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Preventive Diplomacy in the Changing Landscape of Modern Conflicts: The Role of Regional Organizations


The second edition of the panel discussion “Preventive Diplomacy in the Changing Landscape of Modern Conflicts: The Role of Regional Organizations” convened on July 19, 2019, at the United Nations Headquarters in New York. The event was first held on October 2018, in response to the call made by the United Nations (UN) Secretary-General António Guterres for a surge in preventive diplomacy to further exchange effective conflict prevention policies and measures with enhanced partnerships between regional organizations.

The OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities (HCNM), with the support of the Italian 2018 OSCE Chairmanship, has hosted both panel discussions under the auspices of the UN. The HCNM is an organ of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and its charged with providing early warning and early action to prevent ethnic tensions from developing into conflict. As a second mandate, the HCNM is charged with assisting all of the 57 OSCE participating States in developing and implementing policies that facilitate the integration of diverse societies.

Mr. Lamberto Zannier, OSCE High Commissioner, opened the floor welcoming all participants and making emphasis in the delicacy of engaging in preventive diplomacy when conflict is in the horizon. Mr. Zannier said that “when you are talking about early action because you’ve had an early warning, you are usually already late.” In most instances, “you’ve missed something.” To correct this human error, Mr. Zannier, clarified that we need a long-term perspective to be able to identify the emerging trends within a society that can lead to instability, crisis, and address them accordingly.

Identifying and tackling conflicts before they develop is essential for maintaining the peace. Since the end of the Cold War, we have witnessed acute crises and hybrid conflicts characterized by internal strife between ethnic groups, sometimes in the context of failed or dysfunctional States that dissolved into new States. Such was the case of the former Soviet Union. Mr. Zannier named a few of the trends to which we should pay attention that could lead to marginalization, radicalization, extremism, and conflict. Among them are an emergence of nationalism, populism, identity politics, an increase in hate crimes, and hate speech.

Youth, in the long-term perspective, play a crucial role in conflict prevention and peacebuilding efforts. Mr. Zannier explains that focusing on youth allow us to address the root causes of segregation and exclusion from the onset. As all underrepresented groups, victims of multiple discriminations, “it is only when youth have a chance to make their voices heard that they will take ownership of decision-making processes and trust in the institutions of the State.” Underrepresentation and discrimination lead to hopelessness, frustration, and anger that can lead to young people to participate in political violence as the only available way to seek justice. In short, by including youth in the decision-making processes, we can help them stray away from violence and guide them to become agents of change.

At the end of his opening remarks, Mr. Zannier gave the floor to Permanent Representative of Slovakia to the UN, Mr. Michal Mlynár. With his time, Mr. Mlynár emphasized the important role of regional organizations in the fight of conflict prevention, which is at the core of the UN. The Charter of the UN, in its chapter 8 “Regional Arrangements,” recognizes the unique role of regional organizations and encourage their participation in the peaceful settlement of disputes and conflicts in cooperation with the UN Security Council. These collaborations aid in the process of preventing, mediating, and resolving conflict to build a better future. As such, we should “focus on areas that unite us, rather than those that divide us,” concluded Mr. Mlynár.

Mr. Miroslav Jenca, Assistant Secretary-General for Europe, Central Asia and Americas, built on Ambassador Mlynár’s remarks. Given the complexities of the peace process and the security challenges that come with it, preventive diplomacy today must be able to draw on the knowledge and influence of a range of actors. Thus, it is regional organizations that comprehend and understand tensions in the regions and have the thrust and legitimacy to help de-escalate conflicts.

In a time when “we are witnessing an erosion on multilateralism, we need to show the importance of partnerships, especially regional organizations” stated Mr. Jenca. He alluded to the partnership between the UN and the OCSE as an example of cooperation for conflict prevention. A partnership that is vital to address the political challenges in the Euro-Atlantic and Eurasian regions.

Following a few more examples of current cooperation efforts for prevention, Mr. Jenca identified three ways in which the UN and its partnerships can build on to make collaborations in preventive diplomacy more effective. First, “we should enhance the exchange of analysis to activate joint efforts in preventive diplomacy more quickly.” The effectiveness of such collaborations can be seen in Madagascar, where the UN timely and collective engagement contributed to a peaceful presidential election and subsequent transition of power. Second, the UN must build on its systematic approach to its cooperation with regional partners. It was this approach that effectively helped Mr. Jenca’s UN office to undertake regular high-level missions with sub-regional partners in West Africa to advance efforts in preventive diplomacy, including ahead of major elections. Third, the UN must build on its coordination with international financial institutions to invest more resources towards these vital efforts to keep the peace.

Mr. Jenca concluded the remarks from the principal commentators in these panel discussions by clarifying that the UN merely provides the framework for cooperation in peace and security. Thus, “it is up to us to critically examine and tailor our tools and approaches so that they meet the challenges of the rapidly changing and complex world environment.”

This post was written by Cristian Y. Ramos. Cristian is a first-year graduate student at the School of Diplomacy and International Relations, Seton Hall University, specializing in International Organizations and International Law and Human Rights. Cristian is a United Nations Digital Representative at the Center for the United Nations and Global Governance Studies, a Research Assistant at the School of Diplomacy, and former Vice-President at the Graduate Diplomacy Council. 

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