Human Rights Careers

Top 20 Current Global Issues We Must Address

What are the most pressing issues in the world today? What will demand the most attention in the next 5, 10, and 20+ years? In this article, which frequently refers to the World Economic Forum’s 17th Edition of the Global Risks Report, we’ll highlight 20 current global issues we must address, including issues related to climate change, COVID-19, social rights, and more. While it’s hardly a comprehensive discussion, it’s a solid introduction to the kinds of concerns facing our world today.

#1. Poverty

In fall 2022, the World Bank will update the International Poverty Line from $1.90 to $2.15. This means anyone living on less than $2.15 is in “extreme poverty.” Why the change? Increases in the costs of food, clothing, and shelter between 2011-2017 make the “real value of $2.15 in 2017 prices equal to $1.90 in 2011 prices. As for the World Bank’s goal to reduce extreme poverty to 3% or less by 2030, the pandemic has made it even harder. Extreme poverty isn’t the only poverty we have to contend with. 62% of the global population lives on less than $10/day. While there’s been progress over the years, the end of poverty is still far off.

Learn more about tackling poverty with an online course: Poverty & Population: How Demographics Shape Policy (Columbia University)

#2. Climate change

The IPCC released its sixth report in 2022. In its summary for policy-makers, the report’s authors outlined a series of near-term, mid-term, and long-term risks. If global warming reaches 1.5°C in the near term (2021-2040), it would cause “unavoidable increases in multiple climate hazards,” as well as “multiple risks to ecosystems and humans.” In the long term, climate change will present major health issues, premature deaths, risks to cities and settlements , and other dangers. Mitigation is desperately needed – and fast. Because of climate change ’s connection to other issues on this list, it’s one of the most serious challenges facing humanity.

Learn more about climate change with an online course: Science and Engineering of Climate Change (EDHEC Business School)

#3. Food insecurity

According to the 2022 Global Report on Food Crises , which is produced by the Global Network against Food Crises, the number of people in crisis or worse is the highest it’s been in the six years since the report has existed. Close to 193 million people were experiencing acute food insecurity in 2021, which is an increase of almost 40 million since 2020. This represents a staggering 80% increase since 2016. Causes include “economic shocks,” like an increase in global food prices. Domestic food price inflation in low-income countries also rose a lot. “Weather-related disasters” are also a big driver. For 15.7 million people in 15 countries, it was the primary driver of acute food insecurity.

Learn more about food insecurity with an online course: Feeding the World (University of Pennsylvania)

#4. Refugee rights

According to UNHCR, the war in Ukraine sparked the fastest-growing refugee crisis since WWII. Almost 6 million (as of May 10, 2022) people have fled. The UNCHR’s Refugee Brief , which compiles the week’s biggest refugee stories, has recently described situations in places like Somalia, where thousands of people were displaced due to severe drought. Between January and mid-April, more than 36,000 refugees from Nigeria, Mali, and Burkina Faso arrived in Niger. These are only a few examples of the refugee crises, which endangers already marginalized groups – like women and children – and puts them at an increased risk of trafficking , violence, and death.

Learn more about refugee rights with an online course: Refugees in the 21st Century (University of London)

#5. COVID-19

The WHO declared COVID-19 a pandemic in March 2022. It will continue to be a major issue for the world. The WEF’s Global Risks Report 2022 discusses COVID’s effects at length , including major economic recovery disparities and social erosion. According to a January 2022 article from NPR , there are also issues with vaccinations as many countries continue to have trouble getting doses. Distribution, vaccine hesitancy, healthcare systems, and other problems also factor into low vaccination rates. While we may never know the exact impact, the WHO estimates that between 1 January 2020 and 31 December 2021, there were around 14.9 million excess deaths linked to COVID-19.

Learn more about the impact of COVID-19 with an online course: Life After COVID-19: Get Ready for our Post-Pandemic Future (Institute for the Future)

#6. Future pandemic preparation and response

COVID-19 taught the world the importance of prepardeness. In a Harvard blog , Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the WHO, outlined the lessons the world should take to heart. The first: science has to guide policy. The politicization of the pandemic led to a lot of unnecessary damage. Another lesson is that science must pair with equity or it can actually make inequalities worse. This is obvious when looking at how low-income countries struggled to get the vaccines while wealthier countries stocked up. More resilient healthcare systems are also a must, as well as more coherent, global plans on how to respond. The world must also invest in research on contagious diseases, zoonotic diseases, the effectiveness of outbreak responses, and more.

Learn more about future pandemic response with an online course: Pandemic preparedness, prevention, and response (Politecnico di Milano)

#7. Healthcare

The healthcare industry has experienced major shifts due to the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the World Economic Forum, there’s been new investments and innovations, especially from the technology and telehealth sectors. In 2021, $44 billion was spent on health innovation. The world will be seeing the effects of these innovations for years to come, though equity will no doubt be a major issue. In places like the United States, the pandemic also reaffirmed how broken healthcare systems can be. In an MIT News blog , Andrea Campbell, a professor of political science, says the pandemic revealed a “dire need” for investments in public-health infrastructure, as well as a need to expand healthcare access and insurance coverage.

Learn more about health inequity issues with an online course: Addressing Racial Health Inequity in Healthcare (University of Michigan)

#8. Mental health

Globally, almost 1 billion people have some form of mental disorder. The pandemic made the world’s mental health worse. According to a scientific brief from the WHO , there’s been a 25% increase in anxiety and depression worldwide. Causes include social isolation, fear of sickness, grief, and financial anxieties. Health workers were also severely impacted, as well as young women and girls. The brief also highlights how the pandemic disrupted many mental health services, including services for substance abuse. Countries need to ensure access to mental health services as part of their COVID-19 recovery plans and beyond. It’s an economic decision, as well. The Lancet states that anxiety and depression alone cost the global economy around $1 trillion a year.

Learn more about mental health with an online course: The Science of Well-Being (Yale University)

#9. Disability rights

According to the WHO , over 1 billion people have some form of disability. Half can’t afford healthcare. They’re also more likely to live in poverty than those without a disability, have poorer health outcomes, and have less access to work and education opportunities. Human Rights Watch lists other discriminations disabled people face, such as an increased risk of violence. There’s been progress regarding disability rights, but many countries lack strong protections. The world still has a long way to go to ensure equality for those with disabilities.

Learn more about disability rights with an online courses: Disability Awareness and Support (University of Pittsburgh)

#10. LGBTQ+ rights

Members of the LGBTQ+ community face discrimination in many forms. According to Amnesty International , discrimination can target sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, and sex characteristics. Even in more progressive countries like the United States, people face violence and discrimination. According to the Human Rights Campaign, more than 300 anti-LGBTQ+ bills were proposed in 2022. At least a dozen states are considering legislation that forbids schools from discussing or using a curriculum that covers sexual orientation and gender identity. Considering the United States’ influence in the world, this attack on LGBTQ+ rights will likely have consequences that need to be addressed.

Learn more about LGBTQ+ issues with an online courses .

#11. Reproductive justice

Reproductive justice – which encompasses more than just abortion rights – is threatened by legislation, lack of funding, lack of education, and restricted healthcare access. In most places, wealth is a big determinant of whether a person can access reproductive services. It’s better in some places than others, but as we’ve seen with other issues on this list, even “progressive” countries like the United States are experiencing major shifts. In June 2022, the Supreme Court is expected to overrule Roe v. Wade , a milestone court case that protected a pregnant woman’s right to abortion. The impact would be immediate and will likely influence other countries.

Learn more about reproductive justice and women’s rights: International Women’s Health and Human Rights (Stanford University)

#12. Children’s rights

Children are a very vulnerable group. In 2019, around 5.2 million children under five from mostly preventable and treatable causes. 2.4 million were newborns under 28 days old. Leading causes include preterm birth complications, pneumonia, and malaria. According to UNICEF, the climate crisis also represents a severe threat to kids. Around 1 billion kids live in “extremely high-risk countries” that are hit by the worst effects of climate change. 920 kids have trouble accessing clean water and 600 million are exposed to vector-borne diseases like malaria. Child labor also remains an issue. At the beginning of 2020, around 160 million were forced into labor while COVID-19 put 9 million more kids at risk. That’s almost 1 in 10 children globally. Almost half are in dangerous environments. As is often the case, the other issues on this list – climate change, poverty, COVID, gender equality, etc – factor into children’s rights.

Learn more about children’s rights: Children’s Human Rights – An Interdisciplinary Introduction (University of Geneva)

#13. Gender equality

Global gender equality has gradually improved over the years, but data from the 2021 Global Gender Report shows that the end of the global gender gap is still 135 years away. The pandemic played a huge role in reversing positive trends as women were hit harder financially. According to Oxfam , women experienced a 5% job loss while men experienced 3.9%. That means women lost about $800 million in 2020. This is a low estimate since it doesn’t count the informal economy, which includes millions of women. Women are also more likely to live in poverty, more affected by gender-based violence, and more affected by climate change.

Learn more about gender equality: Gender Analytics: Gender Equity through Inclusive Design (University of Toronto)

#14. Cybersecurity

The WEF’s Global Risks Report 2022 (page 9) listed cybersecurity vulnerabilities as a concern. The reason is rapid digitalization, which was triggered in part by COVID-19. Many “advanced economies” are now at a higher risk for cyberattacks. GRPS respondents identified cybersecurity failure as a critical short-term risk. In 2020, malware and ransomware attacks went up by 358% and 435%. There are a few reasons for this, including better (and easier) attack methods and poor governance. Cyberattacks have a swath of serious consequences and erode public trust. As countries become more dependent on digitalization, their cybersecurity needs to keep up.

Learn more about cybersecurity: IBM Cybersecurity Analyst Professional Certificate (IBM)

#15. Disinformation

Rapid digitalization comes with many issues, including the lightning-fast spread of disinformation. The WEF report describes deepfakes, an accessible AI technology, and its potential to sway elections and other political outcomes. Disinformation doesn’t need to be sophisticated to be successful, however. Through social media posts and videos, twelve anti-vax activists were responsible for almost ⅔ of all anti-vaccine content on platforms like Facebook and Twitter. Their content flooded the internet with the type of harmful, fear-mongering disinformation that played a significant role in vaccine hesitancy and political radicalization. Because disinformation travels faster online than the truth, it’s a global issue that should be addressed.

Learn more about tackling disinformation: Communicating Trustworthy Information in the Digital World (University of Rotterdam)

#16. Freedom of the press

According to the Varieties of Democracy Institute (as reported in The Economist ), about 85% of people live in a country where press freedom has gone down in the past 5 years. After peaking at .65 in the early 2000s and 2011, the global average dropped to .49 in 2021. Major countries like China, India, Russia, Brazil, and Turkey saw significant declines. Journalists and news organizations face threats like violence, imprisonment, lack of funding, and coordinated online attacks and harassment. A free press is essential to a functioning democracy. Without press freedom, all human rights are at risk.

Learn more about freedom of expression: Human Rights for Open Societies (Utrecht University)

#17. Debt crises

In the WEF Global Risks Report (page 7), respondents named debt crises as one of the most pressing issues over the next decade, though respondents believe they will become most serious in just 3-5 years. COVID-19 is a big reason why. Government stimulus was necessary, but many countries are now left with debt burdens. For corporate and public finances in large economies, debt burdens can lead to defaults, bankruptcies, insolvency, and more. This is a far-reaching issue as it affects budgets for areas like healthcare and green energy.

Learn more about the debt: Finance for everyone – Debt (McMaster University)

#18. Corruption

Corruption encompasses a host of actions such as bribery, election manipulation, fraud, and state capture. The World Bank Group names corruption as a barrier to ending extreme poverty and “boosting shared prosperity” for the poorest populations. When it comes to addressing poverty, climate change, healthcare, gender equality, and more, corruption gets in the way. Because corruption is a global problem, global solutions are necessary. Reform, better accountability systems, and open processes will all help.

Learn more about tackling corruption: What is Corruption: Anti-Corruption and Compliance (University of Pennsylvania)

#19. Authoritarianism

According to Freedom House, global democracy is eroding. That includes countries with long-established democracies. In their 2022 report, the organization reveals that global freedom has been declining for the past 16 years. 60 countries faced declines in the last year. Only 25 saw improvements. Only 20% of the global population lives in Free countries. China, Russia, and other authoritarian countries have gained more power in the international system, while countries with established democracies – like the United States – are losing their freedoms. What can be done? Freedom House says success “requires a bold, sustained response that establishes support for democracy and countering authoritarianism.” Governments and citizens engage and stand for democracy.

Learn more about tackling authoritarianism: Citizenship and the Rule of Law (University of London)

#20. Global cooperation

Addressing the issues in this article is not an easy task. True progress is only possible through global cooperation, a fact which is woven through the WEF report. Everything from addressing cybersecurity threats to humanitarian emergencies to protecting democracy depends on strong cooperation between countries. As the report says in its preface: “Restoring trust and fostering cooperation within and between countries will be crucial to addressing these challenges and preventing the world from drifting further apart.” The challenges threatening global cooperation are just as clear as the need, however, which makes it one of the most serious issues of the day.

Learn more about global cooperation: Global Diplomacy: the United Nations in the World

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About the author, emmaline soken-huberty.

Emmaline Soken-Huberty is a freelance writer based in Portland, Oregon. She started to become interested in human rights while attending college, eventually getting a concentration in human rights and humanitarianism. LGBTQ+ rights, women’s rights, and climate change are of special concern to her. In her spare time, she can be found reading or enjoying Oregon’s natural beauty with her husband and dog.

  • Security Council

Solving World’s Problems Requires ‘Global Cooperation Based on Agreed Rules’, European Union High Representative Tells Security Council

The demand for multilateral solutions in the world today is exceeding supply, and while “rules-based multilateralism” may not be an appealing phrase, the United Nations and the European Union must bring it alive, the bloc’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy told the Security Council today.

“We need global cooperation based on agreed rules.  The alternative is the law of the jungle, where problems don’t get solved,” said Josep Borrell via video-teleconference as the Council held its annual debate on strengthening relations with the 27-member group under its agenda item on cooperation with regional and subregional organizations.

In a far-ranging briefing that touched upon topics as varied as Middle East hotspots to the global distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, the High Representative said that the bloc’s staunch support for the United Nations is reflected not only in words, but also in financial, human and political terms.  Spotlighting the Council’s own responsibilities, he said that it must take decisions to support and protect people living in conflict situations.

Among other things, he recommended the lifting of export restrictions on COVID-19 vaccines and their components; the adoption of a Council resolution on the link between international security and climate change; the renewal of the humanitarian cross-border mechanism for Syria; the deployment of a robust monitoring mission in Libya; and the revival of the Middle East Quartet to facilitate fresh dialogue between Israel and the Palestinians.

Turning to situations on Europe’s doorstep, the High Representative said that the Union is developing additional sanctions in response to the forced diversion on 23 May of a commercial airliner to Belarus and the ensuing detention of a leading journalist.  He regretted that the situation in Ukraine is being instrumentalized for political purposes in the Council, adding that the European Union expects the Russian Federation to assume a constructive stance.  More generally, he said that the bloc deploys sanctions not as an end in themselves, but as a tool to promote respect for universal rights.

The ensuing debate saw Council members voicing strong support for ever-closer cooperation between the United Nations and the European Union, as with other regional groups such as the African Union.  But it also exposed fault lines over several long-standing issues which have failed to garner consensus in the 15-member organ.

The representative of the United States, speaking ahead of a meeting in Brussels on 15 June between President Joe Biden and top European Union officials, said that his country’s relationship with the bloc is built on shared values.  Going forward, Washington, D.C., will work closely with its European partners on crises in Tigray, Myanmar, Syria and Venezuela, he said, adding that the Council can and must do better in responding to those same situations.

The Russian Federation’s representative said that relations between his country and the European Union are at the lowest ebb in years.  He expressed grave concern about the bloc’s use of arbitrary coercive measures, adding that while the Union is an important regional player, its actions should not go beyond Council mandates.

France’s representative said that the mid-air “hijacking” over Belarus on 23 May demonstrated how human rights violations can have a direct impact on European security.  He added that within the Normandy format, France and fellow European Union member Germany are sparing no effort to revive the political process to resolve the conflict in Donbas.

China’s representative called the European Union a model for multilateralism that should take the lead in renouncing double standards and working towards shared goals.  He refuted the High Representative’s remarks about human rights in Hong Kong, saying that matters pertaining to the Special Administrative Region are his country’s internal affair.

The United Kingdom’s representative, whose country left the European Union on 1 January, said that an international rules-based system, with the United Nations at its centre, is the foundation for coordinated and collective action in the face of global challenges such as the COVID-19 pandemic.  He acknowledged the bloc’s contribution to resolving key issues on the Council’s agenda, including bringing Iran back into compliance with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

Tunisia’s representative said that cooperation between the United Nations and the European Union is particularly visible in Africa, where the bloc is contributing to many peacebuilding initiatives.  Going forward, the two organizations must strengthen their cooperation to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals and to put into place a plan to reduce the threat of climate change as a driver of conflict, he added.

Also speaking today were representatives of Kenya, India, Ireland, Viet Nam, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Mexico, Norway, Niger and Estonia.

The meeting began at 10:03 a.m. and ended at 12:16 p.m.

JOSEP BORRELL, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, speaking via video-teleconference, said that demand for multilateral solutions in the world today exceeds supply, and while “rules-based multilateralism” may not be an appealing phrase, the United Nations and the European Union must bring it alive.  “We need global cooperation based on agreed rules.  The alternative is the law of the jungle, where problems don’t get solved.”  Reduced access to COVID-19 vaccines, insufficient action on climate, and festering peace and security issues are examples of the cost of the lack of multilateral action.  Emphasizing the European Union’s commitment to the United Nations and to rules-based multilateralism, he said that the world’s biggest challenges stem from new technologies that can be both disruptive and empowering.  Without rules that reflect the values of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, technology will be used against individuals and communities “in a nightmarish scenario”.

Focusing on the COVID-19 pandemic, he said that wider lessons must be drawn about the ways in which the health and security of people and planet are connected.  The Union, a staunch supporter of vaccine multilateralism and the COVAX facility, plans to donate at least 100 million doses to low- and middle-income countries before the end of 2021, but that is not enough.  All players must lift export restrictions on vaccines and their components.  On climate change, he said that the upcoming United Nations summits in Kunming and Glasgow must produce decisive action and real outcomes.  To give impetus to their success, the Council should adopt a resolution on the link between climate change and security.  Spotlighting the Council’s own responsibilities, he said that it must take decisions to support and protect people living in conflict situations.  The bloc is also looking to the Council to match its belated support for the Secretary-General’s call for a global humanitarian ceasefire with a full commitment to its implementation.

He emphasized that the European Union’s staunch support for the United Nations is reflected not only in words, but also in financial, human and political terms, with 13 of its external missions and operations working alongside the Organization’s own missions.  A fresh set of joint European-Union priorities on peace operations and crisis management are currently being drawn up.  The bloc will always be on the side of those in Hong Kong, Venezuela, Myanmar and elsewhere who demand respect for their rights, he said, adding that the Union uses sanctions not as an end in themselves, but as a tool to promote respect for universal rights.

Turning to concrete cases, he said that a negotiated settlement in the Middle East, based on the two-State solution, is the only way to ensure the rights and security of both Israelis and Palestinians.  To help the two sides, the Middle East Quartet must be revived.  On Syria, he appealed to the Council to renew the cross-border mechanism for humanitarian assistance in July.  On Libya, the fragile ceasefire must be supported by a robust monitoring mechanism so that elections can go ahead in December.  The European Union Naval Force Mediterranean Operation IRINI will continue to implement the arms embargo, he said, calling also for a greater focus on the withdrawal of foreign fighters and mercenaries.

On the Sahel and the Horn of Africa, he said that firm action must be taken against those standing in the way of a peaceful and inclusive transition.  On Iran, the European Union is working non-stop to revive the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action in all its aspects.  On Belarus, the European Union’s response to the forced landing of a commercial airliner, and the ensuing arrest of a leading journalist and his companion, was firm and justified.  Having closed its airspace to Belarusian aircraft, the bloc is working on a new package of sanctions.  On Ukraine, he regretted that the situation is being instrumentalized for political purposes in the Council.  The Russian Federation is a party to the conflict and the European Union counts on it to take a constructive stance.  Finally, on the Western Balkans, he said that the European Union will not rest until all countries in the region are inside the bloc.

MARTIN KIMANI ( Kenya ), underscoring the values shared by his country and Europe, said that the increasing centrality of regional and subregional organizations in the maintenance of international peace and security makes Chapter VIII of the Charter of the United Nations more relevant today than ever.  The European Union should continue to deepen its cooperation and partnership with the African Union and other subregional mechanisms in Africa, he said.  He underscored the ways in which trilateral cooperation between the African Union, the European Union and the United Nations has reinforced synergies and coordination in responding to various situations in Africa.  He also stressed the need to reinvigorate dialogue between the African Union Peace and Security Council and the European Union Political and Security Committee; for a renewed focus on conflict prevention and peacebuilding; and to give Africa the chance to proffer solutions to African challenges that can be supported by international partners.  The European Union should also support Africa during the COVID-19 pandemic by mitigating the challenges to vaccine access, including through supporting efforts for local vaccine production and distribution, he stated.

JAMES PAUL ROSCOE ( United Kingdom ) said that an international rules-based system, with the United Nations at its centre, is the foundation for coordinated and collective action, including through regional organizations, to address big challenges such as the pandemic.  The United Kingdom looks forward to continued cooperation with the European Union on post-pandemic recovery and preparations for future outbreaks, including through shared supports for a global pandemic treaty.  Noting that his country is hosting the Group of Seven summit and the twenty-sixth Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, he said that multilateralism remains important on such European issues as Ukraine, Belarus and the Western Balkans.  He also recognized the bloc’s contribution to resolving issues on the Council’s agenda, including bringing Iran back into compliance with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

DMITRY A. POLYANSKIY ( Russian Federation ) said cooperation must align with relevant General Assembly resolutions, and regional structures should complement United Nations efforts.  While supporting some existing joint European Union projects, he said true multilateralism maintains the United Nations central role.  Imposing bloc approaches and attempts to portray experiences as a “golden model” often leads to blatant interference in some States.  Russian Federation and European Union relations are at the lowest ebb in a long time, he said, expressing grave concerns about the bloc’s negative, arbitrary coercive measures whose targeted nature lead to declines in the standard of living among ordinary people and not to a change in States’ policies.  Even in the context of the pandemic, the European Union did not heed to the Secretary-General’s call to suspend such sanctions.  The bloc is an important regional player, however its actions should not go beyond Security Council mandates.  Pointing to Operation IRINI as an example, he cautioned the European Union to “tread carefully” with regards to the impact the mission has on Libya.  Regarding the Union’s involvement with Pristina and the Balkans as a whole, he called on colleagues to carefully consider ongoing proceedings.  Raising other concerns, he said the bloc presents its approaches on a variety of topics as “universal”, a practice his delegation will adamantly fight against.  The Russian Federation is interested in dialogue with its neighbours, based on mutual respect, he said, adding that the European Union should not promote negative rhetoric.  In a modern world, there is no place for hegemony and dominance.  Concerned about the spread of Russiaphobia and the illegal coup in Ukraine, he expressed trust that his European colleagues will overcome these and other unfortunate trends.

T. S. TIRUMURTI ( India ) said the role of the European Union has been growing in Africa, stressing that its complimentary efforts to resolve conflict and counter terrorism has contributed positively to the United Nations efforts there.  The bloc has broken new ground in developing effective tools for conflict prevention, peacebuilding, crisis management and post-conflict rehabilitation.  The India-European Union Strategic Partnership is guided by shared interests.  India’s desire to work constructively with the Union is reflected in the newly instituted dialogues on maritime security as well as climate change.  India and the Union recently concluded a successful leaders meeting in May 2021, launching a “connectivity partnership” and agreeing to intensify economic engagements, including by resuming negotiations on trade and investment agreements and working together on World Trade Organization (WTO) reforms.

GERALDINE BYRNE NASON ( Ireland ) said that as the world’s leading development donor, the European Union has enhanced its capacity to support the United Nations.  From Kosovo to the Middle East and throughout Africa, European Union missions are deployed alongside United Nations peacekeeping operations or special political missions.  As such, the Council should support the Union’s cooperation and utilize its support for the United Nations where appropriate.  Welcoming trilateral cooperation between the United Nations, European Union and the African Union, and partnerships with the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) and Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), she said challenges remain.  Efforts must continue to make real progress on delivering on the women, peace and security agenda, and climate-related security risks must be addressed.  Greater cooperation is needed to improve mission transitions and for enhanced coordination on peacebuilding and the United Nations Peacebuilding Fund.  The multilateral system must deliver in response to COVID-19 by building back better, which means debt relief, equitable access to vaccines and to sustainable financing, she said, adding that it must include a green recovery to meet the challenge of climate change.

DINH QUY DANG ( Viet Nam ) said that strategic cooperation between the United Nations and the European Union has advanced in areas such as peace and security, sustainable development and economic growth.  The European Union’s significant financial and personnel contributions to peacekeeping remain vital, and he called for closer cooperation on issues including mediation, confidence-building and the promotion of multilateralism.  In South-East Asia, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has helped to build a region of peace, stability and development, and in December 2020, the relationship between ASEAN and the European Union was elevated to a strategic partnership.  This is an important milestone, he added, which builds on achievements and enhances efforts to effectively implement the joint plan of action for 2018 to 2022.

TAREK LADEB ( Tunisia ) said that cooperation between the United Nations and the European Union is particularly visible in Africa, where the bloc contributes to many peacebuilding initiatives alongside the League of Arab States and the African Union.  He commended the European Union’s support for the two-State solution and the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action in the Middle East, also praising its support for development and economic cooperation, human rights and basic freedoms, and the protection of civilians in armed conflict.  Going forward, the United Nations and the European Union must strengthen their cooperation to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement on climate change while also putting into place a comprehensive plan to reduce the threat of climate change as an exacerbating factor in conflict.

RODNEY M. HUNTER ( United States ) recalled that the relationship between his country and the European Union is built on a foundation of shared values which include democracy, the rule of law, human rights, economic opportunity and the pursuit of transatlantic prosperity and security.  Together, they have pledged funding for the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, he said, adding that the United States appreciates the bloc’s contributions across the globe, including its cooperation with the United Nations.  Going forward, the United States will keep working closely with its European Union partners on crises in Tigray, “Burma”, Syria and Venezuela, he said, adding that the Council can and must do better in responding to those situations.  The United States greatly appreciates the European Union’s critical role in holding the Russian Federation accountable for its violations of international law, he said, emphasizing that Moscow’s actions in Ukraine remain a threat to European security.  Both the United States and the European Union will stand with their allies and partners in calling on the Russian Federation to stop destabilizing Ukraine and Georgia.  The two sides will also enhance their efforts through the coordination of sanctions to ensure that authorities in Belarus are held accountable for the forced diversion of a commercial flight between two European Union member States, he said.

DIANI JIMESHA ARIANNE PRINCE ( Saint Vincent and the Grenadines ) said her country, as a member of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), recognizes the vital role of regional and subregional organizations in promoting economic integration and social development.  The European Union has a significant presence on the Security Council and is a feature in the peace and security landscape across all regions.  Saint Vincent and the Grenadines particularly values the bloc’s cooperation on matters affecting conflict in Africa.  “When Africa speaks, we should all listen,” she said.  Looking ahead, she expressed hope for progress with European Union partners on issues such as unilateral coercive measures that often do far more harm than good, as well as the reversal of unfair financial blacklisting practices that hurt developing economies.

ALICIA GUADALUPE BUENROSTRO MASSIEU ( Mexico ) said regional and subregional organizations play critical roles in the United Nations work, with diverse mandates and capacities.  Recognizing the importance of having road maps to guide strategic associations between the European Union and the United Nations, including in peacekeeping operations, he highlighted several points about this partnership.  While some existing efforts have clear mandates, he raised concerns about effective consideration of migrants with relation to Operation IRINI.  Turning to the European Union’s critical role in the Sahel, its technical training mission in Mali and its role in the Middle East Quartet, he stressed the importance of continuing to make progress in advancing gender equality.  Only through an interconnected network can sustainable peace be established and maintained, he said.

GENG SHUANG ( China ) said the pandemic demonstrated that all States are intertwined with a shared future, making multilateralism imperative.  The European Union is a model for multilateralism and should take the lead in renouncing double standards and working together towards shared goals.  Responding to remarks made earlier, he said Hong Kong is a special administrative region of China, and any matter related to this is an internal affairs issue.  The European Union should be a champion of multilateralism, including by playing its coordinating role in advancing the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action on Iran’s nuclear programme and in promoting a just and lasting solution to the Palestinian question.  Achieving sustainable and inclusive development is the most effective way of tackling the root causes of conflict, he said, expressing hope that the European Union will place a greater focus on eradicating hunger, promoting education and constructively supporting post-pandemic recovery.

TRINE SKARBOEVIK HEIMERBACK ( Norway ) said that cooperation with the European Union is at the heart of his country’s foreign policy, as reflected in their shared common vision of a free and democratic future.  She cited Norway’s frequent alignment with the bloc’s positions in the Council, adding that the European Union and the United Nations must continue to join forces in response to COVID-19, climate change and other global challenges.  She went on to welcome the European Union’s action plan on women, peace and security and its strong focus on gender equality, human rights, and peace and security within and beyond its borders.

NICOLAS DE RIVIÈRE ( France ) said that the European Union provides concrete and effective solutions to threats to international peace and security.  Among other examples, he cited its response to the pandemic and support for the COVAX facility; the participation of its member States in peacekeeping and humanitarian operations in the Sahel and Syria; its work on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action and the resumption of Middle East peace talks; Operation IRINI in the waters off Libya; and its contribution to inter-Afghan political negotiations.  The hijacking of a commercial airliner on 23 May by the authorities in Belarus demonstrated that human rights violations can have a direct impact on European security.  In Ukraine, the European Union responded to renewed tension in March and April, he said, adding that within the Normandy format, France and Germany are sparing no effort to revive the political process.  The bloc also plays a key role in stabilizing the Western Balkans and hopefully will continue to be involved in intercommunal talks in Cyprus led by the United Nations, he added.

ABDOU ABARRY ( Niger ) noted the ways in which the United Nations and the European Union are working hand in hand in the areas of conflict prevention and sustainable peace, as well as the bloc’s political, financial and operational assistance to peacekeeping and peace processes.  In Africa, this can be seen in the support given to countries in fragile situations, including in the Sahel and the Horn of Africa.  Hopefully, the new European Union naval operation in the Mediterranean will do even more to counter the influx of weapons into Libya while also addressing the migration crisis.  He also noted how the bloc is working with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) on the best ways to address climate-induced displacement.  He concluded by saying that the Organization should continue to benefit from its partnerships with the European Union, the African Union and ASEAN, making the most of their comparative advantages to achieve international peace and security.

SVEN JÜRGENSON ( Estonia ), Council President for June, speaking in his national capacity, said a strong European Union equals a stronger United Nations, and vice versa.  Raising several concerns, he strongly condemned the Belarusian authorities’ blatant attempts to silence all opposition voices and demanded the immediate release of all political prisoners.  On the situation in Myanmar, he expressed strong support for the ASEAN 5-point consensus and the work of the United Nations Special Envoy.  He condemned the Russian Federation’s aggression against Ukraine in Donbass, illegal annexation of Crimea and occupation of territories in Georgia.  He also regretted to note that the Russian Federation, a party of the conflict, has chosen to use Arria-formula meetings to extensively spread false and divisive narratives about Ukraine.  Turning to the European Union’s contributions, from cyberspace security to crisis management, he drew attention to Operation IRINI, the Middle East Quartet, efforts in the Sahel region and humanitarian relief for Syria.  Regarding Afghanistan, he commended peace efforts and urged the Taliban to immediately end violence and commit itself to the negotiations.  Regarding embargoes, he said European Union and United Nations sanctions are targeted and do not obstruct in any way the fight against the pandemic or the delivery of humanitarian aid.  Going forward, the Security Council must do more to fully understand climate-related security risks and integrate this knowledge into all aspects of its work.

ANNA M. EVSTIGNEEVA ( Russian Federation ) said that the statement by the United States was more aggressive compared to those of most European Council members, possibly because it is on the other side of the ocean and does not mind what is happening in Europe.  However, it must understand how dangerous such rhetoric can be.  Those Europeans who demonstrate common sense should be guided by their common interests, stop looking for partners across the ocean, and choose constructive cooperation on an equal footing, without mentorship and with respect for the sovereignty and internal affairs of neighbouring States.  They should also work to impartially address delicate and dangerous situations on their borders and to respect people’s choices, including those in Donetsk and Luhansk, without which it will not be possible to resolve the situation in Donbas, she said.

Mr. BORRELL, taking the floor a second time, said that he was coming out of today’s meeting feeling even more encouraged than he did when it started.  The European Union is working hard with Council members to contribute to global security and prosperity, he said, adding that he was grateful that so many speakers had acknowledged the bloc’s contributions to a safer and fairer world and for being the tool that helped turn Europe from a continent of war to a continent of peace.  “We are living at a dangerous point in world history” and to survive and prosper, States must recognize their common interests and common goals.

Turning to specific issues raised by speakers, he said that sanctions imposed by the Union comply with international law, including obligations stemming from international human rights law and international humanitarian law.  Sanctions are key tools for addressing breaches of international law, the proliferation of weapons into conflict areas and targeting those who seek to undermine peace processes.  The principle of non-intervention in a country’s internal affairs is not a license to disregard human rights concerns.  He emphasized that the bloc’s sanctions are proportional and reversible, and that they aim to limit as much as possible any humanitarian impact or unintended consequences on civilians.

On Libya, he hoped that the upcoming Berlin meeting will create new impetus for a political settlement.  Hopefully, those who harbour doubts will demonstrate equal zeal in effectively implementing the arms embargo.  He stressed how much the European Union values its relationship with China and agreed with its representative’s views on the importance of multilateralism, adding however that the one-country, two-systems formula in Hong Kong stems from an international agreement and that the bloc is very much concerned about recent changes in the Special Administrative Region.  He concluded by saying that the future of mankind depends on its capacity to cooperate, work together, overcome conflict and build a shared future for all.  In that regard, the Council plays an important role.

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Students at a school in Hanoi Viet Nam.

The future of international cooperation: Time to think big, urges Guterres

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Celebrating the UN’s 75th anniversary last year, prompted major internal discussion about its future, and a new direction away from the post-World War Two consensus of its early days. These reflections have resulted in Our Common Agenda , a landmark new report released on Friday by the UN Secretary-General, setting out his vision for the future of global cooperation.

Mr. Guterres launched the report at a meeting of the General Assembly on Friday, prefacing his remarks with a scathing overview of the parlous state of a world he described as being under enormous stress, and warning that the world risks a future of “serious instability and climate chaos”.

“From the climate crisis to our suicidal war on nature and the collapse of biodiversity, our global response is too little, too late”, declared the Secretary-General. “Unchecked inequality is undermining social cohesion, creating fragilities that affect us all. Technology is moving ahead without guard rails to protect us from its unforeseen consequences.”

The UN chief went on to describe the extensive consultations that fed into its development, a listening exercise that led the UN to the conclusion that enhanced multilateralism is seen as the way to deal with the world’s crises (see text box, below).

Breakdown or breakthrough?

Hurricane Matthew makes landfall in Port-au-Prince in Haiti. (file)

Two contrasting futures are laid out in the report: one of breakdown and perpetual crisis, and another in which there is a breakthrough, to a greener, safer future.

The doomsday scenario describes a world in which COVID-19 is endlessly mutating, because rich countries hoard vaccines, and health systems are overwhelmed.

In that future, the planet becomes uninhabitable due to rising temperatures and extreme weather events, and a million species are on the brink of extinction.

This is coupled by a continuous erosion of human rights, a massive loss of jobs and income, and growing protests and unrest, which are met by violent repression.

Or, we could go the other way, sharing vaccines equitably, and sparking a sustainable recovery in which the global economy is retooled to be more sustainable, resilient, and inclusive.

By decarbonizing the economy, global temperature rises would be limited, countries heavily affected by climate change would be supported, and ecosystems would be preserved for future generations, the report says.

This approach would herald a new era for multilateralism, in which countries work together to solve global problems; the international system works fast to protect everyone in emergencies; and the UN is universally recognized as a trusted platform for collaboration.

Goals and solutions

Food distribution during the coronavirus pandemic in Bangladesh. (file)

The importance of protecting vulnerable groups is recognized in commitments to gender equality and leaving no-one behind, which include reinforcing social protections and promoting gender parity.

Ensuring a more sustainable global economy is identified as a goal, with support for the poorest, and a fairer international trading system. 

Climate action gets a special mention, with commitments to the goal of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels, and net zero carbon emissions by 2050, and end to fossil fuel subsidies, a transformation of food systems, and a package of support for developing countries. 

And, noting the ongoing health crisis created by the COVID-19 pandemic, the report calls for a $50 billion vaccination plan, to at least double vaccine production, ensuring that they reach at least 70 per cent of the global population in the first half of 2022.

Summit of the Future

People in Uganda and around the world are  using digital tools during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In order to achieve these aims, the Secretary-General recommends a Summit of the Future, which would “forge a new global consensus on what our future should look like, and how we can secure it”.

The Summit would address the perennial issues of peace and security, setting out a “ New Agenda for Peace ”, with more investment for peacebuilding, support for regional conflict prevention, a reduction of strategic risks such as nuclear weapons and cyberwarfare - and a dialogue on outer space to ensure that it is used peacefully and sustainably.

The application of human rights online would also be covered at the Summit, in a Global Digital Compact, to ensure that new technologies are a force for good. Other tracks would include; the peaceful and sustainable use of outer space, and the management of future shocks and crises.  The Summit, said Mr. Guterres, should take account of today’s more complex context for global governance…our goal should be a more inclusive and networked multilateralism, to navigate this complex landscape and deliver effective solutions. 

On top of the Summit of the Future, the report proposes biennial high-level meetings at the level of Heads of States and Government, between the G20, ECOSOC , the heads of International Financial Institutions, and the UN Secretary-General, aimed at creating a more sustainable, inclusive and resilient global economy. 

The report also calls for better partnerships between governments, multilateral organizations, the private sector, and civil society; and an emergency platform to better prepare for global crises, with stronger global health security.

One example is the creation of a Futures Lab, which would work with partners including governments, academia, civil society, and the private sector, to issue regular reports on megatrends and catastrophic risks. 

In addition, measures on education, skills training and lifelong learning are proposed, including a Transforming Education Summit planned for 2022, to address the learning crisis and expand opportunities and hope for the world’s 1.8 billion young people, and a a Global Social Summit, to be organized in 2025, which would coordinate international efforts to create peaceful, secure societies based on human rights and dignity for all.

These meetings would coordinate efforts to bring about inclusive and sustainable policies that enable countries to offer basic services and social protection to their citizens. “Governments should never again face a choice between serving their people or servicing their debt”, said Mr. Guterres.

peacekeepers from the Ivorian contingent to MINUSMA, the United Nations mission in Mali, patrol the area

One of those institutions is, of course, the UN itself, which, says the report, is due an upgrade, with a more participatory and consultative approach, gender parity by 2028, the re-establishment of the Secretary-General’s Scientific Advisory Board, and a policy that puts people at the centre of the UN System, taking into account age, gender and diversity.

Other UN-related proposals concern the improved participation of youth in the political process and efforts to cut youth unemployment. The reports recommends the appointment of a Special Envoy for Future Generations, to give weight to the interests of those who will be born over the coming century, and a new UN Youth Office to strengthen engagement with young people across the work of the Organization. 

As the UN embarks on the Decade of Action – 10 years to make real progress to deliver the promise of a sustainable, fairer future by 2030 – there is an opportunity to reshape the world for the better, with multilateralism at the heart of the process. 

However, as the “breakdown scenario” shows, failure to work effectively together risks significant, irreversible damage to the planet and even, life itself: In his speech to the General Assembly, Mr. Guterres underlined that Our Common Agenda is driven by solidarity, “the principle of working together, recognizing that we are bound to each other and that no community or country, however powerful, can solve its challenges alone.”

Our Common Agenda: the context

  • The fact that the 75th anniversary came during a global health emergency, highlights the importance of multilateral thinking: 2020 saw the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic, which came amid growing concern over the climate crisis, another urgent issue that does not respect national borders.
  • In early 2020, 1.5 million people took part in a year-long global UN initiative to listen to people’s priorities, and expectations of how international cooperation can impact the future.
  • They shared their hopes and fears, calling for a more transparent, inclusive UN, and identifying climate change and environmental issues as the number one long-term global challenge.
  • Our Common Agenda builds on the findings from that initiative – as well as input from thought leaders, eminent groups such as The Elders, diplomats and other partners – offering suggestions and solutions, ideas for action, and looking ahead to the next 25 years of the UN. 
  • The report calls for the core values of the UN to be reaffirmed, whilst acknowledging that the foundations of the Organization, need to be reshaped to better reflect today’s world.
  • It also recognized the urgent need for action: the climate crisis poses an existential crisis to all human life, and can only be solved if the international community works effective together, across borders, to end accelerated heating of the planet caused by human activity, and adapt to the damage it has already caused.

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Regions & Countries

International issues, how americans view the conflicts between russia and ukraine, israel and hamas, and china and taiwan.

74% of Americans view the war between Russia and Ukraine as important to U.S. national interests – with 43% describing it as very important.

8 charts on technology use around the world

In most countries surveyed, around nine-in-ten or more adults are online. In South Korea, 99% of adults use the internet.

Language and Traditions Are Considered Central to National Identity

Across more than 20 countries surveyed, a median of 91% say being able to speak their country’s most common language is important for being considered a true national. And 81% say sharing their country’s customs and traditions is important for true belonging.

About half of Republicans now say the U.S. is providing too much aid to Ukraine

The share of Americans who say the U.S. is giving too much support to Ukraine has grown steadily over the course of the war, especially among Republicans.

Attitudes on an Interconnected World

How close do people feel to others around the world? How much do they want their countries involved in international affairs? How do people’s experiences with travel and feelings of international connectedness relate to their views about the world? A recent 24-nation survey explores these questions.

U.S.-Germany Relationship Remains Solid, but Underlying Policy Differences Begin to Show

85% of Americans and 77% of Germans see the relationship between their countries as good. A majority of Americans see Germany as a partner on key issues, including dealing with China and the war in Ukraine. But Germans are less confident about partnering with the United States on China policy.

Comparing Views of the U.S. and China in 24 Countries

We examine how the U.S. and China stack up to one another on more than 10 measures of international public opinion, spanning from confidence in their leaders to views of their universities and technological achievements.

Poles and Hungarians Differ Over Views of Russia and the U.S.

People in Hungary and Poland have different views on the future of the economic sanctions that the European Union and the U.S. have imposed on Russia. Roughly half of Hungarians believe these sanctions should be decreased, while just 3% of Poles say the same. Most Polish adults (67%) prefer instead to increase sanctions against Russia.

Israelis have grown more skeptical of a two-state solution

Only 35% of Israelis believe that Israel and an independent Palestine can coexist peacefully, down from 44% in 2017.

What the data says about Americans’ views of climate change

Two-thirds of Americans say the United States should prioritize developing renewable energy sources over expanding the production of fossil fuels.

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About Pew Research Center Pew Research Center is a nonpartisan fact tank that informs the public about the issues, attitudes and trends shaping the world. It conducts public opinion polling, demographic research, media content analysis and other empirical social science research. Pew Research Center does not take policy positions. It is a subsidiary of The Pew Charitable Trusts .

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A New Era of Conflict and Violence

The nature of conflict and violence has transformed substantially since the UN was founded 75 years ago. Conflicts now tend to be less deadly and often waged between domestic groups rather than states. Homicides are becoming more frequent in some parts of the world, while gender-based attacks are increasing globally. The long-term impact on development of inter-personal violence, including violence against children, is also more widely recognized.

Separately, technological advances have raised concerns about lethal autonomous weapons and cyberattacks, the weaponization of bots and drones, and the livestreaming of extremist attacks. There has also been a rise in criminal activity involving data hacks and ransomware, for example. Meanwhile, international cooperation is under strain, diminishing global potential for the prevention and resolution of conflict and violence in all forms.


Globally, the absolute number of war deaths has been declining since 1946. And yet, conflict and violence are currently on the rise , with many conflicts today waged between non-state actors such as political militias, criminal, and international terrorist groups. Unresolved regional tensions, a breakdown in the rule of law, absent or co-opted state institutions, illicit economic gain, and the scarcity of resources exacerbated by climate change , have become dominant drivers of conflict.

In 2016, more countries experienced violent conflict than at any point in almost 30 years. At the same time, conflicts are becoming more fragmented. For example, the number of armed groups involved in the Syrian civil war has¬ mushroomed from eight to several thousand since the outbreak of the conflict. Furthermore, the regionalisation of conflict, which interlinks political, socio-economic and military issues across borders, has seen many conflicts become longer, more protracted, and less responsive to traditional forms of resolution.


Today, crime kills far more people than armed conflicts. In 2017, almost half a million people across the world were killed in homicides, far surpassing the 89,000 killed in active armed conflicts and the 19,000 killed in terrorist attacks . If homicide rates keep climbing at the current rate of 4 per cent, then Sustainable Development Goals 16 – which includes a target ‘to significantly reduce all forms of violence and related death rates everywhere’ – will not be met by 2030. 

Organised crime and gang violence vary widely across regions. Countries in the Americas have the worst homicide rates by a wide margin, accounting for 37 per cent of the global total in a region that accounts for only 13 per cent of the world’s population. Political instability engenders organised crime, including targeted attacks against police, women, journalists, and migrants. Meanwhile political violence no longer affects only low-income states. In the past 15 years, more than half of the world’s population has lived in direct contact or proximity to significant political violence. 

For women and girls, the home remains the most dangerous place. Some 58 per cent of female homicides were carried out by intimate partners or family members in 2017, up from 47 per cent in 2012. Women bear the heaviest burden of lethal victimisation, often as a result of misogynistic beliefs, inequality, and dependency, which persist globally, especially in low-in-come countries.


While terrorism remains widespread, its impact has been waning in recent years. Globally, the number of deaths attributed to terrorism dropped for a third consecutive year in 2018, to under 19,000. Attacks have become less lethal as governments step up counter-terrorism efforts, regional and international coordination, and programmes to prevent and counter violent extremism. In 2017, a fifth of terrorist attacks were unsuccessful , compared with just over 12 per cent in 2014. 

Conflict remains the primary driver of terrorism, with more than 99 per cent of all terrorist-related deaths occurring in countries involved in a violent conflict or with high levels of political terror. The majority of deadly attacks take place in the Middle East, North Africa, and Sub-Saharan Africa, with Afghanistan, Iraq, Nigeria, Somalia, and Syria, bearing the heaviest burden. 

In countries with high levels of economic development, social alienation, lack of economic opportunity, and state involvement in an external conflict are the major drivers of terrorist activity. In Western Europe, terrorism-related deaths have fallen dramatically in the past few years, but the number of incidents has increased. There has been a sizeable increase in the number of attacks carried out by actors with far-right, white nationalist, or anti-Muslim beliefs in both Western Europe and North America in the past two decades. The number of incidents across the two regions increased from three in 2002 to 59 in 2017, with social media playing a crucial role in the dissemination of xenophobic speech and incitement to violence.

Extremist groups today have unprecedented access to the general public through the internet, which allows for more efficient and effective recruitment, incitement, and propaganda, as well as the purchase of weapons and unregulated money transfers. Both state and non-state actors can also use AI-enabled deep learning to create ‘deepfakes,’ which create seemingly real footage of people speaking words they never uttered and have the potential to fuel misinformation, divisions, and political instability.


Technological advances are contributing to the changing nature of conflict. There are concerns about the potential for artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning to enhance cyber, physical, and biological attacks. For example, by making them more finely targeted,  harder to attribute, and easier for small groups perhaps even ‘lone wolfs’ to carry out.

Emerging technologies are lowering the barriers to the acquisition of biological weapons – toxic substances or diseases used to harm or kill humans, livestock, and crops. There are concerns that advances in AI and 3D printing could facilitate biological attacks , by automating the development and production of the weapons and the systems that develop them.

There is also mounting international concern over the development of so-called lethal autonomous weapons (LAWs), which could identify and engage a specific target without human guidance, thereby transferring responsibility over life and death from human moral systems to complex data systems, devoid of an ethical compass. The UN Secretary-General has called for fully autonomous weapons to be prohibited by international law, as have over 30 nations .

Perhaps the most prevalent modern-day threat is that of cyber-attacks. According to IBM’s X-Force Incident Response and Intelligence Services, the number of cyber-attacks doubled in the first half of 2019 in comparison with the second half of 2018, most of them targeting manufacturers, oil and gas companies, and educational institutes. Owners of critical infrastructure are especially at risk, as malicious actors seek to target airport control towers, nuclear power plants, hospitals, and dams. Over the past year, more than a hundred cyber incidents with the potential to undermine international peace and security were identified. Such attacks would cause substantial damage and casualties.

On the flip side, advances in AI and other technologies also provide new tools and preventive strategies for police and counterintelligence agencies to better prevent attacks and identify perpetrators. But here too there are risks. For example, predictive policing comes with its own downsides, including inbuilt racial and religious biases, which can engender radicalisation to violent extremism.


Today, we are witnessing the unravelling of the international arms control architecture and a gradual backtracking on established arms control agreements, which have supported global stability, restraint, and transparency. The continued existence of nuclear weapons poses an ever-greater threat to the survival of humanity. While the number of nuclear weapons has dropped from more than 60,000 during the Cold War to around 14,000 today, nuclear weapons are more powerful today. At the same time relations between nuclear-armed states are fraying, and divisions over the pace and scale of disarmament are growing. 

When the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty ended in August 2019, the UN Secretary-General deplored the loss of “an invaluable brake on nuclear war”. The New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) faces a similar demise. The total elimination of nuclear weapons can still be achieved, but it will require a renewed commitment to trust and cooperation between the world’s most powerful countries. The Secretary-General has called on states to renew fervour on outstanding and current arms control agreements. 


In 1945, the UN was primarily designed as a tool to manage interstate relations as the world reeled from the horrors of two world wars. While today’s world is in many ways safer, the nature of threat has evolved considerably. New, more complex and more sophisticated threats require imaginative and bold responses, and strengthened collaboration between states, as well as the private sector and civil society. Institutional boundaries must also be bridged, so that political, human rights, and development partners can work in concert.


The Sustainable Development Goals 

UNODA | Securing Our Common Future 2018

UNODC | Global Study on Homicide 2019

UN and World Bank | Pathways for Peace 2018

UN | Violence Against Children

The Age of Digital Interdependence: Report of the UN Secretary-General’s High-level Panel on Digital Cooperation

Global Terrorism Index 2018


Download the pdf version

Children play with toy rifles

Wars without end: why is there no peaceful solution to so much global conflict?

A new study shows that 60% of the world’s wars have lasted for at least a decade. From Afghanistan to Libya, Syria to Congo DRC, has endless conflict become normalised?

L ibya’s civil war entered its 7th year this month with no end in sight . In Afghanistan, conflict has raged on and off since the Soviet invasion in 1979. America’s Afghan war is now its longest ever, part of the open-ended US “global war on terror” launched after the 2001 al-Qaida attacks. Yemen’s conflict is in its sixth pitiless year. In Israel-Palestine, war – or rather the absence of peace – has characterised life since 1948. Somalis have endured 40 years of fighting. These are but a few examples in a world where the idea of war without end seems to have become accepted, even normalised.

Why do present-day politicians, generals, governments and international organisations appear incapable or uninterested in making peace? In the 19th and 20th centuries, broadly speaking, wars commenced and concluded with formal ultimatums, declarations, agreed protocols, truces, armistices and treaties.

Neat and tidy endings, even if sometimes illusory, are rarer these days. According to a survey published last week by the International Institute for Strategic Studies, 60% of armed conflicts have been active for at least a decade and peace-making prospects globally are in decline.

Today’s wars are mostly undeclared, undefined and inglorious affairs typically involving multiple parties, foreign governments, proxy forces, covert methods and novel weapons. They are conducted without regard for civilian lives, the Geneva conventions regulating armed conflict, or the interests of host populations in whose name they are fought.

Great moral crusades, famous causes and genuine ideological struggles are few and far between. Modern wars are mostly about power and treasure. And they go on, and on, and on.

Libya is a classic case of a state of chaos deliberately fed and manipulated by external powers, in this instance Turkey, Qatar, Russia, Egypt and the UAE. Here, as elsewhere, rival rulers claim to be upholding order or fighting “terrorism” while, in reality, they seek to extend national influence and economic advantage. As long as these aims remain unmet, they show scant interest in peace.

Ambitious states have always sought to dominate neighbours in the way China, for example, is doing now. One reason this happens more frequently today, and more anarchically, is declining American engagement.

In the Middle East and Africa , the US – no longer a global policeman – is focused on supporting Israel, squeezing Iran and selling arms, to the exclusion of almost all else. In Asia, it is in retreat.

Donald Trump, desperate for a Nobel peace prize, offered to mediate the 70-year-old North Korea-South Korea stand-off . He also claims his “ deal of the century ” will solve the Israel-Palestine conundrum. Few take him seriously. Otherwise, his administration has shown zero interest in global conflict resolution.

A related factor is the collapse of the western-led consensus favouring multilateral, collaborative approaches to international problems. This is matched by the parallel rise of authoritarian and populist regimes that prioritise narrow national interest over perceptions of the common good.

This trend, a regression to the pre-1914 era of competing European nation-states, undermines the authority of the UN and cooperative regional platforms such as the EU and African Union. Unsupported, UN peace envoys from Syria to Myanmar and peacekeeping operations across Africa struggle to make headway.

Ineffective international law enforcement, symbolised by the inability of the International Criminal Court to deliver justice to war zones such as Iraq and Ukraine, helps freeze or perpetuate conflicts rather than justly resolve them. Demographic and physical causes also contribute to chronic instability.

Conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Sahel and Sudan is fuelled by the fact that millions of young men in Africa, where the median age is 19.8 , lack fulfilling work or a meaningful stake in their country’s future. Long-running inter-state or intra-state violence is also rooted in the climate crisis and resulting resource scarcity, poverty and dislocation.

New technologies and weapons such as drones and cyber warfare are lowering the up-front cost of conflict while enlarging potential theatres of war. Global warming is turning the newly accessible Arctic into a vast, pristine battleground . Outer space presents infinite possibilities for violence. Religious wars are often the most bitterly fought and hardest to halt. As in the past, multiple collisions of faith, culture and values between Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus and other belief systems are key elements in the early 21st century’s insatiable addiction to war.

The Muslim world is also divided internally, between the Shia and Sunni traditions and fundamentalist and secular interpretations of Islam. These schisms have been depicted by the Arabic noun fitna , which can mean both “charm, enchantment, captivation” and “rebellion, riot, discord, civil strife”. Fitna is a fitting word for describing not only the Islamic sphere but the troubled state of the world as a whole in 2020, beset as it is by wars without end. For many people, if they are honest, war has a fatal attraction. As WB Yeats noted after the 1916 Easter Rising in Ireland, violent conflict can spawn a “terrible beauty” – a mix of fascination and horror that is difficult to forswear.

Imam and orphans

War began: March 2011 An initially peaceful uprising against the autocratic presidency of Bashar al-Assad formed part of the 2011 Arab Spring revolts. It quickly turned into full-scale war as Assad’s regional foes, notably Saudi Arabia, seized a chance to overthrow a regime allied with Iran. Since then upwards of half a million people are estimated to have died.

The US and Europe also sought to install a friendly, pro-western government in Damascus. As Assad’s grip on power weakened, Russia , supported by Iran, intervened in 2015 to stave off collapse and thwart western ambitions. Other interventions came from Turkey and from Islamic State jihadists, who declared a caliphate in Syria and Iraq.

The war continues in the north-western province of Idlib, the last rebel-held stronghold, to which millions have fled. A current ceasefire is not expected to last. There are also fears that up to 100,000 people could die there if Covid-19 spreads in crowded refugee camps. Dr Munzer al-Khalil, head of Idlib’s health directorate said: “If we do not get more support and equipment, we know we will not be able to cope. The people of north-west Syria have been through enough. We need the WHO to help and to help fast.”

  • Afghanistan

Taliban prisoners released from Bagram prison, 50km north of Kabul.

War began: September 2001 The US invasion initially aimed to kill or capture the al-Qaida terrorists responsible for the 9/11 attacks. But it quickly expanded into a “regime change” operation tasked with eliminating the Taliban and creating a functioning, democratic state.

Those latter objectives have proved unattainable despite large deployments of US, British and Nato troops and expenditure totalling billions of dollars. The elected Afghan government remains weak and divided, while the Taliban are resurgent. Pakistani, Indian, Iranian and Russian interference is a constant problem.

The US is now seeking to cut its losses and leave. But a controversial “peace deal” has failed to take hold. It is widely viewed as a mere fig-leaf for an American troop withdrawal intended to boost Donald Trump’s re-election chances.

At least 100,000 Afghans are estimated to have died since 2001, although the true figure, including deaths from indirect causes, is almost certainly much higher. According to the UN, Afghan forces and their US allies caused more civilian casualties in 2019 than the Taliban. With Isis terrorists now regularly launching attacks, hopes of peace are fading.

A Libyan migrant

War began: May 2014 Turmoil in Libya actually began in October 2011 when the dictator Muammar Gaddafi was overthrown in a popular revolt backed by the UK, France and the US. But national celebrations were short-lived.

A power struggle between myriad political factions, tribes, militias, and jihadists brought an open rupture in 2014 between the UN-backed government in Tripoli and dissenting parliamentarians who re-based themselves in Tobruk to the east.

Foreign powers with an interest in Libya’s oil and strategic orientation have since weighed in, with Egypt, the UAE and Russia backing eastern armed forces under General Khalifa Haftar, a self-styled strongman who claims to be fighting Islamist terrorism. Ranged against him is the Tripoli government supported by Turkey, Qatar and some European states. Both Moscow and Ankara have reportedly sent mercenaries to support rival sides. Last week the US claimed Russia was supplying Haftar with warplanes.

The chaos prevalent in much of Libya’s contested and ungoverned spaces has been exploited by people, arms and drug traffickers. To the consternation of Italy and the EU, the country has become a Mediterranean stepping-off point for northwards migration. UN-backed peace efforts are at a standstill.

Security men

War began: March 2015 The war in Yemen , already a grievously disadvantaged country, has helped create what the UN describes as the world’s worst humanitarian disaster. Fighting has compounded perils posed by extreme poverty, malnutrition, cholera, climate change, religious extremism and now, Covid-19.

A ceasefire arranged as a result of the pandemic ended last month despite UN efforts to advance a peace process. Now the war seems to be escalating again, with new missile attacks reported last week. More than 40,000 people have fled their homes since January, adding to the 3.6 million displaced. Unicef says 12 million children need humanitarian assistance.

The impasse owes much to the fact the main protagonists – the Yemeni government, led by exiled president Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi, and the Houthi rebel movement, which represents Yemen’s Zaidi Shia minority – are backed by regional rivals Saudi Arabia and Iran respectively. The Saudi military intervened in 2015 after Hadi was forced to flee, backed by the US, UK and France . But while civilian casualties and alleged war crimes have rocketed, the Houthi insurgency appears largely unscathed. Meanwhile, al-Qaida terrorists are exploiting the chaos and southern separatists based in Aden have gained ground.

Democratic Republic of Congo

Moroccan soldiers

War began: 1997 It’s hard to say exactly when the trouble began in the DRC. This vast central African country experienced an extraordinary civil war between 1997 and 2003 when an estimated five million people died. Continuing instability in lawless areas of north-eastern DRC bordering Uganda stems from that period.

International concern about an ebola outbreak in Goma, the main eastern city, has been overtaken by worries about Covid-19. Meanwhile, violence involving numerous armed groups is remorseless. At least 40 villagers were killed in recent machete attacks by the Allied Democratic Forces, a renegade militia claiming links to Isis.

About 400 people have died in Ituri province at the hands of the ADF since last year. UN peacekeepers are unable to stop the violence. And, unlike in other conflict zones, western countries are not keen to get involved. The Norwegian Refugee Council says that, overall, more than 480,000 people have been displaced in DRC since March when the UN appealed for a global ceasefire.

  • The Observer
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  • Democratic Republic of the Congo

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5 Global Issues to Watch in 2023

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By Megan Roberts on December 20, 2022

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Ukrainian war refugees wait in a long line at the border to cross into Poland. Displaced people, many of them women and children, wait up to eight hours, carrying with them just the basics, usually only a backpack. PHOTO: Nicolas Economou/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Our Director of Policy Planning, Megan Roberts, takes stock of a tumultuous year that put global solidarity and cooperation to the test, and zeroes in on five key issues to watch in 2023.

In 2022 the blows to global cooperation came hard and fast. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine not only threatened the lives of millions of Ukrainians and violated the UN Charter, but it also accelerated a series of cascading and interconnected global crises in food, fuel, and energy. COVID-19 continued to batter the world, and new data showed how devastating the pandemic has been beyond its overwhelming harms to our health. Misinformation and disinformation presented clear and present threats to the health of people, communities, and political systems around the world. After reaching record levels in 2021, concentrations of greenhouse gases continued to rise this year, and dozens of natural disasters — extreme heat waves, floods, hurricanes — contributed to record levels of humanitarian need.

Extending their reach into households and pocketbooks, global crises left almost no one untouched. As the UN Secretary-General recently lamented , “Our world is facing the most pivotal, precarious moment in generations.”

These crises will shape 2023 as the world continues to grapple with the widespread consequences of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and COVID-19’s long tail.

Yet the year ahead also offers a remarkable opportunity. As the midpoint on the journey to 2030, 2023 will hold a series of crucial reviews to assess where we stand against ambitious global agreements on sustainable development, climate change, gender equity, financing, natural disasters, and universal health coverage, to name only a few.

Yet reviews alone won’t move the needle. Harnessing the opportunity will require an honest assessment of where we stand. The news will be overwhelmingly gloomy. But, taken together, these reviews will also offer a chance to build political momentum, ambitious new commitments, and inclusive coalitions to accelerate progress to 2030. In that sense, 2022 has built some strong foundations upon which the world can build to make the most of the year ahead. There is no time to wait.

Here are five key global issues to watch in 2023.

1. Rescuing the Sustainable Development Goals

The COVID-19 pandemic has dealt a devastating blow to the SDGs, which were already off track before the pandemic forced the closure of schools, government services, and workplaces around the world. The pandemic erased more than four years of progress in eradicating poverty and pushed millions into extreme poverty. At current rates, 574 million people will still be living in poverty by 2030, nearly 7% of the world’s population, with most in Africa.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has only worsened prospects, including by triggering global food shortages that disproportionately affected the world’s poorest people. Acute food insecurity has more than doubled since 2019. Developing economies are facing incredibly difficult choices as they struggle to manage rising food costs, the harms of climate change, and unsustainable debt burdens exacerbated by an inflation and liquidity crisis. The world’s poorest countries will likely be slapped with a 35% increase in their debt payments this year. It was this impossible situation that prompted Mia Mottley, the Prime Minister of Barbados, to call for major changes to the multilateral development and financing system through the creation of the Bridgetown Initiative.

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Mia Amor Mottley, Prime Minister of Barbados, addresses the General Assembly’s 77th session, calling for major changes to the multilateral development and financing system. PHOTO: UN Photo/Cia Pak

Women and girls have borne the disproportionate brunt of SDG rollback, and pushed the world further from gender equality. Violence against women remains endemic. Women still face unacceptable barriers to exercising their rights. According to the United Nations Population Fund, in 2022 only 57% of women were able to make able to make their own decisions over their sexual and reproductive health and rights. Moreover, progress in expanding women’s representation in leadership positions remains unacceptably slow. Taken together, the World Economic Forum estimates that it will still take more than 130 years to close the global gender gap.

Next year offers a series of key moments that together can serve to generate the leadership, commitments, and partnerships needed to bend the SDG curve. In March, world leaders will come together in the Qatar capital of Doha for the Fifth UN Conference on the Least Developed Countries to adopt a plan and articulate new commitments to support the countries that are furthest from achieving the SDGs. In July, at the High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development in New York, more than 40 countries will provide an update on their progress on the goals, but more importantly, the gathering will serve as a moment to rally SDG champions across sectors leading into the UN General Assembly in September. It is there that the world will also come together for the SDG Summit, marking the halfway point of the Sustainable Development Agenda. The second Global Sustainable Development Report, published by an independent group of scientists appointed by the Secretary-General, will be released in the lead-up to the summit. It will provide an assessment of where we are making progress on the Goals and the extent of the rollback, and it will offer evidence-based guidance for how the world can accelerate SDG progress. It will be crucial that leaders embrace the central commitment of the SDGs to leave no one behind and inject urgency to the start of the second half of the Sustainable Development Agenda.

September will also mark the halfway point of the Generation Equality Forum , a pathbreaking partnership on gender equality launched in 2021 and underpinned by $40 billion in commitments. But commitments and plans won’t lead to change if merely left on paper, so the Forum’s midpoint gathering will focus on increasing accountability and traction across the Forum’s work.

Any effort to set the SDGs on the right track will hinge on renewed commitments to development financing, and leaders should come to next year’s high-level meeting on financing for development ready with new pledges. But crises this year have also given momentum to discussions on deeper reforms of the multilateral development finance system, as without such reforms the world will struggle to accelerate SDG progress. Prime Minister Mottley seeks to transform development finance to deliver for countries experiencing the triple crises of unsustainable debt, climate change, and inflation/liquidity through expanded lending, emergency liquidity for countries bearing unsustainable debt burdens, and the development of global systems to support countries experiencing a natural disaster or climate crisis. Spurred in part by her leadership, there is new energy in the push for World Bank reform. This focus on equity and justice could also generate momentum to give a greater voice to a larger number of countries during the review of International Monetary Fund (IMF) quotas set to conclude next December.

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2. Taking Stock of an Intensifying Climate Crisis

An important breakthrough for climate justice occurred at COP 27 in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, with the agreement to establish new funding arrangements, including a “loss and damage” facility intended to provide support to countries already experiencing the consequences of climate change. This, combined with the launch of the Secretary-General’s Early Warnings for All initiative, represented important steps in 2022 to address the harms of climate change, which are disproportionately felt in developing countries. A series of important moments across the year generated new attention and commitments to advancing action to protect the world’s oceans. At the COP 15 on biodiversity, countries agreed to protect at least 30% of the world’s lands, inland waters, coastal areas, and oceans by 2030—amid tensions between some developed and developing countries.

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Artificial reefs installed in Mon Choisy, Mauritius. The reefs provide a new home for fish that lost their natural habitats due to rising sea temperatures and protect beaches by breaking the force of the waves reaching the shores. PHOTO: Reuben Pillay/Climate Visuals

But these achievements came against a worrying backdrop. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change ( IPCC ) confirmed this year that limiting warming to 1.5oC over preindustrial levels, the Paris Agreement target, requires emissions to peak before 2025 and be reduced by more than 40% by 2030. Yet, the World Meteorological Organization’s Provisional State of the Global Climate indicates that emissions are set to rise again this year . Major natural disasters in 2022, including devastating flooding in Pakistan, underscore the need for urgent progress on climate adaptation.

The world will have an opportunity to show whether it is serious about addressing the harms of climate change at COP 28 next year, when countries are expected to agree to a new global goal on adaptation. COP 28 will also serve as the culmination of the first Global Stocktake on progress in implementing the Paris Agreement. Member States also gave themselves until COP 28 to agree to important details on how to establish the “loss and damage” facility negotiated this year. Difficult questions remain, including how the facility will be funded and allocated.

2023 will also serve as the midpoint check-in on the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction . This review will focus on better understanding and addressing the systemic nature of risk and serve as an opportunity to rally political attention and ambition to reduce the risks posed by natural and human-caused disasters. Separately, negotiations will continue on a plastics treaty set to be agreed in 2024.

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3. Managing the Fallout from COVID-19’s Long Tail

2022 began with a global surge in COVID-19 cases driven by the Omicron variant that contributed to the more than 300 million cases of the virus this year. Since its start, the pandemic has killed over 6.6 million people. Although the rapid development of COVID-19 vaccines marked an incredible achievement of cooperation and COVAX , the UN-led global partnership to accelerate equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines, demonstrated new forms of solidarity, vaccine access remains woefully unequal. As of December 2022 , 72.8% of people in high-income countries had received at least one dose, compared with only 28.9% of people in low-income countries. In addition, COVID-19 has dealt an important blow to wider immunization programs. The world registered a drop in immunization coverage from 86% in 2019 to 81% in 2021 . New pathogen threats also emerged this year, including the spread of mpox, which by December 2022 had registered more than 80,000 cases . All of this took place as policymakers, health care workers, and others struggled against waves of health-related misinformation and disinformation.

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Students at the Mahendra Secondary School in Nepal receive the COVID-19 vaccine as part of the first phase of the campaign targeted at children aged five to 11 years. The launch of vaccinations for this age group was enabled by the 2.2 million pediatric vaccines donated to Nepal through the COVAX Facility. PHOTO: UNICEF/Laxmi Prasad Ngakhus

Recognizing the need to strengthen collective capacities to prepare for and respond to future pandemics, countries began negotiations on a new pandemic accord this year. The world also made important progress this year in financing for global health. A Pandemic Fund was established to support low- and middle-income countries to strengthen preparedness for future pandemics. Beyond COVID-19, in May, countries agreed to significantly increase the proportion of flexible and predictable financing available to the World Health Organization and a global pledging conference for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria generated more than $15.6 billion in commitments, the largest amount ever raised by a multilateral health fund.

In 2023, countries will roll up their sleeves to negotiate a pandemic accord, which is scheduled to be delivered in May 2024. In September, the world will come together for a record number of high-level meetings on global health at the UN General Assembly, on universal health coverage — marking the halfway point to achieve this goal by 2030 — tuberculosis, and pandemic preparedness and response. Global health will also be a top priority during the SDG Summit the same week, particularly given the widespread harms that COVID-19 caused across the SDG agenda.

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4. Delivering record levels of humanitarian need driven by conflict and disaster

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has added to already historic levels of global humanitarian need and displacement.

Global forced displacement totaled 103 million people in mid-2022, an increase from 89.3 million at the end of 2021. According to the most recent Global Humanitarian Overview , in 2021 roughly 274 million people worldwide were in dire need of humanitarian assistance — already a 17% rise from the previous year. For 2023, that number is leaping yet again, bringing the number of people in need to 339 million, more than the population of the United States. This means 1 in every 23 people on the planet will need emergency assistance just to survive.

This dramatic rise represents millions of women, men, and children who have been pushed to the brink and already-vulnerable communities that find their very survival at risk. But while we now confront historic levels of global need and displacement, the source of these crises is nothing new: conflicts, both protracted and proliferating, and the increasingly dramatic effects of the climate emergency have intensified both the suffering of innocent civilians and the pressure on our multilateral system to deliver lifesaving support and solutions.

In 2022, the invasion of Ukraine laid bare the global interconnectivity of conflict. In Ukraine , 7.8 million people have fled the country and over 6.5 million have been displaced internally. Millions more suffered the agonizing weight of war and occupation, attacks on civilian infrastructure, and little to no access to food, water, medicine, and other essentials. Simultaneously, impacts of the war reverberated throughout the global system, accelerating worldwide shortages of food, fertilizer, and fuel. Heroic efforts have been made to avert a complete humanitarian catastrophe, such as the brokering of the Black Sea Grain Initiative, which has allowed for 11.2 million metric tons of grains and foodstuffs to leave Ukraine for global shipment since the deal was negotiated in July. But the World Food Programme still reports that as many as 828 million people globally go to bed hungry every night, and that a total of 49 million people in 49 countries are on the edge of famine. The threat of nuclear war or nuclear meltdown , and the catastrophic implications it would have on people and planet, has rarely felt more omnipresent.

In 2023, it is essential that the global community and our multilateral system learn from the lessons of this year, including the outpouring of support for Ukrainians forced to flee their country and the extensive efforts to manage the downstream impacts of the conflict. The vast ripple effects of persecution and conflict have been so clearly highlighted, and in the coming year we must better extend support — from sustained high levels of humanitarian funding to asylum and durable solutions for refugees — to crises absent from the front pages, from Haiti to the Sahel in North Africa, to Syria and everywhere in between. Lives hang in the balance. The cost of inaction is far too great.

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5. Building more inclusive systems for international cooperation

Intersecting global crises and tensions between nations are stressing the UN and the wider multilateral system to a breaking point. At the start of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Martin Kimani, Kenya’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations, warned that multilateralism was on its deathbed. Later in the year, the Secretary-General cautioned that geopolitical divides are “undermining all forms of international cooperation” and emphasized that “we cannot go on like this.”

The system managed to hold in 2022, and it even delivered some important diplomatic achievements . But the global interconnected crises across the year, which have directly touched nearly every person in the world, have also given new urgency and impetus to strengthening multilateral institutions and building more inclusive systems for cooperation. They have also demonstrated that we need better ways of looking ahead to understand, assess, and respond to fast-moving crises and wider trends shaping our world, from demographics to technology to systemic risks.

The series of midpoint check-ins next year on our 2030 goals are each important in their own right. Together, they represent a test of our credibility and the opportunity to ensure that when the next global crisis hits, more resilient systems are in place and we are better prepared to respond. 2023 will offer additional opportunities to build more inclusive and effective multilateral systems.

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UN Secretary-General António Guterres addresses COP15 in Montreal, Canada. The Secretary-General urged an end to “the war on nature,” warning that the loss of biodiversity comes with a steep human cost. PHOTO: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

A crucial opportunity lies in the preparations for a Summit of the Future in 2024. Next year, nations will begin negotiating key elements as proposed in the Secretary-General’s Our Common Agenda report, released last year. These include a new agenda for peace, a global digital compact, and a declaration on future generations. A preparatory ministerial meeting at the UN General Assembly next year will offer leaders the chance to make a down payment on this ambitious set of proposals on the future of multilateralism.

Beyond the UN, India plans to use its G20 presidency to focus on multilateral reform and Japan has similar plans for its G7 presidency. We should also expect to see more serious efforts to make the multilateral system more inclusive and responsive to 21st century challenges, including across the UN Security Council, World Bank, and IMF.

Making the most of the opportunity at hand in 2023 will require a clear and honest look at where the world is off track without becoming hopeless about the scale of the challenge. Without doubt, global cooperation will be tested in new ways in the year ahead, and the urgency required to meet the 2030 deadlines will be laid even more bare. As humanitarian, health, and climate crises rage on, the world’s leaders will need to choose solidarity and step up for people and planet in unprecedented ways before the clock runs out. Far too much is at stake to make any other choice.

Kate Loomis, Special Assistant to the President and CEO, Policy & New Initiatives, and Cara Skelly, former Policy Planning intern contributed to this article.

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Top 10 world problems and their solutions

Top 10 world problems and their solutions

The last decade has been marked by significant progress in various fields such as science, medicine, and technology but, at the same time, the number of problems in today’s society has steadily grown. In 2020 and 2021, undoubtedly some of the most uncertain and difficult years of the last decade, the biggest problems in the world were the COVID-19 pandemic and poverty. However, the years that followed continued to be somewhat complex and certainly no less easy.

In 2022 – 2023, the war in Ukraine, the Israel – Hamas conflict , the energy crisis and hyperinflation caused multiple economic shocks and stagnation across the continents.

As a platform to address global issues that cannot be resolved by any single country, the United Nations organization is spearheading humanity’s struggle to survive. Its most visible efforts concern resolving conflicts and undertaking peacekeeping activities. Below is a list of the world’s greatest according to the UN.

Climate Change

There is no economy or individual that is unaffected by climate change. By 2050, this problem could force 216 million people to relocate within their own nations. The changes in weather may worsen water stress and reduce crop output, particularly in the most food-insecure areas of the world.

One of the major problems on our planet is linked to global temperatures that are continually rising. By 2100, studies show that there is a 50% likelihood of facing global warming that is higher than 3.5 degrees Celsius and a 10% probability of witnessing warming higher than 4.7 degrees Celsius relative to temperatures registered between 1850 and 1900. This would result in more severe shifts in weather patterns, food and resource shortages, and the more rapid spread of diseases.

At COP28 in Dubai, held at the end of 2023, the World Bank unveiled ambitious plans to boost climate funding, improve initiatives for carbon markets, and much more.

Possible solutions:

A reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and increased awareness of the necessity to turn green are among the solutions that can make a significant difference. In addition, strategies to cut carbon emissions and opting for replanting are among the effective ways to address climate change.

Wars and military conflicts

Maintaining peace and security is crucial to preventing poverty and high numbers of refugees and asylum seekers. With an increasing number of territories becoming conflict zones, the number of poor and displaced women and children is on rise, causing the spread of diseases and a halt to economic progress.

Preventative diplomacy and demilitarization are the two key tactics for avoiding conflicts. Preventive diplomacy is defined as those actions undertaken to avoid conflicts from forming or worsening. It can also help to limit the spread of existing hostilities. Mediation, conciliation, or negotiation are all options to tackle this world issue.

Today, among the greatest world issues, wars and conflicts are at the top of the list. 2022 and 2023 were marked by a number of conflicts that led to many casualties and displaced people. The conflicts in Ukraine and Palestine in particular have led to a massive number of people fleeing or attempting to flee their countries in search of shelter.

Individuals with disabilities and the elderly are the most vulnerable because they may not be able to escape high-risk regions.

As of May 2023, there were around 5.1 million internally displaced persons in Ukraine and the number of documented refugees from Ukraine was over 6.2 million worldwide. Around 90% of those escaping the crisis were women and children.

In Gaza, there are approximately 1.4 million internally displaced people with around 690,000 being housed in 150 shelters run by the UN agency for Palestine refugees.

Refugee statistics:

  • In mid-2023, according to the UN , there were 110 million forcibly displaced people in the world
  • 43.3 million (around 40%) of these were children
  • 1.9 million children were born as refugees
  • 36.4 million (over 30%) of all displaced people were refugees
  • 6.1 million were asylum-seekers
  • 4.4 million stateless people reside in 97 countries although it has been estimated that the true figure is much higher
  • Over 50% of refugees come from just three countries: the Syrian Arab Republic, Afghanistan, and Ukraine.

Water contamination

There is no life without water – apparently a simple truth but one that people seem to overlook. Poor management and irrational use forces communities to migrate in search of drinking water. Industries are polluting underground water and this issue is growing massively.

  • Due to pollution, poverty, and inadequate resource management, around 2.1 billion people lack access to safe drinking water
  • Agriculture is responsible for 70% of global water loss
  • Annually, 297,000 children under the age of five die from diarrheal infections caused by poor sanitation, hygiene, or contaminated drinking water
  • 80% of wastewater is discharged into the environment without being processed or reused

Possible solutions to the water pollution issue:

The most efficient technique to reduce water pollution is to treat water (filtration, disinfection, etc.) before it reaches the waterway system. Clearing wastewater of pollutants can be performed via biological, physical, and chemical operations.

Human rights violation

Human rights are universal, regardless of race, gender, ethnicity, religion, or any other status but what if this only happens on paper?

Indeed, the problems in today’s society are linked with the constant violation of human rights – gender inequality, human trafficking, the lack of freedom of speech – all of these can be witnessed in the 21st century in every country, even in developed nations.

Gender Equality

50% of the world’s population are women and girls. Gender equality is not only a crucial human right , it is also necessary for a peaceful society, the full development of human potential, and long-term evolution.

Possible solutions to gender inequality:

  • Speak up for what you believe in
  • Pay attention to what others have to say
  • Defend yourself from discrimination
  • Raise public awareness of a problem
  • Get the media to talk about it
  • Demonstrate to those in positions of power that they are being watched

Global health issues

There is no comprehensive list of the top global health challenges because this field is dynamic and ever-evolving. In addition, new threats and hazards related to global health are constantly emerging as seen by the monkeypox outbreak that occurred in 2023. On the other hand, certain global health problems are long-term and may be on the list forever including cancer, air pollution, and tuberculosis.

Major health problems in the world include:

  • Communicable diseases

Influenza outbreaks and COVID-19 are examples of pandemics that highlight our susceptibility to widespread infections, many of which begin in animals. Anxiety and fear are common reactions to pandemics. Other worrisome infectious diseases worth attention are HIV/AIDS, malaria, and Ebola which have remained deadly for decades.

  • Environmental factors

Air pollution and climate change have a serious impact on our health. Hurricanes, floods and droughts make disease transmission easier among large populations of people.

  • Inequalities and poor healthcare access

Poor access to healthcare, increased infant mortality rates, mainly in low-income nations, and income inequality around the world make it virtually impossible for many families to afford healthcare.

  • Political aspects

People become increasingly exposed to diseases as wars within or between countries damage essential infrastructure. As a result, they look for ways to escape the harmful situations that jeopardize their safety but diseases can spread swiftly when people migrate.

  • Mental health

A major contributor to disability is depression, and among those aged 15 to 29, suicide caused by depression is the main cause of mortality. Individuals suffering from serious mental health issues frequently encounter stigma, discrimination, and infringements of their human rights which can lead to earlier death. In less severe cases, mental health conditions can impact participation in social activities, close interpersonal connections, and academic or professional performance.

  • Noncommunicable diseases (NDCs)

Cancer, heart disease, and diabetes are just a few examples of noncommunicable diseases (NCDs). The risk factors for NCDs include the use of tobacco products and alcohol, obesity, a poor or unbalanced diet, and lack of exercise. Although these global health concerns are present everywhere and are responsible for almost 3 out of every 4 deaths worldwide, low- and middle-income nations make up 77% of NCD deaths .

Possible solutions to global health issues:

  • Empower marginalized populations
  • Encourage physicians to work in rural regions
  • Implement policies that eliminate obstacles and improve access to healthcare
  • Promote health breakthroughs (improve research, increase funding)
  • Education can help people recognize and improve lifestyle variables such as poor diets, obesity, cigarette use, and alcohol intake which can lead to NCDs.
  • Veterinary medicine can enhance global health since diseases originating from livestock play an important role in the spreading of diseases.

Global poverty

Although there has been a decline in extreme poverty in middle-income nations, poverty in the world’s poorest nations and those impacted by instability, wars, or violence remains higher than it was before COVID-19.

Currently, about 700 million people worldwide face extreme poverty, meaning that their daily income is less than the $2.15 poverty-line established by the World Bank . The majority of these individuals reside in sub-Saharan Africa. All in all, the places where it is most difficult to tackle extreme poverty are rural areas and regions impacted by conflicts. It’s worth mentioning that 50% of the people who live in extreme poverty are children.

Possible solutions to poverty:

  • End marginalization by ensuring equality and representation for all
  • Provide preventative education and treatment assistance during an epidemic
  • Offer recovery interventions during climate disasters
  • Help refugees and internally displaced people in terms of health, nutrition, and shelter
  • Improve education
  • Increase the level of food security and clean water access
  • Put an end to conflicts

See also: Absolute poverty vs relative poverty, what is the difference?

Children’s poor access to healthcare, education and safety

Every child must benefit from the right to proper healthcare, access to education, and grow in safety, and every society benefits from increasing children’s life prospects. Despite this, millions of children worldwide face serious challenges linked with their birthplace, gender, or circumstances.

Over 72 million children around the world who are old enough to attend elementary school are not enrolled. Marginalization and poverty are two major social issues.

Possible solutions to protect children’s rights:

  • Encourage education for both children and adults in less developed countries
  • Provide clean water
  • Ensure basic healthcare
  • Tackle gender inequality
  • Improve childhood nutrition

Access to food and hunger

By 2030, it is less likely that the world will achieve Sustainable Development Goal 2: Zero Hunger, according to international agencies and media. The situation in countries that have faced food insecurity and where populations suffer from hunger has worsened further as a result of the health and socioeconomic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Our planet houses over 8 billion people, and there is enough food to feed them all. Sadly, 828 million face hunger on a daily basis despite the quantity of available food.

According to the World Food Program , more than 40% of these people face severe hunger. At the same time, around 2.3 billion people lack proper access to food. Statistics also show that around 9 million people die each year from hunger-related factors – most of them being children aged 5 or younger.

  • In regions impacted by conflict, humanitarian, development, and peacebuilding initiatives should be rolled out quickly
  • The resilience of those who are more prone to economic hardship should be increased
  • To reduce the cost of nutritious foods, governments should intervene at various points in the food supply chain
  • Deal with poverty by focusing on interventions that help those suffering
  • Food environments should be reinforced. In addition, it is important to influence consumer behavior to encourage eating habits that are good for both people and the environment.
  • Experts believe that the immediate solution to the food crisis linked to the conflict in Ukraine could be monetary, mainly because of the rising food prices. If governments and donors are able to help people to pay for food, fewer will go hungry.

Massive migration movements impact all UN Member States , necessitating greater collaboration and responsibility-sharing.

The United Nations Member States endorsed the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants (A/RES/71/1) wherein they acknowledged that there is a need for a comprehensive strategy for migration. The New York Declaration recognizes the beneficial contributions of migrants to inclusive and sustainable development and pledges to defend their dignity, human rights, and basic freedoms, irrespective of their migration status.

Weapons accessibility

Multilateral disarmament and armaments restriction are the aims that have been important to the United Nations’ attempts to keep international peace since its inception.

The United Nations has placed a high priority on decreasing and ultimately eliminating nuclear weapons, abolishing chemical weapons, and reinforcing the ban on biological weapons, all of which pose the greatest dangers to humanity.

  • A number of multilateral treaties and procedures have been developed as a result of worldwide efforts to regulate, limit, or eliminate specific weapons, including:
  • Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons – one of its goals is to stop nuclear weapons and weapons technology from spreading
  • Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty – its goal is to prohibit nuclear weapons trial explosions, as well as any other nuclear explosions
  • Biological and Chemical Weapons Convention – forbids biological and toxin weapon manufacturing, procurement, transmission, storage, and use
  • Arms Trade Treaty – controls the international conventional armaments trade.

Although the top 10 global issues certainly help to establish what governments and ordinary people around the world should focus on, there are many other problems that everyone should be aware of, including the aging of the population, AIDS, and law and justice. Tackling at least some of these is possible but requires a lot of effort, patience and understanding.

Daniil Filipenco

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National Academies Press: OpenBook

International Conflict Resolution After the Cold War (2000)

Chapter: conflict resolution in a changing world, 1 conflict resolution in a changing world.

Committee on International Conflict Resolution

T he world has transformed rapidly in the decade since the end of the Cold War. An old system is gone and, although it is easy to identify what has changed, it is not yet clear that a new system has taken its place. Old patterns have come unstuck, and if new patterns are emerging, it is still too soon to define them clearly. The list of potentially epoch-making changes is familiar by now: the end of an era of bipolarity, a new wave of democratization, increasing globalization of information and economic power, more frequent efforts at international coordination of security policy, a rash of sometimes-violent expressions of claims to rights based on cultural identity, and a redefinition of sovereignty that imposes on states new responsibilities to their citizens and the world community. 1

These transformations are changing much in the world, including, it seems, the shape of organized violence and the ways in which governments and others try to set its limits. One indication of change is the noteworthy decrease in the frequency and death toll of international wars in the 1990s. Subnational ethnic and religious conflicts, however, have been so intense that the first post-Cold War decade was marked by enough deadly lower-intensity conflicts to make it the bloodiest since the advent of nuclear weapons (Wallensteen and Sollenberg, 1996). It is still too soon to tell whether this shift in the most lethal type of warfare is a lasting change: the continued presence of contested borders between militarily potent states—in Korea, Kashmir, Taiwan, and the Middle East—gives reason to postpone judgment. It seems likely, though, that efforts to pre-

vent outbreaks in such hot spots will take different forms in the changed international situation.

A potentially revolutionary change in world politics has been a de facto redefinition of “international conflict.” International conflict still includes the old-fashioned war, a violent confrontation between nation states acting through their own armed forces or proxies with at least one state fighting outside its borders. But now some conflicts are treated as threats to international peace and security even if two states are not fighting. Particularly when internal conflicts involve violations of universal norms such as self-determination, human rights, or democratic governance, concerted international actions—including the threat or use of force—are being taken to prevent, conclude, or resolve them just as they sometimes have been for old-fashioned wars. In this sense some conflicts within a country’s borders are being treated as international.

There are various prominent recent examples. They include the delayed international military responses to genocide in Rwanda, ethnic cleansing in Bosnia, and repression in East Timor; the unprecedented military response of NATO to repression in Kosovo; the establishment and enforcement of no-fly zones in Iraq; and the use of economic sanctions against South Africa and Yugoslavia. Threatened or enacted coups d’état against democratically established governments have also sometimes been treated as international conflicts, as in Haiti. Similarly, threats of the violent dissolution of states or of their dissolution into violence have triggered international concern, as in Bosnia, Albania, and Somalia.

How important are such recent developments? In particular, do they make any important difference in how the actors on the world scene should deal with international conflicts? Do the tools developed for managing international conflicts under the old world system still apply? Are they best applied in new ways or by new entities? Are there new tools that are more appropriate for the new conditions? How do the old and new tools relate to each other?

This book is devoted to examining these questions. This chapter begins the examination by identifying the major strategies of conflict resolution, old and new, that are relevant in the emerging world system. We use the term conflict resolution broadly to refer to efforts to prevent or mitigate violence resulting from intergroup or interstate conflict, as well as efforts to reduce the underlying disagreements. We presume that conflict between social groups is an inevitably recurring fact of life and that the goal of conflict resolution is to keep conflicts channeled within a set of agreed norms that foster peaceful discussion of differences, proscribe violence as a means of settling disputes, and establish rules for the limited kinds of violence that are condoned (e.g., as punishment for violations of codes of criminal conduct).

The new world conditions are validating some past conflict resolution practices that can now be more precisely defined and conceptualized and are bringing to prominence some techniques that had not been taken very seriously by diplomatic practitioners in the recent past. We consider the implications of these new developments for the practice of conflict resolution. What knowledge base can conflict resolution practitioners rely on in a world in which their accumulated experience may no longer fully apply? What can the careful examination of historical experience and other sources of insight offer them? We identify the ways in which a careful and judicious examination of empirical evidence can be of use to conflict resolution practitioners and the limitations of generalizations from past experience. Finally, we introduce the rest of the book, in which contributors address the above questions in the general case and in the context of a set of conflict resolution techniques that are likely to be important in the coming years.


The major practices of international conflict management during the Cold War period—the practices of traditional diplomacy—reflected the state system dominant in world politics for centuries. It made sense to treat international conflict as occurring between nation states that acted in a unitary fashion on the basis of stable and discrete national interests rooted in geopolitics, natural resources, and other enduring features of countries. If the behavior of states was dictated by such interests, it followed that conflict between states reflected conflicting interests. Such conflicts were often perceived as zero sum: the more one state gained, the more its adversary lost.

In the world of national interests the chief methods of international conflict management were the traditional diplomatic, military, and economic means of influence, up to and including the threat or use of force. These tools of power politics —the same tools that states used to engage in international conflict—were the main ones employed in efforts to address conflict. 2 Thus, states or coalitions of states tried to prevent or mitigate violence by using threats of armed force (deterrence, coercive diplomacy, defensive alliances such as NATO); economic sanctions and other tangible nonmilitary threats and punishments, such as the withdrawal of foreign aid; and direct military force to establish demilitarized zones. States were also sensitive to the delicate balance of nuclear power that could be jeopardized by this kind of coercive diplomacy. For this reason, in particular, they sought security regimes (see Jervis, 1983) that provided norms devised to reduce the risks of escalation. The implicit understandings gained through

an extended arms control negotiation process served to reduce the chances of superpower military confrontations during this period.

Negotiation in the world of national interests meant balancing or trading the competing interests of states against one another or finding common interests that could be the basis for agreement even in the face of other conflicting interests. A search for common interests was characteristic of Cold War-era negotiations aimed at preventing military confrontations between the United States and the Soviet Union. For example, the negotiations to end the Cuban missile crisis and to develop confidence-building measures for avoiding accidental nuclear war were based on the common interest in reducing the risk of confrontations that might escalate to nuclear warfare. Such negotiations could proceed because it was possible to identify shared interests that cut across or partially overrode the conflicting ones. 3

The traditional diplomatic strategies of influence were refined and elaborated greatly during the Cold War period. They continue to be relevant in the post-Cold War world, although their application is sometimes a bit different now (see Chapters 3 through 6 ). In deploying and threatening force to address and possibly resolve conflicts, there has been increased emphasis during the post-Cold War period on multilateral action (e.g., NATO intervention in Kosovo; the alliance that reversed the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait). States have increasingly looked to regional international organizations to advance conflict resolution goals, especially where unilateral state action might create new kinds of conflict and where influential nations within regions see merit in strengthening their regions’ institutions. Thus, for example, the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE), begun in the 1970s, matured in the 1990s into a formal organization—the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE)—that has intervened in various ways in conflicts across a broad region, although not by force (see Chapter 14 ).

Military organizations are now increasingly being used in new ways and for new conflict resolution purposes. Armed force is infrequently used in direct interventions, even in Europe, where regional organizations are particularly strong (exceptions are the NATO air campaign in Bosnia and the Russian interventions in Chechnya and Tajikistan). Peacekeeping missions still sometimes physically separate adversaries to prevent further violence, but they also provide humanitarian relief, resettle refugees, and rebuild infrastructure.

Another new development is that states and associations of states are no longer the only actors that can use techniques of influence like those of traditional diplomacy. For example, in the 1980s, even before the end of the Cold War, transnational corporations, pressured by negative publicity about their investments, and even local governments used

their economic power to exert pressure against apartheid in South Africa. Small peace-oriented nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) can sometimes threaten states’ interests, for example, by threatening prospects for international assistance with a bad human rights report or deciding to leave a country because humanitarian relief efforts are being thwarted.

A striking development since the end of the Cold War has been the emergence from relative obscurity of three previously underutilized strategies for international conflict resolution. These strategies all deviate from the zero-sum logic of international conflict as a confrontation of interests (see Table 1.1 ). The observation that these strategies are now more widely used is not meant to imply that they are always used effectively. Also, the strategies are often used together, and sometimes the distinctions among them may be blurred. One strategy may be called conflict transformation. This is the effort to reach accommodation between parties in conflict through interactive processes that lead to reconciling tensions, redefining interests, or finding common ground. This strategy departs radically from the logic of enduring national interests by making two related presumptions: that interests and conflicts of interest are to some degree socially constructed and malleable, and that it is possible for groups to redefine their interests to reduce intergroup tension and suspicion and to make peaceful settlements more possible. Certain intergroup conflicts, particularly those associated with the politics of identity, are seen as having significant perceptual and emotional elements that can be transformed by carefully organized intergroup processes so as to allow reconciliation and the recognition of new possibilities for solution.

TABLE 1.1 Strategies and Tools for Conflict Resolution

The conflict transformation approach is seen in its purest form in a set of techniques pioneered in the 1960s by academics and NGOs under such names as interactive conflict resolution, citizen diplomacy, and problem-solving workshops (e.g., Fisher, 1997; Saunders, 1999; also see Chapters 7 and 8 ). This approach features facilitated meetings at which members of groups in conflict seek to understand each other’s positions and world views in order to create an atmosphere more conducive to the peaceful resolution of disputes. The intent is that over the course of the meetings the participants will come to reinterpret the relationship between their groups and the possible futures of that relationship and that this change in the perceptions of a small number of individuals will lead either directly (through concrete peace proposals) or indirectly (e.g., through the rise to power of people who accept new ideas) to a more peaceful future for the groups. In recent years, conflict transformation strategies have also been promoted by NGOs that are spreading ideas such as alternative dispute resolution to emerging democracies in Eastern Europe and elsewhere. The so-called truth commissions in South Africa and some Latin American countries use a strategy of conflict transformation when they work to construct a shared understanding of history that can be a basis for emotional reconciliation, tension reduction, and the creation of a more cooperative political climate (see Chapter 9 ).

A second previously underutilized strategy for conflict resolution is sometimes called structural prevention to distinguish it from “operational prevention,” which involves dealing with immediate crises likely to erupt quickly into deadly violence. 4 Structural prevention involves creating organizations or institutionalized systems of laws and rules that establish and strengthen nonviolent channels for adjudicating intergroup disputes, accommodating conflicting interests, and transforming conflicts by finding common ground.

Structural prevention typically focuses on the problems of culturally divided states, especially those with weak democratic traditions, deep ethnic divisions, and histories of collective violence perpetrated by one group against another or by past governments against civilian populations. Various tools are available for structural prevention, including institutions for transitional justice, truth telling, and reconciliation ( Chapter 9 ); electoral and constitutional design (see Chapter 11 ); autonomy arrangements within federal governance structures ( Chapter 12 ); laws and policies to accommodate linguistic and religious differences ( Chapter 13 ); training for law enforcement officials in following the rule of law; institutions assuring civilian control of military organizations; and the development and support of institutions of civil society. Such institutions, including a free and pluralistic press, a set of NGOs dedicated to their members’ common and peaceful purposes, organizations for alternative dispute

resolution, and the like, serve in part as arenas for the integrative negotiation of differences.

The third strategy is normative change, defined as developing and institutionalizing formal principles and informal expectations that are intended to create a new context for the management of conflict. Norms may also define responsibilities for states to prevent violent conflict. Although norms were established to manage conflict between states during the Cold War, a notable feature of the post-Cold War period is the effort to use international norms to regulate or prevent conflict within states.

In previous eras the principle of noninterference in the internal affairs of sovereign states provided that sovereigns had license to control conflicts within their borders, free from outside influence. Although this norm was often breached by great powers acting in their own national interest within their spheres of influence, it was rarely overturned in favor of universal principles that held all states responsible to common standards. This situation began to change in the later decades of the Cold War, when norms such as human rights, democratic control, and the self-determination of peoples were increasingly invoked against states that abused their citizens. In Europe the Helsinki Final Act of 1975 was an historic watershed in this regard, permitting oversight by the 35 signatories of human rights conditions in each of their territories. Efforts like those of the Helsinki Watch groups in the former Soviet bloc, the disinvestment movement against apartheid, the democracy movement, and the indigenous peoples’ movements in the Americas showed the potential of universal norms to galvanize world opinion for conflict resolution.

Of course, we are a long way from a world in which what is good for humanity consistently outweighs the prerogatives of states. Nevertheless, there are signs that universal norms, many of which are stated in the United Nations Charter and other international documents, are becoming embodied in transnational institutions that can exert influence on states. For example, human rights norms have, through the operations of the CSCE and OSCE, provided increasing leverage for the international community to curb organized state violence against minority groups. Continuing dialogue about the tension in international law between the norm of noninterference on the one hand and those of human rights and self-determination of peoples on the other may be leading toward a new international consensus on how to provide for the rights of minorities. 5 Within the OSCE, for example, norms seem to be emerging that under certain conditions favor working out autonomy arrangements in preference to secession or submergence of minorities within unitary state structures (see Chapter 14 ). And the growing international acceptance of norms of democratic decision making are making it more legitimate for states, international donors, and NGOs to support struc-

tural prevention institutions in fragile states and to act against the perpetrators of coups d’état.

It is too soon to be sure that the increased prominence of these new strategies of international conflict resolution is an enduring feature of a new world system. However, it seems likely that many of the forces that have made these strategies more attractive are themselves enduring. If intrastate conflicts continue to pose serious threats to global security, if nonstate interests remain important, and if global integration makes foreign policy increasingly difficult to organize exclusively around coherent and unitary notions of national interest, conflict resolution is likely to rely more than in the past on the transnational activities of nonstate actors and on techniques that do not depend on traditional definitions of national interest. Nation states are likely to remain important actors in international relations for some time to come, however, and the possibility of violent interstate conflict remains a serious concern. But recent events presage a more complex multidimensional arena of international conflict in which both state interests and nonstate actors are important parts of the mix.

Under such conditions some recent trends are likely to stabilize. For example, NGOs with humanitarian and conflict resolution missions have a good chance to remain prominent players in world politics. Their comparative advantage lies in using conflict resolution tools that do not depend directly on power politics. Although NGOs can facilitate negotiations that trade off interests, states are probably better positioned to do this. NGOs are uniquely able to contribute by deploying the emerging tools of conflict resolution, as they have increasingly done in recent years. They have promoted conflict transformation by sponsoring interactive conflict resolution activities (see Chapters 7 and 8 ), providing training in informal dispute resolution techniques, and supporting various institutions of civil society that participate in democratic debate. They have contributed to structural prevention by advising on constitutional design and the rule of law, monitoring elections, and delivering information on other countries’ experiences with particular structural prevention techniques (e.g., Chapter 11 , written by two staff members of the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, summarizes knowledge on some constitutional design issues). The roles for NGOs in structural prevention are sometimes more prominent than the roles for states. And they have contributed to the development and enforcement of new international norms by promoting and monitoring conditions of human rights, treatment of minorities, and democratic governance (e.g., free and fair elections) and by arguing for international organizations to use their resources and influence to hold states to universal norms.

The recently increased acceptance of NGOs in international conflict

resolution, as evidenced by their increasing use as conduits for international aid, is attributable in considerable part to their increasing political clout within democratic systems as well as to the potential that diplomats see in the emerging techniques of conflict resolution and to the advantages NGOs have in using those techniques. Their continued importance will depend not only on their usefulness to diplomats in the aid-donor states but also on their acceptance by the parties to the conflicts they want to resolve. Thus, to be effective, these NGOs must be accepted by their potential clients as democratic, accountable, and true to the humanistic principles they espouse. They must also find ways to ensure that their activities do not make conflicts worse (see Chapter 10 ).


If the post-Cold War world is qualitatively different from what came before, does it follow that what practitioners know about conflict resolution is no longer reliable? A provisional answer comes from the results of a previous investigation by a National Research Council committee that reviewed the state of knowledge relevant to preventing major international conflict, including nuclear war. Between 1985 and 1987 this group commissioned 14 comprehensive review articles covering major areas of knowledge about international conflict (National Research Council, 1989, 1991, 1993). By the time the reviews were published, the Cold War was over and it seemed timely to reexamine the reviewers’ conclusions on the basis of the very surprising international events of the period around 1989. Stern and Druckman (1995) identified 104 propositions that the authors of the reviews judged to be supported by the evidence available at the time. Each proposition was coded in terms of how well it stood up against a list of five political surprises of the period. 6

The Stern-Druckman investigation reached conclusions that may also apply to knowledge about conflict resolution techniques. First, the great majority of the propositions (about 80) were not tested by the surprising events. Thus, these conclusions from historical experience remained as well supported as before. Second, of the propositions that were tested by events, most were supported by the events that occurred. This knowledge was also unchanged by the shift in the world system. Third, however, some of the most critical events of 1989 were not addressed by any of the propositions. Available knowledge about the international system had virtually nothing to say about the conditions under which an international epidemic of democratization would break out, or a great empire would peacefully liquidate itself, or a new historical era would dawn without a great-power war. So, although much of what passed as knowledge before 1989 was still reliable knowledge after that time, much of

what in retrospect was important to understand about 1989 had never been seriously analyzed by the community of specialists. The main lessons of the end of the Cold War were not that previous knowledge was wrong but that there was no knowledge about some of the most important phenomena of the new era.

The results of that analysis suggest that, although it makes sense to look carefully and critically at what is known about the traditional strategies and tools of conflict resolution that have received considerable attention from scholars and practitioners, it is especially important to examine what is known about less familiar strategies and tools that received limited attention in the past and that may be of major importance under the new conditions. This book does not attempt to comprehensively review knowledge about the effectiveness of the conflict resolution techniques based mainly on the influence of tools of traditional diplomacy. Instead, the contributors were asked to examine only a few of these techniques and only in some areas of their application: threats of force by the United States ( Chapter 3 ), economic sanctions ( Chapter 4 ), methods for controlling “spoilers” in peace processes ( Chapter 5 ), and the issues of timing and ripeness in negotiation and mediation ( Chapter 6 ). Generally, what the contributors find is that the new conditions in the world have not invalidated past knowledge about how and under what conditions these techniques work. However, the new conditions do call for some modification and refinement of past knowledge and suggest that the old tools sometimes need to be thought of and used in new ways. Each of the above chapters includes a summary of the state of knowledge about the conditions favoring effective use of the techniques it examines.

Much closer attention is paid to the emerging strategies of conflict resolution and to the techniques that embody them, about which much less has been written. For most of the conflict resolution techniques that involve conflict transformation, structural prevention, and normative change, there is no systematic body of past knowledge from the previous era that is directly relevant to current needs. 7 Practitioners’ experience in implementing these techniques has not been seriously applied to post-Cold War conditions, and international relations scholarship did not pay much attention to them in the past. Therefore, careful examination of what is known about the effectiveness of these techniques is particularly needed at this time.

Fortunately, these techniques, though underutilized, are not new. Each has a history that may hold lessons for conflict resolution in today’s divided states. For example, one type of structural prevention strategy is to offer autonomy—special status and governance rights—for certain culturally identified subunits in a unitary or federal state. There is a fairly long history of happy and unhappy examples of autonomy that may hold

valuable lessons for the current era. But it is only very recently that scholars have looked to cases like Scotland, Puerto Rico, the Soviet republics and autonomous regions, Catalonia, Greenland, the Native American reservations of the United States and Canada, the French overseas territories and departments, and the like to find lessons that might be informative in places like Chechnya, Bosnia, and Hong Kong (see Chapter 12 ). In the past, when such structural arrangements were the subject of scholarly attention, it usually came from specialists in domestic politics (e.g., comparative researchers on federalism) or international law, not international relations scholars, so the questions have been framed differently and the answers discussed in a community that rarely interacts with specialists in international conflict resolution.

The same situation holds for constitutional design. The world is full of constitutions and electoral systems, and their consequences for conflict management in their home countries are available for historical examination. However, until recently, relatively little systematic attention was paid to the question of how electoral system design shapes the course of conflict in a society (see Chapter 11 for a review and analysis of the evidence).

This book gives detailed attention to several nontraditional conflict resolution techniques in order to shed light on the potential for using techniques that employ the strategies of conflict transformation, structural prevention, and normative change as part of the toolbox of international conflict resolution. It devotes chapters to evaluating the effects on conflict of interactive conflict resolution workshops (Chapters 7 and 8 ), truth commissions ( Chapter 9 ), “engineered” electoral systems ( Chapter 11 ), autonomy arrangements ( Chapter 12 ), language policy within states ( Chapter 13 ), and the various conflict resolution activities of the OSCE ( Chapter 14 ) and humanitarian NGOs ( Chapter 10 ). The intent is to draw out lessons—what George (1993) calls generic knowledge—about the conditions under which each type of intervention in fact reduces the likelihood of violent conflict and about the processes that lead to such outcomes.

Our primary intent in conducting this exercise is to provide useful input to the decisions of conflict resolution practitioners—decision makers in national governments, international organizations, and NGOs— who must consider a wider-than-ever panoply of policy options, some of which they have not seriously considered before. The contributors to this volume were asked to summarize available knowledge with an eye to informing these decisions. We also hope, of course, to advance knowledge among specialists about the functioning and effectiveness of the various techniques of international conflict resolution. But the rationale for developing this knowledge is more than the curiosity of science. It is also to help in efforts to reduce both organized and nonorganized violence in the world.


Conflict resolution practitioners need many kinds of knowledge to achieve their objectives. Some essential knowledge is highly situation specific and can come only from examining features of particular conflict situations in the present—the political forces currently affecting the parties in conflict, the personalities of the leaders, the contested terrain or resources, and so forth. Other kinds of essential knowledge apply across situations. They tell what to expect in certain kinds of conflicts or with certain kinds of parties, leaders, or contested resources. These kinds of knowledge are generic, that is, cross-situational, and therefore subject to improvement by systematic examination of the past. 8

Types of Usable Knowledge

The chapters in this book are organized around problems in conflict resolution and techniques or classes of techniques for addressing them. Problems are situations encountered repeatedly, though in different contexts, in the conduct of the practice of diplomacy or conflict resolution, such as deterring aggression, mediating disputes, managing crises, achieving cooperation among allies, and so forth. Practitioners typically consider several specific policy instruments and strategies for dealing with each of these generic problems. In this process they can benefit from several types of knowledge about them.

First, general conceptual models identify the critical variables for dealing effectively with the phenomenon in question and the general logic associated with successful use of strategies or techniques to address a type of problem. For example, deterrence theory in its classical form (e.g., Schelling, 1960; George and Smoke, 1974) provides a conceptual model of a strategy of conflict management. It presumes that the target of a deterrent threat is rational and thus, if well informed, can make a reasonably accurate calculation of the costs and risks associated with each possible response to the threat, and it prescribes the characteristics of threats that are effective with rational actors. A conceptual model is the starting point for constructing a strategy or response for dealing with a particular conflict situation.

Second, practitioners need conditional generalizations about what favors the success of specific strategies they might use. This kind of knowledge normally takes the form of statements of association—that a strategy is effective under certain conditions but not others. Although conditional generalizations are not sufficient to determine which action to take, they are useful for diagnostic purposes. A practitioner can examine a situation to see whether favorable conditions exist or can be created for using a

particular conflict resolution technique. Good conditional generalizations enable a practitioner to increase the chances of making the right choice about whether and when to use a technique.

Third, practitioners need knowledge about causal processes and mechanisms that link the use of each strategy to its outcomes. For example, one indication that an electoral system in a culturally divided society is channeling conflict in nonviolent directions is that each major party is running candidates from several ethnic groups. When party conflicts are no longer reflections of raw ethnic conflict, future political conflicts are likely to be less highly charged. Knowledge about such mechanisms is useful for monitoring the progress of a conflict resolution effort and for deciding whether additional efforts should be made to support previous ones.

Fourth, in order to craft an appropriate strategy for a situation, practitioners need a correct general understanding of the actors whose behavior the strategy is designed to influence. 9 Policy specialists and academic scholars agree on this fundamental point: to act effectively in the international arena it is necessary to see events—and, indeed, assess one’s own behavior—from the perspective of the others acting in the situation. Only by doing so can a practitioner diagnose a developing situation accurately and select appropriate ways of communicating with and influencing others. Faulty images of others are a source of major misperceptions and miscalculations that have often led to major errors in policy, avoidable catastrophes, and missed opportunities. Area specialists in academia can make useful, indeed indispensable, contributions to developing and making available such knowledge, as can diplomats and other individuals on the scene of a conflict who have personal knowledge about the major actors.

All of these types of knowledge are generic in that they apply across specific situations. It is important to emphasize, however, that although such knowledge is useful, even indispensable to practice, a conflict resolution practitioner also needs accurate situation-specific knowledge in order to act effectively. Skilled practitioners use their judgment to combine generic and specific knowledge in order to act in what are always unique decision situations.

Developing Knowledge

The contributors to this volume have attempted to develop the first three kinds of knowledge described above: general conceptual models of conflict situations, knowledge about the conditions favoring the success of particular conflict resolution techniques, and knowledge about the causal processes that lead them to succeed or fail. In doing this they have had to grapple with other important but difficult issues: defining success

for a technique of conflict resolution, setting reasonable expectations and time lines for evaluating success, identifying indicators of success, and deciding how to make general inferences when historical evidence is imperfect and when one can never know what the outcome would have been if practitioners had acted differently or if events beyond their control had played out differently.

Each contributor to this volume was asked to carefully define a technique or concept of conflict resolution and to evaluate the available historical and other evidence regarding the conditions for its success. In Chapter 2 , Stern and Druckman discuss the challenges of making such evaluations. They identify the difficulties of making valid inferences about efforts to change the course of history and discuss strategies by which knowledge can be developed in the face of these challenges. The other contributors tried to meet the challenges, each by examining a particular technique, concept, institution, or problem. They tried to be aware of the limitations involved in using historical evidence to derive causal inferences about relationships between concepts or variables and tried to look dispassionately at historical experience and other sources of insight in order to evaluate the state of knowledge and, if possible, develop conclusions about “what works” in conflict resolution.

Most of the contributors used some form of structured case comparison to do their work. 10 They defined the technique or concept they studied, identified a number of indicators of success and factors that may affect the likelihood of success, and then examined the available historical evidence to identify associations of conditions and outcomes (contingent generalizations) and causal mechanisms that might lead to those outcomes. The results of their efforts have been sets of propositions or empirically based hypotheses about the conditions and mechanisms by which particular efforts at international conflict resolution yield results that can be considered successful.

Uses of Generic Knowledge

It is our hope and expectation that the knowledge developed by the contributors will be of practical value. We do not expect that it will be prescriptive in the sense of providing a standard set of procedures that tell practitioners what to do in particular situations. However, it is intended to be useful to practitioners when they combine it with specific knowledge about what kind of situation is at hand. Generic knowledge also has diagnostic value for practitioners because it describes the characteristics to look for in situations that make a difference in terms of which actions will be effective. After a practitioner has accurately diagnosed a

situation, knowledge about what works in which situations comes more strongly into play.

However, even with the perfect diagnosis of a situation, generic knowledge cannot be expected to provide prescriptions for action, for several reasons. First, this kind of knowledge will never be solidly established in the fashion of a law of physics. For one thing, human actors can defy the laws said to govern their own behavior; for another, world conditions continually change in ways that may invalidate conclusions from past experience. Second, the many tradeoffs in any decision situation make general knowledge an imperfect guide to action. Sometimes, all the aspects of success cannot be achieved at once and choices must be made. Sometimes, conflict resolution outcomes are not the only ones relevant to practitioners, who must then weigh those outcomes against other desired outcomes (e.g., for government officials, continued domestic support for the government).

Despite such limitations, we believe the kinds of knowledge developed in this volume will prove useful to conflict resolution practitioners. They can help practitioners identify options for action they might not otherwise have considered, think through the implications of each course of action, and identify ways of checking to see if actions, once taken, remain on track. However, one must recognize that practitioners may resist accepting conclusions developed by systematic analysis. Many practitioners mistrust such conclusions and prefer to trust their own experiential knowledge and that developed by other practitioners. Anticipating this possibility, we have involved current or former practitioners in discussion about each of the studies presented in Chapters 3 through 14 from the earliest phases and in the review of the chapters. We hope that this sort of interaction between researchers and practitioners will, over time, improve mutual respect for and understanding of the kinds of knowledge that direct experience and systematic analysis taken together can provide. Bridging the gap between scholarship and practice remains an overriding challenge for international conflict resolution (George, 1993).

We believe this volume will also be of value for scholars of international relations and conflict resolution. For them it will collect useful knowledge, raise important issues for the future development of knowledge, and generate a variety of propositions to examine and hypotheses to test in future research in this area.


The remainder of this book consists of 13 studies, one methodological and 12 substantive, concerned with particular techniques of conflict resolution. In Chapter 2 , Paul Stern and Daniel Druckman set the context for

the substantive studies by discussing the general problem of making and validating inferences about international conflict resolution techniques. They identify the inherent difficulties of this task and show how progress can be made in the face of these obstacles. They conclude that a systematic approach based on social scientific concepts and techniques can produce useful generalizations about which techniques work under which conditions and thus raise the level of understanding available to conflict resolution practitioners.

The main challenges of evaluation defined in Chapter 2 concern developing analytical concepts, selecting cases for analysis, measuring outcomes and the factors affecting them, and making inferences about cause and effect. The conceptual challenges include defining and classifying interventions, defining success, and setting reasonable expectations for the effects of an intervention. The problems of case selection include delineating the relevant universe of cases and drawing a representative sample of them—for instance, the universe of known cases may not be representative of all actual cases. Measurement problems include taking into account events that cannot be observed, such as closed negotiations or unpublicized mediation efforts. Key inference problems are raised by the lack of adequate comparison situations and the need to compare actual events with imagined, or counterfactual, ones; the need to take into account the effects of other events that occur at the same time as the intervention; the need to consider indirect effects of the interventions; and the need to sort out the overlapping and conflicting effects of the multiple efforts that are often made to resolve a conflict.

The authors then consider ways of meeting these challenges. With regard to the conceptual challenges, they emphasize the importance of clear definitions and taxonomies of intervention types and of conceptual frameworks that link concepts together and generate hypotheses about the conditions under which interventions have particular consequences over a short and longer span of time. With regard to sampling, suggestions are made to carefully develop purposive sampling frames guided by theory as an alternative to the sort of random sampling that only has meaning in the context of a specified universe of cases. On measurement, ways are presented to deal with incomplete information, improve reliability, and construct appropriate indicators of various outcomes, rather than attempting to measure “success” as a unitary variable. The chapter discusses the strengths and weaknesses of the main available systematic methods of making inferences: experiments (including quasi-experiments) and simulations, multivariate analysis, and enhanced case study methods such as the approach of structured and focused case comparison.

The authors reach three important conclusions. First, they conclude that theory development, including taxonomies and hypotheses about

causes, outcomes, contingencies, and causal mechanisms, is critically needed to advance knowledge about what works in international conflict resolution. Second, a dialogue between theory and experience, with progress in each leading to refinements in the other, is the best route to improved understanding. Third, a strategy using multiple sources of data and methods of analysis, referred to as “triangulation,” is preferred for increasing confidence in evaluative conclusions.

Many of the substantive studies in Chapters 3 through 14 take up the challenges defined in Chapter 2 , making new contributions to knowledge by clarifying concepts; defining types of interventions; stating explicit hypotheses about causes, effects, and causal mechanisms; defining outcome indicators; and so forth. In this respect these chapters may be previews of the directions that the field is likely to take during the first decade of the new millennium.

Below, we briefly summarize the topics and findings of the 12 substantive studies in this book. The summaries are not intended to substitute for the studies; rather, they are intended as a guide to the reader. We group the summaries under the four strategies of conflict resolution previously identified: traditional diplomacy and power politics, conflict transformation, structural prevention, and normative change. This classification is artificial in some cases because some conflict resolution approaches employ more than one of these strategies. For example, truth commissions may promote conflict transformation while also recommending structural prevention measures. These complexities are mentioned below and are more evident in the chapters that follow.

Traditional Diplomacy and Power Politics

Chapters 3 through 6 assess conflict resolution techniques strongly rooted in traditional diplomacy. Chapter 3 , for example, focuses on the use and threat of force. It examines the limited ability of the United States, despite its military dominance in the post-Cold War era, to achieve diplomatic objectives through threats of force and limited (exemplary) uses of force. Barry Blechman and Tamara Cofman Wittes explain this paradox of power by identifying a number of conditions that, although neither necessary or sufficient for the success of a U.S. threat, favor the effectiveness of a threat when present.

The authors group these “enabling conditions” into two broad categories: those that make a threat sufficiently credible and those that make it sufficiently potent to overcome the reluctance of foreign leaders to comply with the demand. They conclude that the credibility and the potency of a threat together shape the targeted leaders’ evaluation of the likely costs of complying or not complying.

Blechman and Wittes examine eight major post-Cold War cases: Panama (1989–1990), Iraq (1990–1996), Somalia (1992–1995), Macedonia (1992–1996), Bosnia (1992–1996), Haiti (1994–1996), Korea (1994–1996), and Taiwan (1996). To a large extent they find that the enabling conditions were present in those cases in which U.S. threats of force secured compliance with the demands and absent in cases where the threats proved ineffectual. The authors go beyond this correlation to suggest how the enabling conditions operated to produce the outcomes in the eight cases.

The authors draw three noteworthy conclusions from their case analyses. First is the critical importance of how much is demanded of the target. The greater the demand made, the greater the reluctance to comply. Thus, in six of seven cases of success the demand made was a relatively modest one—compliance was relatively easy. A second finding was that coupling threats with positive incentives for compliance increased success. Positive incentives were employed in six of seven success cases. A third important lesson concerned the degree of public support for the policy in the United States. Potent threats are harder to sustain because they imply greater risks, triggering the U.S. public’s aversion to suffering combat casualties. This aversion, seen as a legacy of the Vietnam War, constrains American presidents from making threats that are sufficiently credible and potent to achieve ambitious objectives. The authors’ review of available evidence reveals that Bosnian Serb leaders, Haitian paramilitary leaders, Saddam Hussein, and the Somali warlord Muhammad Farah Aideed all believed they would be able to force a U.S. retreat by inflicting a relatively small number of casualties on U.S. forces. U.S. officials often have great difficulty breaking through such preconceptions of American weakness. The authors conclude that, as long as this situation continues, the targets of U.S. threats are likely to perceive them as signs of weakness rather than determination and, as a result, are likely to continue to be willing to withstand these threats until their perceptions are changed by strong military action.

The findings of this study suggest these possible implications for U.S. policy: (1) pick fights carefully, making demands that are not likely to be perceived as difficult to meet; (2) seek to demilitarize U.S. policy somewhat, relying to a greater extent on skillful diplomacy and positive incentives, backed in most cases by threats of force; and (3) when nonmilitary instruments of policy seem likely to be ineffectual but the president still perceives the situation to require action, act decisively. In this situation the authors suggest that U.S. officials make demands clear and urgent, make demonstration of military power incontrovertible, and make the threat sufficiently credible and potent to persuade the adversary to accept the demands.

In Chapter 4 , Bruce Jentleson evaluates the success or failure of efforts

to achieve diplomatic objectives by the use of economic sanctions. The chapter clarifies several conceptual and methodological issues and identifies lessons drawn from a comprehensive assessment of experience with economic sanctions.

Jentleson discusses the use of sanctions both for deterrence and for coercing states to reverse past actions (“sanctions for conflict resolution”). His analysis reinforces the findings of previous writers on deterrence and coercive diplomacy, including Blechman and Wittes in Chapter 3 , that the task of deterrence is easier than the task of compellence and that the success of sanctions, either for deterrence or coercive diplomacy, depends on the threat being perceived by the target as sufficiently potent to induce it to accept the demands on it. Again, as in earlier studies, Jentleson finds that the stronger the demand, the more credible and more potent the threat must be to achieve compliance. Jentleson concludes that the effectiveness of sanctions depends on “proportionality”—that is, the more far reaching the demand made on the target, the less likely sanctions are to be effective.

Jentleson’s analytical framework stresses two main sets of factors, the political economy of relations among the key actors and the design of the strategy by which sanctions are imposed. The key aspects of political economy are the extent of multilateral cooperation and the problem of alternative trade partners, the target state’s economic and political capability to defend against sanctions, and the sender state’s ability to limit its own domestic constraints. The crucial components of strategy design are the definition of objectives, the targeting strategy, measures for sanctions enforcement, and the broader policy of which sanctions are a part.

Proceeding from this framework, Jentleson assesses whether and how the post-Cold War environment has affected the efficacy of sanctions. The main pattern he identifies is “a paradoxical one of greater target state vulnerability to the potential coercive potency of sanctions on the one hand but more problematic political viability on the other.” He traces this “vulnerability-viability paradox” to three major systemic changes—the end of Cold War bipolarity, economic globalization, and greater global democratization. These trends increase vulnerability because of reduced geopolitical incentives for great powers to protect target states against other powers, the greater economic openness of virtually all economies, and increased political openings for target state domestic elites hurt by sanctions to serve as “transmission belts” and pressure their governments for policy change. At the same time, the “political viability” of sanctions has become more problematic in several respects: (1) international coalitions in support of sanctions are harder to build in some cases than before; (2) the economic impact of sanctions on nontarget citizens in target states and on nearby countries now can raise tough ethical issues and humanitarian concerns; and (3) domestic politics in the sending state can create

deep divisions as regards the state’s sanctions policies. We thus have the dilemma, as Jentleson states it, that “in some respects sanctions have more potential efficacy than before. In other respects it is more problematic to tap that efficacy.”

Given this dilemma, Jentleson advocates a policy of “sanctions realism,” which he describes in detail as “less frequent but more concerted use of sanctions.” He places great emphasis on the importance of multilateral cooperation, which he finds much more important for effective sanctions in the post-Cold War era than before. Consequently, unilateral U.S. sanctions are less effective than they were during the Cold War era. The threat of serious Western collective action in pursuing sanctions is vital to the sanctions being sufficiently credible and formidable to elicit compliance. Jentleson advocates that U.S. policy makers be selective in pushing allies for joint action on sanctions in return for eliciting sanctions cooperation on issues on which fundamental shared interests exist, such as nonproliferation of weapons of mass destruction, deterrence of interstate aggression, and prevention of terrorism. U.S. leaders should recognize that allied cooperation is least likely when it pursues sanctions that are largely externalizations of U.S. domestic politics. With regard to sanctions strategy, Jentleson emphasizes the greater potential efficacy of comprehensive and decisive sanctions over partial and incremental ones and the need to take enforcement more seriously, both to reduce leaks in sanctions and to buttress credibility. He also cautions strongly against turning to sanctions as a “default option” and stresses the need to integrate them into a well-formulated influence strategy that may include other coercive measures as well as positive incentives.

In Chapter 5 , Stephen Stedman addresses the problem of dealing with “spoilers” in peace processes—local actors who attempt to disrupt efforts to terminate conflicts. Stedman examined the activities of spoilers in several recent conflicts and drew the lesson that it is important to distinguish between different types of spoilers. As noted above, it is important for policy makers in dealing with conflict situations to have a correct image of the adversary. Stedman presents an analysis of types of spoilers that can be used to classify spoilers and judge how best to interact with them in order to advance the peace processes they may try to derail. His typology focuses on important differences in the motives of spoilers and in their objectives; classifies spoilers as “limited,” “greedy,” or “total”; identifies three strategies for managing spoilers (withdrawal, a “departing-train” strategy involving a threat to move the peace process forward without involving the spoiler, and the use of inducements to address a spoiler’s grievances); and evaluates these strategies in terms of their potential for success with different types of spoilers.

Stedman finds that a correct classification of the type of spoiler is

critical for choosing the most effective strategy for neutralizing the spoiler’s effort to disrupt a peace process. He provides practitioners with a framework that can assist them in classifying future spoilers and with propositions that lead to advice on how to proceed once the spoiler has been correctly classified. Thus, the chapter requires the practitioner to use actor-specific knowledge to classify the spoiler; with that task done, Stedman’s analysis offers recommendations about the strategy to follow in dealing with a spoiler. Stedman also discusses the difficulty and uncertainty involved in correctly classifying spoilers.

In Chapter 6 , I.William Zartman provides a major clarification and extension of earlier writings on the concept of “ripeness” and its role in bringing the parties to a conflict into serious negotiations. Unlike the other substantive chapters in this book, Zartman’s is primarily an elaboration of a theory as the basis for an empirical analysis of the effectiveness of a conflict resolution technique. Ripeness focuses attention on the timing rather than the substance of proposals for conflict settlement. Zartman maintains that more attention is needed to the timing question because those who focus on substantive aspects of negotiation have generally ignored or downplayed timing. Zartman reemphasizes that ripeness and the related notion of the mutually hurting stalemate are perceptual phenomena, necessary but not sufficient for the opening of productive negotiations. Not all ripe moments are seized, and some kinds of negotiations can take place in the absence of ripeness. In addition to a perceived stalemate, a perceived possibility of a way out through negotiation or mediation is also necessary for productive negotiations to begin.

Zartman summarizes references to ripeness in accounts by scholars and diplomatic practitioners and reviews the literature on the ripeness concept, presenting and analyzing a series of propositions about timing and ripeness. He notes the important refinements of the ripeness concept by a number of authors, including Stephen Stedman, who took the concept “beyond a single perception into the complexity of [the] internal dynamics” of each side to a conflict. This refinement expands the concept of the perception of ripeness to include a country’s patrons, its military officers, changes in leadership, and domestic rivalries.

Zartman notes a number of problems with the emphasis on the need for ripeness. One is that increased pain may increase resistance rather than reduce it. He postulates that “cultural” differences may explain this variation: some parties to a conflict may act as “true believers” who treat increased pain as a justification for intensified struggle. Zartman says that “in the current era, cases of resisting reactions…come particularly from the Middle East.” For example, he sees the United States in the Iran hostage crisis as having acted under the logic of the hurting stalemate, exerting increased pressure in the hope that the Iranian leaders would perceive

a stalemate and agree to negotiate; Iran, however, saw the U.S. strategy as indicating the opposite of the contrition Iran required as a basis for negotiation. Zartman concludes that negotiations with true believers take longer to come to fruition because ripe moments are harder to find.

Zartman discusses various suggestions for “ripening” conflicts to bring about negotiations as a conflict resolution technique. He emphasizes that, when ripeness exists, practitioners need all their skills to turn it into a successful peacemaking process. Ripeness, when created, only provides an opportunity for substantive knowledge and techniques of negotiation to come into play.

Conflict Transformation

Chapters 7 through 10 discuss conflict resolution techniques that rely heavily on the strategy of conflict transformation. Chapters 7 and 8 focus on unofficial efforts by citizens outside government who use organized processes of dialogue, analysis, and the like to change conflictual relationships. The chapters examine these processes of “interactive conflict resolution” to assess how these “public” peace processes can work together with official processes. Interactive conflict resolution is a well-defined and systematic approach used in small unofficial meetings of members of groups in tension or violent conflict to stimulate their talk together about the problems that divide them and the relationships that underlie these problems. The objective, as Harold Saunders argues in Chapter 7 , is different from official processes of conflict resolution. It is primarily to redefine problems and develop new frameworks of interaction. Interactive conflict resolution is especially useful for subjects that are taboo on official agendas and when formal contacts between official representatives are politically impossible. It can help to pave the way for negotiation, address the obstacles to progress, and work in the larger society where peace will be made.

The two chapters approach the same topic from quite different standpoints. Chapter 7 examines it from the standpoint of its practitioners, explaining what interactive conflict resolution activities try to do and providing the experience-based judgments of practitioners about how and why it succeeds or fails. Chapter 8 complements Chapter 7 by examining interactive conflict resolution from an analyst’s point of view. It approaches the issue of evaluation theoretically and methodologically with a conceptual analysis of the ways that workshops might transform conflict and a set of hypotheses that can be tested in evaluations of the technique by future analysts.

In Chapter 7 , Harold Saunders points to the difficulty of using standard instruments to evaluate public peace processes and sets as the crite-

rion improvement in the practical capacity to make and build peace. He sees processes as successful if they help to define and diagnose the problem, establish a strategic and operational framework, and design a tactical framework or possible course(s) of action. Saunders and his collaborators present six case examples: early experiences with Israelis and Palestinians in the 1980s, meetings of a group of political leaders from opposing parties in Northern Ireland that came together to create a bill of rights, an expanded process in the Middle East, a six-year process in Tajikistan, a series of dialogues in newly independent Estonia, and a program of training workshops in Cyprus.

The experience of 30 years has produced a significant track record for interactive conflict resolution. According to Saunders, the work of citizens outside government in a multilevel peace process is increasingly fruitful as one moves across a spectrum from quasi-official situations— those in which the primary task is to develop analysis of conflict not available to government, provide a channel of communication where none exists, or find a particular solution to a problem in negotiation—to those situations where the main task is to analyze the dynamics of relationships and design ways to work in the body politic to change them.

Saunders finds that the contribution of interactive conflict resolution increases as the capacities of government diminish. Governments, Saunders concludes, desperately need this added tool for peace making and peace building. He concludes that projects that “work” are those that create well-designed opportunities for individuals in conflict to develop the capacity to take responsibility for applying what they have learned in new ways. As their skills increase, their sense of possibility increases. Saunders also concludes that policy makers working to resolve conflict in divided countries can extend the reach of peace making and peace building by consciously seeking ways of bringing both governmental and unofficial work under the same conceptual umbrella. If citizens’ groups add a capacity for conflict resolution to the capabilities of governments, the overall ability to make and sustain peace within civil society can be enhanced.

In Chapter 8 , Nadim Rouhana examines the major theoretical and methodological issues in analyzing and evaluating processes of interactive conflict resolution. He develops a conceptual framework that links the activities of problem-solving workshops to their microobjectives for the workshop participants and their macrogoals in terms of the larger conflict. Rouhana argues that it is important to develop taxonomies of practice in order to identify which methods work in what types of conflict, at what stage of conflict, and under what conditions. In his view it is necessary to develop programs that provide training in intervention tech-

niques that are explicitly based on theoretical foundations and guided by research findings.

Problem-solving workshops, if they are to achieve their microobjectives, must generate new learning among the participants, who must retain part of that learning when they return to the conflict arena and demonstrate that learning in their political discourse and behavior. Learning can be measured by increased cognitive complexity and humanization in participants’ understandings of the adversary and by their ability to generate new options.

Problem-solving workshops that are successful at the macro level tend to be those that create visions of peace before official processes begin, help to overcome obstacles during negotiations, and help to create supportive dynamics in the society that can sustain peaceful relations once formal negotiations have concluded. Rouhana suggests that workshops may contribute through their exploratory function, their innovative function, their capacity to legitimate discussion among adversaries, by accumulating public support over time, by clarifying what can and what cannot be agreed, and by preparing the terrain for political action.

Rouhana examines how the effects of interactive conflict resolution may relate to the dynamics of conflict, proposes ways to conceptualize these effects, and examines how the impact of these processes on the dynamics of conflict can be assessed. He offers three tentative conclusions about how to enhance the effect of interactive conflict resolution workshops on the larger conflict. First, third parties can take on a more active role in increasing the impact of the problem-solving workshop, provided that the role itself is carefully coordinated with participants and is part of the design of the problem-solving workshop. Second, future workshops will have broader societal impact if conceived of as a joint learning opportunity for both participants and third party, on whom equal responsibility rests for transfer of insights into the broader societal context. And third, problem-solving workshops can be used as laboratories for conflict analysis. Understanding of the political needs of each party, their internal dynamics, their limitations and constraints, and the views of the other party of these constraints is important material to transmit to experts, publics, and decision makers.

In Chapter 9 , Priscilla Hayner considers official truth seeking—one of the available mechanisms for confronting past crimes of a prior regime or its armed opposition—as a mechanism for resolving and preventing violent conflict. Official truth-seeking efforts are sometimes advocated as a way to heal the wounds of past conflicts—to transform a conflictual atmosphere into one more conducive to peaceful intergroup relations. Hayner notes an irony in this expectation that official truth seeking has come to be seen as a peace-making tool, considering that the process of digging into

such sensitive issues as the past crimes of powerful actors can easily lead to further conflict and even to threats of violence. This potential is sometimes seen in the fear felt by victims and witnesses when providing testimony to a truth commission.

The chapter summarizes the experience of over 20 truth commissions and considers three ways they may help with conflict resolution. First, the proposal to establish a truth commission may represent one of the positive components of a peace accord that entices the parties to a conflict (or perhaps one of the parties) to agree to a peace. Nevertheless, the negotiation of a mandate for a truth commission is often very difficult. Whether a truth commission is adopted, and what shape it takes, depends on the perceived interests of the parties, perceptions about whether truth seeking would spark new violence, and whether indigenous mechanisms are available to deal with past abuses. This positive effect of a truth commission happens, when it does, before the commission takes any action. However, the factors that determine whether a truth commission comes into being also affect its mandate, which in turn affects the chances of future violence.

Second, a truth commission may defuse conflicts over the past through reconciliation, that is, by conflict transformation. Hayner identifies several indicators that reconciliation may be occurring (e.g., acceptance of a shared history, reduced conflict about “the past,” apologies by perpetrators) and some conditions that affect the likelihood that reconciliation will occur (e.g., the existence of prior social ties between the sides). She also identifies conditions that improve the chances that a truth commission’s activities will lead to reconciliation. These include the extent to which the commission reaches out to all victims, provides for their security and psychological support, holds hearings in public, makes efforts to be fair in its process and its report, and invites the participation of all segments of society, including perpetrators.

Third, a truth commission’s report may lead to the adoption of reforms to mitigate conflicts and protect rights—that is, truth seeking may resolve conflict through mechanisms of structural prevention. Two classes of reforms are judged relevant for conflict prevention: those that hold those responsible for abuses to account (including legal and institutional reforms) and those that strengthen institutions for democratic conflict management (e.g., by strengthening the judicial system so that conflicts and grievances can be addressed within the formal system of dispute resolution, or increasing political representation of disenfranchised groups). The chapter identifies several conditions conducive to a truth commission’s efforts to advance effective structural reform. One is the strength of the commission (its resources, funding, breadth of investigation, etc.). Another is the extent to which careful advance thought was given to the kinds of structural reforms that may be needed. A third is the strength of the forces internationally and

especially within the society that can be brought to bear on implementing good recommendations.

The chapter concludes that, although truth commissions tend to focus mainly on their immediate products, “the real effect on conflict resolution will be in how the process of truth seeking is undertaken,” the impact on public policy, and the responses of public actors. Truth commissions make their strongest contributions to preventing violence when (1) civilian authorities are willing and able to implement the commission’s conclusions and recommendations; (2) perpetrators are weak and have incentives to acknowledge and apologize for past wrongs; (3) human rights groups and other elements of civil society are strong and support the commission and its recommendations; (4) the international community supports the commission and its recommendations; (5) the commission has a strong mandate and adequate resources; and (6) the old regime is no longer strongly supported or feared. These conclusions imply that international support for strong truth commissions, civil society organizations, and domestic institutions for peaceful conflict management can all contribute to peace making in transitional countries.

In Chapter 10 , Janice Gross Stein considers what might be called a new pathology of conflict transformation—a set of new challenges faced by NGOs seeking to mitigate violence in the context of “complex humanitarian emergencies.” In many recent internal conflicts, humanitarian assistance has been systematically diverted by those who perpetrate violence against civilians and used to sustain their capacity to continue the violence. Humanitarian assets thus fuel rather than resolve the conflicts. Stein’s analysis suggests that complex humanitarian emergencies are likely to continue and that NGOs will continue to engage on behalf of vulnerable populations. Given the privatization of assistance and the retreat of the major powers as well as the United Nations from involvement in many world regions in recent years, Stein expects that NGOs will play an even larger role in the regulation of conflicts than they have in the past. They will continue to face situations in which a security vacuum exists and the perpetrators of violence will be tempted to use humanitarian aid as a weapon.

Stein assesses the troubling evidence that humanitarian NGOs have at times contributed inadvertently to the escalation of violence rather than to conflict resolution. The central challenge for NGOs is to find ways of minimizing the negative externalities of assistance as aid flows to the most vulnerable populations. NGOs have developed a set of practical tactics to minimize the diversion of assistance: they select foods that are less attractive to looters, “monetize” food, collaborate to standardize physical costs, and work to improve the sharing of information. These strate-

gies can reduce the scope of diversion but never eliminate the political incentives to tax assistance to fuel conflict.

Stein examines three explicit strategies, some of them counterintuitive, which could contribute to the mitigation of violence, and offers three recommendations to NGOs and international organizations. First, she calls on humanitarian NGOs to think politically and coordinate with diplomatic and military institutions. NGOs must acknowledge that their actions in a complex emergency can have profound political consequences. Even as they insist on the imperative of legitimate authorities assuming responsibility, they must explicitly analyze the political consequences of their strategies to mitigate violence—relief delivery, refugee protection, election monitoring, postwar reconstruction, peace building—and plan for these consequences. Stein calls on NGOs to (1) improve their analytical capacity so that they can participate more effectively at global policy tables; (2) improve their capacity to monitor the consequences of their actions so that they can properly assess the consequences of their strategic choices (e.g., by developing diagnostics for early identification of systematic diversion); (3) enhance the knowledge and skills required for effective negotiation with implementing partners, international institutions, and political leaders; and (4) develop a specialized understanding of the political economy of the humanitarian assistance marketplace that will enable them to press for more flexible rules of engagement in complex emergencies.

Second, Stein recommends that the UN secretary-general consider providing security from private markets when (and only when) public security for humanitarian operations is unavailable from global or regional institutions. Paid, volunteer, or professionally trained security personnel, employed without regard to national origin and beholden to their employer rather than to any single government, could reduce the likelihood of systematic diversion of humanitarian assets to fuel violence.

Third, Stein advocates that NGOs be prepared to consider seriously the option of temporary withdrawal when assistance intended for humanitarian purposes is being diverted into renewed cycles of conflict. Such a strategy requires coordination among the principal NGOs that are providing assistance and a clearly stated set of conditions for return.

Structural Prevention

Chapters 11 through 13 discuss conflict resolution techniques that rely primarily on the strategy of structural prevention: creating organizations or institutions that are intended to direct social conflict into nonviolent channels. In Chapter 11 , Ben Reilly and Andrew Reynolds consider

“whether the choice of a legislative electoral system in a culturally plural society can affect the potential for future violent conflict.” They conclude that electoral system design can have a marked influence but that the most helpful electoral system for conflict resolution must be selected to suit the society.

The chapter classifies the great variety of electoral systems in use in the modern world and discusses them in the context of four broad strategies of constitutional design for divided societies, each of which features a particular electoral system. It finds that the appropriate electoral system design depends on factors specific to the country, including “the way and degree to which ethnicity is politicized, the degree of conflict, and the demographic and geographic distribution of ethnic groups. In addition, the electoral system that is most appropriate for initially ending internal conflict may not be the best one for long-term conflict management.” The chapter notes that electoral systems are often chosen by historical accident (e.g., adopting the system of a colonizing country) and only rarely designed on the basis of careful diagnosis of a country’s situation. Moreover, not all imaginable options are politically viable.

The authors discuss the strengths and weaknesses of each strategy of electoral system design and its appropriateness for particular kinds of countries, thus making it possible to diagnose a country’s situation for the purpose of choosing an electoral system. For example, “centripetal” electoral systems that seek to encourage vote swapping among ethnic groups, usually by establishing multimember districts and an alternative vote electoral system in which voters rank their preferences, seem to work well for conflict management in countries where a small number of ethnic groups are geographically intermixed or a very large number live in segregation—that is, in countries where it is practicable to devise multiethnic electoral districts. As another example, systems that allocate seats by ethnic category tend to ensure ethnic representation but also entrench ethnic divisions; as a result, they seem advisable only in countries where these divisions are already very deep.

Reilly and Reynolds note that new and established democracies have different requirements in electoral system design. For instance, the need for inclusiveness may decline, and the need for geographic accountability may increase, as democracy becomes more firmly established. As a result, a system that works well for an initial election or two in a transitional democracy may not seem so good when the democracy becomes established.

The fact that each electoral system has strengths and weaknesses implies that electoral design involves tradeoffs. It is necessary for the designers to choose among desiderata for the electoral system. Consequently, for a system to work well over time, the involvement of local actors in making the design decisions is key. Electoral system designers must also choose

between achieving a system that seems optimal and staying with electoral features that are familiar to the electorate. The evidence suggests the value of making moderate changes that take advantage of what familiar systems do well and changing only what they do not.

In Chapter 12 , Yash Ghai considers autonomy as a strategy for conflict management. He defines a variety of autonomy arrangements “that allow ethnic or other groups claiming a distinct identity to exercise direct control over affairs of special concern to them while allowing a larger entity to exercise those powers which cover common interests.” The chapter documents the great variety of possible autonomy arrangements—a fact that creates broad opportunities for negotiation and compromise. The variety, Ghai notes, also creates a danger that negotiation will lead to agreement on arrangements that are too complex to make operational, creating a conflict between immediate and long-term conflict management objectives.

Ghai enumerates the various arguments for and against autonomy and the variety of criteria for success. He concludes that “autonomy can play an important, constructive role in mediating relations between communities in multiethnic states…but it is not an easy device to operate,” requiring great political and technical skills. To make autonomy work, it is necessary to recognize both the particular needs of the group granted autonomy and the common needs of the whole. Success does not depend on particular provisions of an autonomy arrangement: similar provisions have “produced quite different results in different countries.”

The success of autonomy arrangements can be assessed in terms of the purposes of granting autonomy, such as to acknowledge a group’s identity, to facilitate harmonious relations with other communities and the central government, to end a dispute, and to maintain the integrity of the state. It can also be judged by the extent to which interests are accommodated, by the durability of the arrangements, and by the ways it transforms preexisting relations (e.g., by leading to fair resolution of future disputes, improving ethnic relations, overcoming extreme positions, integrating rebels into society). Different parties have different expectations and apply different criteria of success.

Ghai finds that autonomy arrangements are most likely to be made at times of regime change, when the international community is involved, in countries with strong democratic traditions, when the area claiming autonomy is small and relatively unimportant to the central state, when sovereignty is not an issue (i.e., secession is not considered an option), when there are more than two ethnic groups, and when the grounds for autonomy are not explicitly ethnic. He finds that success, in terms of many of the above criteria, is most likely to be achieved under the following conditions: when autonomy is negotiated in a participatory manner,

when the arrangement provides for consultation and negotiation, when flexibility is built in, when there are independent dispute settlement mechanisms in the political and judicial arenas, and when several specific issues of institutional design are carefully addressed. Although history provides exceptions to most of the above generalizations, flexibility and independent dispute settlement mechanisms appear to be critical design criteria for lasting autonomy arrangements. The best way to meet the criteria seems to be situation dependent. For instance, what can work in a federation created by aggregation of independent units may not work in a federation created by the breakup of an empire. Also, success is more likely in countries with established traditions of peaceful political bargaining and judicial independence. The evidence implies that international involvement may increase the chances of success in countries lacking these traditions.

In terms of the social and political consequences of autonomy arrangements, Ghai finds that such arrangements typically begin as asymmetric, establishing special arrangements with the state for only certain regions or communities. Typically, national governments that grant meaningful autonomy feel pressure to offer similar opportunities to other regions, with the result that successful autonomy arrangements tend toward symmetry. There are exceptions for communities that are clearly and historically distinct, such as Greenland or Corsica, whose autonomy does not have this effect. A major conclusion is that true autonomy prevents secession, mainly by reducing the stridency of minority groups: cases in which autonomy preceded secession overwhelmingly involved refusals of the central government to respect autonomy provisions or the dissolution of the central state for reasons unrelated to autonomy.

Serious problems arise with autonomy when the autonomous community wants superior power to other groups or when it wants unique powers not given to other communities in order to mark its special status. Such problems with the theory of autonomy adopted in a country may overshadow the practical problems of managing the arrangements.

In Chapter 13 , David Laitin considers the roles of language conflict and language policy in intergroup violence in multiethnic countries. The chapter considers two questions: What is the effect of language differences within a country on the potential for violent conflict between language groups there? What are the effects of policies for addressing language differences on the likelihood of such violence?

On the first question, Laitin finds that, unlike some other bases of intergroup conflict that are rooted in group identity, language differences do not increase the likelihood of violence; under some conditions, in fact, he concludes that language conflict can help contain violence. Laitin analyzed data from the Minorities at Risk database (Gurr, 1993) on 268 politically

active communal groups and found that rebellion of a minority group against the state is most intense when both groups have the same language. Controlling for levels of economic development and democracy in a country, for whether or not a minority group has an established rural base, and for levels of religious grievance, language difference has no overall effect on levels of violence but mitigates violence when religious grievances are strong. Laitin, relying on game theoretical analyses and case studies, explains these findings in terms of the ease of subverting oppressive language laws, the difficulties of organizing rebellion by minority-language entrepreneurs, and the tendency of language conflicts to be “fought out in translation committees, school boards, and bureaucracies.” Religious conflict is much more incendiary for several reasons—among them, that religious groups’ hierarchies can impose discipline and organize resistance and that there is much more social resistance to bireligionism than to bilingualism as a way for a minority to get along in a society.

The analysis of language policies, again relying on multicountry statistical comparisons, identifies five classes of language policies and reaches two main conclusions. One is that political bargaining over language grievances reduces the threat of violence regardless of the language policy a state has in effect and even if it is perceived as unfair. It is the refusal to bargain that predisposes to violence. The other conclusion is that there is no clear benefit of one language policy over another for defusing violence. For instance, in countries where several languages are recognized, there is no greater violence by minorities whose languages are not recognized than by those whose languages are. For international actors Laitin suggests that language policies that are unfair do not justify international intervention on the grounds of incipient violent conflict.

Normative Change

Several studies in this book conclude that the success of international conflict resolution techniques as varied as economic sanctions, truth commissions, and autonomy depends on international support. They suggest that creating international norms that can provide such support may in itself be an important strategy for international conflict resolution. In Chapter 14 , P.Terrence Hopmann sheds some light on this hypothesis through his analysis of the efforts of the OSCE to prevent and resolve conflicts. He argues that the OSCE has developed into a security regime for the Eurasian region. It has created many of the conditions necessary for regional cooperation to maintain European security since the end of the Cold War. It has articulated shared values and constructed an institutional framework within which all members may attend to the security needs of one another, exchange information, and facilitate the peaceful

resolution of differences. It has also emphasized the development of common political, economic, and social principles based on the ideas of liberal democracy and market economies in an effort to create a “zone of peace.” Finally, the OSCE has created a set of structures intended to prevent conflicts, to mediate cease-fires in times of violent conflicts, to manage and resolve the underlying issues that have produced violence, and to assist states and regions that have experienced violence to rebuild their security. Thus, Hopmann’s analysis shows that the OSCE has used the strategies of structural prevention and normative change.

The chapter assesses the contribution of the OSCE to limiting the escalation of conflict and to promoting the abatement and resolution of conflict in the aftermath of violence. It pays particular attention to (1) monitoring, early warning, and conflict prevention to head off incipient violence; (2) negotiating cease-fires in ongoing conflicts; and (3) preventing the reignition of violence and assisting the resolution of underlying issues in conflict situations.

With respect to conflict prevention, Hopmann concludes that the OSCE experienced considerable success in Crimea. By intervening rapidly the OSCE mission was able to strengthen moderate forces on both sides and helped avert violence. With respect to negotiating cease-fires, the OSCE mission in Chechnya can be viewed as having played a positive role in bringing an end to the intense fighting between Russian and Chechen forces in the mid-1990s, but it fell short of its goal of restoring a secure environment within which Chechens could reestablish anything approximating a normal livelihood. With respect to prevention of the renewal of violence and conflict resolution, Hopmann concludes that it is necessary to establish an identity formula that guarantees the protection of the identity of the vulnerable group. In Transdniestria the OSCE was unable to achieve a long-term resolution of the conflict even though it did help prevent an escalation to violence.

Hopmann concludes that a real strength of the OSCE is its broad approach to security, linking the “human dimension” to virtually all of its efforts to prevent escalation and to facilitate the abatement and resolution of conflict. He finds that the OSCE has contributed significantly to strengthening democratic processes and institutions in countries undergoing transformation. The OSCE has also proven to be remarkably flexible in reacting to potential crises, which has enabled it to react rapidly.


Although the studies in this volume cover widely diverse topics in international conflict resolution, a few themes arise repeatedly. It is worth noting

these recurring themes because the fact that they have emerged independently in these studies may reveal important features of international conflict and conflict resolution in the post-Cold War period. The themes may suggest important issues for practitioners to consider when they apply conflict resolution techniques, even those not reviewed in this book; they may also suggest promising hypotheses for researchers to explore.

Perhaps the most frequently recurring theme is the need for international coordination and support for conflict resolution processes. This theme appears in studies focused on traditional techniques of diplomacy (see Chapters 4 and 5 on economic sanctions and response to spoilers), conflict transformation (see Chapters 9 and 10 on truth commissions and humanitarian relief activities), structural prevention ( Chapter 12 on autonomy arrangements), and normative change ( Chapter 14 on the OSCE). Studies in this volume repeatedly and independently find that, across a broad range of conflict techniques, success is more likely if international support can be organized behind the efforts. The pervasiveness of this theme may reflect a general truth about the end of global bipolarity: coordination is difficult when there are no opposing alliances to facilitate it. The studies suggest that states and other actors in the international system that want to promote conflict resolution need to do more work to build the bases for international coordination in support of conflict resolution efforts.

Another frequently recurring theme is the need for strong internal institutions for nonviolent dispute settlement in divided societies. This theme appears explicitly in studies of conflict transformation (see Chapters 7 through 9 on interactive conflict resolution and truth commissions) and structural prevention ( Chapter 12 , autonomy arrangements). It is also implicit in the study of electoral systems ( Chapter 11 ), which presumes that elections are an institution for nonviolent dispute settlement. The frequent focus on internal institutions for conflict resolution may reflect an increased international recognition of the threat of internal conflict. It is worth noting that the themes of internal institutions and international coordination are related: the studies of autonomy and of truth commissions both note that appropriate international assistance may help compensate for weaknesses in internal conflict management institutions.

Some recurring themes are associated with particular strategies of conflict resolution. For example, the studies of traditional diplomatic techniques (Chapters 3 through 6 ) confirm that basic principles of power politics, such as set forth in past work on deterrence and coercive diplomacy, operate as well in the present era as in the past. What may have changed, as the studies of economic sanctions and the threat and use of force both report (Chapters 4 and 3 ), is the ability of states to exercise these tools. Because of increased difficulty in applying these techniques,

both of these studies advocate that those who would employ them be more selective in their use and, when they do act, that they do so in a concerted and decisive manner.

The studies of conflict transformation (Chapters 7 through 10 ) reveal another recurring theme: that there are new and important roles for NGOs in international conflict resolution. NGOs can be important both for building support for peace within societies, as indicated in the studies of interactive conflict resolution, and in responding to complex humanitarian emergencies. The studies of electoral systems and truth commissions reveal yet another potential role for NGOs—as a carrier of lessons about peace making from one country to another. These studies together suggest that international conflict resolution may benefit from improved skills of various kinds within NGOs, including skills in conflict analysis and in coordination with governments and other NGOs.

The studies of structural prevention recurrently emphasize the importance of involvement of a spectrum of local actors in institutional design. This theme appears in the studies of electoral design, autonomy, and truth commissions (Chapters 11 , 12 , and 9 ) and is implicit in the study of language conflict ( Chapter 13 ). These studies suggest that, in an era in which internal conflicts have gained greater importance, it is important for the parties to be actively involved in conflict resolution: participatory approaches are preferable to imposed solutions from above, and although outside technical assistance can be helpful, lasting success may depend on giving local actors the final say. Chapter 5 on spoilers addresses options for external actors when some of the parties will not participate.

The structural prevention studies raise two other recurring, and related, themes. One is that the institutions that can be agreed on in a peace settlement may not be best for long-term conflict management in the society. This finding appears in the studies of truth commissions, electoral systems, and autonomy arrangements. The other theme is that the success of structural prevention often depends on flexibility and willingness to keep bargaining. This theme appears in the studies of language conflict and autonomy. Both themes suggest that it may be very important to design flexibility into institutional arrangements that are intended to prevent future conflict.

We do not know enough yet to say that these recurring themes reflect enduring features of the emerging world system or that the lessons they may suggest are the right ones to draw from recent history. However, these studies, completed a decade into a new era of world politics, do suggest what some of the main issues may be in international conflict resolution in this era. Many of these, such as international coordination for conflict resolution, support of internal institutions for dispute settlement, strengthening the NGO role, devolving decision making power to

local actors, and designing flexible institutions, are quite different from the main conflict resolution issues of the Cold War period. To the extent that such issues emerge as critical, they will require new work from analysts and new understanding and skills from practitioners. We hope the studies in this book will help analysts and practitioners better understand and address the problems of conflict resolution in this new era.

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1991 Behavior, Society, and Nuclear War , vol. 2, P.E.Tetlock, J.L.Husbands, R.Jervis, P.C.Stern, and C.Tilly, eds. Committee on the Contributions of Behavioral and Social Science to the Prevention of Nuclear War. New York: Oxford University Press.

1993 Behavior, Society, and International Conflict , vol. 3, P.E.Tetlock, J.L.Husbands, R. Jervis, P.C.Stern, and C.Tilly, eds. Committee on International Conflict and Cooperation. New York: Oxford University Press.

Pruitt, D.G. 1986 Achieving integrative agreements in negotiation. Pp. 463–478 in Psychology and the Prevention of Nuclear War , R.K.White, ed. New York: New York University Press.

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The end of the Cold War has changed the shape of organized violence in the world and the ways in which governments and others try to set its limits. Even the concept of international conflict is broadening to include ethnic conflicts and other kinds of violence within national borders that may affect international peace and security. What is not yet clear is whether or how these changes alter the way actors on the world scene should deal with conflict:

  • Do the old methods still work?
  • Are there new tools that could work better?
  • How do old and new methods relate to each other?

International Conflict Resolution After the Cold War critically examines evidence on the effectiveness of a dozen approaches to managing or resolving conflict in the world to develop insights for conflict resolution practitioners. It considers recent applications of familiar conflict management strategies, such as the use of threats of force, economic sanctions, and negotiation. It presents the first systematic assessments of the usefulness of some less familiar approaches to conflict resolution, including truth commissions, "engineered" electoral systems, autonomy arrangements, and regional organizations. It also opens up analysis of emerging issues, such as the dilemmas facing humanitarian organizations in complex emergencies. This book offers numerous practical insights and raises key questions for research on conflict resolution in a transforming world system.

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These are the biggest global risks we face in 2024 and beyond

From disinformation to inflation, these are the global risks we face in 2024.

From disinformation to inflation, these are the world's most pressing risks. Image:  Unsplash/Ryoji Iwata

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Stay up to date:, global cooperation.

  • The World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report 2024 says the biggest short-term risk stems from misinformation and disinformation.
  • In the longer term, climate-related threats dominate the top 10 risks global populations will face.
  • Two-thirds of global experts anticipate a multipolar or fragmented order to take shape over the next decade.

The cascading shocks that have beset the world in recent years are proving intractable. War and conflict, polarized politics, a continuing cost-of-living crisis and the ever-increasing impacts of a changing climate are destabilizing the global order.

The key findings of the World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report 2024 reflect these most pressing challenges faced by people in every region of the world.

A pessimistic global outlook

The report reveals a world “plagued by a duo of dangerous crises: climate and conflict.” These threats are set against a backdrop of rapidly accelerating technological change and economic uncertainty.

The findings are based on the Forum’s Global Risks Perception Survey, which gathers insights from nearly 1,500 global experts from academia, business, government, the international community and civil society.

Have you read?

The four key ways disinformation is spread online, will a regional conflict re-tangle global supply chains, this is what the climate crisis is costing economies around the world.

A chart showing the global outlook for the next 2 and 10 years.

As the chart above shows, optimism among respondents was in short supply. More than half (54%) anticipate a significant degree of instability and a moderate risk of global catastrophes. Another 30% see things getting even worse, envisioning looming global catastrophes and with a “stormy” or “turbulent” period ahead in the next two years.

Expand that view out to 10 years and the pessimism among respondents grows. By 2034, almost two-thirds (63%) predict a stormy or turbulent world order.

Breaking down the risks

While climate-related risks remain a dominant theme, the threat from misinformation and disinformation is identified as the most severe short-term threat in the 2024 report.

A graphic showing the global outlook of risks for the next 2 and 10 years.

The growing concern about misinformation and disinformation is in large part driven by the potential for AI, in the hands of bad actors, to flood global information systems with false narratives.

In response to the uncertainties surrounding generative AI and the need for robust AI governance frameworks to ensure responsible and beneficial outcomes for all, the Forum’s Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution (C4IR) has launched the AI Governance Alliance .

The Alliance will unite industry leaders, governments, academic institutions, and civil society organizations to champion responsible global design and release of transparent and inclusive AI systems.

Over the next two years, the report states, “foreign and domestic actors alike will leverage misinformation and disinformation to widen societal and political divides”. This risk is enhanced by a large number of elections in the near future, with more than 3 billion people due to head to the polls in 2024 and 2025, including in major economies like the United States, India and the United Kingdom.

The report suggests that the spread of mis- and disinformation around the globe could result in civil unrest, but could also drive government-driven censorship, domestic propaganda and controls on the free flow of information.

In a 10-year context, climate-related risks contribute 5 of the top 10 threats as the world nears or crosses “climate tipping points”.

Current risk landscape.

The risk posed by extreme weather events tops the list as nations remain unprepared for the “triggering of long-term, potentially irreversible and self-perpetuating changes to select planetary systems [which] could be passed at or before 1.5C of global warming, currently anticipated to be reached by the early 2030s”.

While the threat of extreme weather is seen as an immediate one, there was disagreement about the urgency of other climate-related risks such as the loss of biodiversity and ecosystem collapse. Concern about these risks was significantly higher among younger respondents to the survey, prompting fears that mitigation could be delayed beyond the point where meaningful action can be taken.

Opportunities for responding to global risks

With diminishing trust, political polarization and a volatile geopolitical landscape, the potential for cooperation to tackle global risks is under pressure. The report finds that solutions could emerge as a result of more localized cooperation on the part of nations, corporations and even individual citizens.

However, given the scale of the economic, political and environmental challenges the world is facing, the report concludes that, “cross-border collaboration at scale remains critical for risks that are decisive for human security and prosperity”.

This will be a focus at the 2024 World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting in Davos, Switzerland, taking place under the theme Rebuilding Trust. The programme urges a “back to basics” spirit of open and constructive dialogue between leaders of government, business and civil society.”

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Ten Challenges for the UN in 2023-2024

It has been a hard year at the UN, with major-power tensions rising, and more difficulties likely lie ahead. Nonetheless, there are several important steps the body’s officials and member states can take in the interest of international peace and security.

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What’s new?  World leaders are visiting the UN the week of 18 September for the annual high-level meeting of the General Assembly at a testing time for the organisation. Major-power divisions are shrinking the space for multilateral cooperation, and the organisation’s role in managing international peace and security crises is increasingly uncertain.

Why does it matter?  While UN peace operations and humanitarian assistance are helping contain conflict and suffering in many countries, the organisation’s political influence is decreasing. Hamstrung by political divisions and resource gaps, the UN’s leadership and member states must develop new strategies for mobilising the organisation’s strengths to meet peace and security challenges.

What should be done?  The UN must be pragmatic, endorsing tools like blue helmet peacekeeping in some crises and ad hoc, regionally led responses in others. The UN will sometimes be limited to delivering humanitarian aid and seeking modest political traction. UN platforms can also help address threats like climate change and artificial intelligence.

I. Overview

World leaders will convene in New York during the week of 18 September for the annual high-level session of the UN General Assembly. The meeting’s formal theme is “restoring trust and reigniting global solidarity”. Both have been in short supply. The breakdown in Russia-West relations is taking an increasingly serious toll. The Security Council has been slow and indecisive in reacting to crises in 2023 to date. Developed and developing countries in the General Assembly have sparred at length over the global economy’s direction. As leaders consider how the UN can serve peace and security in the year ahead, their bywords should be flexibility and adaptability. In some places, such as South Sudan, the organisation can keep using traditional tools like peacekeeping operations. In others (like Mali, Sudan and Ukraine) such tools have been found wanting or infeasible, and just finding a political foothold from which to help contain crises will be a tall order. Global challenges also require attention: for example, the UN can and should also play a role in helping manage risks posed by climate change and artificial intelligence.

The geopolitical constraints on the UN are not new, but their effects on the organisation are intensifying. There were deep rifts among Russia, China and the Western powers in the Security Council before Moscow’s all-out invasion of Ukraine. Yet while debates over Ukraine dominated UN business from February 2022 onward, the Council was initially able to keep working on other issues more or less constructively. It was even able to innovate in thorny cases, passing its first full resolution on Myanmar and establishing a new system of humanitarian exemptions to UN sanctions regimes in late 2022. The UN Secretary-General António Guterres also played a notable part in mitigating the global fallout from the Russian-Ukrainian war by helping broker the Black Sea Grain Initiative. But as the war has ground on through 2023, the room for residual major-power cooperation through the UN has started to narrow, and diplomats have found it harder to make compromises on difficult issues than in 2022. Russia quit the grain deal in July. It has acted as a spoiler in the Security Council with growing frequency.

As the geopolitical picture darkens, the Council has managed only lacklustre responses to many of the crises of the last yea r. It has done little more than make statements of concern on cases ranging from the collapse of Sudan in April to the coup in Niger in July. Regional actors have increasingly aimed to take the lead in resolving these situations, albeit with little success, leaving the UN on the sidelines. The government in Mali has underlined the Council’s weakness – and the vulnerabilities of UN blue helmet missions – by demanding the withdrawal of peacekeepers from Malian territory, despite the attendant risk of new violence.

Outside the Council, many UN members have pushed the organisation to focus on global economic problems rather than peace and security issues. The General Assembly frequently debated Ukraine in 2022. In contrast, the countries of the so-called Global South have insisted that the Assembly should concentrate on development in the run-up to the high-level meetings, with a focus on making the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) more responsive to poor and middle-income countries’ needs. Although the U.S. and its allies have resisted parts of this agenda, they have acknowledged the need to update the international financial system, not least to counter Chinese and Russian influence among developing states.

With the Security Council divided and UN members’ attention elsewhere, the organisation’s future as a player in international peace and security looks uncertain. In outlining challenges for the UN in the year ahead, this briefing highlights cases – including Mali, Sudan and Ukraine – where the organisation’s primary objective is now to regain political traction after the failure of previous crisis management efforts. In contrast to the immediate post-Cold War decades, when the UN often had significant military and economic assets at its disposal, international officials have to make the best of limited resources. Given the limitations of its peacekeeping and mediation efforts, the UN’s main source of influence in many cases is humanitarian aid. But as this briefing’s section on Afghanistan shows, budget cuts and political pressures also place ceilings on what aid officials can achieve.

Nonetheless, there is still space for the UN’s members and international officials to make inroads and even innovate on peace and security issues. After long debates about insecurity in Haiti, for example, Kenya delighted several Security Council members by offering to lead an international police mission to the Caribbean nation. As blue helmet missions like that in Mali wind up, there appears still to be room for states to pursue ad hoc interventions of this kind. The Security Council is also considering a framework that would allow the AU to tap into UN assessed contributions to fund its peace missions – a step that has been under discussion for years but that appears to be gathering new momentum.

While acknowledging the weaknesses of UN crisis management tools, the Secretary-General has attempted to stir up an even broader debate about the organisation’s role in global security. His report on this topic, entitled “A New Agenda for Peace”, released in June, in some ways only emphasises the enormity of the challenges facing the UN. In addition to mobilising UN resources to combat sources of inequity (for example patriarchal power structures), Guterres is emphatic about the role the UN must play in helping meet global challenges such as climate change, as well as the security risks associated with advances in artificial intelligence (AI) and other new technologies. There seems little doubt that even as existing UN mechanisms appear to be struggling, the world needs new diplomatic processes and cooperative frameworks to handle such emerging threats. Although finding political agreement on such arrangements is likely to be exceptionally hard in today’s geopolitical circumstances, the only way to make progress is to begin the work.

Despite enduring a difficult year, and facing the probability of another hard year ahead, the UN still has significant operational and diplomatic roles to play in managing both traditional and emerging threats to international peace and security. The world leaders who gather at Turtle Bay in September should look for common ground on international security issues, as well as economic ones, and take up the Secretary-General’s call to face the new generation of global threats together – rather than accept the decline of multilateralism as inevitable.

II. The Year in Review: Trends in UN Diplomacy and Crisis Management

One year ago, Crisis Group previewed the 2022 high-level session of the General Assembly by noting that Russia’s aggression against Ukraine had caused turmoil at the UN, “but not quite as much” as initially seemed possible. [1] In the Security Council, Western and Russian diplomats followed a two-track approach, trading barbs over Ukraine but working out compromises on issues ranging from humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan to sanctions targeting armed groups in Haiti. That the Council remained a space for such deal-making suggested that the UN might gain importance during the Russian-Ukrainian war as a forum for diplomacy with the Kremlin while other channels were closing. Secretary-General Guterres reinforced this impression by negotiating the Black Sea Grain Initiative in tandem with Türkiye in the summer of 2022, the most significant accommodation between Moscow and Kyiv in the course of the war to date. [2] While Guterres warned that the UN could not broker an end to the main hostilities, the organisation emerged from the war’s first phase battered but functional. The subsequent year, however, has been rockier.

[1] Crisis Group Special Briefing N°8, Ten Challenges for the UN in 2022-2023 , 14 September 2022, p.3.

[2] For more, see Oleg Ignatov et al., “ Who are the Winners in the Black Sea Grain Deal? ”, Crisis Group Commentary, 3 August 2022.

A. The Security Council

In the course of 2023, the pressures associated with the Russian-Ukrainian war have taken a toll on many UN bodies, including the Security Council. While the Council has managed to keep finding compromises on most existing files on its agenda, updating the mandates for peace operations and sanctions regimes, the degree of friction between Russia and Western members has been rising. The acrimony frequently plays out in time-consuming arguments over procedural issues, such as the precise process for scheduling debates on Ukraine. But geopolitical tensions have had a substantive impact on UN diplomacy, too. As this briefing describes in more detail, Russia and China have repeatedly clashed with the U.S. and its allies on the Council over how to manage crises such as Haiti’s pleas for security assistance or April’s unexpected outbreak of violence in Sudan.

This deterioration of relations came into sharpest focus in July, when Russia vetoed a resolution allowing UN agencies to provide humanitarian aid, which has helped sustain over two million people, to rebel-controlled north-western Syria without the consent of the government in Damascus. [1] The veto was not in itself a surprise. Moscow has used its blocking power on this mandate before – most recently in 2022 – to extract concessions on assistance to Damascus. But in the past, Russia returned to the table to strike a bargain within days of using its veto. Most Council members thought it would do so again. It did not, giving the Syrian government an opening to offer to approve continued cross-border aid unilaterally, a deal that UN officials accepted after negotiations. Council members remain uncertain whether Russia was aiming for this outcome all along. Regardless, the episode both took from the Council its last substantive bit of leverage in Syria and signified the general narrowing of room for compromise in New York.

While splits among the Council’s permanent members have been the main drag on its effectiveness, they have not been the sole source of friction inside it. The last year has also seen the three African members of the Council (Gabon, Ghana and Mozambique, known as the A3) claim the right, and that of the African Union (AU), to guide the UN’s response to crises on the continent. The A3 held up Council statements on Sudan after war broke out in April, insisting that the AU be given time to find a solution. [2] They have also been increasingly critical of the UN’s imposition of sanctions in Africa, arguing that arms embargoes and other measures do more to weaken governments of weak states than to avert violence. Council members from all regions acknowledge that the A3 are likely to grow more assertive still. The upshot is that, while African affairs still take up the largest single part of the body’s time, the Council’s ability to shape the terms of crisis management on the continent will likely recede further.

[1] “ Russia vetoes UN vote to extend key Syria aid route ”, Al Jazeera , 11 July 2023.

[2] “ Sudan: Briefing and Consultations ”, Security Council Report, 25 April 2023.

Compounding these questions about the UN’s future role in Africa, scepticism about the future of peace operations on the continent also loomed over the UN in 2023. Again, the doubts were no surprise. Crisis Group noted in 2022 that UN forces in Mali and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) were struggling to contain significant violence and faced challenges to their political credibility. [1]

The future of the UN Stabilisation Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) consumed Council time through the first half of 2023, as UN officials clashed with the military government in Bamako over reports of human rights abuses by Malian forces and Wagner Group mercenaries. Though the Council mulled options for reinforcing or downsizing MINUSMA, Bamako cut the debate short by demanding that the mission withdraw from Mali as quickly as possible. [2] While Russia appears to have known Mali’s intentions in advance, other Council members – including China and the A3 – were caught off guard and believed that the UN’s departure would unleash further instability. Nonetheless, all accepted that there was no way to keep MINUSMA in place without Bamako’s acquiescence. The Council agreed to draw down the mission by December. [3]

MINUSMA’s abrupt dismissal has led Council members to consider the fates of its other large-scale missions on the continent. As Crisis Group reported in July, the UN missions in Mali, the DRC (MONUSCO), the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) and South Sudan (UNMISS) face similar challenges to those experienced by MINUSMA: they struggle to protect civilians, play diminished roles in formal peace processes and are eschewed by host governments in favour of security partners that do not scrutinise human rights records. [4] While these governments are unlikely to expel UN blue helmets as unceremoniously as Mali did, Council members quietly acknowledge that the era of large-scale stabilisation missions is coming to an end.

But for the Council, one door opens as another closes. MINUSMA’s exit has buttressed African diplomats’ longstanding calls upon the Security Council to support, and possibly pay for, African-led alternatives to UN peacekeeping. Council members have routinely debated this idea since 2016, and the A3 have been pushing hard for the Council to agree on a framework for future UN-AU funding arrangements by the end of 2023. [5] Diplomats believe that conditions in the Council are ripe for this push, not least because the U.S. has indicated that it favours the A3’s efforts, in sharp contrast to its coolness to their previous campaigns in 2018 and 2019. African diplomats are expected to table a Council resolution sometime in the autumn, though they have not yet hashed out all the important financial and oversight details. Should Council members reach agreement, they will have added another tool to the multilateral toolbox. But they should also be realistic about the fact that African-led security operations will likely face no easier road to resolving crises than their UN counterparts. [6]

[1] Crisis Group Briefing, Ten Challenges for the UN in 2022-2023 , op. cit., p. 3.

[2] “ Provisional Record of the 9350th Meeting of the UN Security Council ”, UNSC S/PV.9350, 16 June 2023.

[3] “ Resolution 2690 ”, UNSC S/RES/2690, 30 June 2023.

[4] Richard Gowan and Daniel Forti, “ What Future for UN Peacekeeping in Africa after Mali Shutters Its Mission? ”, Crisis Group Commentary, 10 July 2023.

[5] For more, see Crisis Group Africa Report N°286, The Price of Peace: Securing UN Financing for AU Peace Operations , 31 January 2020.

[6] Comfort Ero, “ Speech to the UN Security Council on Counter-terrorism in Africa ”, Briefing to the 9188th Meeting of the UN Security Council, New York, 10 November 2022.

B. The General Assembly and the Secretary-General

If the Security Council has often faltered in 2023, the General Assembly has also stepped back from playing a significant role in peace and security matters. During the initial months of Russia’s all-out war in Ukraine, the Assembly was unusually prominent in guiding the UN response, repeatedly passing resolutions condemning Russia by large margins. [1] Diplomats wondered if this activity presaged a broader increase in the Assembly’s engagement in crisis management, noting that the body – where every member has one seat and none has a veto – has stepped up in other periods of the UN’s history when the Council has floundered.

Yet the Assembly’s enthusiasm for Ukraine diplomacy has apparently dwindled. Early in the year, Ukraine hoped the Assembly would mark the war’s first anniversary by passing a resolution endorsing its ten-point peace plan and establishing a tribunal that could prosecute Russian leaders for the crime of aggression. Kyiv’s Western allies assessed that many non-Western countries would baulk at such proposals, a view Crisis Group supported. Instead, they put forward a softer text calling for a “just, lasting and comprehensive peace”. This wording won backing from 141 of the Assembly’s 193 members, but since then the Assembly has passed no further resolution regarding Ukraine and made no significant new intervention in other conflicts. [2] Some members want to explore what more the Assembly can do in the security field – one resolution called for a new UN handbook on the topic – but the political challenges are many. [3]

[1] Richard Gowan, Tess Gibson and Raquel Alberto De La Fuente, “ UN votes reveal a lot about global opinion on the war in Ukraine ”, World Politics Review , 21 February 2023.

[2] Gowan, Gibson and Alberto De La Fuenta, “ UN votes reveal a lot about global opinion on the war in Ukraine ”, op. cit.

[3] UN Resolution A/RES/77/335 , adopted on 1 September 2023.

As for Secretary-General Guterres, his primary near-term peace and security challenge through much of the year was to keep the Black Sea Grain Initiative going. As Section III.6 notes, his efforts to this end caused frictions with both Russia and Ukraine, while Western powers believed the UN was deferring too much to Moscow. Russia wound up pulling out of the deal in July, expressing dissatisfaction with the limited economic benefits it had received for its participation. [1]

Guterres was not prominently involved in other mediation processes in 2023, and often turned to the organisation’s humanitarian arm to lead in situations where the UN’s political leverage was limited. Martin Griffiths, the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, has often acted as the UN’s point person for major crises, conducting shuttle diplomacy on both the Black Sea Grain Initiative and Sudan’s civil war over the last year. As later sections of this briefing observe, UN-led aid efforts have played an essential role in saving lives in Afghanistan since the Taliban seized Kabul in 2021, and UN agencies have offered solid, if under-reported, assistance in other places including Ukraine. Nonetheless, Guterres, Griffiths and UN agencies have had to contend with a double headache, as the UN has had to take on ever more aid work while funding has not kept pace with their needs. [2]

[1] Charles Maynes, “ Russia halts participation in the Black Sea Grain Initiative ”, NPR, 17 July 2023.

[2] “ Global Humanitarian Assistance Report 2023 ”, Development Initiatives, June 2023, p. 30.

C. A Moment for Reform?

As diplomats and UN officials have contended with multiple crises over the last year, they have also grappled with a proliferation of discussions about how to reform the institution. Virtually all the organisation’s members, regardless of geopolitical orientation, are at least rhetorically committed to the enterprise.

At the Security Council, Washington has lent reform discussions new energy. U.S. President Joe Biden created a frisson of excitement among participants at the last high-level session of the General Assembly by making an unusually full-throated call for changes to the Security Council’s composition to take account of modern power dynamics; this objective is more than worthy, given that the Council’s structure (and in particular its permanent membership) continues to reflect the world as it was at the time of the UN’s founding in 1945. [1] But it is not at all clear that Washington will be able to find a pathway to updating the body, as discussed in more detail in Section III.10 below.

While Security Council reform always absorbs outsize attention in New York, Secretary-General Guterres has initiated a much broader debate about overhauling the multilateral system. The focus of this debate is a Summit of the Future that Guterres first announced in 2021 and will convene on the margins of the General Assembly’s high-level week in September 2024. In the course of 2023 to date, the Secretary-General’s office has released a series of policy briefs outlining potential priorities for the summit, ranging from preparing for future pandemics to reforming the governance of international financial institutions to better reflect the needs of poorer countries (a proposition that many diplomats in New York say should take precedence over Security Council reform). [2] An overarching goal for Guterres is to establish multilateral frameworks for governing, or at least offering guidance about, technologies including the internet, AI and biotechnology.

[1] Missy Ryan, “ U.S. seeks to expand developing world’s influence at United Nations ”, Washington Post, 12 June 2023.

[2] See the policy briefs at the UN’s Common Agenda website.

The Secretary-General has not found it easy to build momentum for the Summit of the Future. Developing countries – led by Cuba and Pakistan – have argued that preparations for the meeting are a distraction from the 2023 gathering to discuss the status of the Sustainable Development Goals (objectives the UN set in 2015 and aims to achieve by 2030), as well as shortfalls in development aid. [1] Diplomats have been entangled in several tracks of discussions on potential reform initiatives. While negotiations over the potential outcomes of the Summit of the Future will kick off in earnest after the din of the high-level week has died down, there is still much work to do to make the process useful.

With respect to peace and security, it is not clear what the Summit of the Future can deliver or even what level of ambition states should have in this respect. In April, a blue-ribbon High-Level Advisory Board on Effective Multilateralism convened by the Secretary-General called for the Summit to elaborate a “new definition of collective security” backed up by Security Council reform and an international push to abolish nuclear weapons. [2] Implicitly acknowledging the geopolitical obstacles to these aspirations, the Board added a set of smaller but pragmatic proposals, including steps to improve transparency on security issues among states and initiate discussions of the security implications of new technologies.

The Secretary-General laid out his own thoughts about security in his June policy brief titled “A New Agenda for Peace”. [3] As Crisis Group has previously noted, this document is notable in part because it presents a cautious and often humble reckoning of the UN’s capabilities. [4] It opens with an unusually punchy analytical section highlighting the fragmentation of the post-Cold War order and its negative impact on multilateralism, including high levels of mistrust among states. It has little new to say about the problems facing UN peace operations and, in effect, endorses African-led missions as alternatives for providing security on the continent. But looking ahead, the document also places the burden of responsibility for addressing new security threats – such as potential misuses of AI, autonomous weapons systems, cyberweapons and bioweapons – squarely on national governments, while promoting the UN as both a space where states can launch new diplomatic tracks to address these issues and a source of advice on technologies that smaller and poorer countries in particular struggle to monitor.

Juggling these discussions about reforming and rejuvenating the institution with debates about more immediate crises, UN officials and diplomats tend to grumble about their lack of “bandwidth” to absorb so much information at once. Some also question whether there is much point talking about a “New Agenda for Peace” while the major powers are locked in what many perceive to be proxy and undeclared confrontations, leaving the geopolitical bases for future international cooperation in doubt. Despite predictions of the UN’s decline, those who work in and around the institution are grappling with current conflicts and future security trends simultaneously. It is a heavy set of responsibilities.

[1] Colum Lynch, “ Exclusive: Global south thwarts UN future summit plans ”, Devex, 26 May 2023.

[2] For more on the High-Level Advisory Board on Effective Multilateralism, see Richard Gowan, “ The Future of Multilateralism ”, Geneva Centre for Security Policy, 27 April 2023; and “ A Breakthrough for People and Planet ”, High-Level Advisory Board on Effective Multilateralism, 18 April 2023.

[3] “ A New Agenda for Peace ”, UN, July 2023.

[4] Richard Gowan, “ What’s New about the UN’s New Agenda for Peace? ”, Crisis Group Commentary, 19 July 2023.

III. Ten Challenges for the UN

This list of challenges for the UN, based on Crisis Group’s tracking of political trends at the UN and research by analysts in countries where the UN has a significant operational presence, highlights ten pressing priorities for the organisation in the year ahead, both regional and thematic. The list is far from exhaustive – other entries could have covered (for example) managing elections in the DRC, mediating in Yemen or charting the UN’s future role in Syria – but it is indicative of the array of dilemmas the body faces.

1. Regaining Political Relevance in Sudan

The UN’s future in Sudan is in grave doubt after nearly two decades of intensive engagement in the country. The UN Transition Assistance Mission (UNITAMS) established in 2020 to help Sudan move from autocracy to democratic governance by offering political and technical support, scaled down its operations when war broke out between the Sudanese army and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) in April. Meanwhile, divisions among the Council’s permanent members and caution among their African peers rendered the body too polarised to take meaningful action to halt the fighting, leaving the UN relegated to the sidelines. [1] UNITAMS’ mandate renewal is coming up in early December: Council members will need to assess then whether they should simply roll over its current mandate or whether there is support for adding features that could give it a more tailored role in the conflict. Either way, Council members need to recognise that they have a common interest in stemming the violence in Sudan. They should use the UNITAMS renewal as an opportunity to be heard.

The outbreak of open combat between the army and RSF all but ended the already diminished work UNITAMS was doing in the country. UN officials evacuated both Sudan capital Khartoum and far west Darfur region, where the war has been fiercest so far, leaving only a skeleton staff behind in Port Sudan to coordinate the UN’s humanitarian effort. As fighting intensified – especially in Khartoum and in Darfur, where international peacekeepers were deployed from 2007 to 2020 to prevent a recurrence of the region’s earlier horrors – the mission could no longer carry out the vast majority of its substantive tasks. [2]

The mission’s attempts to broker peace have not fared much better. Before the war, Volker Perthes, the Secretary-General’s special representative and UNITAMS’ head of mission, was part of a trilateral effort (the two other parties being the AU and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, or IGAD, a Horn of Africa body) to maintain dialogue among Sudan’s rival factions, but these efforts stopped when fighting broke out. Then, the army declared him persona non grata in early June. [3] UN activity since has been limited. It is participating in another AU-led endeavour with the so-called Trilateral Mechanism (AU, UN and IGAD) and others; it has also joined in other regional diplomacy through Perthes, Hannah Tetteh and Parfait Onanga-Anyanga (the Secretary-General’s envoys for the Horn of Africa and the AU, respectively). [4]

[1] Crisis Group Africa Briefing N°190, A Race against Time to Halt Sudan’s Collapse , 22 June 2023.

[2] The UNITAMS mandate includes four strategic objectives: i) to assist the political transition and progress toward democratic governance, with an eye to protection and promotion of human rights, as well as sustainable peace; ii) to support peace processes and implementation of the Juba Peace Agreement and future peace agreements; iii) to assist peacebuilding, civilian protection and rule of law, in particular in Darfur, Blue Nile and South Kordofan; and iv) to support the mobilisation of economic and development assistance, and coordination of humanitarian and peacebuilding assistance. See “ Resolution 2579 ”, UNSC S/RES/2579 (2021), 3 June 2021.

[3] “ Sudan declares UN envoy Volker Perthes ‘persona non grata ’”, Al Jazeera , 9 June 2023. Perthes has since been operating from Nairobi and travelling throughout Africa and Europe. The Permanent Mission of Sudan to the UN openly called for Perthes’ replacement at a press conference on 9 August.

[4] The AU established its Expanded Mechanism on the Sudan Crisis in April 2020 to coordinate and regional, continental and international efforts to support a peaceful resolution to the conflict. It includes the Trilateral Mechanism, the League of Arab States, the European Union, the Security Council’s permanent members, the Council’s three African members, Sudan’s neighbouring countries (the Central African Republic, Chad, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Libya and South Sudan), the countries designated by IGAD to engage the belligerents (Djibouti, Kenya and South Sudan), Comoros as AU chair, the Quad (the U.S., the UK, Saudi Arabia and the UAE), the Troika (the U.S., the UK and Norway), Germany and Qatar. For more, see Crisis Group Briefing, A Race against Time to Halt Sudan’s Collapse , op. cit.

As UNITAMS lost purchase on the ground in Sudan, disputes arose among Security Council diplomats about the UN’s role in the country . After issuing a cursory press statement shortly after the fighting began, Council members could not agree on another new output about Sudan until early June. [1] The A3 refused to engage until receiving explicit guidance from the AU Peace and Security Council and the AU Ministerial Committee on Sudan, concerned that divergent messaging from New York might jeopardise African-led diplomacy. [2] China also appeared to be opposed to the Council speaking out further. [3] In the meantime, parallel diplomatic initiatives, such as direct talks between the belligerents led by the U.S. and Saudi Arabia, emerged without a clear role for the Council.

Negotiations over a new UNITAMS mandate in late May forced a fresh round of discussions but did not spur the Council to arrive at a new vision for its role. When the A3 began engaging with its Council counterparts on the basis of an AU roadmap for Sudan, Russia pushed back, echoing the army-aligned Sudanese delegation’s argument that the war is an “internal matter”. [4] Council members eventually agreed after difficult negotiations to extend the UNITAMS mandate, unchanged, until December; they also issued a lengthy press statement that did little to influence diplomatic efforts. [5] Subsequent Council meetings on Sudan – including its biannual session on Darfur with the International Criminal Court prosecutor in July and a briefing from UN officials in August – did not cause Council members to alter their positions.

New Council action will be hard to mobilise over the coming months, and negotiating a new mandate for UNITAMS by early December will be particularly difficult. Unaltered since June 2021, the current mandate allows the UN to coordinate life-saving humanitarian work, document human rights abuses and participate in political discussions. Its other functions are considerably or entirely circumscribed at present. These limitations are well known, but there is no consensus on possible solutions. Any proposals that are not explicitly supported by Sudan’s mission in New York – which sides with the army in the conflict – would likely face a Russian veto. [6] Moreover, agreements reached with army-aligned Sudanese diplomats may be out of keeping with conditions on the ground, as the RSF exert significant control in Khartoum and elsewhere. [7]

Further complicating this calculus has been Perthes’ standing as special representative. His lack of unified backing from the warring parties, and by extension the Council, has contributed to the UN’s diplomatic marginalisation. Guterres conveyed his unequivocal support for Perthes to Council members during a closed session at the end of May. [8] But the Sudanese army made clear that they no longer view him as credible. [9] With Perthes announcing his resignation to the Security Council on 13 September (which might set an unfortunate precedent for other special representatives facing similar pressures), Guterres is likely to confront a long and politically fraught search for a successor. [10]

[1] “ Security Council Press Statement on Clashes in Sudan ”, press release, UN Security Council, 15 April 2o23.

[2] Crisis Group interviews, UN diplomats, May 2023. See also “ Sudan: Closed Consultations ”, Security Council Report (What’s in Blue), 11 May 2023.

[3] Crisis Group interviews, UN diplomats, August 2023.

[4] “ UN Security Council 9310th Meeting ”, UNSC S/PV.9310, 25 April 2023.

[5] Resolution 2685, UNSC S/RES/2685 (2023), 2 June 2023; “ Security Council Press Statement on Sudan ”, press release, UN Security Council, 2 June 2023.

[6] Though Russia has firmly opposed the Council taking any decisions on Sudan without the government’s explicit support, Crisis Group assesses that Russia has taken a more ambiguous stance toward the warring parties.

[7] Crisis Group Statement, “ Time to Try Again to End Sudan’s War ”, 21 July 2023.

[8] Crisis Group interviews, Security Council diplomats, June 2023.

[9] “ Provisional Record of the 9394 th Meeting of the UN Security Council ”, UNSC S/PV.9394, 9 August 2023; “ Al-Harith Idriss al-Harith Mohamed (Sudan) on the Situation in the Country – Security Council Media Stakeout ”, UN WebTV, 9 August 2023.

[10] “ Five candidates in race to lead UNITAMS Khartoum ”, African Intelligence , 11 May 2020; Colum Lynch and Robbie Gramer, “ Big-power rivalries hamstring top UN missions ”, Foreign Policy, 22 July 2020.

Council members will need to prepare for different scenarios when they resume discussions about UNITAMS’ future. The path of least resistance would be to once again extend the mission’s mandate unchanged, as diplomats may conclude that keeping an imperfect mission intact would be better than losing the UN’s main political vehicle for engaging on Sudan. Paradoxically, Council members should also prepare for the possibility that the army may withdraw consent for UNITAMS irrespective of what they decide. Army-linked officials allegedly hinted at this possibility before the Council’s briefing in August, suggesting that Perthes’ continued presence was an obstacle to a productive working relationship with the mission. [1] Closing the mission now would imperil the UN’s ability to rush peacebuilding assistance into the country should conditions on the ground improve.

Finally, if diplomats assess that there is appetite for it, they might decide closer to the day to pursue another path by negotiating a new substantive resolution on Sudan and UNITAMS. [2] Though it is unrealistic to expect the Council to agree on wholesale changes to the mission’s mandate, a new resolution could provide a framework for diplomats engaged with the warring parties to deliver sharper messages, resonant with their new marching orders, and provide the mission with much-needed political backing.

If they go in this direction, several areas stand out as potential fodder for a revised mandate. First, Council members could encourage the various UN envoys to work together to support joint AU-IGAD efforts to develop a nascent civilian negotiating track. Secondly, the mission could also be directed (in coordination with other actors) to fill any existing gaps in the response to the war on the ground, including for instance assisting those trying to tamp down violence in Darfur or other hot­spots. Thirdly, Council members should denounce the warring parties’ continued obstruction of international aid, one of the few points of common ground among diplomats. Finally, looking ahead, the Council could ask the mission to examine possible UN roles in potential ceasefire mechanisms and transitional security arrangements.

Unabated fighting throughout the country has rendered UNITAMS a shell of the robust body it was intended to be. While the Council would not have been able to stop the war on its own, or compel the belligerents to negotiate, its silence about the mission’s struggles, and about the broader war, has been deafening. Diplomats should use the forthcoming negotiations as an opportunity to speak up and, through the global body, weigh in behind efforts to end the fighting.

[1] “ Sudan threatened to end UNITAMS if Perthes’ participated in Security Council meeting ”, Sudan Tribune , 9 August 2023.

[2] Though the A3, China and Russia opposed new language during the May negotiations over the UNITAMS mandate, Russia’s deputy representative to the UN suggested a willingness to revisit the mandate “after the acute phase [of the war] is over” during the Council’s May briefing on Sudan. See “ Provisional Record of the 9326 th Meeting of the UN Security Council ”, UNSC S/PV.9326, 22 May 2023.

2. Restoring Development Support for Afghanistan

The UN organised a surge of humanitarian aid in Afghanistan after the Taliban takeover in 2021, almost certainly saving millions of lives as the country stumbled through the aftermath of war. Despite this heroic feat, the UN increasingly looks like a villain in the eyes of both donors and the Taliban authorities. As the Taliban start their third year in power, the UN footprint in Afghanistan seems at risk of shrinking. Donor governments, justifiably horrified by the Taliban’s systematic violations of the human rights of girls and women, are trimming UN funding and putting stringent conditions on aid programs. Budgets are stretched in crises around the world, but the UN humanitarian response in Afghanistan ranked among the worst-funded in 2023. [1]

[1] Crisis Group calculations indicate that the UN has received only 17 per cent of the funding requested in its original 2023 humanitarian response plan for Afghanistan. By that measure, the only country-based UN humanitarian plan with less funding is that for Honduras. A mid-year revision downscaled the Afghanistan plan.

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In part, Western donors are turning away from Afghanistan because they feel disappointed by the Taliban’s refusal to relax their pursuit of supposed religious and cultural purity, especially on gender issues. [1] Many of the countries that gave millions of dollars in humanitarian aid to cushion the impact of the U.S. and NATO military withdrawal from Afghanistan had hoped that their generosity would soften the Taliban’s rule. But as Crisis Group has pointed out, those expectations were unrealistic. The Taliban, having withstood raids and airstrikes for years, were always unlikely to bow to donor demands. [2] Donors seeking to provide support in a manner consistent with their values also persisted with unworkable instructions for the UN and NGOs, requiring that they help Afghans without benefiting the Taliban. Yet the functioning of the government and the welfare of the Afghan people proved too closely bound together for such strictures to work.

[1] Crisis Group Asia Report N°329, Taliban Restrictions on Women’s Rights Deepen Afghanistan’s Crisis , 23 February 2023.

[2] Crisis Group Briefing , Ten Challenges for the UN in 2022-2023 , op. cit.

For their part, the Taliban have been taking steps to bring UN operations in the country into alignment with their own agenda. That is a recipe for tension, as the Taliban’s vision for a theocratic society that disenfranchises girls and women clashes with international standards on human rights and gender rights. It also flies in the face of Afghanistan’s obligations under various international instruments. [1] The Taliban’s move to prevent girls from studying at secondary schools and universities, and their ban on Afghan women working at UN and NGO offices, are only the most infamous examples. Additionally, in many other ways , the Taliban’s plans do not fit with the UN aid priorities, and these differences are becoming stark. A particular point of friction is the requirement by most donors that UN engagement remain limited to basic forms of life-saving assistance. The Taliban feel impatient with having to rely on handouts, and all signs suggest they will get more assertive in demanding self-sufficiency. [2]

These growing pressures, from both donors and the Taliban, put the UN in a squeeze – and something has to give. Nevertheless, it would be a mistake to react to such pressures with a wholesale revision of the mandate for the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, which is up for renewal in March 2024 . The relevant text helpfully gives the mission an expansive set of instructions for coordinating humanitarian activities, facilitating dialogue with relevant Afghan parties and promoting human rights, among other responsibilities. [3] Efforts to tailor the directives to match evolving reality – as opposed to the politically easier path of hewing to precedent – could wind up gutting the mandate altogether. Although Council members unanimously agreed to give the UN these tasks in 2022, there is no guarantee that the Council would stay united if asked to renegotiate these priorities.

There is little reason to expect dramatic solutions in the short term. No realistic pathway exists for the Taliban to shake off pariah status, escape sanctions and take up Afghanistan’s seat in the General Assembly, which continues to be filled by a solitary representative of the former government. That is primarily because the Taliban have made clear that they will, unfortunately, continue refusing the compromises that they should be making – especially with regard to women and girls – which would upset their own supporters and, in their view, corrupt their values. Diplomatic recognition of the Taliban thus seems like a distant prospect.

In the meantime, the UN should place greater emphasis on restoring essential services and promoting economic development, two of the few areas where its support can both align with the Taliban’s agenda and materially improve the lives of Afghans. To its credit, the Council has already requested “forward-looking recommendations” on topics such as economic development in the sweeping mandate it gave in March to an assessment of international engagement on Afghanistan. [4] The Council’s challenge will be to settle upon a constructive way of building upon the findings from Special Coordinator Feridun Sinirlioğlu, who is heading up this review, rather than allowing it to languish, as time is running short. Schools, hospitals, electrical grids, irrigation systems, currency markets – all of these things must keep functioning if the world does not want to see Afghanistan collapse. There is no appetite abroad for another state-building effort in Afghanistan, but a limited degree of collaboration with the regime will be necessary to help Afghans survive the slowdown of humanitarian aid. [5]

Realising this shift depends not only on reallocating aid from short- to long-term projects; it also requires Western donor countries to restore levels of day-to-day dialogue with Kabul. Japan and the European Union (EU) have set a good example by stationing officials in the country. Others should follow suit so that UN officials can spend less time on politically sensitive tasks and leave diplomacy in the hands of diplomats. [6] Specifically, donors should negotiate face to face with the Taliban about broad policy themes, allowing UN officials and aid workers who implement the policy to focus on more technical aspects of the job.

[1] These include Afghanistan’s obligations under Article 13 (on the right of everyone to education) of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Article 10 (equal rights of women and men in the field of education) of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, and Articles 28 (on the right of the child to education, progressively and on the basis of equal opportunity) and 29 (the direction of education of the child) of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Afghanistan also acceded to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in 1983.

[2] Crisis Group interviews, Taliban officials, Kabul, June 2023.

[3] “ Resolution 2626 ” , UNSC S/RES/262 6, 17 March 2022.

[4] The independent assessment, mandated by the Security Council in March, requested “recommendations for an integrated and coherent approach among relevant political, humanitarian, and development actors, within and outside of the United Nations system, in order to address the current challenges faced by Afghanistan, including, but not limited to, humanitarian, human rights and especially the rights of women and girls, religious and ethnic minorities, security and terrorism, narcotics, development, economic and social challenges, dialogue, governance and the rule of law; and to advance the objective of a secure, stable, prosperous and inclusive Afghanistan in line with the elements set out by the Security Council in previous resolutions”. “ Resolution 2679 ”, UNSC S/RES/2679, 16 March 2023, para 3.

[5] Graeme Smith and Ibraheem Bahiss, “ The World Has No Choice but to Work with the Taliban ”, Foreign Affairs , 11 August 2023.

[6] Nicholas Kay, “ Like it or not, the UK needs to be on the ground again in Afghanistan ”, The Independent , 15 August 2023. See also Nicola Gordon-Smith, “Don’t shut the door on Afghans. The people deserve connectivity and all its hope and promise”, The Guardian , 15 August 2023.

Some donors will prefer to signal disapproval of the Taliban, especially on gender issues, by continuing to limit aid to the barest necessities, but this approach will not have the desired results. If they wish to see basic living conditions improve for women and girls, as well as other Afghans, donors should provide development funding , via the UN and other channels. They should also allow the UN to join a forthcoming dialogue with the Taliban on economic issues, which the U.S. government has indicated will happen “soon”. [1] Assigning the UN to work on economic recovery will not stop the trend of diminishing aid – and does not necessarily require bigger budgets – but it would give the remaining UN presence greater longevity and impact.

More than half of Afghanistan’s people cannot satisfy their basic household needs. Despite the widespread scepticism inside and outside the country about UN operations, millions of Afghans cannot survive without them. Yet humanitarian efforts are, almost by definition, unsustainable – and growing more difficult by the day. Empowering the UN to provide much-needed development support is necessary, even as the Taliban remain outcasts.

[1] “ Meeting of U.S. Officials with Taliban Representatives ”, press release, Office of the Spokesperson, U.S. Department of State, 31 July 2023.

3. Helping Haiti Emerge From Its Political and Security Crisis

The Secretary-General has repeatedly urged UN member states to heed the Haitian government’s October 2022 appeal for international security assistance. [1] Criminal gangs control most of Port-au-Prince and are expanding their footprint beyond the capital. The Haitian police publicly acknowledge that they cannot reestablish authority over these areas unless backed by foreign forces. [2] For almost a year, no country appeared willing to lead the proposed multinational force. But Kenya’s announcement in late July that it would take on this role, and is readying to deploy 1,000 police officers, opened the door for Haiti to receive the help it sorely needs. [3] The Security Council may well mandate what is being a called a UN Security Support Mission, expected to operate with the UN’s blessing but not under its auspices, in the coming weeks. The Council’s seal of approval should come alongside a reinvigorated effort to achieve a settlement among Haiti’s feuding political forces and meaningful steps toward a compromise solution. Clear progress on this front will be crucial to ensuring the mission’s success.

Along with a security crisis, Haiti is experiencing a prolonged political dispute that was greatly exacerbated by former President Jovenel Moïse’s assassination in July 2021. The acting prime minister, Ariel Henry – who took office through a less than orthodox succession arrangement rather than by popular vote – is widely seen by Haitians as illegitimate, owing both to the manner of his internationally backed rise and to his unwillingness to negotiate power-sharing arrangements since assuming office. (The Core Group – made up of the UN, Germany, Brazil, Canada, Spain, the U.S., France, the EU and the Organization of American States – issued a statement shortly after Moïse’s death urging Henry to form a transitional government. [4] ) The country has not seen national elections since 2016.

In June, Haiti’s leading opposition groups issued a statement calling for the creation of a presidential council that would work alongside a prime minister (preferably, in their view, not Henry), providing checks and balances for Henry’s currently unfettered powers. [5] Although Henry has paid lip service to the idea of forging a broader political consensus, he has firmly rejected the idea of a power-sharing agreement.

[1] “ Letter from the Secretary-General addressed to the President of the Security Council ”, S/2022/747, 8 October 2022.

[2] “ Frantz Elbé reconnait que la police n’était pas préparée à faire face au grand banditisme ”, Le Nouvelliste , 28 December 2022.

[3] Other countries, including Antigua and Barbuda, the Bahamas, Jamaica and Rwanda have expressed willingness to contribute police or troops to a multinational force. Renata Segura, “ Haiti Needs Help. Foreign Troops Might Be the Least Bad Option ”, Foreign Affairs, 1 December 2022.

[4] President Moïse named Henry prime minister two days before his assassination but failed to complete the legal procedures required to make the appointment official. Joseph Lambert, then president of Haiti’s senate, and Claude Joseph, then prime minister, vied to replace Moïse. The Core Group issued its statement in these circumstances. See “ Communiqué du Core Group ”, press release, UN Integrated Office in Haiti, 17 July 2023.

[5] Four leading political parties, one political coalition and the Montana Agreement signed this declaration at negotiations hosted by the Caribbean Community in Jamaica. “ Déclaration conjointe de Kingston ”, 13 June 2023.

Recent polls indicate that more than 60 per cent of Haitians support the deployment of a multinational force, but that is far from a universal mandate. [1] Opposition movements, including those in the so-called Montana Agreement – a broad coalition of political and civil society groups championing what they call a “Haitian-led solution to the crisis” – are cautious about the idea. [2] Their primary concerns are that international personnel could become a de facto force supporting the current government, strengthening Henry’s hand and possibly enticing him to delay long-overdue elections. [3] The chequered legacy of previous international interventions in Haiti – notably MINUSTAH, the last UN peacekeeping force in the country, blamed for unknowingly introducing a massive cholera outbreak that killed almost 10,000 people – also leaves some Haitians sceptical that outsiders can make lasting improvements to the country’s security. [4]

Externally it also remains unclear whether there is sufficient backing for an international mission. At the Security Council, both China and Russia have expressed misgivings regarding the deployment of a foreign force – claiming that the current interim government lacks legitimacy and that any security assistance plan should be based on a broad consensus among Haitians. [5] Some commentators argue that such a mission would represent a failure to learn from the past. [6] Crisis Group has argued that a foreign force may be the only way to get the security situation in hand and save the state from total collapse, but that success will almost surely require both considerable operational planning, and joint support from Haiti’s main political forces, which should also make a firm commitment to work together in creating a legitimate transitional government. [7]

As a practical matter, proponents of a mission – including supportive Council members, representatives of the UN’s political and technical assistance mission in Haiti (BINUH) and Core Group members – should first convince Haitian politicians to take irreversible steps toward forming an inclusive government. Now is an especially good moment to apply pressure, using the leverage created by a possible Council vote in September to authorise the mission. In particular, proponents should insist on moves by Henry and his allies toward a power-sharing agreement that can create a meaningful check on the power concentrated in the acting prime minister’s hands. These partners should also back the Caribbean Community’s dialogue facilitation group, which has helped set up delegations representing the government and opposition, as well as outlined an agenda for negotiations.

Secondly, the Security Council should double down on work to cut off Haiti’s criminal gangs’ access to resources that bolster their power. The Council’s sanctions regime on Haiti, established in October 2022 to target individuals sponsoring the gangs, should be used to encourage a severing of the links between them and Haitian elites. [8] BINUH should also support creating a judicial task force that would help the Haitian authorities, supported by international experts, focus on the long-term objective of prosecuting individuals suspected of sponsoring violent groups . It will take a while to get such a task force up and running, due to the judicial system’s dire condition, but determined steps to end the impunity enjoyed by certain powerful Haitians would contribute hugely to restoring citizens’ trust in the state.

In addition, Council members should keep pressing for stronger controls on the illicit flows of arms and ammunition into the country. [9] Haiti’s own customs service, border patrol and coast guard need bolstering, to be sure, but authorities overseas should also help by increasing scrutiny of outbound shipments at the ports where most of the weapons entering Haiti are illegally loaded.

Finally, Council members need to address the practicalities of the planned multinational force. Kenyan officials undertook a fact-finding trip to Haiti in late August, meeting with members of the Haitian police and government to begin scoping out the proposed mission’s concept and operational requirements. [10] While many of the important details will take time to iron out – including whether the mission will guard strategic infrastructure, as Kenya first proposed, or engage in combat with the gangs – it is already clear that the force will require considerable support from the UN. This help, as the Secretary-General outlined in an August letter, could come in the form of either an UN-mandated logistical package (ie, food, fuel, medical services, communications and information technology), for both the force and Haiti’s police, or an expansion of BINUH’s mandate that allows the UN, among other things, to provide a larger range of civilian support services to the national police. [11] Both forms of UN assistance may be needed, given the magnitude of Haiti’s challenges.

It is possible that the Security Council will approve the mission even before there has been meaningful progress along all these axes – with Russia and China grudgingly acquiescent and insisting on strict assessment protocols. Henry’s calls for foreign security assistance have gained wider support in Haiti as gang violence asphyxiates communities. Kenya’s initiative is a major development – suggesting that a viable force could be waiting in the wings. But crossing the approval threshold does not make the items laid out above any less critical. Perhaps most important, if the mission is to succeed, then its friends and supporters will need to use all of the influence they can muster with political forces inside Haiti to help create conditions conducive to that result, including by addressing very real concerns among the opposition that the acting prime minister may exploit the mission to his advantage. [12]

The mission’s success could well hang on whether Henry and the main political factions take meaningful steps toward establishing a more inclusive government. These could include widening the membership of the existing High Transition Council (a three-member commission in charge of preparing the way for elections and selecting another commission to reform the constitution) and giving it real decision-making powers; ensuring that ministerial positions are distributed to representatives from a wide range of political forces; and establishing a transparent process for choosing new heads of the electoral authorities. [13] Moreover, throughout the multinational force’s deployment, member state diplomats and UN officials should promote dialogue among parties along the political spectrum; support transitional authorities’ efforts to reestablish a broad set of functioning state institutions; and encourage agreement on a calendar for future elections that enjoys the approval of all the main political forces.

[1] “ Rapport d’étude. Deuxième sondage auprès de la population haïtienne sur l’évolution de la situation d’insécurité du pays ”, AGERCA, August 2023; “ Rapport de sondage sur la situation d’insécurité en Haïti ”, AGERCA, January 2023.

[2] The Montana Group argues that only a new transitional government backed by broad political consensus should have the power to negotiate the terms of the international assistance authorities need to restore order and ensure the justice system’s proper functioning. “ Nòt pou laprès. Akò Montana di se twòp atò ”, 20 August 2023.

[3] Monique Clesca, “ Haiti’s Rule of Lawlessness: Why a Military Intervention Would Only Entrench the Island’s Problems ”, Foreign Affairs , 10 March 2023.

[4] Vélina Élysée Charlier, Alexandra Filippova and Tom Ricker, “ Six Ways the U.S. and the International Community Can Help Haiti Without Armed Intervention ”, Just Security , 19 October 2022.

[5] Although the resolution renewing the mandate for the UN Integrated Mission in Haiti (BINUH), unanimously adopted by the UN Security Council in July, encourages Council member states and countries from the region to provide security assistance to Haiti, including by deploying a specialised force, China and Russia have consistently stated that voices of Haitians opposed to such an intervention must be heeded. They have added that any international assistance must be grounded in objectives defined in a political settlement between government and opposition. “ Resolution 2692 ”, UNSC S/RES/2692 (2023), 14 July 2023.

[6] Blaise Malley, “ Will the international community intervene in Haiti – again? ”, Responsible Statecraft , 19 December 2022.

[7] Crisis Group Latin America and Caribbean Briefing N°48, Haiti’s Last Resort: Gangs and the Prospect of Foreign Intervention , 14 December 2022.

[8] In 2022, the Security Council adopted a regime of sanctions targeting persons or entities that directly or indirectly support criminal activities and gang violence. The only person who has been sanctioned so far is Jimmy Chérizier, aka Barbecue, the infamous leader of the G9 gang coalition. The UN Panel of Experts is to submit a final report by mid-September, at which time it will propose a confidential list of other individuals and entities to be sanctioned. “ Resolution 2653 ”, UNSC S/RES/2653 (2022), 21 October 2022.

[9] In its July resolution renewing BINUH’s mandate, the Security Council recognised a strong correlation between the illegal arms trade and extreme levels of violence in Haiti. It urged member states to take all appropriate steps to prevent trafficking of weapons, including inspection of cargo headed for Haiti from their own ports. “ Resolution 2692 ”, UNSC S/RES/2692 (2023), op. cit.

[10] Jacqueline Charles, “ A delegation from Kenya leaves Haiti. Will its proposal prove effective against gangs? ”, Miami Herald , 24 August 2023.

[11] Both models would require that the mandate support close coordination with other UN entities present in Haiti to make work on specific issues more effective. For example, both the civilian and military components of a mission would have to work to strengthen and protect UN entities’ service provision in response to sexual violence, which has become daily practice for the gangs. For more, see “ Letter from the Secretary-General addressed to the President of the Security Council ”, S/2023/596, 15 August 2023.

[12] The challenges posed by gang violence have been aggravated by the rise of a violent vigilante movement known as Bwa Kale. See Diego Da Rin, “ Haitians Turn to Mob Justice as the Gang Threat Festers ”, Crisis Group Commentary, 3 July 2023.

[13] Some of these initiatives are already part of the 21 December agreement signed by Henry and leaders of various political parties, but have yet to be implemented by the government.

4. Navigating a Dangerous Road to Elections in South Sudan

In the year ahead, the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) faces a hard choice about whether to support the country’s first-ever national elections, which are currently slated for December 2024. The elections should in theory be a landmark in the evolution of South Sudan, which gained independence in 2011 but collapsed into civil war two years later. In practice, they could presage a new wave of conflict. UNMISS can both help the elections through technical assistance and logistical support, and work to prevent and mitigate the unrest that they could set off.

Fresh elections to instal a democratically chosen national government are an important element of the deal that President Salva Kiir and his opponents signed to end the civil war in 2018. Although most of that bargain’s legislative and security provisions remain unfulfilled, it remains the lodestar for efforts to steer the country toward greater stability. As Crisis Group has warned since 2021, there are multiple risks associated with the forthcoming vote. [1] Tensions will rise as elections near. Politicians in South Sudan frequently resort to violence. Badly run or rigged polls would add to the chaos. Opposition figures including Riek Machar, South Sudan’s vice president and ex-rebel opposition leader, could boycott the vote or otherwise reject a defeat, risking more violence. While polls are all but guaranteed to spark widespread unrest, as competing armed elites face off at the state and local levels, postponing them could also stir up more turmoil. Public opinion surveys show that South Sudanese overwhelmingly want elections but equally expect them to lead to even greater mayhem. [2]

Expectations concerning UNMISS’s role in helping manage the coming events and the potential for chaos must inevitably be coloured by its rocky history. It sheltered hundreds of thousands of civilians on its bases after war broke out in 2013, but it often struggled to protect these people, much less project security farther afield. [3] Over time, maintaining security has continued to prove beyond its capabilities . Most recently, inter-ethnic fighting erupted among the displaced inhabitants of a UN compound in June, lasting for days.

[1] Crisis Group Africa Briefing N°300, Toward a Viable Future for South Sudan , 10 February 2021; Comfort Ero and Alan Boswell, “ South Sudan’s Dismal Tenth Birthday ”, Foreign Affairs , 9 July 2021.

[2] David Deng, Sophia Dawkins, Christopher Oring and Jan Pospisil, “ Elections: Perceptions of Peace in South Sudan ”, PeaceRep: The Peace and Conflict Resolution Evidence Platform, University of Edinburgh , 19 October 2022.

[3] For background, see “ Letter dated 1 November 2016 from the Secretary-General addressed to the President of the Security Council ”, UNSC S/2016/924, 1 November 2016; Mark Millar, The Peacekeeping Failure in South Sudan: The UN, Bias and the Peacekeeper’s Mind (New York, 2022); and “ MSF Internal Review of the February 2016 Attack on the Malakal Protection of Civilians Site and the Post-event Situation”, Médecins Sans Frontières, June 2016.

Still, the mission has had its successes – for example, in mediating local disputes and establishing a passable working relationship with the government – and it could play a useful role in navigating the challenges that the 2024 elections will pose. National authorities are counting on it to provide substantial technical and logistical support for balloting. [1] South Sudanese civil society groups and outside actors are also looking to UNMISS to help forestall violence in the run-up to the polls. It will be a tall order, as much of the country is already experiencing rampant insecurity, including conflict-related sexual violence. [2]

A key role for UNMISS as the polls approach will be to advise the Security Council of whether there is a realistic prospect that credible elections can be staged. In March, the Council offered UNMISS guidance for thinking about this problem, outlining “key milestones” on the road to polls, including major legal and institutional reforms as well as a reduction in violence. [3] The Council did not, however, give the mission direction about exactly when or how to make a decision with respect to the polls’ feasibility or about whether UNMISS should back the vote in any case. Moreover, Russia and China abstained on the mandate because they considered that the benchmark-based approach placed too many conditions on election support. [4] The two powers also opposed clauses calling for UN peacekeepers to take a more assertive approach to the protection of civilians. UNMISS leaders in Juba will have to proceed on this imperfect basis. [5]

There is little doubt that, for the time being, South Sudan is not close to meeting the Council’s benchmarks. In August 2022, rival figures in Juba agreed to push back the 2018 agreement’s timelines (and extend their own terms in office) by nearly two years until February 2025, given the lack of progress in implementing many of the deal’s conditions. Not much has changed in the ensuing year: South Sudan has taken few tangible steps to draft a permanent constitution, undertake a first-ever census, demarcate constituency boundaries, enact basic legislation and complete transitional security arrangements, among other unfulfilled provisions. [6]

As for what to do, UNMISS should in the first instance (with the backing of the Council membership and in coordination with the AU and IGAD) press South Sudanese politicians to reach the peace deal’s most important benchmarks well before December 2024. While smooth elections may be difficult to pull off regardless of what happens, the odds will be considerably better if these politicians make the difficult compromises necessary to accomplish what they have agreed to on paper. Of particular importance are providing resources and momentum to the constitution-making process, unifying the army and deploying it nationwide, making public financial management reforms, passing legislation organising the polls and appointing the bodies needed to oversee them.

A wrenching decision may loom. If the government and opposition do make real progress on these files, UNMISS should offer the technical assistance and logistical support needed to help South Sudan prepare for the polls. [7] On the other hand, if UN officials conclude by mid-2024 that South Sudan cannot hold credible or safe elections on time, they should alert the Council and inform Juba that the UN cannot in good conscience provide full (or any) electoral support under such circumstances. In parallel, the UN might also quietly encourage another fraught and unpopular short-term delay as an unwelcome necessity. (Given the public’s strong desire for a vote, the latter course would carry its own risks.) In such a scenario, the government might choose to push ahead with polls anyway, leaving UNMISS to focus on addressing risks of violence.

[1] “ Situation Report: Malakal ”, UN OCHA, 23 June 2023.

[2] “ State of Impunity: The Persistence of Violence and Human Rights Violations in South Sudan ”, UN A/HRC/52/CRP.3 , 3 April 2023; “ Conflict-related Sexual Violence against Women and Girls in South Sudan ”, UN A/HRC/49/CRP.4, 21 March 2022.

[3] “ Resolution 2677 ”, UNSC S/RES/2677 (2023), 15 March 2023, para. 7.

[4] “ UN Security Council’s 9281st Meeting, on the situation in South Sudan ”, UNSC S/PV.9281, 15 March 2023.

[5] Officials at UNMISS in Juba say they plan to conduct an assessment of South Sudan’s electoral preparations by November. Crisis Group interviews, July 2023.

[6] Recent UN estimates suggest that electoral preparations are at least nine months behind schedule. The peace deal’s dedicated monitoring body continues to sound alarms about Juba’s lack of urgency in carrying out its tasks. “ UN Security Council’s 9353 rd Meeting, on the situation in South Sudan ”, UN S/PV.9353, 20 June 2023; “ Report on the Status of Implementation of the Revitalised Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan for the period 1st April to 30th June 2023 ”, Reconstituted Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Committee (RJMEC), Report No. 019/23, 22 July 2023.

[7] UNMISS is currently mandated to provide technical assistance and logistical support to help open civic and political space, help South Sudan adopt legislative frameworks for the electoral process (including through passage of a permanent constitution), provide security support to facilitate the elections, support women candidates’ full participation therein, and help South Sudanese IDPs and refugees cast their ballots. See “ Resolution 2677 ”, UNSC S/RES/2677 (2023), 15 March 2023, para. 3(c)(v).

With or without full UN support, the elections are likely to be flawed, and some level of unrest seems likely as well , even if the country does not fall back into full-blown civil war at the national level. The last experience the South Sudanese people had with elections was in 2010, when South Sudan was still a semi-autonomous region inside Sudan. Several state gubernatorial contests during that period became violent, giving rise to sustained insurgencies. To keep history from repeating itself, the UN mission will need to take precautionary measures in order to prevent and contain electoral violence where it can. Additional investment in community dialogue may help the UN better understand local dynamics, while scaled-up efforts to mediate among elites nationally and locally could help reduce the risk that particular contests and disputes turn ugly. [1]

Should risk reduction efforts fail, nimble and responsive deployments of blue helmets will be required, building on the mission’s bolstered protection mandate. The UN could already begin mapping out what operations might be required in hotspots to stop attacks on civilians and to safeguard those who flee their homes. [2]

Finally, however any elections go, the Security Council will need to remain engaged in the country’s affairs once they are over. Even as pressure mounts to reduce the UN peacekeeping presence on the continent, Council members should be careful not to withdraw blue helmets from South Sudan prematurely. They should instead hold off until security improves throughout the country. In the meantime, they should help ensure that any flare-up of conflict gets the attention it deserves. At a moment of heightened geopolitical tensions and tumult elsewhere in the Horn of Africa, South Sudan could easily slip off the international radar. The Council should not let that happen.

[1] “ Democracy on Hold: Rights Violations in the April 2010 Sudan Elections ”, Human Rights Watch, 30 June 2010.

[2] The mission’s quick deployment of peacekeepers and establishment of temporary operating bases in Tambura, Western Equatoria State (mid-2021) and Kodok, Upper Nile State (December 2022) shortly after violence broke out in these towns are models for future UNMISS responses. For more information, see Nicholas Haysom, “ Briefing to the United Nations Security Council by the Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of UNMISS Mr. Nicholas Haysom ”, 13 December 2022 ; and “ Attacks on Civilians in Tambura County, June – September 2021 ”, UNMISS and the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, September 2021.

5. Finding New Avenues for Political Engagement in Mali

The government of Mali’s decision in June to demand the withdrawal of peacekeepers from Malian territory has left the UN with vanishingly few openings to stay engaged in the country politically. The transitional authorities, who took power in 2021, succeeded in compelling the Security Council to draw down MINUSMA by the end of the year. [1] Russia, which has fostered closer ties with Mali at the expense of former colonial power France, has backed its demands to the hilt. There is little sign that the Malian government sees any future role for the UN in the country’s politics, although ministers have underlined that they are still willing to work with the organisation’s humanitarian and development agencies.

This turn of events is no great surprise. Crisis Group noted in 2022 that despite fielding over 13,000 peacekeepers, MINUSMA was in an “increasingly precarious” position. [2] The UN and post-coup authorities clashed over the military’s human rights record, particularly with regard to its growing collaboration with the Kremlin-affiliated Wagner Group in operations targeting jihadist insurgents. [3] In May, a UN human rights report accused Malian and Wagner personnel of killing up to 500 civilians in one such operation in central Mali. [4] By that point, Security Council members were already contemplating whether the mission, which was struggling to address the threat posed by regular jihadist attacks and had lost 174 peacekeepers in battle, could survive under these circumstances. [5] The Council’s reaction to Bamako’s withdrawal request was one of resignation. [6]

[1] “ Resolution 2690 ”, UNSC S/RES/2690, 30 June 2023.

[2] Crisis Group Briefing, Ten Challenges for the UN in 2022-2023 , op. cit., p. 8.

[3] Jean-Hervé Jézéquel and Ibrahim Maïga, “ Ensuring MINUSMA’s Smooth Departure from Mali ”, Crisis Group Commentary, 27 June 2023.

[4] “ Rapport sur les événements de Moura du 27 au 31 mars 2022 ”, UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, 12 May 2023.

[5] “ Provisional Record of the 9302 nd Meeting of the UN Security Council ”, UNSC S/PV.9302, 12 April 2023. For background, see “ Internal Review of the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali: Report of the Secretary General ”, UNSC S/2023/36, 16 January 2023; and Jean-Hervé Jézéquel, Franklin Nossiter and Ibrahim Maïga, “ MINUSMA At a Crossroads ”, Crisis Group Commentary, 1 December 2022. Fatalities data are from UN Peacekeeping, “ Stats (4) Fatalities by Mission and Incident Type ”, 30 June 2023.

[6] Richard Gowan and Daniel Forti, “ What Future for UN Peacekeeping in Africa after Mali Shutters Its Mission? ” op. cit.

Though Mali did not collapse after France’s military intervention under Operation Barkhane wrapped up in 2022, MINUSMA’s departure could lead to a sharp downturn in security across the country. While UN forces often appeared weak, their presence at least kept urban centres out of the hands of jihadist groups . MINUSMA’s leadership and mediation experts also played an essential role in supporting the 2015 Algiers Accords, which established peace between Bamako and various armed groups, notably the Coordination of Azawad Movements (CMA), a separatist coalition in the north of the country. [1] There are growing signs of renewed hostilities between the CMA and the Malian government as MINUSMA prepares to withdraw: clashes between the two entities in mid-August forced the mission to speed up its departure from a base in the Timbuktu region. [2]

No one, including the Malian government, is under any illusions about the level of risk. Russian officials are frank that their partners in Bamako understand that expelling MINUSMA raises security problems, and will also likely affect aid flows, but are willing to absorb these costs; Bamako seems ready to do anything to regain a foothold in the north of the country, even if it imperils the peace agreement . The Malian authorities have not deviated from their course despite Wagner’s failed coup in Russia and the death of its leader Yevgeny Prigozhin in an unexplained plane crash that many speculate was Moscow’s handiwork. [3] While the UN Secretariat typically tries to devise plans to reduce the dangers associated with the end of its peace operations – such as establishing follow-on peacebuilding presences – its only option is a short, hard exit in Mali. [4]

In the short term, MINUSMA’s priorities are to manage this exit as expeditiously and peacefully as possible. UN officials have attempted to reduce tensions around the mission’s evacuation of bases in the north, encouraging the government to find compromises with CMA, like refraining from sending large numbers of troops to hotly contested areas such as Aguelhock and Tessalit in the Kidal region. UN officials say they believe all Security Council members, including Russia, want to avoid a resumption of fighting in northern Mali. Some Council members grumble that MINUSMA has eased off criticism of the Malian authorities as they try to finesse the drawdown, but they recognise this tactic is necessary to avoid a further loss of trust.

Looking beyond MINUSMA’s drawdown deadline, the most pressing political question for the UN is whether it can still play a role in facilitating talks between the government and the signatories of the Algiers Accord. The Dakar-based UN Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS), a regional conflict prevention centre that was active in Mali before MINUSMA deployed in 2013, may be able to step in, as Secretary-General Guterres has noted. It may also be able to contribute to efforts to restore democracy in Mali (in combination with the Economic Community of West African States, or ECOWAS), but only if the UN’s Fifth Committee agrees to provide UNOWAS with additional resources and staff. [5] That said, there is no sign that the Malian authorities, despite meeting with the recently appointed head of UNOWAS, Leonardo Santos Simão, want this mission to engage with the signatory parties. [6]

The best that Simão may be able to aim for in the immediate term is keeping open contacts with the authorities in Bamako – most likely emphasising less contentious themes than talks with the CMA – and looking for ways to restore trust with them. His personal diplomacy will need to be adroit, as he cannot expect the Security Council to offer him unified support. Russia in particular is likely to follow Bamako’s lead in projecting disinterest, even though, as a matter of convention, Mali will stay on the body’s agenda for three years after MINUSMA ends. [7]

As for the possibility of UNOWAS coordination with ECOWAS, a key date is March 2024. ECOWAS has pressed Bamako to restore constitutional order by then, and the transitional authorities claim (whether plausibly or not) that they will respect the deadline. [8] As that moment approaches, ECOWAS, UNOWAS and the AU will need to send common messages about the importance of moving back to civilian rule. Should elections in fact take place, the UN may be able to lend a hand to regionally led efforts to facilitate this transition.

[1] On the Algiers Accord, see Mathieu Pellerin, “ Mali’s Algiers Peace Agreement, Five Years On: An Uneasy Calm ”, Crisis Group Commentary, 24 June 2020.

[2] “ Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General ”, UN, 23 August 2023; and note from the UN Secretariat to Security Council members, 16 August 2023 (on file with Crisis Group).

[3] Polina Ivanova, “ DNA results confirm Yevgeny Prigozhin’s death, Moscow says ”, Financial Times , 27 August 2023.

[4] “ Letter dated 18 August 2023 from the Secretary-General addressed to the President of the Security Council ”, UNSC S/2023/611, 21 August 2023.

[5] “ Letter dated 18 August 2023 from the Secretary-General addressed to the President of the Security Council ”, op. cit.

[6] See the Malian permanent representative’s speech to the UN Security Council at the August 2023 briefing: “ Provisional Record of the 9407 th Meeting of the UN Security Council ”, UNSC S/PV.9407, 28 August 2023.

[7] Loraine Sievers and Sam Daws, The Procedure of the UN Security Council (Oxford, 2004), pp. 231-233.

[8] Crisis Group Africa Briefing N°185, Mali: Avoiding the Trap of Isolation , 9 February 2023.

Looking outside the realm of multilateral actors, the best-placed player outside Mali to help prop up the Algiers Accords may be Algeria. Mali’s northern neighbour mediated the original deal and has launched several initiatives over the years to boost the peace process. Recently, Algeria has taken a lower profile in this regard, possibly discouraged by gridlock among the signatories. But this position may be hard to sustain come 2024, when Algeria begins its two-year term on the Security Council, as other Council members will likely look to it to help manage the post-MINUSMA situation in Mali. If Algiers is willing and able to take on a greater diplomatic role in Mali, UNOWAS might be able to offer it quiet, technical backup.

While UN officials and Council members feel out their political options in Mali, donors can at least try to retain some good will in Mali by tending to the population’s basic needs. To date, the UN’s humanitarian response plan for Mali in 2023 has only received 21 per cent of its $751 million budget. [1] MINUSMA’s exit will further complicate aid efforts, as many UN agencies relied on the peacekeeping mission for transport and logistical support. It will be tempting for Western donors in particular to funnel their resources elsewhere. But it would be both humane and prudent to keep money flowing to Mali despite resentment of Bamako’s shifting geopolitical posture, including its decision to kick out the peacekeepers.

[1] “ Overview of the Humanitarian Response in Mali – Funding Update ”, UN Office of the Coordinator for Humanitarian Affairs, 25 August 2023.

6. Regaining a Political Foothold in Ukraine

The UN has played a useful, if under-appreciated, role in mitigating the effects of Russia’s war in Ukraine, through humanitarian and diplomatic measures. The most important measure has been the Black Sea Grain Initiative, which allowed Ukraine to ship agricultural products to market. But Russia’s decision to quit the deal in July raises questions about the UN’s future role in containing the war’s fallout. [1] UN aid agencies continue to assist the Ukrainian population, and international inspectors monitor safety at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant, which lies in Russian-occupied territory near the front lines in Ukraine’s south east. Yet with both sides appearing increasingly wary of compromise, it is unclear if the UN will have opportunities to launch conflict mitigation initiatives akin to the grain deal in the near future. For now, the organisation’s best approach to the war may be to keep offering what help it can to the suffering population while preserving the option of supporting higher-profile efforts to ease the fighting, or help end it, if battlefield and diplomatic conditions change.

At the 2022 high-level session of the General Assembly, leaders praised Secretary-General Guterres for his role in negotiating the grain deal together with Türkiye. The agreement, which enabled Ukraine to export more than 30 million tonnes of grain over twelve months (equivalent to over a third of its exports in 2021), helped reduce global food prices after a spike following Russia’s assault on Kyiv that February. [2] But the Secretary-General faced mounting difficulties in keeping the deal alive from the last months of 2022 onward. Russia complained that it was reaping too few benefits. [3] One point of contention was that Russian fertiliser exporters had trouble getting their products to market, despite the UN committing to facilitate this trade. When Guterres lobbied for lifting barriers to Russian agricultural exports, U.S. and European officials worried that he was coddling Moscow to protect the grain deal. They were especially critical of his failure to launch a UN investigation into Iran’s supply of drones to Russia, which Western officials say violated Security Council sanctions against Tehran. [4]

[1] For more, see “ Who are the Winners in the Black Sea Grain Deal? ”, op. cit.

[2] Data , Black Sea Grain Initiative Joint Coordination Centre, 30 August 2023.

[3] Maynes, “ Russia halts participation in the Black Sea Grain Initiative ”, op. cit.

[4] Edith Lederer, “ U.S. and Iran clash over Russia using Iran drones in Ukraine ”, AP, 20 December 2022.

In May, Russia renewed its participation in the deal for two months but signalled that it was unlikely to do so again. UN members and Western financial institutions tried to assist the UN and Türkiye in addressing some of Russia’s concerns, for example by proposing new payment mechanisms that would help importers compensate Russians. Moscow declared these efforts inadequate and quit the deal on 17 July.

Since then, the Secretary-General has urged Russia to consider a limited return to the deal in exchange for Rosselkhozbank, the Russian Agricultural Bank, being allowed to reconnect to the SWIFT financial messaging system. [1] Russian officials have shown some interest. But several EU member states have rejected the possibility of Russian reconnection to SWIFT, and Ukraine has begun to use alternative means of exporting grain, preferring to avoid reprising a deal with Russia if possible. As shipping and maritime insurance companies become increasingly uneasy about crossing the Black Sea, Ukraine has begun offering insurers compensation for losses related to grain shipments to encourage them to continue operations in the Sea. [2]

Absent the grain deal, the UN has few high-level political entry points into the conflict, but its agencies are still active on the ground. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has personnel based at all Ukraine’s nuclear plants, including at Zaporizhzhia, Europe’s largest plant which was occupied by Russia early in the war. It has urged both sides to abide by a set of principles (such as not storing heavy military equipment at the site or firing upon it) to keep it secure. [3] IAEA staff at the plant have also investigated claims that Russia could be preparing to sabotage it, though they do not always have complete freedom of movement at the site. [4] In the spring, UN officials appear to have explored whether it would be possible to broker stronger security arrangements for the site, around which Russia has set up a military base. Making such arrangements could have cemented the organisation’s status as a mediator after the grain deal – but the initiative fizzled.

Notwithstanding its diminishing political influence, the UN continues to have a significant humanitarian role in the war. According to the organisation’s own figures, various UN agencies were able to get assistance – including cash aid – to more than seven million Ukrainians in the first half of 2023, representing approximately one fifth of the country’s current population (excluding those now living outside the country). [5]

There are, of course, challenges. Ukrainian officials and civil society groups have criticised the UN for inefficiency (an unfortunately common complaint in multilateral aid efforts). [6] Compounding the difficulties, Russian forces and their counterparts in the civilian occupation authorities refuse to give humanitarian workers access to the areas under their control, meaning that just 4 per cent of aid disbursements have gone to occupied Ukraine. [7] Nonetheless, UN aid efforts make an important contribution to mitigating the conflict’s effects. Donors should ensure that they are fully funded, while pushing UN agencies to continue making their resources more accessible to local NGOs and lay the groundwork for the Ukrainian state to take over their operations in time.

[1] Michelle Nichols, “ UN asks Putin to extend Black Sea grain deal in return for SWIFT access, sources say ”, Reuters, 12 July 2023.

[2] “ Ships backed up in Black Sea lanes as Russia warning shots raise tensions ”, Reuters , 14 August 2023.

[3] “ Update 146 – IAEA Director General Statement on Situation in Ukraine ”, IAEA, 10 February 2023.

[4] Usaid Siddiqui, Priyanka Shankar and Arwa Ibrahim, “ Russia-Ukraine updates: Warnings of sabotage at nuclear plant ”, Al Jazeera, 5 July 2023.

[5] “ Ukraine Humanitarian Response 2023, Situation Report ”, UN OCHA, 3 August 2023.

[6] Corinne Redfern, “ One year on, Ukraine exposes the limits of well-funded international aid ”, The New Humanitarian , 14 February 2023; “ Ukraine Build Forward: NGO Recommendations on Ukraine Recovery and Reconstruction ”, RISE Ukraine/Save the Children, June 2023.

In parallel with this humanitarian work, the Secretary-General could attempt to regain a political foothold in the war by informally coordinating with those countries that have tried to engage in peace efforts with Moscow and Kyiv. If and when circumstances on the battlefield create the conditions for more substantive peace efforts, the UN may still be well placed to play a supporting role, as it did with Türkiye during the grain deal negotiations. Right now, however, peace initiatives are greater in number than in prospects. In 2023 so far, Brazil and South Africa have each launched such initiatives, while Saudi Arabia hosted discussions of how to end the war with representatives of Ukraine and 40 other states in Jeddah. None have had success thus far, and Guterres is sceptical that the moment is ripe for peacemaking. [1] Thus, for the time being, the Secretary-General and his advisers may find themselves doing little more than comparing notes with those powers that aspire to mediate an end to the conflict.

Finally, UN officials can stake out potential roles for the organisation in facilitating on-the-ground peacebuilding efforts in the event that the war ends or enters an extended stalemate. Kyiv has, for example, been vexed by the challenge of how to vet and rehabilitate those local officials in areas liberated from Russia who decided to work with the occupying powers. [2] While many among the Ukrainian public resent these people, some sort of agreed approach will be needed to sort those who wilfully committed serious offences from those who collaborated for the sake of their own, or their communities’, survival. Although the Ukrainian government will likely take primary responsibility for reintegration, the UN may be able to help shoulder the burden by helping to design and monitor a system that can handle this unpopular task in a way that is seen as fair and legitimate and can garner sufficient public support.

[1] In June, when Indonesia’s defence minister floated a proposal for the UN to deploy peacekeepers to Ukraine and oversee referendums on the future of Russian-occupied areas, his Ukrainian counterpart dismissed the notion with derision. David Latona, “ UN chief says peace talks in Ukraine conflict not possible right now ”, Reuters, 9 May 2023.

[2] A Crisis Group publication on the liberated territories of Ukraine is forthcoming.

7. Managing the Security Risks of Artificial Intelligence

Of all the areas examined in the UN’s New Agenda for Peace, AI – and its potential impact on international peace and security – is foremost among Secretary-General Guterres’ concerns. AI is widespread in civilian and military domains, he notes, but the frameworks regulating its use are no match for the technology’s “rapid scalability, lack of transparency and pace of innovation”. [1] The past year has seen a flurry of diplomacy around AI, including the Security Council’s first-ever meeting on the topic in July. This broad interest has emerged in no small part because generative AI models such as ChatGPT have grabbed so much public attention.

From the peace and security perspective, the attention is warranted, as AI’s exponential growth is sharpening geopolitical competition and raising tensions. For example, the U.S. desire to stay ahead of China in the development of AI technology has led it to impose far-reaching trade and investment restrictions that, even if carefully calibrated, have increased tensions between Washington and Beijing. [2] Yet the UN’s role in governing AI and its potential impact on peace and security remains an open question. Fully aware of this gap, the New Agenda for Peace calls on countries to create a new global body, under UN auspices, to manage AI’s risks to international peace and security, as well as begin intergovernmental negotiations to shape the “norms, rules and principles” of AI’s military applications. [3]

This task will be enormous. Regardless of venue, powerful states resist ceding the advantages that AI confers, or yielding the prerogative to try to out-compete current and prospective adversaries, making agreement on far-reaching restrictions improbable. Still, the Secretary-General’s call for the UN to house these debates is the right one. In doing so the institution may be able to help frame the debate about AI’s uses, set at least some guidelines for its applications and help manage the geopolitical tensions that AI is intensifying.

[1] “ A New Agenda for Peace ”, op. cit., p. 28.

[2] Kevin Klyman, “ Biden takes measured approach on China investment controls ”, Foreign Policy , 19 August 2023.

[3] In August, the Secretary-General also established a multi-stakeholder High-Level Advisory Body for Artificial Intelligence that will report on global AI governance by the end of the year. “ A New Agenda for Peace ”, op. cit., p. 28.; “ High-Level Advisory Body on Artificial Intelligence ”, UN Office of the Secretary-General’s Envoy on Technology, June 2023.

The geopolitical stakes are evolving nearly as fast as the technology is. Debates about AI’s impact on international peace and security, which for nearly a decade were dominated by concern about lethal autonomous weapons, have grown to encompass broader questions about AI’s military applications. Among the salient new uses of AI are for command and control , decision-making support and creating deepfakes in the service of disinformation. [1]

Against this backdrop, China, Russia and the U.S. see the digital arms race as existential, and they are not alone. [2] Regional powers such as Israel and Türkiye are deepening their political influence through ostensibly AI-enhanced weaponry. [3] Other states without advanced AI technology, fearful of what a new arms race will mean to them, continue to push for far-reaching controls or an outright ban.

While AI’s applications have evolved rapidly in recent years, the intergovernmental channels for dealing with them have developed less efficiently and with less to show for it. The state parties to the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons – which bans or restricts the use of certain weapons systems – limited their debates to “weapons systems based on emerging technologies in the areas of lethal autonomous weapons systems”. [4] Those conversations have now seemingly run their course. Meanwhile the proliferation of AI applications has rendered the lethal autonomous weapons framework partial at best. [5] Particularly notable in this regard is large language models (of which ChatGPT is one version) that technologically sophisticated armies already use to improve command and control or that might someday assist in designing war strategy and help less sophisticated actors improve warfighting. Al­though some countries, Russia chief among them, continue to argue that the Convention should remain the principal negotiating forum, others have already moved on.

Groupings with wider mandates are trying to step into the void. In February, the Netherlands and South Korea inaugurated the first Summit on Responsible AI in the Military Domain (REAIM). The summit’s modest call to action, endorsed by over 50 participating countries, was a step forward even though the notion of “responsible AI” remains inchoate. [6] The U.S. also launched its own declaration at the summit, outlining a unilateral commitment to what it considers to be responsible AI. Other initiatives launched by solo actors or small groups are legion. [7]

This piecemeal, and in some cases unilateral, approach to coming up with a global governance scheme for AI’s military applications is a recipe for neither cooperative nor collective security, and risks turning the regulation of AI’s risks into a political football. [8] Russia was not invited to the REAIM summit, and China, which attended and joined the call to action, is nevertheless unlikely to engage in depth in a process where the U.S. plays a dominant role. Latin American and Caribbean states, including some that joined the summit’s call, held their own regional gathering shortly thereafter, where they repeated the demand for a ban on autonomous weapons. [9] More than twenty countries, including such regional heavyweights as South Africa, which also supports an autonomous weapons ban, refused to join the REAIM call to action, likely for that reason.

[1] Autonomous weapons need not incorporate AI, though without it their automaticity would be limited to implementing a set of pre-defined rules, as opposed to AI-equipped autonomous weapons that are capable of making decisions and adapting to a changing environment.

[2] For example, Russian President Vladimir Putin stated in September 2017 that “the one who becomes the leader in [artificial intelligence] will be the ruler of the world”. “ Putin: Leader in artificial intelligence will rule world ”, AP, 4 September 2017. U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said in September 2022: “Preserving our edge in science and technology is not a ‘domestic issue’ or a ‘national security issue’. It’s both”. “ Remarks by National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan at the Special Competitive Studies Project Global Emerging Technologies Summit ”, White House, 16 September 2022. A statement following a meeting of the Chinese Communist Party, chaired by Chinese President Xi Jiping, described the threats posed by artificial intelligence to China: “We must be prepared for worst-case and extreme scenarios, and be ready to withstand the major test of high winds, choppy waters and even dangerous storms”. “China warns of artificial intelligence risks, calls for beefed-up national security measures”, AP, 31 May 2023.

[3] Turkish firms, which had carved out a niche as a drone supplier even before the AI revolution, have already made strides to upgrade their technology: Baykar and STM have shaped the course of combat in several conflicts, including in Ethiopia, Libya and Syria. Azerbaijan used a combination of Turkish and Israeli autonomous weapons to particularly strong effect in Nagorno-Karabakh. Israel, too, has used its autonomous technology in combat, to “swarm” targets in Gaza, fire remote machine guns in the West Bank and drive combat vehicles. Judah Ari Gross, “ In apparent world first, IDF deployed drone swarms in Gaza fighting ”, The Times of Israel, 10 July 2021. In the West Bank, Israel deployed AI-powered robotic guns to fire tear gas, stun grenades and sponge-tipped bullets at Palestinian protesters. Sam McNeil, “ Israel deploys remote-controlled robotic guns in West Bank ”, AP, 16 November 2022.

[4] The Convention (the purpose of which is reflected by its full name, the UN Conference on Prohibitions or Restrictions of Use of Certain Conventional Weapons which May Be Deemed to Be Excessively Injurious or to Have Indiscriminate Effects) dates to 1980. It began discussing lethal autonomous weapons in its annual meetings in 2014; in 2016, the Convention’s parties established a Group of Governmental Experts on emerging technologies in lethal autonomous weapons, which meets multiple times each year. It took until 2019 for the convention to adopt the ambiguous formulation “ human responsibility must be retained ”, much to the frustration of the 30-plus state parties to the convention that advocate a pre-emptive ban. The first two guidelines read, “International humanitarian law continues to apply fully to all weapons systems, including the potential development and use of lethal autonomous weapons systems; (b) Human responsibility for decisions on the use of weapons systems must be retained since accountability cannot be transferred to machines. This should be considered across the entire life cycle of the weapons system”.

[5] The U.S., for instance, exempts certain AI military applications, such as autonomous cyberspace capabilities, from the human oversight required for automatic weaponry, and applies different requirements to some AI-equipped defensive weaponry than it does to other AI-equipped weapons. U.S. Department of Defense, “Directive 3000.09: Autonomy in Weapons Systems”, January 2023.

[6] “ REAIM 2023 Call to Action ”, outcome document of the Responsible AI in the Military Domain Summit, 16 February 2023. On responsible AI, see Dustin Lewis, “ On ‘Responsible AI’ in War ”, in Silja Voeneky, Philipp Kellmeyer, Oliver Mueller and Wolfram Burgard (eds.), The Cambridge Handbook of Responsible Artificial Intelligence (Cambridge, 2022).

[7] A number of parallel unilateral initiatives have been proposed on AI, including China’s “New Generation Artificial Intelligence Development Plan ”, the G7’s “ Hiroshima AI Process ”, the EU’s “ Coordinated Plan on AI ”, the U.S. “ National Artificial Intelligence Research and Development Strategic Plan ” and Canada’s “ Pan-Canadian AI Strategy ”. See the insightful analysis by Tobias Vestner and Juliette François-Blouin, “ Globalizing Responsible AI in the Military Domain by the REAIM Summit ”, Just Security , 13 March 2023.

[8] In launching the U.S. Political Declaration, Ambassador Bonnie Jenkins, U.S. under secretary of state for arms control and international security, used the term “responsible” both as a governance standard (as in “responsible military use of AI”, which was the subject of the REAIM negotiations) and as a political standard (“Our collective ability as responsible states to converge on an understanding of responsible state behaviour can advance our collective security”). “Keynote Remarks by U/S Jenkins to the Summit on Responsible Artificial Intelligence in the Military Domain Ministerial Segment”, U.S. State Department, 16 February 2023.

[9] Bonnie Docherty and Mary Wareham, “ Latin American and Caribbean nations rally against autonomous weapons systems ”, Just Security , 6 March 2023.

Such is the crowded terrain that Secretary-General Guterres stepped into over the course of the summer. In his statement to the Security Council’s July meeting, Guterres recommended a ban on autonomous weapons and the creation of a new agency dedicated to AI , similar to the IAEA, to oversee its development. He also urged member states to reach international agreements to govern AI’s military applications and uses for counter-terrorism, in addition to developing their own national strategies.

But however well-intentioned, these suggestions are unlikely to have substantial effect. They do not alter the underlying politics that have stymied multilateral progress on lethal autonomous weaponry. The more binding the instrument, the narrower the constraint that powerful actors will accept. Recent experience suggests that any treaty with teeth is unlikely to go much further than repeating that international humanitarian law is applicable to AI, as is already accepted, without setting any new meaningful provisions for human control and involvement in weapons usage or decision-making. (States may be willing to make an exception for nuclear weapons, which would be welcome.) A ban certainly does not have the major-power political support it would need to take hold. Moreover, even were states to adopt a far-reaching treaty, enforcement would be difficult, since the technologies underlying many military AI applications are easily accessible.

But though certain aspirations are likely to remain out of reach for the foreseeable future, bringing AI discussions formally under the UN umbrella would have value. Military uses of AI are a global concern, not least because state capacities are grossly unequal, and the states and companies with the greatest capacities are not transparent about them. The UN could play a role in educating people about how abuse or recklessness with respect to AI could violate human dignity by mining personal data – and could risk human lives should military decision-making algorithms fail to incorporate de-escalation or conflict prevention. Moving the AI conversation to a multilateral venue where all states have a voice and vote could also gradually build support for greater levels of human control of AI weaponry as well as other military applications of AI. Human control of weapons is often articulated in legal terms, but it is also a sensible policy precaution to reduce the possibility of mistakes that could escalate conflict. [1]

As Guterres encourages the UN to pivot toward the future and emerging threats, the challenge posed by weaponised AI belongs at the top of the list. Although a path toward truly responsible regulation may not yet be visible, the Secretary-General was right to encourage the UN to try to make itself the starting point.

[1] Vincent Boulanin, Neil Davison, Netta Goussac and Moa Peldán Carlsson, “Limits on Autonomy in Weapons Systems: Identifying Practical Elements of Human Control”, Stockholm International Peace Research Institute and International Committee of the Red Cross, June 2020.

8. Using the momentum created by the New Agenda for Peace’s call to dismantle the patriarchy 

For weeks after the Secretary-General published the New Agenda for Peace in July, one of its most resonant phrases reverberated in UN corridors: a call to "dismantle the patriarchy”. [1] This provocative exhortation, a departure from previous UN language on gender issues, elicited mixed reactions from diplomats and UN officials. Some were incredulous that member states would commit to such a goal. Others felt that the New Agenda was correct to use clear rhetoric in calling for the redistribution of power across genders – something that member state bodies which regularly discuss the Women, Peace and Security (WPS) agenda have been unable or unwilling to do. [2] In any case, there is a pronounced gap – even in the very document where the Secretary-General made his call – between the UN’s rhetoric and its actual level of ambition.

In policy terms, the New Agenda’s appeal for “transformative progress” on gender dynamics is accompanied by recommendations that are familiar to the WPS community. These include admonitions to work toward women’s equal participation in peacebuilding; eradication of gender-based violence; and financing for gender equality initiatives. But while this language carefully avoids suggesting any new objectives that would require the Security Council to enact a broader WPS resolution (where China and Russia are liable to block progressive language) the New Agenda’s call to action can still be put to good use.

[1] “ A New Agenda for Peace ”, op. cit., p. 7.

[2] A former diplomat with knowledge of negotiations leading up to WPS-related resolutions noted that they made no such unambiguous calls. Crisis Group interview, September 2023.

At a minimum, the report’s bold language is a welcome riposte to the overall tone of discussions around gender issues in New York , which have recently been gloomy. Many UN officials and diplomats worry that critics of WPS have succeeded in blocking progress on implementing the agenda and have positioned themselves to push back on past advances. But while the fillip provided by the New Agenda can help with morale and momentum, proponents of the WPS agenda – which comprises four pillars (Participation, Protection, Prevention, and Relief and Recovery) – now need to work out how to use it to push for more concrete action to revitalise the concept.

One place to start is the New Agenda’s call for more “quotas, targets and incentives” to encourage women’s equal participation in peacebuilding, which is imperative not just as a matter of equity, but also to help ensure that peacemaking teams draw on the talents of the entire population. But this worthy objective can only be advanced if proponents develop a common set of tools and coordinated approach to move toward the goal. The reality that many existing gender targets go unmet suggests how important it is to focus on practical impediments and how to overcome them. When it comes to political participation, for example, women make up only 26.5 per cent of parliamentarians in single or lower houses in national governments, far off the Sustainable Development Goals target of achieving gender parity in such bodies by 2030. [1] Participation in peace processes is even lower, with women comprising 13 per cent of negotiators in peace processes between 1992 and 2019, rising to a still depressingly low 19 per cent in 2021. [2]

So, what to do? While the UN does not have the power to enforce gender quotas on states, member states can at least focus attention on whether and how actors pursue these standards in the peace and security realm. For example, a Security Council open debate on WPS that Brazil is set to convene in October will likely focus on women’s participation in political and peace processes. Proponents of a robust WPS agenda should be strategising about how they can use that forum to put the New Agenda’s recommendation to work, for example by bolstering calls for a minimum 30 per cent women’s participation rate in peace negotiations, which some have already adopted as a WPS-linked goal in specific processes.

The open debate can also be an opportunity to showcase how member states committed to WPS are implementing their own quotas in peace processes in which they are directly involved or support, or making quotas part of their “asks” when formulating financial and political support packages for countries recovering from wars. [3] There may be some places where this approach is unfortunately not a viable option, as the above discussion of Afghanistan indicates, but the default should not be to acquiesce in gender-imbalanced negotiating teams.

The New Agenda could also be harnessed to a renewed push toward eradicating gender-based violence and ensuring access to legal and physical response measures for survivors. The New Agenda fails to break new ground on this score – essentially asking member states to recommit to previous standards, including the provisions of a 2019 Security Council resolution (2106) on conflict-related sexual violence – but that need not be an impediment to progress. Indeed, if member states could take meaningful steps toward satisfying their existing commitments, that would itself represent forward movement.

[1] “ Monthly Ranking of Women in National Parliaments ”, Inter-Parliamentary Union Parline, January 2023.

[2] “ Facts and Figures: Women, Peace and Security ”, UN Women, 14 October 2022.

[3] Crisis Group has argued in recent reporting on Yemen and Cameroon that, wherever feasible, outside mediators should push participants to improve women’s representation in negotiating teams. See Crisis Group Middle East Report N°221, The Case for More Inclusive – and More Effective – Peacemaking in Yemen , 18 March 2021; and Crisis Group Africa Report N°307, Rebels, Victims, Peacebuilders: Women in Cameroon’s Anglophone Conflict , 23 February 2022.

One fairly straightforward place to focus support would be in providing more resources for the women’s protection advisers and gender advisers who are embedded with blue helmet missions. These officers have a broad mandate to counter gender-based violence and can help direct UN resources toward everything from meeting protection needs to finding health care for survivors (often a critical humanitarian gap because of the damage sustained by health care infrastructure during conflict) to seeking legal redress against perpetrators. Funding for these positions is often tight. Meetings of the WPS Informal Expert Group can be a useful forum for encouraging, making and reporting on the satisfaction of commitments in this space. [1]

Finally, there is the matter of development financing. The New Agenda recommendations on financing for gender equality initiatives echoes an unmet previous call to allocate at least 15 per cent of development aid to conflict-affected countries for gender equality initiatives. But it fails to challenge donors to consider (as the UN has previously done) how the 85 per cent balance of this assistance can be allocated in ways that respond appropriately to the needs of those marginalised due to gender. [2] Still, proponents should use the New Agenda to call attention to this deficit heading into the UN’s annual summit on gender equality, the Commission on the Status of Women. The March 2024 summit will likely focus on addressing poverty and increasing gender-responsive financing, including in the peace and security space. [3] Member states should consider using this moment for driving support to the UN Peacebuilding Fund’s Gender Promotion Initiative, which supports a range of entities, including civil society organisations, working on gender programming in conflict and post-conflict situations.

Such steps forward will not by themselves spell the end of patriarchal power structures. As the New Agenda itself says, incremental approaches to addressing gender inequality rarely deliver radical improvements. But progress along these lines could nevertheless be highly beneficial, and it is almost surely more achievable than revolutionary change, at least over the short term. Meanwhile, those states that would like to advocate faster, deeper change may have to move ahead on their own – and indeed go beyond the New Agenda’s vision.

Some areas are particularly ripe for such independent action. For example, despite a reference to the need “to challenge and transform gender norms”, the Secretary-General’s paper has no recommended actions on the protection and participation in peacebuilding of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex (LGBTQI+) populations. Brief mentions of gendered power dynamics and their impact on men and boys are also not accompanied by concrete proposals. These are nevertheless important areas for states to explore when forming policies that try to account for the full range of ways in which people of all genders experience and interact with conflict.

[1] Cristal Downing and Floor Keuleers, “ Strengthening the Response to Conflict-Related Sexual Violence ”, Crisis Group Commentary, 6 July 2023.

[2] “ Report of the Secretary-General on Women and Peace and Security ”, UNSC S/2019/800, 9 October 2019 ; “ Report of the Secretary-General on Women and Peace and Security ”, UNSC S/2020/946, 25 September 2020.

[3] For more about this summit, see the UN Women ’s website.

9. Advancing the Peace Agenda at COP28

Two months after meeting at the UN General Assembly, world leaders will reconvene in Dubai, the United Arab Emirates, for COP28 – the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change’s twenty-eighth Conference of the Parties. Assessments of progress toward the Paris Agreement’s 2030 emissions goals are set to dominate the agenda. But COP28 will also test whether delegates can shine the spotlight on conflict-affected countries and provide much-needed support to their adaptation efforts. In a period in which Security Council divisions have impeded climate security conversations in New York, November’s forum in Dubai is an opportunity to build on initiatives in this area that began in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt at COP27. [1] Member states should use COP28 to channel more financial, technical and political support to the people who are most vulnerable to the impact of both climate fragility and armed conflict.

Conflict-affected countries face distinct challenges in the climate arena. Climate change tends to act as a “risk multiplier” that exacerbates underlying social tensions and drives armed conflict; recent studies assess that half of the most climate-fragile countries struggle with deadly violence. [2] South Sudan, Somalia and Iran are shaped by vastly different conflict dynamics, but extreme climate shocks (like flooding or protracted droughts) and environmental degradation in all these countries heighten intercommunal tensions and competition over natural resources and agriculture-based economic opportunities. [3]

[1] For more, see Ulrich Eberle, Ashish Pradhan and Richard Gowan, “ Can the UN Security Council Agree on a Climate Security Resolution? ”, Crisis Group Commentary, 20 October 2021; Crisis Group Statement, “ Time for the UN Security Council to Act on Climate Security ”, 7 December 2021; “ How UN Member States Divided Over Climate Security ”, Crisis Group Commentary, 22 December 2021; and Crisis Group Briefing, Ten Challenges for the UN in 2022-2023 , op. cit., pp. 26-28.

[2] Climate change’s impact on conflict is complex and highly specific to place and time. For more, see Crisis Group, “ COP: A Special Series ”, 28 February 2023 ; and Crisis Gro up, “ How Climate Change Fuels Deadly Conflict ”.

[3] See “ Climate Change and Conflict in Somalia ”, video, Crisis Group, 3 November 2022; Crisis Group Visual Explainer, “ Floods in South Sudan ”, October 2022 ; and Crisis Group Middle East Report N°241, Iran’s Khuzestan: Thirst and Turmoil , 21 August 2023.

As Crisis Group has previously reported , conflict-affected countries also run up against obstacles in getting access to international climate financing. [1] Some are well-known: donors often fall short of meeting the pledges they have made, and conflict-affected countries receive a significantly smaller percentage of climate financing, on average, compared to countries not experiencing fighting. In addition, the physical danger and governance deficiencies that arise from armed conflict often impede and distort adaptation work. [2] Other obstacles, ranging from the prevalent use of non-concessional loans to difficulties in receiving UN accreditation and meeting donors’ fiduciary standards, are less prominent in policy conversations but hold these countries back all the same.

“Peace” is a new item on the annual climate summit’s agenda, creating a welcome opportunity to tackle climate security issues. [3] Diplomats historically approached climate fragility and war as separate issues, often hoping to stop politically charged debates about conflicts from derailing sensitive negotiations over emissions cuts and donor pledges. Egypt used its COP27 presidency in November 2022 to begin weaving these conversations together under the UN umbrella. [4] Over twenty different side events in Sharm el-Sheikh discussed various aspects of the climate security agenda. [5] But despite this push, climate security was peripheral to the formal negotiations about the summit’s outcomes on adaptation and climate financing.

As for 2023, the UAE plans to feature climate change’s impact on peace prominently at COP28. Discussions during the third day of the two-week summit will be dedicated to Health/Relief, Recovery and Peace – the first explicit focus on peace and conflict at any COP. [6] Emirati diplomats plan to launch a flagship “global call to action” during this thematic day, which would encourage donors to offer dedicated pledges to conflict-affected countries. Proposed side events on the newly created Loss and Damages Fund (which will compensate climate-affected countries for damages caused by climate change ) and exploring climate financing outside the UN architecture should allow participants to interrogate the impact of climate security more explicitly than in years past.

[1] Crisis Group Visual Explainer, “ Giving Countries in Conflict Their Fair Share of Climate Finance ”, November 2022.

[3] Ulrich Eberle and Andrew Ciacci, “ Getting Conflict into the Global Climate Conversation ”, Crisis Group Commentary, 5 November 2021.

[4] “ The Climate Responses for Sustaining Peace initiative to be launched at COP27 ”, press release, COP27, 2022.

[5] “ COP27 Peace Report ”, COP27, November 2022.

[6] “ COP28UAE Thematic Program ”, COP28UAE, July 2023.

Despite this growing attention , efforts to make progress on the overlap between climate, peace and security at COP gatherings face huge constraints . The Loss and Damage Fund, a historic outcome of COP27, could take years to bring online. [1] According to the World Bank, lower- and middle-income countries now require an estimated $783 billion annually to fund their mitigation and adaptation efforts; this amount far exceeds the $100 billion annual pledge developed countries made in 2009 but are only now on track to meet. [2] While more countries readily ac­knowl­edge climate change’s direct and indirect impact on armed conflict, they are divided on whether (and how) to address these effects in intergovernmental forums such as the UN climate grouping, the Security Council and the General Assembly. [3] Few, if any, of these obstacles can be removed overnight.

Diplomats can nonetheless use COP28 to advance the climate and peace agenda. Raising peace and security issues in a wide range of formal sessions may spur negotiators to consider the specific effects of their decisions on conflict risks in vulnerable countries . This focus could empower conflict-affected countries to advocate for a greater percentage of adaptation support and climate financing from new pledges th a n they currently receive. A “global call to action” could provide helpful momentum for diplomats who wish to keep the links between climate and peace on the agenda of future COP summits. Delegates could also explore how they can build on the 2022 Climate Response for Sustaining Peace initiative, which could help countries translate international agreements into domestic practice.

A change to the COP agenda does not absolve the Security Council of the responsibility to help shape international responses to climate change. Discussions in New York and under other UN auspices should be seen as complementary, and not zero-sum, if diplomats intend to offer meaningful support to the people most affected by armed conflict and climate change.

[1] “ Transitional Committee on Loss and Damage Holds Second Meeting in Bonn ”, UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, 1 June 2023.

[2] “ What You Need to Know About How CCDRS Estimate Climate Finance Needs ”, World Bank, 13 March 2023. “ Rich nations to meet overdue $100 billion climate pledge this year ”, Reuters, 2 May 2023.

[3] “ UN Security Council 9345th Meeting ”, UNSC S/PV.9345, 13 June 2023 ; “ How UN Member States Divided Over Climate Security ”, op. cit.

10. Continuing the Quest for UN Security Council Reform

When U.S. President Joe Biden addressed the General Assembly in September 2022, he emphasised the need to reform the Security Council to ensure it remains "credible and effective" . [1] From a political perspective, his gesture was a smart one. Russia had ridden roughshod over the Council for months, using its veto to block any criticism of its aggression in Ukraine. Accordingly, many leaders at the 2022 high-level week were talking up the need to overhaul the body. But one year on, despite an uptick in public and private discussions of what Council reform might look like, there is little sign that the U.S. initiative has led to a breakthrough. The hesitancy is not surprising, given the complexity of the issue, but if the Council proves immune to reform, its credibility will shrink further with many countries.

The procedural and political obstacles to reforming the Council have always been exceedingly high. Changing the Council’s composition or revising the rules governing the permanent members’ vetoes would require amending the UN Charter – which in turn requires ratification by two thirds of the UN’s membership and all five current Council members. [2] Member states are split into blocs supporting incompatible visions. While Brazil, Germany, India and Japan (the G4) have campaigned jointly for permanent seats on the Council for two decades, they face opposition from a coalition of middle powers – ranging from Canada to South Korea – that fear they will lose influence at the UN if the club of permanent Council members expands. [3] Complicating matters further, African states argue that the continent deserves to hold two permanent seats on the Council, though they cannot agree on which countries would fill them. [4] In the background sits the U.S. Senate, which as part of any ratification process would have to approve by two-thirds vote a Charter amendment, a high bar to clear with a body that has proven less than hospitable to multilateral treaty-making in recent years. [5]

Given these hurdles, some UN members doubted that the U.S. was sincere when it elevated the topic of Council reform. Cynics saw Biden’s statement as a bit of political opportunism in the wake of Russia’s aggression, as well as a gambit to irritate China, which is strongly opposed to Japan gaining more influence at the UN. By this metric it succeeded, as Chinese officials responded to Biden’s initiative with suspicion. [6] To her credit, U.S. Permanent Representative to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield conducted extensive consultations with other UN members about Council reform in late 2022 and early 2023. But while Biden indicated that Washington is broadly supportive of the G4’s ambitions for permanent seats, the U.S. has not tabled a specific model for Council reform that it wishes to champion. It is unlikely to pay great attention to the issue as the White House juggles an already full foreign policy agenda while preparing for the 2024 election.

[1] Joseph R. Biden, “ Remarks by President Biden Before the 77th Session of the United Nations General Assembly ”, speech to the UN General Assembly, New York, 21 September 2022.

[2] “ Article 108 ” , United Nations Charter, Chapter XVIII: Amendments, 26 June 1945.

[3] “ UN Security Council Reform: What the World Thinks ” , Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 28 June 2023.

[4] “ The Common African Position on the Proposed Reform of the United Nations: The Ezulwini Consensus ”, African Union Ext/EX.CL/2 (VII), 7-8 March 2005.

[5] Ryan, “ U.S. seeks to expand developing world’s influence at United Nations ”, op. cit.

[6] Crisis Group interviews, UN diplomats, June 2023.

The display of U.S. interest in Council reform was enough, however, to jolt other countries into discussing the issue with new energy. Washington’s geopolitical rivals have tried to use the debate to boost cooperation among non-Western states. Russia has indicated that it would support Brazil and India gaining permanent seats, but not Germany and Japan. China has indicated that it would be open to developing countries gaining more power in the Council (again sidelining Berlin and Tokyo) although its exact preferences are unclear. At August’s BRICS summit in South Africa, China and Russia for the first time backed a statement supporting Brazilian, Indian and South African “ambitions” to join the Security Council. [1]

In New York, discussions about the annual Intergovernmental Negotiations on Security Council Reform – traditionally a tedious affair – have grown more animated, with ambassadors organising side meetings to sell their versions of Council reform. The co-chairs of the process in 2023, Austria and Kuwait, have suggested that states should hold more structured meetings reviewing the differing models on offer in the coming year, in order to identify “a conceptual approach that enjoys the widest possible acceptance”. [2] Some UN members would like to see a timeline for completing reform discussions, possibly setting the 80th anniversary of the signing of the UN Charter in 2025 as a deadline for agreement.

All this diplomatic activity around Council reform could still fail to deliver results. There are parallels between the current moment and the run-up to the 60th anniversary of the UN’s foundation in 2005 when the G4 – taking advantage of disquiet with the U.S. decision to circumvent the Council over Iraq – made a push for permanent seats. [3] Washington and Beijing eventually blocked that effort. While China and the U.S. are less likely to cooperate over the Council’s future now, current reform efforts could also peter out inconclusively. Many UN members are less focused on Council reform than changes to the World Bank and IMF that could make the financial institutions more responsive to developing nations’ needs.

If Council reform proves unattainable, reforms to other parts of the UN security architecture may be more feasible. The New Agenda for Peace highlights the possibility of strengthening the Peacebuilding Commission, an advisory body that works with vulnerable states on recovering from or avoiding conflict, possibly by strengthening the body’s links to the international financial institutions and development banks. [4] That could offer the UN openings to get money to states at risk of conflict or coping with the effects of climate change.

While strengthening the UN’s peacebuilding efforts would be valuable in its own right, it will not satisfy those powers – notably India and Brazil – that have most to gain from potential Security Council reforms. Although the debate about the Council’s future can often seem far removed from immediate geopolitical issues, those players who want reform will not let the issue drop. If progress stutters once again, it could well convince policymakers in Brasilia and New Delhi to focus more on frameworks such as the G20 and BRICS, where they have status and influence, and less on a UN system where it is impossible for them to secure change. Having put Council reform on the table, the U.S. should continue to look for ways to move the discussion forward, if it wants to convince other powers that the Council is still a serious platform for cooperation.

[1] “ XV BRICS Summit Johannesburg II Declaration ” , BRICS, 23 August 2023. Previous BRICS statements had acknowledged the three countries’ ambitions in the multilateral system and the UN, but made no specific reference to the Security Council.

[2] Letter from the Permanent Representatives of Austria and Kuwait to the President of the General Assembly, 2 June 2023.

[3] “ UN Security Council Reform: What the World Thinks ”, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 28 June 2023.

[4] “ A New Agenda for Peace ”, op. cit.

IV. Conclusion

The pressures that the UN has faced over the last twelve months are likely to persist, or intensify, over the coming year. A further deterioration of relations between Russia and the West – or a sharp downturn between the U.S. and China – could make Security Council diplomacy even more confrontational. UN peace operations will continue to face tough security and political conditions. While the Secretary-General has sketched out an intriguing and far-sighted reform agenda through the New Agenda for Peace, negotiations in the run-up to the Summit of the Future are liable to be difficult as well as rife with the tensions between developed and developing countries that have lately been on display in New York.

Yet there are still reasons to believe that the UN can play a role in maintaining international peace and security even if the geopolitical picture remains bleak. Despite the Security Council’s travails, it is still available as a rare space for the major powers to make compromises where their interests do align. The organisation has in-house expertise on issues like mediation and peacekeeping that it can offer to international actors, even if big blue helmet missions are winding down. As the Secretary-General is usefully reminding member states, the UN still has a unique status as a facilitator on issues such as AI and climate change. The leaders that attend the annual General Assembly high-level week, which is itself an example of the UN’s convening power, should take the opportunity to signal their support for world organisation’s continuing relevance in dealing with current conflicts and emerging threats.

                                                               New York/Brussels, 14 September 2023

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Portrait of a woman standing in front of a series of huts in the Somali desert.

The top 10 crises the world can’t ignore in 2023

Learn about the world’s worst crises and what can be done to help.

Go to the Emergency Watchlist 2024 here.

Each year, the International Rescue Committee releases a list of the 20 humanitarian crises expected to deteriorate the most over the next year. For the past decade, this report has helped us determine where to focus our emergency services and lifesaving support to make the greatest impact.

Editor's note, June 5, 2023: The IRC released a Watchlist Insight report focused on the Central Sahel, a region warming at 1.5x the global average. Long-term economic underdevelopment and political marginalization are making communities in Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger more vulnerable to the effects of both the climate crisis and protracted armed conflict.   

Heading into 2023, countries across the globe continue to struggle with decades-long conflicts, economic turmoil, and the devastating effects of climate change. The guardrails that once prevented such crises from spiraling out of control —including peace treaties, humanitarian aid, and accountability for violations of international law—have been weakened or dismantled.   

The human and economic costs of these crises and disasters are not equally shared. The countries on the 2023 Watchlist are home to just 13 percent of the global population, yet they account for 90 percent of people in humanitarian need and 81 percent of the people who have been forcibly displaced. 

If we can understand what is happening in these 20 countries—and what to do about it—then we may, finally, have a chance to start reducing the scale of human suffering. 

Here, we break down what you need to know about the 10 countries likely to face the worst humanitarian crises next year. For more information and to see the full list of 20, read the 2023 Emergency Watchlist report  or our Watchlist at a Glance summary.

10. Ukraine: War creates world’s largest displacement crisis

The war in Ukraine has sparked the world’s fastest, largest displacement crisis in decades, according to the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), pushing the country into the Watchlist for the first time since 2017.  Many still in the country are facing winter without access to food, water, health care, and other essential supplies. The conflict also continues to have ripple effects across the world. 

Ukraine is not higher on the Watchlist only because the huge scale of the international response helped to mitigate the impact of the war, at least somewhat, relative to other Watchlist countries.

Iryna and her daughter stand near the Medyka border crossing point in Poland after fleeing Ukraine.

What to expect in 2023

Conflict is likely to continue into 2023, with Ukrainians facing increased risk of injury, illness and death. Russian missile strikes could leave millions without water, electricity and heating in winter. 6.5 million Ukrainians have been displaced inside the country, while more than 7.8 million are refugees across Europe. 

How the IRC helps

The IRC launched an emergency response to the war in February 2022, working with local partners in Ukraine, Poland and Moldova to reach the most vulnerable by providing essential items, cash assistance, improved access to health care, and safe spaces for women and children.

9. Haiti: Gang violence and climate change combine for chaos

Haiti makes it into the Watchlist top 10 as political instability and gang violence surge following the assassination of President Jovenel Moise in 2021.

Armed gangs regularly take control of distribution routes, causing shortages of basic goods and fuel. Rising prices make it increasingly difficult for people to afford to buy the food they can access.

Meanwhile climate shocks and the first cholera outbreak in three years strain critical health and sanitation systems.

A woman and her son embrace under a tarp in Haiti. The tarp will clearly not provide any longterm protection from the elements.

Gang violence will continue to disrupt people’s livelihoods and essential services. Kidnappings, rape and killings are all rising, putting thousands at risk of death. 

Haiti also recorded record levels of food insecurity in 2022, which is expected to worsen in 2023. 

Humanitarian actors and other service providers will continue to face disruptions to their work in 2023, preventing aid from reaching those most affected.

While the IRC is not currently present in Haiti, we have a history of supporting the country dating back to 2010, working with a strong network of local civil society organizations to respond to the needs of communities. We currently serve Haitians on the move in countries where the IRC has a programmatic response, including Mexico.

8. Burkina Faso: Armed group activity invites instability

The situation in Burkina Faso grows increasingly dire as armed groups intensify their attacks and seize land. Tensions among the country’s political factions have contributed to the instability. Members of the armed forces seized power twice in 2022 alone. 

A growth in the number of vigilante groups has added to the violence. Further expansion among these groups could increase political instability.

Portrait of a displaced woman in a crisis-affected region of northern Burkina Faso.

Armed groups now control as much as 40 percent of the country.

While needs are dire, humanitarian aid is limited by conflict and lack of funding. Some towns in northern Burkina Faso are almost entirely cut off.  The price of food has increased 30 percent, among the highest food inflation rates in the world. 

The IRC is active in Djibo, an area currently under siege by armed groups and host to many people who have fled their homes. We deliver clean water, sanitation services and primary health care programs.

7. South Sudan: Climate change compounds the legacy of civil war

South Sudan is still recovering from a civil war that ended in 2018. While conflict has decreased, localized fighting remains widespread. The country is one of the most fragile in the world.

Climate disasters including severe floods and droughts make it increasingly difficult for people to access food and basic resources. 

Sisters Muna and Khamis live with their mother in an IDP camp in South Sudan. Here, they pose for a photo outdoors.

More South Sudanese people than ever before—7.8 million—will face crisis levels of food insecurity in 2023. Despite severe flooding, destroyed crops and disease outbreaks, funding shortages forced the World Food Program to suspend part of its food aid in 2022.

Conflict across the country also threatens civilians and humanitarian supporters. South Sudan consistently has the world’s highest level of violence against aid workers, hindering their ability to reach people in need.

With more than 900 full-time staff in South Sudan, the IRC's work includes lifesaving health and nutrition, protection and economic recovery services. 

6. Syria: Years of war trigger a health crisis 

Over a decade of war has destroyed Syria ’s health system and left the country on the brink of economic collapse. A decade of conflict in neighboring Lebanon has further increased food prices and poverty. Currently, 75 percent of Syrians are unable to meet their most basic needs and millions rely on humanitarian aid.

47% of Syrians rely on alternative and often water sources to meet or complement their water needs.

Prices of goods will continue to increase into 2023. Ongoing conflict and airstrikes could force more people to flee their homes. 

The first cholera outbreak in a decade threatens to overwhelm Syria’s health care and water systems. 

Since 2014, the U.N. Security Council has authorized U.N. agencies to deliver aid from neighboring countries into Syria. This critical lifeline could be cut off for millions in early 2023—in the middle of winter when needs will be particularly severe.

The IRC promotes economic recovery with job training, apprenticeships and small business support. We also support health facilities and mobile health teams with lifesaving trauma services as well as primary, reproductive and mental health services.

5. Yemen: Failed truce could lead to renewed conflict

The crisis in Yemen is deepening as an eight-year conflict between armed groups and government forces remains unresolved. While a ceasefire reduced fighting for several months, it collapsed in October 2022 and failed to mitigate the economic and health consequences of conflict. 

Humanitarian funding has lagged. As it stands, 80 percent of the population lives in extreme poverty and 2.2 million children are acutely malnourished.

Bodor Ali Muhammad, 21, sits with her three daughters in Modhoor camp in Yemen.

Due to the failed truce, major conflict could resume in 2023. Yemen is at increased risk of violence unless a longer ceasefire agreement is reached.

Already, localized fighting persists, making it difficult for humanitarian organizations to deliver aid to the most vulnerable. Basic goods like food and fuel will remain unaffordable for many Yemenis.

While ongoing conflict and restrictions have posed a challenge, the IRC and our volunteers continue to reach vulnerable people and provide health care, women’s protection and empowerment, and education programming.

4. Democratic Republic of Congo: Decades-long conflicts escalate 

Over 100 armed groups fight for control in eastern Congo , fueling a crisis that has lasted for decades. Citizens are often targeted. After nearly 10 years of dormancy, the M23 armed group launched a new offensive in 2022, forcing families to flee their homes and disrupting humanitarian aid.

Major disease outbreaks–including measles, malaria and Ebola–continue to threaten an already weak health care system, putting many lives at risk.

A woman pauses her agricultural work to pose for a photo in North Kivu, DRC. Two other women continue to work behind her.

Conflict remains the key concern in Congo, especially as tensions escalate and M23 takes control of more land.

Political unrest is rising as the country prepares for elections. Leaders have been accused of inciting and supporting conflict to win over constituents. Despite peacekeeping efforts, violence against aid organizations may increase before the vote. 

The IRC works with communities on peace-building projects to reduce conflict and launches emergency responses to contain Ebola and other health crises, including the latest outbreak in eastern Congo.

3. Afghanistan: An entire population is pushed into poverty 

Afghanistan ranked No. 1 on the 2022 Watchlist but dropped down for 2023—not because conditions have improved but because the situation in East Africa is so severe.

Over a year since the shift in power, Afghans remain in economic collapse. While a rapid increase in aid prevented famine last winter, the root cause of the crisis persists. Ongoing efforts to engage the government and improve the economy have fallen short. Almost the entire population is now living in poverty and preparing for another long winter.

A girl poses for a portrait, staring solemnly into the camera.

Heading into winter, millions of people are unable to afford basic needs, with drought and flooding decimating crops and livestock. 

Afghan women and girls will experience the brunt of this hardship. They remain at risk of violence and exploitation. And many are left without a voice as the government places bans on education, dress, travel and political participation for women.

The IRC more than quadrupled our staff in Afghanistan in 2022 to operate in 12 provinces, support 68 health facilities and manage 30 mobile health teams. In the next year, we expect to reach 800,000 people directly and impact 4 million with our services.

2. Ethiopia: Drought and conflict torments tens of millions 

Ethiopia is heading toward its sixth consecutive failed rainy season, which could prolong a drought already affecting 24 million people. At the same time, various conflicts across the country are disrupting lives and preventing humanitarian organizations from delivering aid. 

While a November 2022 peace deal may hold and offers hope for an end to the conflict in Tigray, northern Ethiopia, 28.6 million remain in need of humanitarian aid.

Ethiopia's drought response requires $1.66B but was only 42% funded as of late 2022.

The humanitarian response to the drought in Ethiopia is insufficiently funded, even more so than in East African countries facing a similar crisis. If humanitarian groups can’t deliver resources in a country that is badly affected by aid funding shortfalls, Ethiopians will starve as they are hit by drought and rising food prices.

If the peace deal unravels, humanitarian needs will increase even more. 

The IRC distributes cash and basic emergency supplies, builds safe water supply systems and sanitation facilities, and supports government partners and community workers in maintaining health clinics.

1. Somalia: A catastrophic hunger crisis tops the Watchlist

Topping the Watchlist for the first time, Somalia is facing an unprecedented drought and hunger crisis. Pe ople have already lost their lives to starvation, and the country is on the brink of famine.

This is no “natural disaster.” Human-caused climate change has increased the frequency and severity of droughts. Decades of conflict have eroded Somalia’s ability to respond to shocks of any kind, destroying systems and infrastructure that would have provided a guardrail against the current crisis. 

For instance, with its food production decimated by climate change and conflict, Somalia’s dependence on imports has proven disastrous — over 90% of its wheat comes from Russia and Ukraine.

Mohamed Hassan, 71, and Madina Omar, 70, pose for a photo outside of a group of huts in Somalia.

Somalia, like Ethiopia, could experience its sixth consecutive failed rainy season in 2023. High global food prices driven by the war in Ukraine make it even harder for families to eat.   

Humanitarian organizations have limited ability to reach people in areas controlled by non-state armed groups. There are even reports of one group destroying food deliveries and poisoning water sources.

Meanwhile, the humanitarian response in Somalia remains severely underfunded.

The IRC has been operational in Somalia since 1981, with programs including health, nutrition, water and sanitation services; women’s protection and empowerment; and cash assistance. We are scaling up our programs to address drought and rising food insecurity, and we are expanding to new areas to meet severe needs.

Support our work

What needs to be done.

Aid-as-usual will not address the severe challenges revealed by Watchlist. To make a lasting impact, international institutions must rethink the way we address crises in 2023. This involves setting ambitious goals to break ongoing cycles of conflict and devastation.  

How can I help?

A record 340 million people are in need of humanitarian aid this year, and 100 million have been forced to flee their homes. Make a donation to support the IRC's life-changing work in Watchlist countries and across the world.

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News Analysis

Favoring Foes Over Friends, Trump Threatens to Upend International Order

Former President Donald J. Trump suggested that he would incite Russia to attack “delinquent” U.S. allies, foreshadowing potentially far-reaching changes in the world order if he wins the White House again.

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Former President Donald J. Trump pointing with his index finger.

By Peter Baker

Peter Baker has covered the White House under five presidents and reported from Moscow for four years.

Soon after former President Donald J. Trump took office, his staff explained how NATO’s mutual defense obligations worked.

“You mean, if Russia attacked Lithuania, we would go to war with Russia?” he responded. “That’s crazy.”

Mr. Trump has never believed in the fundamental one-for-all-and-all-for-one concept of the Atlantic alliance. Indeed, he spent much of his four-year presidency undermining it while strong-arming members into keeping their commitments to spend more on their own militaries with the threat that he would not come to their aid otherwise.

But he took it to a whole new level over the weekend, declaring at a rally in South Carolina that not only would he not defend European countries he deemed to be in arrears from an attack by Russia, but that he would go so far as to “encourage” Russia “to do whatever the hell they want” against them. Never before has a president of the United States — even a former one aspiring to reclaim the office — suggested that he would incite an enemy to attack American allies.

Some may discount that as typical Trump rally bluster or write it off as a poor attempt at humor. Others may even cheer the hard line against supposedly deadbeat allies who in this view have taken advantage of American friendship for too long. But Mr. Trump’s rhetoric foreshadows potentially far-reaching changes in the international order if he wins the White House again in November with unpredictable consequences.

What’s more, Mr. Trump’s riff once again raised uncomfortable questions about his taste in friends. Encouraging Russia to attack NATO allies, even if he were not fully serious, is a stunning statement that highlights his odd affinity for President Vladimir V. Putin, who has already proved his willingness to invade neighboring countries that do not have the protection of NATO.

Long averse to alliances of any kind, Mr. Trump in a second term could effectively end the security umbrella that has guarded friends in Europe, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East for much of the nearly eight decades since the end of World War II. Just the suggestion that the United States could not be depended on would negate the value of such alliances, prompt longtime friends to hedge and perhaps align with other powers, and embolden the likes of Mr. Putin and Xi Jinping of China.

“Russia and China have nothing to compare with America’s allies, and these allies depend on American commitment,” said Douglas E. Lute, a retired lieutenant general who served as ambassador to NATO under President Barack Obama and top adviser to President George W. Bush on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. “Casting doubt on the United States’ commitment to its allies sacrifices America’s greatest advantage over Russia and China, something that neither Putin nor Xi could achieve on his own.”

Undeterred by criticism of his latest comment, Mr. Trump doubled down on Sunday.

“No money in the form of foreign aid should be given to any country unless it is done as a loan, not just a giveaway,” he wrote on social media in all capital letters. “We should never give money anymore,” he added, “without the hope of a payback, or without ‘strings’ attached.”

Mr. Trump has long threatened to withdraw the United States from NATO and would no longer be surrounded by the kind of advisers who stopped him from doing so last time. He tried to pull American troops out of Germany at the end of his presidency in anger at Angela Merkel, then the chancellor, a withdrawal that was prevented only because President Biden came to office in time to rescind the decision.

At other points, Mr. Trump contemplated pulling American troops out of South Korea as well, only to be talked out of it, but has said since leaving office that such a move would be a priority in a second term unless South Korea paid more in compensation. Mr. Trump would also probably cut off military aid to Ukraine as it seeks to fend off Russian invaders, and he has offered no support for more aid to Israel in its war with Hamas.

Foreseeing the possibility of an American retreat from the world if Mr. Trump returns to office, Congress recently passed legislation barring any president from withdrawing from the NATO treaty without Senate approval. But Mr. Trump would not even need to formally quit the alliance to render it pointless.

And if the United States could not be counted on to come to the aid of partners in Europe, where it has the strongest historic ties, then other countries with mutual security agreements with Washington like Japan, the Philippines, Thailand, Australia, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica and Panama could hardly be sure of American help, either.

Peter D. Feaver, a Duke University professor and former national security aide to Mr. Bush and President Bill Clinton, said Mr. Trump could reduce American troops in Europe to a level that “would render any military defense plans hollow” and “regularly poor-mouth the U.S. commitment” in a way that would convince Mr. Putin that he had free rein.

“Just doing those two things could wound and perhaps kill NATO,” Mr. Feaver said. “And few allies or partners in other parts of the world would trust any U.S. commitment after seeing us break NATO.”

History suggests this could result in more war, not less. When Dean Acheson, the secretary of state, described an American “defensive perimeter” in Asia in 1950 that did not include South Korea, North Korea invaded five months later, starting a bloody war that nonetheless pulled in the United States.

The signal from Mr. Trump to NATO allies like Poland, Finland, Estonia, Latvia and, yes, Lithuania is that they could be on their own by next January. Coming just days after Mr. Putin told Tucker Carlson that Poland was at fault for Adolf Hitler invading it in 1939 , the mood in Warsaw could hardly be more unsettled.

“Article 5 has so far been invoked once — to help the U.S. in Afghanistan after 9/11,” Radek Sikorski, the foreign minister of Poland, noted in an email exchange on Sunday. “Poland sent a brigade for a decade. We did not send a bill to Washington.”

Jason Miller, a spokesman for Mr. Trump, pushed back against critics on Sunday, saying that Europe had seen more war under Mr. Biden than it did under the former president.

“President Trump got our allies to increase their NATO spending by demanding they pay up, but Joe Biden went back to letting them take advantage of the American taxpayer,” he said. “When you don’t pay your defense spending, you can’t be surprised that you get more war.”

The scorn for NATO that Mr. Trump expresses is based on a false premise that he has repeated for years even after being corrected, a sign that he is either incapable of processing information that conflicts with an idée fixe in his head or willing to distort facts to suit his preferred narrative.

As he has many times, Mr. Trump on Saturday castigated NATO partners that he called “delinquent” in paying for American protection. “You’ve got to pay,” he said. “You got to pay your bills.”

What Mr. Trump is referring to misleadingly is a nonbinding goal set by NATO defense ministers in 2006 that each member spend 2 percent of its gross domestic product on its own military, a standard ratified by NATO leaders in 2014 with the aspiration of achieving it by 2024. As of last year, just 11 of the 31 members , including Poland and Lithuania, had achieved that level, one more than under Mr. Trump. Last summer, NATO leaders pledged an “enduring commitment” to finally reaching the target. But even those who have not followed through do not actually owe money to the United States as a result.

NATO military spending is a legitimate concern, according to national security veterans, and Mr. Trump is not the first president to press NATO partners to do more — Mr. Bush and Mr. Obama did as well. But Mr. Trump is the first to present the alliance as a sort of protection racket where those who do not “pay up” will be abandoned by the United States, much less subject to attack by Russia with Washington’s encouragement.

“The credibility of NATO rests on the credibility of the man that occupies the Oval Office, since it’s the decisions taken there that in a critical situation will be decisive,” said Carl Bildt, a former prime minister of Sweden, which is completing its accession to NATO as the 32nd member.

“This applies to what could be crisis management in a minor engagement of some sort to the ultimate issue of the nuclear deterrent,” he said. “If Putin threatened nuclear strikes against Poland, would Trump say that he doesn’t care?”

Mr. Trump’s fixation on being paid by allies extends beyond Europe. At one point he assailed the mutual defense treaty with Japan that has been in force since 1951, and at other points he prepared to order U.S. troops out of South Korea. During an interview in 2021 shortly after leaving office, he made clear that if he returned to power, he would demand that South Korea pay billions of dollars more each year to keep American troops there.

National security veterans of both parties said that kind of thinking misunderstood the value of the alliances for the United States. It is a benefit to Americans, they say, to have overseas bases in places like Germany and South Korea that enable quick responses to crises around the world. It also deters adventurism by outcast states like North Korea.

“America’s commitment to its allies is not altruism or charity, but serves a vital national interest,” Mr. Lute said.

The uncertainty that would result from Mr. Trump’s lack of commitment, according to national security specialists, would lead to volatility unseen in years.

“The only saving grace,” Mr. Bildt said, “is that he will probably be so unreliable and unpredictable that even the Kremlin would be somewhat uncertain. But they would know that they have a fair chance of playing him politically in any crisis.”

Peter Baker is the chief White House correspondent for The Times. He has covered the last five presidents and sometimes writes analytical pieces that place presidents and their administrations in a larger context and historical framework. More about Peter Baker

Our Coverage of the 2024 Presidential Election

News and Analysis

Former President Donald Trump has privately expressed support for a 16-week national abortion ban with exceptions  — a seeming attempt to satisfy social conservatives who want to further restrict the procedure and voters who want more modest limits.

Senator Joe Manchin III, the conservative West Virginia Democrat, announced that he would not seek the White House in 2024 , ending months of speculation that he might challenge President Biden as an independent candidate.

A panel of top congressional leaders has recommended that Nikki Haley receive Secret Service protection  after she received an increase in threats upon emerging as the final challenger to Trump for the Republican nomination.

Devouring the Establishment:  Long a dominant force over the Republican Party’s institutions, former President Donald Trump is now moving to fully eradicate their independence  and remake them in his own image as November draws closer.

Letting Insults Fly: Nikki Haley has, until recently, run a fairly positive campaign, even as she has endured relentless criticism from Trump. Her 22-year-old son, Nalin Haley, is not so inclined to pull his punches .

Can Democrats Win Back Latino Men?: A friendship forged in a Las Vegas barbershop offers clues to one of the biggest questions of the presidential election .

Disparate Economic Pictures: Democrats say Nevada’s economy is getting better, while Republicans argue it’s getting worse. Which message resonates more could help make a difference in the pivotal battleground state in November .

Behaving Like an Incumbent: As he rolls toward the Republican nomination, Trump is using the imagery of his presidency  to twist the race in his favor in ways big and small.

Our next-generation model: Gemini 1.5

Feb 15, 2024

The model delivers dramatically enhanced performance, with a breakthrough in long-context understanding across modalities.


A note from Google and Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai:

Last week, we rolled out our most capable model, Gemini 1.0 Ultra, and took a significant step forward in making Google products more helpful, starting with Gemini Advanced . Today, developers and Cloud customers can begin building with 1.0 Ultra too — with our Gemini API in AI Studio and in Vertex AI .

Our teams continue pushing the frontiers of our latest models with safety at the core. They are making rapid progress. In fact, we’re ready to introduce the next generation: Gemini 1.5. It shows dramatic improvements across a number of dimensions and 1.5 Pro achieves comparable quality to 1.0 Ultra, while using less compute.

This new generation also delivers a breakthrough in long-context understanding. We’ve been able to significantly increase the amount of information our models can process — running up to 1 million tokens consistently, achieving the longest context window of any large-scale foundation model yet.

Longer context windows show us the promise of what is possible. They will enable entirely new capabilities and help developers build much more useful models and applications. We’re excited to offer a limited preview of this experimental feature to developers and enterprise customers. Demis shares more on capabilities, safety and availability below.

Introducing Gemini 1.5

By Demis Hassabis, CEO of Google DeepMind, on behalf of the Gemini team

This is an exciting time for AI. New advances in the field have the potential to make AI more helpful for billions of people over the coming years. Since introducing Gemini 1.0 , we’ve been testing, refining and enhancing its capabilities.

Today, we’re announcing our next-generation model: Gemini 1.5.

Gemini 1.5 delivers dramatically enhanced performance. It represents a step change in our approach, building upon research and engineering innovations across nearly every part of our foundation model development and infrastructure. This includes making Gemini 1.5 more efficient to train and serve, with a new Mixture-of-Experts (MoE) architecture.

The first Gemini 1.5 model we’re releasing for early testing is Gemini 1.5 Pro. It’s a mid-size multimodal model, optimized for scaling across a wide-range of tasks, and performs at a similar level to 1.0 Ultra , our largest model to date. It also introduces a breakthrough experimental feature in long-context understanding.

Gemini 1.5 Pro comes with a standard 128,000 token context window. But starting today, a limited group of developers and enterprise customers can try it with a context window of up to 1 million tokens via AI Studio and Vertex AI in private preview.

As we roll out the full 1 million token context window, we’re actively working on optimizations to improve latency, reduce computational requirements and enhance the user experience. We’re excited for people to try this breakthrough capability, and we share more details on future availability below.

These continued advances in our next-generation models will open up new possibilities for people, developers and enterprises to create, discover and build using AI.

Context lengths of leading foundation models

Highly efficient architecture

Gemini 1.5 is built upon our leading research on Transformer and MoE architecture. While a traditional Transformer functions as one large neural network, MoE models are divided into smaller "expert” neural networks.

Depending on the type of input given, MoE models learn to selectively activate only the most relevant expert pathways in its neural network. This specialization massively enhances the model’s efficiency. Google has been an early adopter and pioneer of the MoE technique for deep learning through research such as Sparsely-Gated MoE , GShard-Transformer , Switch-Transformer, M4 and more.

Our latest innovations in model architecture allow Gemini 1.5 to learn complex tasks more quickly and maintain quality, while being more efficient to train and serve. These efficiencies are helping our teams iterate, train and deliver more advanced versions of Gemini faster than ever before, and we’re working on further optimizations.

Greater context, more helpful capabilities

An AI model’s “context window” is made up of tokens, which are the building blocks used for processing information. Tokens can be entire parts or subsections of words, images, videos, audio or code. The bigger a model’s context window, the more information it can take in and process in a given prompt — making its output more consistent, relevant and useful.

Through a series of machine learning innovations, we’ve increased 1.5 Pro’s context window capacity far beyond the original 32,000 tokens for Gemini 1.0. We can now run up to 1 million tokens in production.

This means 1.5 Pro can process vast amounts of information in one go — including 1 hour of video, 11 hours of audio, codebases with over 30,000 lines of code or over 700,000 words. In our research, we’ve also successfully tested up to 10 million tokens.

Complex reasoning about vast amounts of information

1.5 Pro can seamlessly analyze, classify and summarize large amounts of content within a given prompt. For example, when given the 402-page transcripts from Apollo 11’s mission to the moon, it can reason about conversations, events and details found across the document.

Reasoning across a 402-page transcript: Gemini 1.5 Pro Demo

Gemini 1.5 Pro can understand, reason about and identify curious details in the 402-page transcripts from Apollo 11’s mission to the moon.

Better understanding and reasoning across modalities

1.5 Pro can perform highly-sophisticated understanding and reasoning tasks for different modalities, including video. For instance, when given a 44-minute silent Buster Keaton movie , the model can accurately analyze various plot points and events, and even reason about small details in the movie that could easily be missed.

Multimodal prompting with a 44-minute movie: Gemini 1.5 Pro Demo

Gemini 1.5 Pro can identify a scene in a 44-minute silent Buster Keaton movie when given a simple line drawing as reference material for a real-life object.

Relevant problem-solving with longer blocks of code

1.5 Pro can perform more relevant problem-solving tasks across longer blocks of code. When given a prompt with more than 100,000 lines of code, it can better reason across examples, suggest helpful modifications and give explanations about how different parts of the code works.

Problem solving across 100,633 lines of code | Gemini 1.5 Pro Demo

Gemini 1.5 Pro can reason across 100,000 lines of code giving helpful solutions, modifications and explanations.

Enhanced performance

When tested on a comprehensive panel of text, code, image, audio and video evaluations, 1.5 Pro outperforms 1.0 Pro on 87% of the benchmarks used for developing our large language models (LLMs). And when compared to 1.0 Ultra on the same benchmarks, it performs at a broadly similar level.

Gemini 1.5 Pro maintains high levels of performance even as its context window increases. In the Needle In A Haystack (NIAH) evaluation, where a small piece of text containing a particular fact or statement is purposely placed within a long block of text, 1.5 Pro found the embedded text 99% of the time, in blocks of data as long as 1 million tokens.

Gemini 1.5 Pro also shows impressive “in-context learning” skills, meaning that it can learn a new skill from information given in a long prompt, without needing additional fine-tuning. We tested this skill on the Machine Translation from One Book (MTOB) benchmark, which shows how well the model learns from information it’s never seen before. When given a grammar manual for Kalamang , a language with fewer than 200 speakers worldwide, the model learns to translate English to Kalamang at a similar level to a person learning from the same content.

As 1.5 Pro’s long context window is the first of its kind among large-scale models, we’re continuously developing new evaluations and benchmarks for testing its novel capabilities.

For more details, see our Gemini 1.5 Pro technical report .

Extensive ethics and safety testing

In line with our AI Principles and robust safety policies, we’re ensuring our models undergo extensive ethics and safety tests. We then integrate these research learnings into our governance processes and model development and evaluations to continuously improve our AI systems.

Since introducing 1.0 Ultra in December, our teams have continued refining the model, making it safer for a wider release. We’ve also conducted novel research on safety risks and developed red-teaming techniques to test for a range of potential harms.

In advance of releasing 1.5 Pro, we've taken the same approach to responsible deployment as we did for our Gemini 1.0 models, conducting extensive evaluations across areas including content safety and representational harms, and will continue to expand this testing. Beyond this, we’re developing further tests that account for the novel long-context capabilities of 1.5 Pro.

Build and experiment with Gemini models

We’re committed to bringing each new generation of Gemini models to billions of people, developers and enterprises around the world responsibly.

Starting today, we’re offering a limited preview of 1.5 Pro to developers and enterprise customers via AI Studio and Vertex AI . Read more about this on our Google for Developers blog and Google Cloud blog .

We’ll introduce 1.5 Pro with a standard 128,000 token context window when the model is ready for a wider release. Coming soon, we plan to introduce pricing tiers that start at the standard 128,000 context window and scale up to 1 million tokens, as we improve the model.

Early testers can try the 1 million token context window at no cost during the testing period, though they should expect longer latency times with this experimental feature. Significant improvements in speed are also on the horizon.

Developers interested in testing 1.5 Pro can sign up now in AI Studio, while enterprise customers can reach out to their Vertex AI account team.

Learn more about Gemini’s capabilities and see how it works .

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A decades-old conundrum —

Mathematicians finally solved feynman’s “reverse sprinkler” problem, we might not need to "unwater" our lawns, but results could help control fluid flows..

Jennifer Ouellette - Feb 2, 2024 6:27 pm UTC

A typical lawn sprinkler features various nozzles arranged at angles on a rotating wheel; when water is pumped in, they release jets that cause the wheel to rotate. But what would happen if the water were sucked into the sprinkler instead? In which direction would the wheel turn then, or would it even turn at all? That's the essence of the " reverse sprinkler " problem that physicists like Richard Feynman, among others, have grappled with since the 1940s. Now, applied mathematicians at New York University think they've cracked the conundrum, per a recent paper published in the journal Physical Review Letters—and the answer challenges conventional wisdom on the matter.

“Our study solves the problem by combining precision lab experiments with mathematical modeling that explains how a reverse sprinkler operates,” said co-author Leif Ristroph of NYU’s Courant Institute. “We found that the reverse sprinkler spins in the ‘reverse’ or opposite direction when taking in water as it does when ejecting it, and the cause is subtle and surprising.”

Ristroph's lab frequently addresses these kinds of colorful real-world puzzles. For instance, back in 2018 , Ristroph and colleagues fine-tuned the recipe for the perfect bubble based on experiments with soapy thin films. (You want a circular wand with a 1.5-inch perimeter, and you should gently blow at a consistent 6.9 cm/s.) In 2021 , the Ristroph lab looked into the formation processes underlying so-called "stone forests" common in certain regions of China and Madagascar. These pointed rock formations, like the famed Stone Forest in China's Yunnan Province, are the result of solids dissolving into liquids in the presence of gravity, which produces natural convective flows.

In 2021 , his lab built a working Tesla valve , in accordance with the inventor's design, and measured the flow of water through the valve in both directions at various pressures. They found the water flowed about two times slower in the nonpreferred direction. And in 2022 , Ristroph studied the surpassingly complex aerodynamics of what makes a good paper airplane—specifically what is needed for smooth gliding. They found that paper airplane aerodynamics differ substantially from conventional aircraft, which rely on airfoils to generate lift.

Illustration of a "reaction wheel" from Ernst Mach's <em>Mechanik</em> (1883).

The reverse sprinkler problem is associated with Feynman because he popularized the concept, but it actually dates back to a chapter in Ernst Mach's 1883 textbook The Science of Mechanics ( Die Mechanik in Ihrer Entwicklung Historisch-Kritisch Dargerstellt ). Mach's thought experiment languished in relative obscurity until a group of Princeton University physicists began debating the issue in the 1940s.

Feynman was a graduate student there at the time and threw himself into the debate with gusto, even devising an experiment in the cyclotron laboratory to test his hypothesis. (In true Feynman fashion, that experiment culminated with the explosion of a glass carboy used in the apparatus because of the high internal pressure.)

One might intuit that a reverse sprinkler would work just like a regular sprinkler, merely played backward, so to speak. But the physics turns out to be more complicated. “The answer is perfectly clear at first sight,” Feynman wrote in Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman (1985). “The trouble was, some guy would think it was perfectly clear [that the rotation would be] one way, and another guy would think it was perfectly clear the other way.”

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