Launch of the ACT group

5/2/2013 // Norway is one of the 21 members of the Accountability, Coherence and Transparency group. The group is aiming to improve the working methods of the UN Security Council. This statement was delivered by Deputy Permanent Representative Ms. Tine Mørch Smith.

Together with New Zealand, Saudi-Arabia, Ireland, Finland, Switzerland and Estonia, we have over the last months initiated a discussion on how to best achieve concrete and tangible results regarding the Council’s conflict-prevention agenda. More effective prevention requires both a shift from normative discussions into more concrete substance, and also more interactive, spontanous and less formal meetings.   

Two-third of the adopted resolutions by the Council last year was under Chapter VII, most of them related to mandates of peacekeeping operations or sanction regimes. In generic terms, the Council is responding reactively and incrementally to evolving crises, usually by first issuing press statements followed by PRSTs then finally resolutions. But when resolutions have been adopted, the stage has usually been passed where the Council at an early stage of a conflict could have engaged in a thorough strategic discussion on relevant diplomatic options. Action is usually delayed until a point where the only option left is eventually coercive measures under Chapter VII. While prevention should not be seen as an alternative to peacekeeping, the increased burden placed on the Council’s workload by more and more robust peacekeeping operations could be allivated by a greater emphasis on conflict prevention.

The Council’s working methods are too formal and rigid to be well suited for engaging interactively in preventative diplomacy. The current practices combined with political sensitivities make it difficult to get new or emerging issues onto the Council’s official program of work. Consequentially it is hard to start any comprehensive discussion on preventive diplomacy in any closed meetings arrangements. Usually the only option is to let individual Council members to raise an issue under “any other business”, which henceforth increases the risk of politicizing the issue, rather than enabling a thorough strategic discussion. The increased use of informal meeting arrangements like “interactive dialogue” and “Arria formular” are welcomed. This is particular in situations in which the country or countries are not formally on the agenda of the Council.  

While there has clearly been a steady progress of the normative work done by the Council on prevention over the past decade, including through thematic debates, these efforts are still hampered by the Council’s culture of formality and its institutional design. There’s a way to go from ensuring prevention as a comprehensive issue, including through mediation and postconflict peace-building, to stop a crises by efficient diplomatic means.

Let me mention a number of initiatives which have been re-activated from the past, and which we support.  We are very pleased to hear that the UK intends on reinstituting a “horizon-scanning session” during its Presidency in June. We encourage other members, in particular the Council Presidents to do the same. It is important to preserve this practice initiated by the UK in 2010, but which has been neglected since September last year. It is now time to reinstitute this tool as a regular practice which allows the Secretariat to  present both thematic and country-specific issues in an informal setting, including some which are not on the Council’s agenda. These meetings are meant to be interactive to promote strategic thinking. They are however not goals in themselves, but a first step in addressing the working methods problem. The overarching goal should be to institutionalise practical working methods tools which underpin initial strategic discussions on options for conflict prevention.

In addition to the horizon-scannings, the informal wrap-up sessions reinstitued by Pakistan in January this year, can also be useful in identifying themes with preventative application.  However, the “wrap-up” format should not be used as an alternative to the “horizon-scannings”, but they should complement each other. We would also encourage the Secretariat to continue the trend of giving ad-hoc briefings on emerging threats to international peace and security. We also see the potential of the Ad Hoc Working Group on Conflict Prevention and Resolution in Africa, in particular through South-Africa’s active chair in 2011. However, the work and efforts done at the subsidiary level should be able to shape and play a more influential role in the Council’s broader prevention work.

Prevention is a cross-cutting issue. The Council will also be more effective, if it can address the root causes of a conflict rather than imposing a solution. In this regard, increased interactions with regional and sub-regional organisations under Chapter VIII of the Charter, play an important role. For instance, participation and engagement by regional and subregional organisations in discussions at the subsidiary level of the Council could enhance coordination of prevention activities.

We need to be innovative, and look for ideas which might unlock the Council’s preventative capacity. Developing more effective conflict-prevention strategies to be employed before violent conflict escalates are of interest to us all.  Under the Charter, the Council has primary responsibility to maintain international peace and security. However, the broader membership has not abdicated its own responsibility or interests. More can be done, and we believe the wider membership have a legitimate role in assisting the Council fulfilling its responsibilities in this regard.


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