Role of UN preventive diplomacy?

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S Qamar Afzal Rizvi

With Portugal’s former Prime Minister Antonio Guterres becoming the new chief — to hold his official charge on Jan 01,2017 — a question about UN role in settlement of Kashmir and Palestine disputes seems much probing. Though viewed from both sceptic and optimist angles that whether the United Nations plays an important role in international affairs, the generally tabled argument says that the United Nations is indeed an effective institution, it plays and it can play an irreplaceable role in dealing with many international disputes and settlement of international affairs. Nevertheless, the United Nations also has its limitations and shortcomings, which are mainly reflected in poor settlement of regional disputes. Security Council, the General Assembly and the Secretar General —three major pillars — have to play their respective roles in resolving global conflicts via peace diplomacy.
First, the United Nations General Assembly (GA),and the Secretary General (SG).The GA is composed by all member states, which is the deliberative organ of the United Nations, and holding a regular session each year. Generally speaking, resolutions adopted by the GA are not legally binding, and they are more of a political and moral strength. The GA(an intergovernmental body) can also discuss any question relating to international peace and security and make recommendations, if the issue is not currently being discussed by the Security Council. The role of SG of the United Nations is reflected more of a third-party intervention in the peaceful settlement of international disputes. According to the Charter, a reflection of Winston Churchill’s astuteness, the GA can make recommendations on the general principles of cooperation for maintaining international peace and security, including disarmament, and for the peaceful settlement of any situation that might impair friendly relations among nations.
Principally, the Charter empowers the SG to “bring to the attention of the Security Council any matter which in his opinion may threaten the maintenance of international peace and security”. One of the most paramount roles played by the SG is the use of his good offices – steps taken overtly and covertly that draw upon his independence, impartiality and integrity to prevent international disputes from arising, escalating or spreading. Conflict prevention is the cornerstone of United Nations policy.
It is here that the Department of Political Affairs has to play a pivotal role in these dimensions: monitoring and assessing global political developments; advising the UN’s SG on actions that could advance the cause of peace; providing support and guidance to UN peace envoys and political missions in the field; and serving member states directly through electoral assistance and through the coordinative support of the work of the Security Council and other UN bodies, including the Peace building Commission. Second, the Security Council. Within the United Nations, Security Council plays a significant political position; it is the only organization which has right to take action for the maintenance of international peace and security under the Chapter VII of UN Charter, and all United Nations member states must comply with any resolution made by Council in its terms of reference.
Despite some failures, the UN has also helped to end some conflicts, often through prompt actions of the Security Council (a transnational body) — the organ with primary responsibility, under the United Nations Charter. Normally, when a complaint about a threat to peace is brought before it, Council’s first action is generally to recommend to the parties to try to reach agreement by peaceful means. In some cases, the Council itself undertakes investigation and mediation. It may appoint special representatives or request SG to do so or to use his good offices. It may set forth principles for a peaceful settlement. While typically realist in their political approach, sceptics argue that UN’s role of preventive diplomacy reflects only individual preferences of UNSC’s members.
And yet assessing from an optimistic angle, this group tends to be institutionalist/functionalist in its political philosophy, positing the United Nations as an independent actor in global politics, one that can influence and settle disputes and thereby contribute to international peace. Chapter VI offers the non-forcible means to this end; lack of coercive measures does not diminish the UN’s effectiveness. Area of agreement between these two camps is that although the Charter’s chapter entitled Pacific Settlement of Disputes concerns primarily Security Council action, the true centre of action lies with the SG and his agents, whom, of course, Chapter VI never mentions. Yet, Chapter VI of the Charter set forth a comprehensive list of peaceful means for the resolution of conflict. It must be noted the Security Council— under Articles 36 and 37 of the Charter— can recommend to member states the submission of a dispute to the International Court of Justice, arbitration or other dispute-settlement mechanisms.
Sadly, the unsettlements of these two humanitarian disputes—Kashmir and Palestine for the last seventy years—is a clear vindication that UN body remains unable to implement the principle of self-determination insofar as the UNSC’s resolutions on both the cases-Kashmir and Palestine have been hibernated in political expediencies of the UNSC’s power politics. But here world cannot forget that once UNSC — firmly decided to resolve conflicts of Kosovo and East Timor — exercised its power under chapter VII.
Article-34 of Chapter VI of the UN’s Charter reads:” The Security Council may investigate any dispute, or any situation which might lead to international friction or give rise to a dispute, in order to determine whether the continuance of the dispute or situation is likely to endanger the maintenance of international peace and security”. The world by and large, expects from the new SGG uterres — who has delivered a worthy diplomatic role in the European Union—to restore Organisation’s global image and to resurrect the dead UN’s conscience regarding the sufferings of the Kashmiris and the Palestinians, thereby resolving the Kashmir and the Palestine disputes in accordance with the spirit of the UNSC-endorsed resolutions.
— The writer is an independent ‘IR’ researcher based in Karachi.