Remarks from Ambassador Susan E. Rice, U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations, At a High-Level Security Council Meeting on Preventive Diplomacy

Susan E. Rice
U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations 
U.S. Mission to the United Nations 
New York, NY
September 22, 2011


Thank you President Sleiman, for Lebanon’s leadership in bringing us together today to discuss this very important subject.

Mr. President, the late Dag Hammarskjold pursued a vision of a United Nations that would move from what he said quote was a “culture of reaction to a culture of prevention.”  That unfinished task lies before us today. 

Some 1.5 billion people now live in countries shaken by conflict, and few of these countries will see even one of the Millennium Development Goals met.  The World Bank’s annual development report puts the cost of the average civil war at some 65 billion dollars, or just over half of the global aid budget. While recent years have seen an unparalleled drop in global poverty, countries devastated by conflict and violence have been left out of this trend.

Poverty is a major driver of conflict. Let me highlight just one statistic. In countries where the average person earns only 250 dollars a year—the poorest of nations—the scientifically proven risk of civil conflict within a five-year time frame is 15 percent. By contrast, where you have a per capita income of some 5,000 dollars a year—in a middle income country—the risk of civil conflict over the same five year period is less than one percent. So, economic development and growth must be viewed as key to our strategies for preventing conflict.

It is especially difficult to prevent violence in societies struggling concurrently with crushing poverty, crumbling institutions, rampant discrimination, and deep-seated suspicions among ethnic or religious groups. Any one of these maladies on its own is difficult to address, but the mix is combustible and requires a comprehensive approach.

We say that often, but today, the Security Council has given that mantra greater definition. The presidential statement we are adopting squarely addresses the links between security and development. And moreover, it provides an outline for a comprehensive approach, including several core elements for long-term conflict prevention, including sustainable development; poverty eradication; national reconciliation; good governance; gender equality; the end of impunity; the rule of law; and, I would argue most notably, democracy and respect for human rights. These are the conditions most often found in peaceful societies. Their absence creates conditions conducive to conflict, and we ignore them at our peril.

Yet, as we dedicate ourselves to more comprehensive and long-term conflict prevention, we must be mindful that peace, prosperity, and democracy cannot be achieved quickly or endure, if imposed from outside.  The solutions to the root causes of conflict must be home-grown. The UN cannot do what others must do for themselves, but it can play an indispensable supporting role. 

The UN has vital conflict-prevention work to do on five fronts, in particular. 

First, early warning, information and analysis. The UN system has a significant presence in many countries where the conditions conducive to conflict are rife. The UN is thus well placed to provide early warning of potential concerns and to help us better understand and anticipate what makes each situation unique. Too often we resort to cookie-cutter solutions as if each case is the same as the last because we don’t know enough and we are reacting too late. The UN’s knowledge should help us act earlier and smarter. But the UN itself sometimes struggles to find the best experts and itself has limits to its knowledge and information-gathering capabilities. The UN therefore must work more closely with governments, regional and sub-regional organizations, NGOs, academics and other capable actors based on their comparative advantages. And to be truly effective it must be able to draw upon all sources of information.

Second, we need vigorous, sustained diplomacy and mediation to prevent violence or escalation.  Intensive diplomatic efforts by the Secretary-General, his senior envoys, and key staff in the field can pull adversaries back from the brink, especially when backed by a united international community. The United States continues to support strongly the robust use of the Secretary-General’s good offices and special political missions to avert war.  We strongly support efforts to build and strengthen the cadre of seasoned envoys. We welcome the UN’s recent efforts to work together with regional envoys and independent mediators when helpful. And we urge the UN and other international actors to recruit more women as envoys, special representatives and chiefs of field missions.
Third, diplomacy requires leverage, and that means both carrots and sticks. The credible threat of consequences for aggressors and others who refuse to abide by their international commitments should include when necessary imposing targeted sanctions. Effective mediation does not mean just listening to all sides; it also means acting firmly when needed to back diplomatic efforts. The Security Council has a particular responsibility here, including helping to mobilize wider political support for diplomatic efforts and moving swiftly in the face of emergencies.
Fourth, societies emerging from conflict continue to face the greatest risk of more bloodshed, even with the presence of peacekeepers. Peace operations are on the front lines of UN prevention efforts, and they must be thought of accordingly.  We should cease to make false distinctions between peacekeeping and prevention; they are in fact inextricably linked.  Investments we make to strengthen the ability of peacekeepers to detect breakdowns in a peace process, to sound the alarm bells in times of crisis, and re-deploy forces quickly to dangerous hot-spots are indeed investments in conflict prevention.
Fifth, while the UN and other actors can do a great deal through diplomacy and peace operations, our long-term objective must be to enable countries to prevent conflicts by themselves.  The UN, together with regional organizations and the wider international community, must help countries walk the long difficult road from war to peace. We support making greater use of the Peacebuilding Commission and the Peacebuilding Fund in more countries rattled by conflict. The high-level review of international civilian peacebuilding capacities commissioned by the Secretary-General contains many good ideas, and we look forward to their prompt implementation. 
Mr. President, all of these instruments can save lives.  They provide hope, and when employed effectively, can make a meaningful difference in the world. But they require us to overcome our differences and unite behind a common resolve in this chamber. So, let us summon the political will to confront the atrocities unfolding before our eyes, from Syria to Southern Kordofan. And let us revitalize our will and ability to prevent conflicts before embers start to blaze.
Thank you, Mr. President.


PRN: 2011/186