Jan 24, 2017 (South African Institute of International Affairs/All Africa Global Media via COMTEX) — Just ten days into his tenure as United Nations’ Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres chose his first formal address to the UN to be about the importance of conflict prevention and sustaining peace. At a UN debate sponsored by the government of Sweden on 10 January, the new SG said, ‘Prevention is not just a priority, but the priority.’
The idea that ‘prevention is better than cure’ is age-old, but the merit of preventing conflict among and within countries was first touted in the 1960s when Guterres’ predecessor as SG, Dag Hammarskjold, introduced it into policy discourse. While the notion has been growing in popularity, it has been notoriously difficult to implement.
This is mainly because it requires a shift in our minds from being reactive to conflicts towards being proactive to prevent them. Bereft of images of starving children and corpse-ridden streets, these cases typically are not able to garner the media attention that has proved so effective in mobilising popular sentiment – and by extension, foreign governments – to assist. What a boon it is then, that the cause has seemingly found a formidable champion in the new Secretary-General.
In his address, Guterres outlined some key challenges he faces in mainstreaming this idea and called for the unequivocal support of member countries. He also announced significant changes ahead for the peace and security architecture of the UN, to spur the organisation to become more forward-looking: a newly-established executive committee will be responsible for increasing the capacity to integrate all the pillars of the UN under a common vision. Guterres also announced the appointment of a senior policy advisor, Kyung-wha Kang of South Korea, tasked with mapping the prevention capacities of the UN system, to spearhead initiatives to amalgamate them into an integrated platform for early detection and action.