. While Germany engineered an ostensibly successful summit in Berlin on the country in the middle of the month – with participants from all P5 countries including Presidents Macron and Putin agreeing to respect the UN arms embargo and support a ceasefire – UN discussions on how to follow up on the conference quickly derailed. Germany called for the Council to pass a short resolution endorsing the Berlin conference conclusions, but other P5 members requested a text more focused on the situation on the ground, with the U.S. specifically pushing for the resolution to condemn Russian private military contractors operating in Libya, and Moscow predictably refusing to accept such wording. At the time of writing, the Council appears to be edging toward some sort of compromise text (with only vague language on the military contractor question), although Russia has questioned whether the Council should endorse the Berlin outcome at all unless Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar – who is both head of the Libyan National Army, which dominates eastern Libya, and Moscow’s ally – confirms his support for it. As outside powers have continued to breach the arms embargo, and some observers think a new escalation of fighting is likely, it is hard not to conclude that the Security Council missed the opportunity to make the most of the Berlin meeting by offering rapid and firm backing for a ceasefire.

Council members also see the prospect of more diplomatic storms over the Middle East that could divide the P5 this year.

Council members also see the prospect of more diplomatic storms over the Middle East that could divide the P5 this year. President Donald Trump’s long-delayed announcement of his Israeli-Palestinian peace plan at the end of January, featuring a highly imbalanced version of what he misleadingly labels a two-state solution, can hardly be expected to serve as the foundation for cooperative work in New York. In quick succession, the plan’s author Jared Kushner will brief a closed meeting of the Council on 6 February, and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas will visit the UN early next week to condemn the U.S. approach.  Tunisia, the only Arab state on the Council at present, is working on a resolution that is likely to reaffirm past Security Council resolutions on the two-state solution as a basis for talks and implicitly dismiss the American effort – a text which the U.S. would surely veto. Nevertheless, and although British and French diplomats would probably prefer not to have to vote on the issue, as the dispute is liable to do little more than illustrate the Council’s diminished importance for Middle East peacemaking, a showdown seems almost inevitable. A showdown could also be coming to the General Assembly – where the U.S. both lacks a veto and traditionally finds itself in a distinct minority on Israeli-Palestinian issues.

The most serious flashpoint for the P5 is, however, Iran. The E3’s decision in January to call out Iranian breaches of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in retaliation for U.S. abrogation of the deal in 2018, initiating the agreement’s dispute resolution mechanism and opening a pathway for the potential restoration of UN sanctions against Tehran, pleased Washington. Under the JCPOA, any single participant in the deal can snap back sanctions without the possibility of a veto. Two overlapping questions loom: first, whether the U.S. has the legal authority to trigger the snapback, given that it no longer is a JCPOA participant and, secondly, whether Russia and China would respect any reimposition, whether triggered by the U.S. or a European country. As Crisis Group noted in a recent report: “Russia and China have suggested that they would not recognise any reimposition of UN sanctions, arguing that the basis for the existence of sanctions – ie, ensuring the purely civilian nature of Iran’s nuclear program – was removed with the signing of the JCPOA”. Restoring UN sanctions would likely lead to the JCPOA’s collapse, and possibly Iran’s withdrawal from the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Of particular import to the U.S. is the future of the UN conventional arms embargo on Iran, which under the terms of the JCPOA is set to lapse in October, unless sanctions are reimposed. If UN sanctions are not reimposed through the JCPOA mechanism, Council diplomats speculate that Washington may table a fresh resolution extending the embargo this summer. Such a text would almost certainly run into a Chinese and Russian veto, which depending on the timing could overshadow a P5 leaders’ summit in September.

And More to Come

If Iran seems to be the source of at least one possible breakdown in New York among the P5 between now and the celebration of the UN’s 75th anniversary at the General Assembly session in September, a number of other crises could exacerbate their tensions.

Syria could rear its head again as the Council will have to discuss humanitarian assistance in July – when the latest mandate for cross-border deliveries will lapse – potentially repeating the recent fight over the issue. UN officials expect Russia to once again take a tough line.

North Korea, a topic that brought the U.S. and China together in 2017 – when they agreed on far-reaching sanctions – could become a source of division going forward.

North Korea, a topic that brought the U.S. and China together in 2017 – when they agreed on far-reaching sanctions – could become a source of division going forward. China and Russia set the stage for arguments over UN sanctions in December by tabling a resolution calling for partial sanctions relief. The Europeans and U.S. have rejected this idea. It is possible that Beijing and Moscow tabled their text as a way of signalling Pyongyang (which had been publicly threatening to give the U.S. an unwelcome “Christmas gift” over the holidays) that they would support easing sanctions so long as North Korea did not resume major missile tests or nuclear testing. Whatever the motive, Western diplomats and UN officials worry that the P5 are drifting apart on how to deal with Kim Jong-un. If tensions on the Korean peninsula increase again, it is far from certain that the P5 will agree on a cohesive response.

In Africa, Mali and South Sudan could cause the P5 some trouble. France and the U.S. are trapped in a recurrent debate over the size and mandate of the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA). This mission has struggled to deal with jihadist threats, but Paris believes it is still important to regional security, not least because it provides logistical support to French-led counter-terrorism operations. Earlier this month, the U.S. said it wants to see significant cuts to the 15,000-strong force and “an alternative approach” to stabilisation by June – though it did not make clear precisely what this alternative might involve – when the MINUSMA mandate expires. France, in this case supported by Russia, signalled that it sees no need for major changes. Paris and Washington clashed over MINUSMA last year but managed to paper over their differences to get a resolution, and they are unlikely to risk a full-scale falling-out over the issue in 2020. Nonetheless, with France already criticising U.S. plans to reduce its own military footprint in the Sahel, these discussions could be difficult.

In South Sudan, the Security Council as a whole is frustrated by the failure of President Salva Kiir and his long-time rival Riek Machar to form a unity government, despite repeated calls from the UN to do so. But while the U.S. appears inclined to impose new sanctions on political leaders in Juba if there is no deal soon, China and Russia are likely to be sceptical. Beijing, deeply invested in South Sudan’s oil sector, has called for easing sanctions in the past, while Moscow has accused the U.S. of a heavy-handed approach to Juba. Bolstering these arguments, African members of the Security Council have also questioned the value of sanctions in this context. Beijing and Moscow could also push to block the renewal of a Security Council arms embargo on Juba this summer. Both debates would represent personal tests for U.S. Ambassador to the UN Kelly Craft, who led a Council visit to Juba in October, and like her predecessor, Nikki Haley, favours a tough approach there.

Making the Most of a Fall Meeting

With so many tensions on the horizon, it is not clear that a P5 leaders’ summit in September can do much to resolve the Security Council’s problems, and there is a risk that France and Russia could engineer a gathering that falls apart if a major crisis erupts, such as when President Trump cancelled a meeting with President Putin at the 2018 G20 summit over tensions in Ukraine. Yet the P5 leaders would still be wise to make at least a symbolic effort to show that they are open to cooperation.

For all their differences, the five have a vested interest in standing up for the Council’s authority over crises of common concern, and perhaps even more than that their privileged position in directing its decision-making. Against this backdrop, it could do at least a bit of good for P5 leaders to meet and make a joint announcement of their continued commitment to cooperation, even if it rings a little hollow. If the P5 do not offer some sort of signal that they take seriously their responsibility to work through the UN, other states will look even less to the Council for leadership, and its ability to forge collective responses to peace and security challenges will continue to slip. Even if the P5 foresee their relations deteriorating further this year and beyond, they can at least acknowledge that the Security Council remains a channel for addressing some crises, addressing some differences and pursuing shared interests.