Remarks at a UN Security Council Open Debate on the Maintenance of International Peace and Security: Security, Development, and the Root Causes of Conflict

Read Time6 Minute, 31 Second
Ambassador Samantha Power
U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations
U.S. Mission to the United Nations
New York City
November 17, 2015

Thank you, Madam President and thank you, Secretary-General Ban. Minister Greening you are voting with your feet by being here and chairing this meeting, it’s extremely important the way the United Kingdom has led on this issue and continually champions the link between security and development. Chairman Skoog, also, thank you for your briefing and Madam Bouchamaoui, I’d like to welcome you to the Council and congratulate you on the Nobel Prize – we don’t often get to do that at the Security Council. But much more than the prize, I’d like to congratulate you and the Tunisian people for your resilience and your stubborn determination to build a stable and prosperous democracy. The one thing you do not have to worry about is the world turning its back on you – we are completely with you, we are in awe of what you have done so far and we will be your enduring partner through thick and thin as you move forward. We know how difficult it is and it is important not only for Tunisia but for the entire region and for the world as a whole.

Before I begin, I also want to extend my deepest condolences ‎to Ambassador Delattre and the people of France. Ambassador, your great nation is America’s oldest ally. We share history, we share values, and we share ideals. We have stood together time and again and today we do so with a heavy heart – but with more determination than ever before. And we are ready to help in any way we can. We also extend our condolences to the families of those lost in the apparent bomb attack on the Russian plane, as well as to the victims and the families of victims of the horrific attacks in Lebanon and Iraq. This is a brutal movement and it must be stopped in its tracks.

Every week we meet in this Chamber and we debate how best to respond to an ever-evolving set of threats to international peace and security. Last week, we convened on Somalia: a country where we are supporting both security operations against violent terrorists, and parallel efforts to assist a political transition. We met on Syria, where a revolution that began against an oppressive regime has mutated into that regime’s indiscriminate killing of masses of civilians on a daily basis, and this is a war of course with ramifications that touch all of us, and a war that has enabled the rise of ISIL. We also adopted a resolution on Burundi, where at least 280,000 people have fled their homes, with many seeking shelter in neighboring countries.

In 1941, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt introduced the idea of the “Four Freedoms:” freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, freedom from fear. All these freedoms are intertwined, and to pretend otherwise is perilous.

All member-states of the UN must dedicate ourselves to tackling the causes of fear and the causes of want in our society, and we must build strong institutions that respect human rights and that are accountable to their people and to the needs of our people.

As the crises in the headlines remind us – and, indeed, as last week’s horrific events in Paris and Beirut and Baghdad underscore – the threats to international peace and security today are diverse. Our approach to countering them must be similarly multifaceted. This requires not just the effective use of every tool in our toolbox, but also a complete picture of the threats and the factors driving those threats.

Today, the Council has the welcome opportunity to discuss one root cause that too often goes overlooked: underdevelopment. As President Obama has said, “it is a lack of development – when people have no education, and no jobs, and no hope, a feeling that their basic human dignity is being violated – that helps fuel so many of the tensions and conflict and instability in our world.” This causal connection is recognized in the Sustainable Development Goals adopted this past September, with Goal 16 explicitly noting that the absence of development endangers peace and security. Of course, the reverse also is true.

Development is not a panacea that will eliminate all threats. We all know that there are certain people who become terrorists, and who fuel conflict, who are very well-off and have come even from lives of privilege. But in many contexts, and particularly in the places where we deploy peacekeepers or political teams, developmental challenges – including the lack of economic opportunity, poor governance, and human rights abuses – are themselves kerosene, fueling instability. It is the job of development agencies to directly address many of these drivers. But let me briefly describe three ways this Council can also help.

First, the Council must encourage and enable the recognition and integration of development concerns into security assessments, peacekeeping strategies, and peacebuilding programs. This will enable a more nuanced understanding of dynamics shaping conditions on the ground, and thereby improve the design of our interventions – we can’t just play whack-a-mole once a conflict is already fueling. To this end, the United States supports the Secretariat’s efforts to break down stovepipes across the UN in order to enable more holistic and nuanced assessments and responses. And as proposed through the Human Rights up Front initiative, we should also seek operational changes within the UN system that promote system-wide analysis and early warning in situations of concern. Such early warnings will enable more timely action to prevent or respond to large-scale violations of human rights – I believe this is what we are now seeking to do in Burundi and have been over the course of the last year.

Second, we must ensure that peacekeeping is accompanied by peacebuilding. The success of peacebuilding programs are of direct interest to this Council because they will help determine whether a country lapses back into conflict and right back onto the Council’s agenda. Recent events in Burundi, again, underscore just how conflict-affected countries can progress in peacebuilding and development, but then slip back into crisis, causing such heartbreak for so many. The 2015 Peacebuilding Architecture Review offers a valuable opportunity to strengthen the UN’s peacebuilding architecture, and ensure that it integrates political, security, development, human rights, and rule of law activities. And we all know we need to work through how to render the relationship between the Security Council and the Peacebuilding Architecture more effective.

Third and lastly, we must be realistic in our planning. As we design peacekeeping missions, we must ensure they not only address all facets of the conflict before us – the current conflict – but that they are also equipped to maintain security while critical developmental progress is being made. Consider Sierra Leone, where the UN maintained a presence whose form evolved alongside the country’s transition from civil war, to immediate post-conflict peacebuilding, to development. This transition continues, but it has already produced a stronger government and a more resilient community that was able to withstand and eventually defeat Ebola.

The case of Sierra Leone reminds us that not long ago, there would have been those who questioned the relevance of a disease, an epidemic like Ebola, to this Council’s work. We have since seen how directly something like that can threaten regional and international security. In this new era, we cannot choose the drivers of conflict and insecurity that we wish to address; we must instead seek to identify and better understand all of them, in order to more effectively fulfill our mandate. Today’s debate represents an important step in this direction.

Thank you.

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Robert Williams

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