On 12 February, Hague Institute President Dr. Abi Williams moderated an official side-event of the 2016 Munich Security Conference, hosted by the BMW Foundation. The BMW Global Dialogue titled “Global Crises – Shared Responsibility: Establishing Governance in Fragile States,” featured four eminent panelists: Jan Eliasson, Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations; Gebran Bassil, Foreign Minister of Lebanon; Bert Koenders, Foreign Minister of the Netherlands; and Jean-Marie Guéhenno, President and CEO of International Crisis Group.
In his introductory remarks, BMW Foundation Chairman Dr. Michael Schaefer reflected on how multiple global crises have converged to pose a complex threat to the existing system of global governance. Moderator Dr. Abi Williams called particular attention to the challenges emanating from the turmoil in Syria, intractable conflicts in fragile states like Mali and Yemen, and violent extremism in the Middle East and North Africa. He noted that while powerful states are concerned by the risks of spreading radicalization and the ongoing refugee and migration crisis, it remains to be seen whether they are willing and capable to act. The ensuing panel discussion covered a wide-range of issues, with the panelists delivering impromptu input statements and responding to the moderator’s questions on UN reform, the refugee crisis, conflict prevention, and the future of UN peacekeeping.
Deputy Secretary-General of the UN Jan Eliasson expressed concern about the divergence in attitudes and approaches amongst states to the global challenges that confront us. He noted the frustration of the Secretary-General at the inability to resolve the crisis in Syria, calling the veto power in the UN Security Council “regrettable.” Eliasson described the failure of Kofi Annan’s six-point peace plan for Syria in 2012 as a missed opportunity to manage the crisis, which has since spiraled out of control.
Reflecting on the Dutch candidacy for a non-permanent seat on the Security Council in 2017-2018, Foreign Minister Bert Koenders stressed the importance of meaningful Security Council reform. He noted that the UNSC is not sufficiently responsive to the needs of all countries, calling it “absurd” that emerging powers like India do not have a permanent seat. He cautioned that if the system does not become more equitable it will not be viewed as credible, giving rise to parallel governance structures and the possibility of proxy warfare.
The Foreign Minister of Lebanon, Gebran Bassil, questioned the blanket characterization of states as “fragile,” asking whether this term accurately describes Lebanon, which currently hosts more than a million Syrian refugees with limited assistance from the international community. The Dutch Foreign Minister concurred with this sentiment, noting that the term “fragile” cannot describe an entire country, and should be understood as a quality that can be present even in strong states. He pointed out that the refugee crisis has revealed elements of fragility within European states whereas Lebanon has proved resilient in this regard.
Expanding on the refugee crisis in Europe, Foreign Minister Koenders discussed the Netherlands’ priorities during its ongoing Presidency of the European Union. He emphasized that the EU is working hard to implement the decisions that have been taken to manage the crisis, promising that a European solution is forthcoming. He underscored that solidarity within the EU is necessary for success, and called attention to several important measures including effective control of external borders and proper screening, support to countries in the crisis region, expanding the partnership with Turkey, and working closely with countries like Lebanon and Jordan to find viable solutions.
Jean-Marie Guéhenno, a former UN Under Secretary-General for Peacekeeping, stated that we pay lip-service to conflict prevention in fragile states but do not do enough in practice. He noted that inclusivity and politically-sensitive development policies are key to successful prevention. Observing that Europe cannot be “an island of stability in an ocean of turmoil,” Guéhenno urged the international community to “act early, decisively, and follow-up politically,” while engaging critical local and regional players to prevent violent conflict.
Reflecting on the future of conflict prevention, Jan Eliasson stated that the Secretary-General’s Human Rights up Front Initiative – which seeks to ensure the UN system takes early and effective action to prevent or respond to large-scale violations of human rights or international humanitarian law – is critical. Eliasson expressed hope that the new Secretary-General would continue this important initiative. Dr. Abi Williams is a member of the Senior Experts Group on the Human Rights up Front Initiative.
The panel also discussed the future of UN peacekeeping operations, with Foreign Minister Koenders predicting an increase in peacekeeping operations and urging European Defence Ministers to contribute seriously to peacekeeping. Jean-Marie Guéhenno underlined that peacekeeping cannot work without the requisite political commitment. Highlighting the case of MONUSCO, he recalled the importance of exploiting windows of opportunity and “frontloading” peacekeeping efforts – incremental and reactive engagement in the DRC undermined the likelihood of success. South Sudan was mentioned as another example of how inadequate political engagement has resulted in worsening conflict.
Discussing the 2015 report of the High-level Independent Panel on Peace Operations, Guéhenno remarked that current operations lack sufficient numbers of highly trained troops, which are critical to successful peacekeeping. He also noted that the risks associated with peacekeeping have increased significantly. While countries with a direct interest in preventing the onset or escalation of a given conflict may be more willing to undertake risky peacekeeping operations, their involvement could regionalize local conflicts. However, countries without a discernible interest are unlikely to deploy troops in high-risk operations.
The Lebanese Foreign Minister brought the lively panel discussion to a close with final reflections on the future of global governance in a multipolar world. He noted that small countries are more numerous than powerful ones, and tend to underutilize their power. He observed “we need more courage and willingness to change and reverse the course of current events.”