US Assistant Secretary of State on Conflict Early Warning

Assistant Secretary of State Susan Rice delivered a speech today on the “Responsibility to Protect.” In her speech, Ms Rice emphasized the need to “sharpen and strengthen our instruments for conflict management, and hone them to cope specifically with mass atrocities.” She identified 5 key instruments:

  1. Conflict Early Warning, Analysis and Decision-Making
  2. Preventive Diplomacy
  3. Peacekeeping
  4. Sanctions
  5. Peacebuilding

Here are her remarks in her own words:

“First are the linked questions of early warning, analysis, and decision-making. We must do more to ensure that a lack of information will never be a reason again for inaction. Working with governments, regional organizations, and NGO partners, we should strive to collect more, different, and better information about the risks and signs of mass violence – and then to share it. That data should also be analyzed with extra sensitivity to the potential for atrocity. And it should be channeled in real time to decision-makers who can do something about it.

But one significant caveat: history shows that slow policy responses to mass slaughter often stems from factors other than a genuine absence of information about what is unfolding. More often, policymakers knew a significant amount but were held back by competing policy priorities, limited knowledge of the country at risk, disincentives for speaking out, political concerns, and other factors.

Second, preventive diplomacy. The last twenty years and more have taught us that international mediation and diplomacy, backed by a readiness to use other tools, are among the most effective ways to prevent and halt violence. At the UN, innovations like mediation standby teams are an important start, but these teams remain underutilized and they need more resources. We still have too few mediators with the right skills ready to deploy in real time – and, I might add, far too few women. We need also greater surge capacity, closer cooperation among mediators, and better coordination between mediation and other tools of conflict management.  And we need to redouble our efforts to forge the international unity it will take for mediation to succeed.

Third, peacekeeping. We greatly appreciate the courage and dedication shown by UN blue helmets around the world, but these brave men and women are often stretched up to – or beyond- their limits. We must make sure that peacekeepers have the help they need to prevent a fragile peace from breaking down, and we must invest in more effective and efficient peacekeeping that can protect civilians menaced by rebel bands and marauding gangs, whether in Haiti or the eastern DRC.

But UN peacekeepers – even better trained and equipped ones – are not always the right solution when innocents are in peril. Sometimes, an unfolding atrocity is so large or so fast that it can be quelled only by the swift arrival of combat-ready brigades or their equivalent-operating outside the UN chain of command, and not built from scratch as a UN peacekeeping force must be. Only a handful of countries have this capacity at the ready, and even fewer can or will guarantee a response when called upon. Such governments, and regional organizations including NATO and the European Union, must take a hard look at their will and capacity to quickly deploy – either to fill the gap before peacekeepers arrive, reinforce them during a crisis, or to respond in cases where peacekeepers are not the right answer to begin with.

Through our Global Peace Operations Initiative, the United States has helped train and equip tens of thousands of peacekeepers, and we are working to improve peacekeepers’ abilities to protect civilians from the imminent threat of violence.

Fourth, we must put the bite back in sanctions. We have increasingly sophisticated tools to compel states and leaders to abide by international laws and norms. Through the UN, we can freeze individuals’ assets, ban international travel, restrict the flow of luxury goods and arms, and do much more to limit abusers’ abilities to threaten others. But, the Security Council often finds it difficult to overcome member states’ reluctance to wield and fully implement sanctions on behalf of the victims of mass atrocities. I hope to be able to work with my Security Council colleagues to make better, smarter use of sanctions -not only to maintain global order or to halt proliferation but also to save innocent lives at immediate risk. Sanctions can be an effective, if not always a flexible, targeted instrument, and we must seek to strengthen them.

And, finally, peacebuilding. We still have much more to do to foster firm foundations for peace in societies that are trying to leave years of conflict behind them. Just because the killing stops does not mean it won’t start again. The past decade has witnessed major innovations in peacebuilding, including the creation of the UN’s Peacebuilding Commission, but we have much farther to go.  We need more flexible development funds that arrive sooner; early investments in the core capacities of a struggling state; international support for national efforts to reinforce the rule of law, demobilize ex-combatants and reform state security services.  We need lasting support for victims of sexual violence and other human rights abuses; and an insistence that we not assume the job is done until the peace is secure.


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