Global Policy Forum

Reforming the UN:


By Klaus Hüfner

Global Policy Forum
January 2007


No matter, which social system at the national, regional or global level in question, the notion of reform is of utmost importance. It implies a permanent process of learning and revision which does not end. It is not a static one-shot affair, but a necessary dynamic built-in mechanism of all social systems vis-í -vis changes in its environment.

Boutros-Ghali's concept of post-conflict peace-building

The Security Council in its statement of 31 January 1992 asked the Secretary-General, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, to prepare an "analysis and recommendations on ways of strengthening and making more efficient within the framework and provisions of the Charter the capacity of the United Nations for preventive diplomacy, for peace-making and for peace-keeping" (Statement by the President of the Security Council, S/23500, 31 January 1992).

Five months later, on 17 June 1992, the Secretary-General presented his report, called "An Agenda for Peace". He considered not only preventive diplomacy and peacekeeping but added a closely related concept which he called "post-conflict peace-building." In his definitions he included this new dimension by saying that the present report will in addition address the critically related concept of post-conflict peace-building, namely action to identify and support structures which tend to strengthen and solidify peace in order to avoid a relapse into conflict: "Preventive diplomacy seeks to resolve disputes before violence breaks out; peacemaking and peace-keeping are required to halt conflicts and preserve peace once it is attained. If successful, they strengthen the opportunity for post-conflict peace-building, which can prevent the recurrence of violence among nations and peoples" (Boutros Boutros-Ghali, An Agenda for Peace, UN Doc. A/47/277 – S/24111, 17 June 1992, para. 21).

Later on, the Secretary-General stressed again the value of post-conflict peace-building measures to consolidate peace and move towards a sense of mutual confidence and also well-being among people. He suggested: disarming the former warring parties, the restoration of order, the possible destruction of weapons, the repatriation of refugees, the training support for security personnel, the monitoring of elections, efforts to protect human rights, the reform or strengthening of governmental institutions and the promotion of formal and informal processes of political participation.

Boutros Boutros-Ghali argued that in the case of an inter-state war, post-conflict peace-building should be operationalised in the form of concrete cooperative projects linking countries through mutually beneficial activities which contribute not only to economic and social development but also enhance confidence vis-í -vis each other: "I have in mind, for example, projects that bring States together to develop agriculture, improve transportation or utilize resources such as water or electricity that they need to share or joint programmes through which barriers between nations are brought down by means of freer travel, cultural exchange and mutually beneficial youth and educational projects. Reducing hostile perceptions through educational exchanges and curriculum reform may be essential to fore-stall a re-emergence of cultural and national tensions which could spark renewed hostilities" (Boutros Boutros-Ghali, op.cit., para. 56).

All the measures are necessary in order to prevent a recurrence of a crisis or a conflict. The concrete project examples mentioned by the Secretary-General clearly indicated that a full engagement and attention of all components of the United Nations system are a conditio sine qua non in order to implement the concept of post-conflict peace-building in a successful way. Besides the Security Council, other principal organs such as the General Assembly and the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) must assume responsibility as well as the UN funds and programmes such as UNICEF, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the UN Development Programme (UNDP) and the World Food Programme (WFP), and the UN Specialized Agencies such as UNESCO, the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), the World Health Organization (WHO) and – last but not least – the Bretton Woods institutions such as the World Bank and its affiliates.

The concept of post-conflict peace-building received an extremely positive response not only from the Members of the Security Council, but also from all groups of Member States represented in the General Assembly. However, its difficult problems of implementation were not fully debated at the time when Boutros Boutros-Ghali was in office.

Kofi Annan's attempts of operationalization

His successor, Kofi Annan, started to further operationalize the concept of post-conflict peace-building. In his report on "Renewing the United Nations A Programme for Reform" of 14 July 1997 he informed the Member States that he has designated the Department of Political Affairs to serve as the UN focal point for post-conflict peace-building – "that is, the mechanism for ensuring that United Nations efforts in countries that are emerging from crises are fully integrated and faithfully reflect the mission objectives specified by the Security Council and the Secretary-General." (Kofi Annan, Renewing the United Nations: A Programme for Reform, UN Doc. A/51/950, 14 July 1997, para. 66).

He also decided that the Department of Political Affairs will carry out its function as focal point in its capacity as convenor of the Executive Committee for Peace and Security which includes not only different Departments and Offices of the Secretariat, but also UNDP, UNHCR, and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR).

In the same report, Kofi Annan referred to the UN Charter which provides that the UN should draw in its work on a decentralized system of Specialized Agencies. He stated that, according to the Charter, the authority of the UN over their policies and activities is limited to making recommendations for their coordination and postulated that, "if the objectives of the UN are to be fully realized, a much greater degree of concerted will and coordinated action is required among the system as a whole" (Kofi Annan, op.cit., para. 86).

However, for the time being, Kofi Annan tried to further operationalize the multi-dimensional concept of post-conflict peace-building which requested effective coordination and integrated action. The Secretary-General hoped that his Department of Political Affairs as a focal point and convener of the Executive Committee on Peace and Security will successfully bring together the different actors of the entire United Nations system and, through task forces, ensure integrated action. In his action plan, Kofi Annan claimed that "the Executive Committee on Peace and Security, in collaboration with other executive committees as appropriate, will be responsible for the design and implementation of post-conflict peace-building initiatives, including the definition of objectives, criteria and operational guidelines for post-conflict peace-building by the organization of the United Nations system" (Kofi Annan, op.cit., Action 5).

The Brahimi report of 2000

In March 2000, Kofi Annan convened a high-level Panel on United Nations Peace Operations under the chairmanship of Lakhdar Brahimi to assess the UN ability to conduct peace operations effectively.

The Brahimi report of 21 August 2000 also acknowledged the high role of peace-building in complex peace operations; it contains a number of necessities for a successful peace-building strategy (paras 36-43 in UN Doc. A/55/305-S/2000/809). The Panel proposed that "the United Nations should be considered the focal point for peace-building activities by the donor community": " To that end, there is great merit in creating a consolidated and permanent institutional capacity within the United Nations system" (para. 44). In concrete terms, the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, in his capacity as convener of the Executive Committee on Peace and Security, should serve as the responsible focal point for peace-building.

This Committee which includes the Departments of Political Affairs, of Peacekeeping Operations, of Disarmament Affairs and of Humanitarian Affairs, UNDP, UNICEF, UNHCHR and UNHCR would provide "the ideal forum for the formulation of peace-building strategies" (para. 45). The Panel asked for a clear distinction between strategy formulation and its implementation and a rational division of labour; it concluded: "..UNDP, in cooperation with other United Nations agencies, funds and programmes and the World Bank, are best placed to take the lead in implementing peace-building activities" (para. 46).

The 60th anniversary – A chance for further change

Kofi Annan realized that the 60th anniversary of the United Nations might be a chance for a radical overhauling of the intergovernmental machinery of the UN system, including the Security Council. In his address to the General Assembly on 23 September 2003 he warned: "Excellencies, we have to come to a fork in the road. This may be a moment no less decisive that 1945 itself, when the United Nations was founded" (Kofi Annan, Address to the General Assembly, SG/SM/8891, 23 September 2003). He asked a 16-member High-level Panel on the Threats, Challenges and Change to identify the mayor challenges of a changing world in the 21st century and to make proposals to strengthen the UN as a collective security system (High-level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change, A More Secure World: Our Shared Responsibility, UN Doc. A/59/265, 2 December 2004).

The High-level Panel stressed the larger peace-building tasks: "Deploying peace enforcement and peacekeeping forces may be essential in terminating conflicts but are not sufficient for long-term recovery. Serious attention to the longer-term process of peace-building in all its multiple dimensions is critical; failure to invest adequately in peace-building increases the odds that a country will relapse into conflict" (para. 224). What follows is a critical balance-sheet arguing that neither the UN nor the broader international community, including the international financial institutions, are well organized to assist countries in their attempts to build peace. After the peacekeepers left a country, the Security Council does not care anymore, and the results of several ad hoc committees of the ECOSOC have been either mixed or without success. "What is needed is a single intergovernmental organ dedicated to peace-building, empowered to monitor and pay close attention to countries at risk, ensure concerted action by donors, agencies, programmes and financial institutions, and mobilize financial resources for sustainable peace" (para. 225). In addition, a standing fund for peace-building should be established at the level of at least 250 million US dollars (para. 228).

In Part 4, Chapter XV, the High-level Panel recommended that the Security Council, acting under Article 29 of the UN Charter and after consultation with the ECOSOC, establish a Peace-building Commission along the following guidelines:

"(a) The Peace-building Commission should be reasonably small;
(b) It should meet in different configurations, to consider both general policy issues and country-by-country strategies;
(c) It should be chaired for at least one year and perhaps longer by a member approved by the Security Council;
(d) In addition to representation from the Security Council, it should include representation from the Economic and Social Council;
(e) National representatives of the country under consideration should be invited to attend;
(f) The Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund, the President of the World Bank and, when appropriate, heads of regional development banks should be represented at its meetings by appropriate senior officials;
(g) Representatives of the principal donor countries and, when appropriate, the principal troop contributors should be invited to participate in its deliberations;
(h) Representatives of regional and subregional organizations should be invited to participate in its deliberations when such organizations are actively involved in the country in question" (para.265).

Furthermore, a Peace-building Support Office should be established in the UN Secretariat comprising about 20 or more staff of different backgrounds of the UN system and with significant experience in peace-building strategy and operations (paras 266-269).

Based upon the report of the High-level Panel and the outcomes of the major UN conferences and summits in the economic, social and related fields, the Secretary-General presented his own 70-page report on 21 March 2005 to serve as the basis for consultations at the High-level Plenary Meeting of the General Assembly (= "World Summit") in September 2005 on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the UN (Kofi Annan, In Larger Freedom: Towards Development, Security and Human Rights for All, UN Doc. A/59/2005, 21 March 2005).

Among his proposals to Member States which he took up was the creation of an intergovernmental Peace-building Commission which would fill the gap in the UN institutional machinery on the one hand, and would reduce the number of failures on the other because, as he said, about half of all countries that emerge from war lapse back into violence within five years. Such a commission, as Kofi Annan proposed, would perform the following functions:

- improve UN planning for sustained recovery;
- help to ensure predictable financing for early recovery activities;
- improve the coordination of the many post-conflict activities of the UN funds, programmes and Specialized Agencies;
- provide a forum in which the UN, major bilateral donors, major troop contributors, relevant regional actors and organizations, international financial institutions and the national government of the country concerned can share information about their respective post-conflict recovery strategies;
- periodically review progress towards medium-term recovery goals; and
- extend the period of political attention to post-conflict recovery (Kofi Annan, op.cit., para.115).

This long list of functions to be successfully implemented clearly indicated what would be necessary in order to reduce the number of failures of post-conflict peace-building activities as they happened in the past. The Secretary-General proposed that the Commission should report to the Security Council and the ECOSOC in sequence, depending on the phase of the conflict. Its core membership should comprise of Members from the Security Council and the ECOSOC, furthermore of leading troop contributors and of the major donors to a standing fund for peace-building. In its country-specific operations all the relevant national and regional actors and organizations should also be involved.

Negotiations at the World Summit 2005

After several rounds of negotiation the General Assembly attended by around 170 heads of state and government adopted an Outcome Document which only included a Peace-building Commission and a Human Rights Council as potential institutional reform measures (General Assembly, Outcome Document of the World Summit 2005, UN Doc. A/60/L.1, 15 September 2005). Any other proposals, such as, e.g., the reform of the Security Council, which require a revision of the UN Charter, were not taken into account. It seems, therefore, that the establishment of those two bodies had to be seen as the successful ending of the negotiations towards the World Summit. Since delegations had to report home some positive outcomes they were inclined to celebrate the decision of setting-up those two new institutions.

The final document stressed the necessity of a coordinated, coherent, and integrated approach towards peace-building in the post-conflict period and asked for a mechanism which helps to operationalize this concept. Along the lines of the proposal put forward by the Secretary-General the document contained similar recommendations asking to set up a Peace-building Commission which should start its work until the 31 December 2005 at the latest.

Security Council and General Assembly adopt concurrent resolutions

On 20 December 2005, the Security Council and the General Assembly adopted similar, concurrent resolutions establishing a new UN Peace-building Commission which, accordingly, will marshal resources at the disposal of the international community to advise and propose integrated strategies for post-conflict recovery, thereby focusing attention in countries emerging from conflict on reconstruction, institutions-building and sustainable development; it will promote coordination among all actors within and outside the UN system involved in assisting the recovery of a country (Resolution 1645 (2005) adopted by the Security Council at its 5335 meeting on 20 December 2005; Resolution adopted by the General Assembly: 60/180. The Peacebuilding Commission – 66th plenary meeting, 20 December 2005). Obviously, the establishment of the Peace-building Commission is another attempt of overcoming the weaknesses and failures of past and present intra- and inter-administrative coordination.

The Commission will include an Organizational Committee and country-specific committees; the Organizational Committee will be made up of 31 Member States serving for renewable terms of two years: (1) seven from the Security Council (including the five permanent members);
(2) seven from the ECOSOC, giving particular consideration to the experienced post-conflict recovery;
(3) five out of the top ten financial providers of assessed contributions to the UN budgets and of voluntary contributions to the UN funds and programmes;
(4) five out of the top ten providers of military personnel and civilian police to UN missions; and
(5) seven additional members elected by the General Assembly, to redress remaining geographical imbalances and include countries that have experienced post-conflict recovery.

This rather complicated process of election/selection could not be finalized within a few weeks. On the one hand, it is obvious that the operational paragraph 4 of the adopted resolution sets out a clear sequence: Whereas the Security Council has communicated to the Secretary-General the names of its seven members it has selected as members of the Organizational Committee (the P-5 plus Denmark and Tanzania, both serving – because of their limited membership in the Security Council – only until the end of 2006), the Bureau of the ECOSOC commenced its discussion on how to conduct its elections – a difficult task, given the fact that the ECOSOC normally elects its new members (= one third of its 54 members each year) in April/May. On 8 May 2006, ECOSOC elected its seven members (the membership of three of them – Belgium, Indonesia and Poland – will end in 2006). Difficulties also arose in the selection of the five among the ten top providers of assessed and voluntary financial contributions as well as among the ten top providers of military personnel and civilian police instead of concentrating the selection on the top five providers in both cases. For the selection of the five financial providers the Secretary-General prepared an aggregated list of the top ten without showing any further specification of the data used. Only after the results of these first four categories were known, the envisaged balanced geographical representation from all regional groups could be achieved by the election of members from the General Assembly. All in all, this process of election/selection became a rather complicated, time-consuming process, and will also in future cause continuing difficulties in terms of "come and go" due to the different durations of membership in the principal organs.

The concrete work of the Commission will take place in its country-specific committees where participation will depend on each individual case. Then, in addition to the 31 Member States of the Organizational Committee representatives of the country under consideration as well as all the relevant contributors such as countries in the region engaged in the post-conflict process, other countries – and, hopefully, NGOs – involved in relief efforts, relevant regional and sub-regional organizations and regional and international financial institutions will be invited. Taking into account, that representatives of the UN and major financial, troop and civilian police contributors involved in the recovery effort will also attend the country-specific meetings, a doubling of the number will be highly probable thus reaching about 60 for each case. This will not be the most efficient and effective way to undertake the necessary work.

The Commission shall submit an annual report to the General Assembly which will be discussed in an annual debate. Furthermore, the Commission is asked to make the outcome of its discussions and recommendations publicly available as UN documents to all relevant bodies and actors. In other words, the highest degree of transparency is guaranteed after results are reached by consensus. However, it is doubtful whether a report will be available already by the end of this year.

It is also important to note that the Commission is only an advisory body which establishes its agenda based on requests, either from the Security Council or, with the consent of a concerned Member State, from the ECOSOC or the General Assembly, from Member States in exceptional circumstances, and from the Secretary-General. But it seems to be clear that the Security Council is the principle organ to be in charge of giving green light to any steps of implementation. It was therefore not surprising that the Security Council formally requested advice on Burundi and Sierra Leone already before the inaugural session of the Peace-building Commission took place on 23 June 2006.

Some preliminary conclusions

The overall reaction after the decision to establish a Peace-building Commission has been extremely positive. Kofi Annan said: "This achievement marks a turning point in our efforts to help States and societies manage the difficult transition from war to peace". He and others stated that an institutional gap has been bridged; they hailed the inaugural session of the Commission as an historic milestone in global efforts to help countries avert a relapse into blood-shed after emerging from conflict. It is hoped that the newly founded Commission will improve coordination within the UN system, develop best practices and ensure predictable funding. Of course, there is no doubt that the establishment of the Commission fulfils a key outcome of the 2005 World Summit which committed the UN Member States to creating it by the end of 2005.

But it should be kept in mind that the "institutional gap" cannot substitute the functional gap which is related to the multi-dimensional concept of peace-building and its problems of operationalization. So far, no provisions on peace-keeping operations can be found in the UN Charter. After the failures of intra- and inter-administrative mechanisms within the UN Secretariat and through the UN System's Chief Executives Board for Coordination (CEB) as reflected in the mixed results of post-conflict peace-building over the last 15 years, an intergovernmental body assisted by the proposed small Peace-building Support Office (with staffing being funded from existing, already tight resources from the Secretariat) signals a new, but extremely modest start. It is the beginning of another attempt to implement the complex concept of peace-building by bringing all relevant actors on board, including the Bretton Woods institutions (World Bank and International Monetary Fund).

In the past, the major weakness has been the lack of financial resources. A standing Peace-building Fund will be established and funded through voluntary contributions. However, the amount of 250 million US dollars as mentioned in the recommendations of the High-level Panel can only serve as a kind of "seed money" in order to address critical funding gaps during the early stages of the recovery process. And it should also be kept in mind that Kofi Annan's proposal of selecting members from the major donors to the standing Peace-building Fund "got lost" during the negotiations. Until 13 October 2006, roughly 120 million US dollars were announced or confirmed by 16 Member States. Secretary-General Kofi Annan rightly pointed out that the needs in many countries will be much greater than the Fund can satisfy.

The fact that the international financial institutions are several times explicitly mentioned in the resolution indicates the necessity to include them as important partners in the peace-building process. To which extent they actually are willing to get involved in concrete peace-building operations within those negotiations remains, however, an open question. This is also the case of other Specialized Agencies as well as Special Funds and Programmes which have to consult their own autonomous decision-making bodies.

Given the commitments of the Member States it can only be hoped that the newly established Peace-building Commission will function efficiently and in an effective way. In other words, the founding of the Commission was a necessary step in the right direction, but it is not a sufficient one. Because without the willingness of the UN Member States to agree upon some major revisions of the Charter which would also bring the "UN family" more closely together under one roof (= "system-wide coherence") post-conflict peace-building measures will, unfortunately, remain half-hearted, completely under-financed and thus, unfortunately, unsuccessful.

More Information on UN Reform
More Information on the Peacebuilding Commission


FAIR USE NOTICE: This page contains copyrighted material the use of which has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. Global Policy Forum distributes this material without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. We believe this constitutes a fair use of any such copyrighted material as provided for in 17 U.S.C § 107. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.