Preventive Diplomacy and Conflict Prevention

Preventive Diplomacy and Conflict Prevention

What is Preventive Diplomacy?

Preventive diplomacy involves an effort to confront the core issue with the most beneficial strategies so that both parties perceive that they are placed in a “win-win” situation.

The term “preventive diplomacy” appears to have emerged during the Cold War era (1947-1989). In the late 50s and early 60s, the UN Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld, during his tenure from 1954-1961, was believed to have coined it in describing the UN’s role in preventing armed confrontation between the US and the Soviet Union.

After the collapse of communism in 1989, the UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali (1992-96) included preventive diplomacy in his UN Document Agenda For Peace (1992) on an equal footing with such concepts as peacekeeping, peacemaking, and peacebuilding.

In that UN document, preventive diplomacy was defined as “action to prevent disputes from arising between parties, to prevent existing disputes from escalating into conflicts, and to limit the spread of the latter when they occur.”

Over time, the term “preventive diplomacy” was used frequently to mean that diplomacy would be an appropriate vehicle to prevent potential conflicts. Since then, states, the UN, and regional organizations have turned preventive diplomacy into a major policy of conflict resolution across the world.

Preventive Diplomatic Action

Preventive diplomacy includes three stages:

  1. early warning,
  2. early action, and
  3. early peacebuilding measures.

The collection of timely information at an early stage represents the starting point of preventive diplomacy. Early warning of a dispute is to be followed by early diplomatic action, and eradication of causes of conflict is to be undertaken by methods of peacebuilding measures.

Preventive diplomacy has been found very effective in smaller-scale potential conflicts. Third-party intervention is often able to prevent the escalation of conflicts between two or more nations.

Some authors have differentiated between two approaches of preventive diplomacy, namely, (a) early preventive action and (b) late preventive action. The difference between the two is time perspectives and different goals.

They argue that early action is much more desirable than late action because the dynamics of escalation are usually so strong that at the delayed point of time, it is often very difficult to stop or reverse the situation. They cited the following advantages for early preventive action, namely, motivation, effectiveness, completeness, and cost.

Motivation means that parties are more likely to accept assistance while views on issues have not been hardened. Early action will be effective before issues have multiplied at a later stage.

Since the goal of early prevention is resolution rather than containment, it is more likely that the dispute will be resolved completely. Early prevention is likely to be more cost-effective in both financial and human terms.

Meaning Of Conflict Prevention, Crisis, Conflict and Preventive Management

Prevention is a stage in which action is taken before conflict occurs. It is a process of early awareness of a dispute and early action with preventive diplomacy.

The crisis is a situation marked by tensions of a more or less acute character but which do not yet involve the use of armed force. In other words, a crisis is a preliminary stage of an armed conflict. When armed force is used, the crisis could be said to have developed into a conflict.

Preventive management amounts to “containment”. In other words, tensions do not escalate to an armed conflict. Some authors hold that “prevention” and “containment” are comparable forms of “management” while core issues of conflict remain.

Conflict issues may only be resolved through peaceful settlement that may require cooperative methods, such as negotiation, conciliation, arbitration, and adjudication.

Agents For Preventive Diplomacy

Preventive diplomacy can be undertaken by the following:

  • UN
  • Regional groupings or “friends” of parties
  • National envoys appointed by governments that may have a special interest in the dispute
  • Individuals
  • Non-Governmental Organizations.

UN Role As Preventive Diplomacy

Secretary-General is seen as the custodian of international peace and security. Members of the UN look up to the Secretary-General to play a crucial role in preventive diplomacy.

Article 99 states that the Secretary-General may bring to the attention of the Security Council any matter which, in his opinion, may threaten the maintenance of international peace and security, and Article 98 speaks of the delegated power of the Secretary-General by the General Assembly and the Security Council.

Article 99 and the Secretary-General’s Discretionary Power

Article 99 provides the inherent power of the Secretary-General in his/her capacity. It is the power given by the Charter to the Secretary-General to exercise his/her discretion, and it is up to the Secretary-General to invoke Article 99 to undertake preventive diplomacy in the maintenance of international peace and security.

Article 99 has been variously interpreted by the Secretaries-General of the UN. Many authors hold the view that the second Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjold during his tenure (1954-61) interpreted Article 99 in its widest application.

Dag Hammarskjold’s Interpretation of Article 99

In 1961, in a speech to Oxford University, he gave his most comprehensive statement on this Article and said: It is Article 99 more than any other which was considered by the drafters of the Charter to have transformed the Secretary-General of the UN from a purely administrative official to one with an explicit political responsibility…. Legal scholars have observed that Article 99 not only confers upon the Secretary-General a right to bring matters to the attention of the Security Council but that right carries with it, by necessary implication, a broad discretion to conduct inquiries and to engage in informal diplomatic activity in regard to matters which “may threaten the maintenance of international peace and Security”.

Secretary-General as the International Watchperson

The phrase “may threaten the maintenance of international peace and security” employed in Article 99 is interpreted to preserve international peace and security. It does not say that the Secretary-General has “to restore” international peace and security.

Because of this interpretation, the Secretary-General is considered to be the “international watch person” to prevent conflict from erupting across the globe.

Preventive Diplomacy and the Secretary-General’s Role

Secretary-General Perez de Cuellar (1982-91) believed that the Secretary-General’s office was to be seen as an instrument of multilateral diplomacy at the anticipatory or preventive level. Article 99 implies that the Secretary-General has a right and responsibility to gather information to enable him/her to make intelligent and informed opinions before preventive diplomacy is carried out.

It is reported to the Security Council. Dag Hammarskjold used Article 99 to post his personal UN representatives in hotspots in the globe to inform him about the situation, and this was for the first time known as “the UN presence” at a tension-filled area to prevent the deterioration of the situation further.

The Growing Role of the Secretary-General in Conflict Prevention

A UN presence is now an important factor in preventing many minor conflicts around the world. The role of the Secretary-General has grown with the passage of time, and the office has now become the focus of preventive diplomacy to resolve disputes among states. The Secretary-General has the prime responsibility to prevent conflicts among states, and the success of the UN depends on its ability to prevent inter-state conflicts.

For instance, Hammarskjold’s efforts eliminated the danger of war between the US and China in the 50s, U Thant’s intervention prevented a full-scale war between the US and the Soviet Union in 1962 on Cuba, U Thant’s intervention between Iran and Bahrain in 1970 averted armed conflict, the efforts of Perez de Cuellar scaled down the Falklands War in 1982, and Kofi Annan’s diplomatic efforts averted a crisis between the US and Iraq in 1998 relating to the visit of UN inspectors in Iraq to disarm its weapons of mass destruction.

Political Leaders And Preventive Diplomacy

Preventive diplomacy may be conducted by diplomats and political leaders. One of the most famous examples of preventive diplomacy was the trip of British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain to Munich in September 1938 to meet Germany’s leader Adolf Hitler to prevent the Second World War.

Although the Munich peace agreement was concluded, Hitler broke his promise and attacked Czechoslovakia, which led to the Second World War in 1939. Former US President Jimmy Carter has been engaged in preventive diplomacy since he left office in 198.

He persuaded former North Korean leader late Kim Il-sung to open talks with South Korea in 1994 and helped to reduce the nuclear war threat in the Korean peninsula. He went to Haiti and brokered a deal in 1994 with the strong man General Raoul Cedras to leave and avoid a military confrontation with the US.

In 1994, former US President Clinton played a crucial role in preventing a serious conflict erupting in the Korean peninsula by agreeing to set up US$ 4 billion worth of light nuclear reactor and 500,00 tons of oil to North Korea.

In return, North Korea agreed to discontinue research into developing a heavy-water capacity for nuclear weapons and would allow UN agency inspections of its nuclear facilities in accordance with the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Other instances of preventive diplomacy in resolving interstate disputes include Cyrus Vance’s efforts to diffuse tension between Greece and Macedonia in the 90s.

During a high-tension period in 2002 between India and Pakistan, Western leaders from the US and Britain visited New Delhi and Islamabad and diffused the tension, otherwise both countries were at the brink of war.

Regional Organizations And Preventive Diplomacy

In Europe in 1990, the Paris Charter for a New Europe contemplated a regime of Confidence and Security Building Measures for conflict management.

A Conflict Prevention Centre was set up in Europe. With the escalation of conflicts in former Yugoslavia, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) was entrusted with a role to manage the conflicts.

When the OSCE was engaged in a conflict crisis, it soon appeared that preventive diplomacy was definitely what it should perform, given the nature of conflicts in the Balkans.

Preventive diplomacy by OSCE proved useful in interstate disputes between Czech Republic and Slovakia, the future of Crimea between Russia and Ukraine, and the rights of Russian-language speaking people in Estonia.

Similarly other regional organisations, such as African Union (AU), the Organisation of American States (OAS), the Arab League and the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) have attempted to use preventive diplomacy to contain conflict in the region.

The African Union contributed armed forces from African states to contain conflicts in Liberia, Ivory Coast, and Sierra Leone.

AU attempted to keep civil wars from exploding into large-scale wars in Africa. The Organisation of American States attempted to prevent civil wars in Nicaragua, Guatemala, Honduras, and Panama but eventually failed. The Arab League intervened in many potential conflicts among Arab states.

In 1995, the Association of South East Asian Nations made efforts to ensure that the claims of various states on Spratley and Parcel Islands in the South China Sea did not open into armed confrontation.

Non-Governmental Organizations

Non-governmental organizations play an important role in preventive diplomacy in various ways. They are good providing early warning of emerging conflicts and help to promote problem solving and constructive dialogue between groups.

Their growing international recognition of their important contributions is illustrated by the fact that the 1999 Nobel Peace Prize went to a French NGO, Medicines Sans Frontiers (Medicine without Borders).

Since they work at the grassroots level, they know the core issues underpinning potential conflicts. The Carter Centre in the US played a helpful role in the resolution of the conflict between Ethiopia and Eritrea in 1998. In the late 80s, white South African business leaders met African National Congress representatives in Senegal and Zambia to resolve the apartheid policy in South Africa.

Preventive Deployment of Troops

Preventive deployment is a new concept that involves preventive military response in the manner of stationing troops, military observers, and related personnel on one or both sides of the border between entities where there is an emerging threat of conflict.

The primary goal is to deter the escalation of tension into armed conflict. For instance, in 1992, the UN authorized the deployment of a small force of 700 together with military observers to monitor the border between Greece and Macedonia.

They could observe and report developments that could signify a threat of conflict.

Palestinians wanted troops to be deployed on the Israeli-Palestinian border to de-escalate the conflict, but Israel rejected the proposal.

In early March 2003, Germany and France proposed extra time for UN arms inspectors in Iraq to avert war and preventive diplomacy failed.

On 17 March, President Bush gave an ultimatum asking President Saddam I Hussein and his sons to leave Iraq within 48 hours. Iraq rejected the demand, and the Anglo-American alliance attacked Iraq on 20 March 2003 without the approval of the UN.

Limits Of Preventive Diplomacy

Preventive diplomacy to be successful requires cooperation from both parties. If such cooperation is absent, it is difficult to succeed. Often states are reluctant to “internationalise” disputes by inviting third parties who could be instrumental in preventive diplomacy.

Preventive diplomacy requires both diplomatic measures (such as good offices and mediation) and operational measures (such as troop deployment).

If operational measures are not accompanied by diplomatic measures, preventive diplomacy is likely to fail in most cases. Preventive diplomacy is not a panacea, and its limits arise from the unwillingness of parties to accept a peaceful resolution of disputes.