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The Role of the United Nations in Preventive Diplomacy

The three pillars namely, Peace and Security, Development and Human Rights guide the United Nation’s role in preventive diplomacy. They work in conjunction with each other although distinct but mutually associative. This aspect of preventive diplomacy has been actively involved in preventing major conflicts in the world and is a process, which remains under-publicised. Media’s attention is given to conflicts, which turn violent, or has escalated to a certain level. The work of UN as the Meditator between countries is very essential for global peace as it is the only organisation of its kind, which has been formed for this purpose. The United nations also has a mandate which makes it a favourable place for preventive diplomacy as it portrays itself to be an organisation being above from the gambit of major world powers. There are also various problems in the Framework of the UN which poses serious challenges to its role in global preventive diplomacy and the reasons for its existence as a whole.

There are various measures of preventive diplomacy undertaken by the UN which vary to the time of peace and crisis in different regions. The peace-time responses include Confidence-building, Institution building, Early warning, and preventive humanitarian aid. The resolution during peace, works on building a relationship with the states for the future and have them in a confidence to resolve disputes in an effective manner[1]. It also works before an actual conflict occurs, therefore it also works to create an environment of peace where conflicts can be avoided. The crisis-time responses include Fact-finding, good offices and goodwill mission, crisis management, and preventive deployment. During the time of crisis, the main focus is to find the root cause of the issue and effectively eradicate it and eventually, mediate for resolution. It also focuses on curbing the crisis by providing any form of assistance, diplomatic, political, economic, humanitarian, or militaristic in nature.

The Charter of The United Nations was formulated with the aspect of preventive diplomacy being carried forward by the secretariat. It was first formulated by the second secretary General of the UN, Dag Hammarskjöld and guaranteed by the Article 99 of the Charter. The article 99 allowed the Secretary-General to bring to the Security Council’s attention, threats to international peace and security. The UN, as an organisation, knew that it would be difficult to work things out when there is a direct conflict between major powers which was also seen from time to time especially in the cold war era. Secretary general Dag Hammarskjöld understood this issue and sought for there to be more focus by the UN to prevent conflict between smaller powers and also to prevent major powers from infiltrating into such conflicts[2]. This approach can be seen over the years especially with the work UN has done in Africa. The elements of UN’s role in preventive diplomacy are Special Envoys, Special Political Mission, Peacekeeping operations, Regional Offices and Rapidly Deployable mediation expertise. These elements work on various different levels in various countries. The UN also has a designated toolkit for prevention of conflicts. It includes UN resident Coordinators and UN Country Teams, Electoral Assistance, Gender inclusion Expertise, Deployable Political and Human Rights analytical capacity and Sanctions Monitoring Groups. The framework of UN is designed to provide the best suitable methods to achieve Global Peace.

The UN has been successful in their approach of preventive diplomacy in countries such as Burkina Faso, Colombia, Liberia, Kyrgyzstan and Guyana in the recent past. Colombia as a nation was in disarray due to an armed conflict prevalent in the country between the communist guerrillas and the Government forces. This conflict had continued since the last six decades claiming more than 200,000 deaths and displaced almost 8 million people. This conflict affected a very large chunk of people by dragging them into poverty, armed conflict and also hampering development of various areas. There were various efforts of mediation which failed between the government and Colombia’s largest guerrilla group, Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia
– Ejército del Pueblo (FARC-EP). These mediations took place in 1986, 1994 and 2003 but all failed to put an end to this conflict. There were various programs, which were initiated by the UN in the country aimed at humanitarian efforts, development, education, rehabilitation etc. The UNCT and UNDP have worked quite extensively in this regard. The success came in as in 2012 as the mediation between the two factions started again and by 2016 the FARC-EP and the Colombian government reached a peace agreement[3]. This ended an era of violence as a major armed group disarmed itself and now the country is moving towards the sustenance of peace and preventing the risk of again going into war. This is all due to the efforts of the UNCT, which has worked in the country for many decades and also, provided a good ground for peace process.

The UN has also failed to adequately provide resolutions to various countries which have succumbed to armed conflicts both internally and externally. Some of the examples of these failures are Rwanda, Yemen, Cambodia, Sudan, Iraq, Myanmar, and Syria.

The Yemen conflict is a recent example of a failure of preventive diplomacy. The conflict is between the Yemen Government and Houthi armed rebels. This has created a proxy battle between Iran and Saudi Arabia who are backing opposite factions and involvement of UNSC members US and Russia have complicated the situation further. According to estimates, from March 2015 to December 2017, 8,000–14,000 people were killed in Yemen, including more than 5,000 civilians[4]. There is also an ongoing famine in the country due to the UN humanitarian aid being blocked by the different actors involved in the conflict in 2018. The United Nations warned that 13 million Yemeni civilians face starvation in what it says could become “the worst famine in the world in 100 years.”[5]The UN was seen failing in containing this particular fact also due to the inability of the Security Council to take decisive actions. The resolutions couldn’t be adopted due to the divisions between the members of the UNSC with their alliances and opposing sides in the conflict.

The United Nations has remained unchanged structurally since its inception in 1945. The composition of the UN decision-making has been with the Security Council fundamentally, which has created numerous issues over the years.The Security Council consisted of the victors of the World War II and at the time, was widely accepted to focus on the post war reconstruction of the world order. The UN succeeded to bring about changes and work for the sustenance of peace but still couldn’t succeed in all cases and was often regarded with various issues. The major issues with its work in preventive diplomacy is structurally the UN Security Council which can be seen to be biased and focused towards their interests and allies, creating a lapse in decision-making. Another issue is with regard to the role of the peacekeeping forces, which seem to be inadequate in their approach in various instances while looking at crises around the globe. The UN also is seen to have lopsided results as it succeeds in various countries but fails in other countries where the interest of global powers is not there. The UN although has worked to avoid various crisis and has provided humanitarian aid where it is needed. It has also acted as a platform where a dialogue can take place between various states on different aspects of peace. The idea behind the UN being at stake as it presents the larger narrative of peace should, therefore, surpass the boundaries set by its own structural difficulties in order to deliver its primary purpose as the premier international peace enforcing organization.



George, Alexander L. “Strategies for Preventive Diplomacy and Conflict Resolution: Scholarship for Policymaking.” PS: Political Science and Politics, vol. 33, no. 1, 2000, pp. 15–19. JSTOR,

Ramcharan, Bertrand. “Preventive Diplomacy at The United Nations | UN Chronicle”.Unchronicle.Un. Org, 2011

“United Nations Conflict Prevention And Preventive Diplomacy In Action”. Un.Org, 2018,

“Twelve Times the UN Has Failed the World”. TRT World, 2019

“Crisis Response in Yemen | UNDP”. UNDP, 2018,

Boutros-Ghali, Boutros. “An agenda for peace: Preventive diplomacy, peacemaking and peace-keeping.” International Relations 11.3 (1992): 201-218.

Cahill, Kevin M. Preventive diplomacy: stopping wars before they start. Routledge, 2013.

George, Alexander L., and Jane E. Holl. The warning-response problem and missed opportunities in preventive diplomacy. Carnegie Commission on Preventing Deadly Conflict, 1997.

Ramcharan, Bertrand G. Preventive Diplomacy at the UN. Indiana University Press, 2008.

Richardson III, Henry J. “Failed States, Self-Determination, And Preventive Diplomacy: Colonialist Nostalgia And Democratic Expectations.” Temp. Int’l & Comp. LJ 10 (1996): 1.

Madhav Grover is a 3rd year student studing B.A. Global Affairs at the Jindal School of International Affairs.

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