U.N. Security Council debates preventive diplomacy

U.N. Security Council debates preventive diplomacy

The U.N. Security Council met today for its only formal session of the week and debated the issue of "preventive diplomacy" — a term that means different things for different nations.

For the United States, preventive diplomacy means combining all the tools of international leverage — including the use of force — to prevent conflicts from breaking out or preventing hot conflicts from getting out of hand. It also means building sustainable economies and functioning democracies, with the goal of creating societies that can manage disputes on the national and regional levels.

"Peace, prosperity, and democracy cannot endure if imposed from the outside," U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice said at the session. She covered a lot of ground in her speech, not explicitly defending armed intervention but arguing for its use in some cases. "We should cease to make false distinctions between peacekeeping and prevention; they are in fact inextricably linked," she said.

She also argued that the use of sanctions under Chapter VII of the U.N. charter can be a tool of conflict prevention, a position council members such as China and Russian don’t support.

Some other countries used the meeting to explicitly defend the U.N.-sanctioned international military intervention in Libya and called for harsher U.N. measures against the Syrian regime.

"When conflict looms, the world looks to the U.N. for a decisive response," said British Foreign Minister William Hague. "In Libya… our swift action prevented a human catastrophe and saved the lives of thousands of civilians."

Hague went on to say that the British government viewed U.N. Security Council action as "long overdue" on Syria. "The consequences of inaction would weigh heavily upon us if we turn a blind eye to murder and oppression," he said.

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle called on the Security Council to "send a strong message to the government in Damascus to stop the killing of its people."

Not all Security Council members were on the same page when it came to international intervention, however. The representatives from India, Brazil, and South Africa criticized what they saw as overreaching by the United Nations in Libya. South African President Jacob Zuma was particularly critical of the United Nations for ignoring the peacemaking efforts of the African Union.

"Such blatant acts of disregard of regional initiatives have the potential to undermine the confidence regional organizations have in the U.N. as an impartial and respected mediator in conflicts," he said.

Indian Minister for External Affairs S.M. Krishna said that the international community needs to let peaceful processes play out longer before resorting to the use of force.

"The use of force also leads to collateral damage," he said. "In many places, the use of force has prolonged conflicts and the cure has turned out to be worse that the disease itself."

Brazil’s Minister of External Relations Antonio Patriota took a swipe at the efforts to forge ahead with the Middle East peace process led by the United States and the Middle East Quartet.

"It is time to stop believing that one country or one group of countries can solve this complex problem," he said.

The event was meant to highlight U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon‘s new report on preventive diplomacy. "Better preventive diplomacy is not an option, it is a necessity," Ban said at the event.

Your humble Cable guy was invited to sit inside the Security Council chamber as a guest of the U.S. mission; it was our first visit to the United Nations. The ugly orange seats were uncomfortable. The translation device worked, but not very well. Overall, the chamber where the Security Council met today was symbolic of the body it housed — functioning, but in bad need of repair.