“War is never inevitable. It is always a matter of choice: the choice to exclude, to discriminate, to marginalize, to resort to violence… But peace, too, is never inevitable. It is the result of difficult decisions, hard work and compromise. We should never take it for granted; but should prize and nurture it in every country, at every time. Prevention is not merely a priority, but the priority.”
As the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres laid out in his vision statement, “while the universal and comprehensive Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Sustaining Peace pledge to ‘leave no one behind’, the goals of peaceful coexistence and development are at risk in many countries”. Fragility intensifies multidimensional poverty, undermines development gains, and reduces opportunities for individuals and societies to fulfil their aspirations. The 2016 OECD State of Fragility report states that “the world has become a more dangerous place. Nearly half of the world’s population, or 3.34 billion people, live in proximity to or feel the impact of political violence” including wars, genocides, mass killings, terrorism and other violent manifestations of conflict.
The UN system, its Member States, as well as other key partners, all face an array of complex and interrelated challenges to global peace. While the highly polarized geopolitical environment seems reminiscent of the Cold War, threats to peace and security have evolved significantly, becoming primarily intra-state, more asymmetric, and more urbanized. Multiple large-scale protracted conflicts are causing severe human suffering, including mass displacement across national and regional boundaries, and the proliferation of armed groups in these conflicts poses serious transnational security threats. Overall, the increasingly pervasive impact of many contemporary conflicts and their intractability make focusing on prevention a priority for the international community as a whole.
It is in this context that the Sustaining Peace concept has emerged, marking a renewal of the international commitment to the goal of preventing and resolving armed conflicts. The twin resolutions on Sustaining Peace call for a shift from silo-driven responses to innovative ways of achieving collective and cumulative impact attaining to reach a lasting peace. In particular, the resolutions articulated the need for a whole-of-system preventive lens to be applied to all development and humanitarian action, and for inclusive peacebuilding approaches across the life cycle of conflict and in all its dimensions.
Preventing the outbreak, escalation, continuation and recurrence of conflict is a hugely ambitious task, but a more integrated, strategic and coherent approach across and beyond the UN system can achieve and sustain peace. As acknowledged by the latest round of UN reviews and echoed by the Secretary-General’s latest report on peacebuilding and sustaining peace, this requires strengthening capacities to conduct sound conflict analysis and to translate such analysis into conflict-sensitive, politically savvy responses to violence and fragility. Failing to invest in adequate analytical and programming capacities means not only missing opportunities to contribute directly to sustaining peace, but also risking to impact negatively upon local peace dynamics.