Conflict Prevention

The need for a greater emphasis on conflict prevention is a common theme of the major reports of 2015 on peace operations, peacebuilding, and UNSC Resolution 1325. It is a broad subject area that cuts across the wide spectrum of peace operations.

Conflict prevention can be broken down into three classic types: operational prevention, which is when an envoy is dispatched to use diplomacy to stop violent conflict; structural prevention, which might be thinking how the political economy of a place could be altered to make it more resilient to conflict; and systemic prevention, which is creating “herd immunity” by using the global web of treaties and international laws to guard against violence, particularly between states. Looked at another way, the idea of prevention cuts across four major ongoing discourses at the United Nations: conflict prevention, prevention of violence, prevention of mass atrocities, and preventing violent extremism.

Not all these types and discourses have yet been covered by the Global Peace Operations Review, but as we touch on the subject in our essays, commentaries, and analysis these contributions will be gathered here on this thematic page.


Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon beats a traditional drum with Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza during a dinner hosted by Mr. Nkurunziza in Bujumbura, Burundi in June 2010.With “Sustaining Peace” can the UN turn rhetoric into action? |

Gizem Sucuoglu and Tanisha Hewanpola

In April 2015, Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza announced that he would be seeking a third-term of office—a move that his opponents decried as unconstitutional. Protests and clashes between opposition supporters and security forces followed. Amid a rapidly deteriorating climate of serious human-rights violations, extrajudicial killings, intimidation, media suppression, and the stoking of ethnic tensions, fears of widespread violence rose, triggering mass cross-border displacement. | Read More


©ReutersSouth China Sea and world disorder |

WPS Sidhu

The ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) in The Hague against China’s claim on the South China Sea in a case brought before the court by the Philippines should prima facie have remained a bilateral matter between the litigants. In reality, however, it has become an exemplar of China’s role in the ongoing contest to determine the world order. | Read More


Commemoration Ceremony and Parade on the occasion of the International Day of United Nations Peacekeepers.  The event was held in Juba, South Sudan at the Headquarters of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan [UNMISS] under the theme 'Honouring Our Heroes'. UNPOL.Getting clear about conflict prevention at the UN |

Adriana Erthal Abdenur and Gustavo de Carvalho

The 70th anniversary of the founding of the United Nations (UN) last year has prompted new questions about the organisation’s ability to effectively address peace and security problems around the globe. | Read More


A United Nations Preventive Deployment Force (UNPREDEP) peacekeeper is monitoring the border of The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia in October 1998.Creating a “Responsibility to Prevent” at the UN |

Kristoffer Tarp

Much of the High-Level Thematic Debate (HLTD) on Peace and Security in the General Assembly in May was predictably centred on prevention. Participants made the case for greater efforts to prevent conflict from erupting or re-erupting in the first place and committing to sustaining peace. But maybe it is time, as Youssef Mahmoud has argued, for prevention as a term to be disconnected from conflict? | Read More


A Tunisian protester in March 2015 carrying a poster speaks that says "no fear and no terror" and reaffirms “Tunisia will be protected by its people”. The years immediately following the 2011 revolution have been tense years as extremists mounted violent attacks on security and military personnel but gradually expanded this to political activists, civilians and tourists, and diplomatic property.The Tunisia Conundrum: Sowing dictatorship, harvesting terrorism |

Hanny Megally

Why is Tunisia producing the world’s largest numbers of jihadi foreign fighters when the country is seemingly the one success story emerging from the 2011 Arab uprisings? It is a conundrum that has confounded analysts not least because the answers have been very contradictory. Delving back into Tunisia’s modern history may help in contextualizing the answer to this question. | Read More


US Secretary of State John Kerry and China's President Xi Jinping speak at the US-China strategic and economic dialogue. Beijing, China, June 7, 2016. (Nicolas Asfouri/Getty Images)The South China Sea and the Limits of UN Conflict Prevention |

Jim Della-Giacoma

This week has seen major talks on the biggest brewing conflict in Asia. At the annual Shangri-La Dialogue of Asia-Pacific defense officials and the high-level United States-China talks in Beijing, the dispute over the South China Sea has been front and center. Beijing’s unapologetic expansionist behavior in a group of previously uninhabited islands is making waves, raising tension, and fueling a regional arms race. You might think this would be fertile ground for some old-fashioned United Nations preventative diplomacy? | Read More


©ISS AfricaPSC Interview: Creating Peaceful Cross-Border Spaces |

Aguibou Diarrah

African borders and their lack of clear demarcation have been identified as one of the root causes of conflict on the continent. The African Union’s Border Programme (AUPB) works toward reducing this conflict risk. | Read More


Oscar Fernández-Taranco (centre left), Assistant Secretary-General and Head of the Peacebuilding Support Office, greets Raimonda Murmokaitė, Permanent Representative of Lithuania to the UN, during a January 2015 Security Council meeting on post-conflict peacebuilding as Dina Kawar (centre), Permanent Representative of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan to the UN, looks on. (UN Photo/Loey Felipe)Sustaining Peace is a Core Activity of the UN |

Oscar Fernandez-Taranco

On 27 April 2016, as an end result of an over a year long process aimed at reviewing the UN’s peacebuilding efforts, the member states of the United Nations agreed by consensus on two substantially identical, parallel resolutions of the General Assembly and Security Council. The comprehensive and far-reaching resolutions successfully capture the ambitious and innovative content of the 2015 Report of the Advisory Group of Experts on the UN’s Peacebuilding Architecture. | Read More


The Security Council unanimously adopts resolution on the UN Peacebuilding Architecture. The General Assembly also adopted a substantively identical resolution, with the two resolutions providing renewed momentum for the focus on ‘sustaining peace’ within the UN system. UN Photo/Manuel EliasA Global Consensus on Sustaining Peace |

Gillian Bird and Ismael A. Gaspar Martins

Benjamin Franklin once said that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. The United Nations membership acknowledged this, by consensus, by adopting on 27 April the most comprehensive and far-reaching peacebuilding resolutions in the Organization’s history. | Read More


©UNAMIDBetween Bureaucracy and Adhocracy: Crafting a Spectrum of UN Peace Operations |

Ian Johnstone

The array of tools the UN has developed to prevent, manage and resolve conflict has expanded in recent years. They are being deployed in new formats, from political missions and small peacebuilding teams, to large observer missions and multidimensional peace operations with offensive capabilities. But the High-level Independent Panel on Peace Operations (HIPPO) and other recent reports question whether the tools are being used as effectively as they could be. | Read More


20 Jan 2016 - General Assembly President Mogens Lykketoft (right) spoke with Syrian refugees when he visited the Zaatari Refugee Camp on the border during a visit to Jordan in January 2016.Mogens Lykketoft : The Challenge Facing the UN in Peace and Security is how to be and be seen as truly relevant |

Mogens Lykketoft

The UN needs urgently to keep pace with evolving challenges and threats to international security from climate change to violent extremism and terrorism and beyond. | Read More


Burundi President Pierre Nkurunziza and U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power, Gitega, Burundi, Jan. 22, 2016 (AP photo)U.N. Security Council Should Make Better Use of ‘Road-Trip Diplomacy’ |

Jim Della-Giacoma

A United Nations Security Council debate can feel like traveling in an airplane at cruising altitude: a quick continental overflight in a rarefied atmosphere, far above the dirty reality of the conflict below. The debate can be driven by factors that may have little to do with what may be happening on the ground. | Read More


U.N. peacekeepers outside parliament during a march by supporters of Senate President Jocelerme Privert, Port-au-Prince, Haiti (AP photo by Dieu Nalio Chery).Putting Prevention Back in the U.N.’s Vocabulary |

Jim Della-Giacoma

Prevention has long been a dirty word at the United Nations: Some member states equate it with interference, and the need for early warning that accompanies it with spying. But in a time of crisis, some think the time has come to reconsider what role the world body should play in stopping conflict before it happens. | Read More


©Pax in NuceDoes anyone know what good peacebuilding looks like? |

Gustavo de Carvalho and Onnie Kok

Peacebuilding has evolved significantly in the last 20 years. Now that we know what it is meant to achieve, the time has come to do it well. | Read More


Violence escalates ... An activist holding a placard reading “Save Burundi” protests in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi on December 18, 2015, against recent killings in neighbouring Burundi by government forces in a crackdown against public dissent to a controversial third-presidential term. ©AFPPolitics in Place of Peace: The AU’s Role in Burundi |

Lesley Connolly

When the decision [around Burundi] reached the level of the Assembly of Heads of States, it showed that in absence of consent there is no political willingness of African leaders to act against their own| Read More


©Luba LukovaMultilateral Envoys: Challenges to Assessing Success |

Hanny Megally

Short-sighted policies, failed leadership, heavy-handed approaches, a single-minded focus only on security measures and an utter disregard for human rights have often made things worse. | Read More


Count Folke Bernadotte, UN Mediator for @UN Multimedia | Palestine, and his staff, in a September 1948 briefing for UN military observers prior to their deployment in the Holy Land. Left to right are: General Frank Stoner, Chief of Communications for the Mediator; Count Bernadotte; Colonel Nils Brunssen, Sweden, Chief Military Observer in Jerusalem, and Dr. Ralph Bunche, Personal Representative of the Secretary-General.Support Mechanisms: Multilateral, Multi-Level, and Mushrooming |

Teresa Whitfield

The idea that “peace processes must be well-supported politically, technically and financially”, as UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon stated in the introduction to the UN Guidance for Effective Mediation, is something of a truism. Certainly, no one would ever advocate poor political technical or financial support to a peace process. But the appearance of mediation support as a dedicated activity, along with formal mechanisms to pursue it, is a relatively recent development with significant implications for the work of multilateral envoys.| Read More


them_essay_enovys_cic_300x200Multilateral Envoys: Challenges to Assessing Success |

Center on International Cooperation

Envoys dispatched to make peace deploy with a bag full of assumptions. Those who send them believe the multilateral framework gives their emissary the moral legitimacy to intervene. They think that pooling efforts under one collective engagement is more cost effective. They claim multilateral conflict prevention saves lives. But how can these and other assumptions about the effectiveness of multilateral envoys be tested? | Read More


them_essay_whitfield_envoys_300x199Where Envoys Aren’t |

Teresa Whitfield

This series of essays was conceived to document and analyze the work of multilateral envoys, particularly their engagement in efforts to mediate or manage armed conflict. It necessarily focuses on the conflicts in which one or more multilateral envoys are present. This essay, in contrast, reviews the conflicts where envoys are not present, and attempts analysis of the reasons why this might be the case. | Read More


them_essay_n_gordon_profiles_bineta_diop_300x200Meet the Envoys: Trends in Envoy Profiles and Appointments |

Nora Gordon

Since the first UN mediator, Count Folke Bernadotte, was appointed in 1948 to serve as UN Mediator in Palestine, multilateral institutions have increasingly deployed envoys to mediate conflicts between and within countries, and more recently conflicts involving non-state actors. In 2013, some 52 multilateral envoys were working in 29 locations around the world. | Read More


○UNCharm, Criticise, Compromise |

Richard Gowan

Good diplomats know how to deliver tough messages to important counterparts without creating havoc. It’s a three-part process. First, you need to butter up your target with compliments. Second, you have to express your concerns firmly, but not hysterically. | Read More


© OSCEChoosing Envoys Wisely |

Bart M.J. Szewczyk

Special envoys are, by definition, agents appointed by a principal or a group of principals for a particular task. Yet their scope of power and authority varies across institutions. Different international organizations have made distinct decisions in terms of selecting special envoys; defining their mandates; deploying, financing and supporting an envoy’s support team; and establishing report and oversight mechanisms. These formal decisions occur in the context of informal customary practices, which are for the most part beyond the scope of this study.| Read More


Then UN Special Envoy for Darfur Jan Eliasson (left) and AU Special Envoy for Darfur Salim Ahmed Salim (center) arrive on 14 February 2007 in Um Rai for a meeting with key commanders of non-signatory rebel groups to the DPA (Darfur Peace Agreement). © UN Photo/Tim McKulkaThree’s a Crowd? Inter-Organisational Cooperation in Conflict Mediation |

Alischa Kugel

Out of the at least 51 multilateral envoys deployed in 2013 to address conflict situations around the world, 28 envoys from different multilateral institutions worked together in mediating conflicts in the same country, region or sub-region across Africa, Asia, Europe and the Middle East. | Read More


© Tamrat Samuel“Good Offices” Means Taking Risks |

Tamrat Samuel

"You can’t expect us to be of any help if we can’t speak to everyone involved. You may treat them as terrorists but if you want peace, you are going to have to bring those people on board."| Read More


 Jan Eliasson, the then Secretary-General's Special Envoy for Darfur (fourth from left at the table), in January 2007 meets internally displaced persons' representatives in the United Nations Mission in the Sudan (UNMIS) compound. ©UN Photo/Fred Noy Lessons from Multilateral Envoys |

Richard Gowan and Alischa Kugel

Mediation was a central concern for the High-Level Independent Panel on Peace Operations convened in October 2014. The group had a deliberately broad mandate to review the UN’s peacekeeping operations (PKOs) and Special Political Missions (SPMs). | Read More


©UNThe Practical is the Political: The UN’s Global Study on Women, Peace and Security |

Rob Jenkins

Weighing in at just under five pounds, the 417-page Global Study on the Implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1325, released last month, is nothing if not ambitious. Its expansive subtitle – “Preventing Conflict, Transforming Justice, Securing Peace” – correctly hints at the study’s broad thematic scope. | Read More


© Dag Hammarskjold FoundationCan the UN reduce global conflict? |

Sarah Cliffe

In 2015, multiple reviews of the UN’s peace efforts have added to the collective realization that UN peace operations – designed in the 1990s to support post-civil war peace deals – may have reached their limits for maintaining international peace and security. | Read More


s_hearn_them_essay_july28The "Gaping Hole" in the UN for Sustaining Peace |

Sarah Hearn

In 2015, multiple reviews of the UN’s peace efforts have added to the collective realization that UN peace operations – designed in the 1990s to support post-civil war peace deals – may have reached their limits for maintaining international peace and security. | Read More