Security Council Open Debate on the "Addressing complex contemporary challenges to international peace and security", December 2017

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

By Ines Boussebaa

Debate Overview

On 20 December 2017, a Security Council Debate on the “Addressing Complex Contemporary Challenges to International Peace and Security” took place under the presidency of Japan. As requested by the concept note (S/2017/1016), the speakers reflected on cases of success or failure on the part of the UN Security Council in addressing “conflict multipliers” and new challenges, including climate change, cyber warfare and the illicit transfer of arms, among others. The debate aimed to discuss how the Council can better address contemporary threats to international peace and security in a holistic and comprehensive manner, taking into account the entire peace continuum, and the interlinkages between peace and development, humanitarian action, climate change and environmental justice. This was especially pertinent as the UN General Assembly adopted a Resolution on the Restructuring of the United Nations Peace and Security Pillar the same morning.

Many speakers noted the need to localise and conceptualise peace work by engaging local actors, including civil society, and their expertise. Even though the majority of the speakers recognised that prevention and development must be at the centre of all efforts to address both the quantitative and qualitative changes that were emerging in threats around the world, the very needed focus on disarmament and ensuring demilitarisation and de-securitisation of peace work was missing. Women’s meaningful participation was also mentioned by very few countries. It is important to note that excluding women from peace processes, peace agreements and post-conflict reconstruction efforts has severe consequences—not least because it prevents the realisation of real and sustainable peace. Research shows that there is a strong connection between the inclusion of women in peace processes and a more stable, longer-lasting peace. Women's meaningful participation is essential for obtaining an accurate picture of what is needed to prevent and resolve conflicts, rebuild society post-conflict, and ensure sustainable peace. Disarmament and women’s participation were the main gaps according to the Three 2015 UN reviews, and yet, as the analysis of this debate suggests, remain un-prioritised and unaddressed to date.

General Analysis  

In this Open Debate, the Secretary-General stated that prevention and development must be at the centre of all efforts to address the changes and emerging threats around the world. He explained that development was one of the best instruments of prevention, and that the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development will help build peaceful societies. Germany also stressed this, stating that lasting peace cannot be achieved through military means alone, but in combination with development policy. As such, the resilience of societies must be strengthened. While focusing on conflict prevention, the UN Security Council cannot do all the work on its own. Therefore, many countries suggested strengthening partnerships across the UN, Member States, regional organisations and Civil Society. Other countries recommended to avoid the securitisation of sustainable development and to align peacekeeping missions with development goals.

Many Member States stressed the need to address the root causes of instability and conflict, including underdevelopment and non-traditional security threats like climate change. Climate change is a non-traditional security threat, and countries must prepare for coming changes that may lead to conflict. Climate change often exacerbates crises and migratory pressures, and France called for meeting this challenge with technological and financial means, starting with the implementation of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. Germany cautioned the Council to anticipate the security implications, and to keep climate change firmly on its agenda. Tuvalu and the Maldives had strong statements concerning climate change, as they are already affected by it. Several countries, including Tuvalu, asked the Secretary-General to appoint a special representative on climate and security, who could produce a report that identifies and analyses dangerous topping points at the nexus of climate and security. The report could also address concerns that the securitisation of climate change would lead to more militarisation. The Maldives asked the Council and Secretary-General to clearly articulate practical measures the UN could take to respond to climate change, including periodic assessment reports to serve as an early-warning mechanism.    

Another non-traditional security threat that came up often in the debate was cybersecurity. The Secretary-General explained that threats to cybersecurity are escalating and technological advances have made it easier for extremists to communicate. Lithuania, also speaking for Latvia and Estonia, said cybersecurity is a priority issue for the Baltic States, pointing out that the Russian Federation’s interference in election processes was not limited to European countries.  Lithuania recommended that to cope with such strikes, public and private sectors, and civil society must cooperate; Regional and subregional cooperation was key to strengthening cybersecurity in critical infrastructure. In addition, increased societal awareness, resilience building and media and information literacy could help tackle hybrid threats. As hybrid and cyberthreats were here to stay, conventional security was not enough, Lithuania said, urging Member States to share best practices and lessons learned in tackling them.

Gender Analysis

Of 57 speakers, 10 (17.5%) addressed gender. The most popular themes included Conflict Prevention, Human Rights and Justice, Rule of Law and Security Sector Reform. The lack of justice and social exclusion, as well as the absense of a focus on conflict prevention, were considered the key root causes of conflict.  Less attention was paid to disarmament and women’s participation, with only a few speakers highlighting the need to ensure women’s meaningful participation or addressing the need for disarmament.

Conflict Prevention

44 out of 57 speakers (77%) discussed conflict prevention from all angles, including learning about and addressing the root causes of conflict. Bangladesh linked gender and conflict prevention, stating that prevention can be achieved through the participation of women and youth. Australia also mentioned gender in this context, stating that conflict prevention, sustainable peace, women’s participation in peacebuilding and UN reform are all important. Australia recommended that all staff within the UN must show leadership in embedding prevention approaches across all operations and programmes. Furthermore, efforts to support peaceful societies must be inclusive, said Australia, citing evidence that meaningful participation of women in peace processes led to more durable outcomes. However, a gendered approach to conflict prevention was limited, and the majority of countries discussed the root causes of conflict without linking anything to gender.

The Nexus Between Human Rights and Conflict

37 out of 57 speakers (64%) discussed human rights. Human rights is interlinked with conflict -  the failure to develop or lack of protection of human rights are factors that directly lead to instability. As conflict breaks out, human rights violations occur. Often, women face specific forms of human rights violations, such as sexual and gender-based violence. While many countries discussed the importance of human rights as a way to enhance development, security and conflict prevention, gender went unmentioned. For example, Liechtenstein explained that implementation gaps in development commitments and disregard of human rights obligations were important early warning signals of conflict, while Germany stated that lasting peace often starts with the promotion of human rights. France recommended that the Council should be in close communication with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and other mechanisms so that it could react quickly to grave violations.

Justice, Rule of Law and SSR

32 out of 57 speakers (56%) spoke of Justice, Rule of Law and Security Sector Reform. For peace to be sustained, it is important to ensure justice and accountability. As such, perpetrators of crimes must be held accountable. In the context of justice and gender, most countries discussed sexual violence against women. For example, the Secretary-General stated that sexual violence against women must be addressed and justice pursued against perpetrators.  Morocco stated the importance of taking into consideration women and girls when responding to crimes, and Slovenia stated that ending impunity for serious international crimes is crucial, calling upon all states to ratify the Rome Statute. Liechtenstein added that transitional justice contributed to deterrence and allowed traumatised communities to come back together and move forward.

Meaningful Participation

Only 7 speakers (12%) spoke of women’s meaningful participation. Hungary stated that each century has its defining moral issue. Now the rights of women and the struggle to uphold them all around the world will be the one of the 21th century. The Secretary-General emphasised that women’s participation is crucial to the success of conflict prevention, peacemaking and sustaining peace. Where women are in power, societies flourish, he pointed out. Colombia and Sweden also spoke about the importance of including women, and both state that for sustainable peace, we must focus on gender equality, promote women in the peace and security architecture and integrate a gender  perspective in long-term strategies. While these are good statements, more countries must act on this.


13 speakers (22%) addressed the need for disarmament. Mexico, Senegal, South Africa and Ecuador all called for various forms of disarmament.  Senegal called for nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation. Ecuador recalled that the UN was established to prevent war, and that its founding document emphasised the relationship between disarmament and development. The 2030 Agenda as further highlighted this link. Ecuador also highlighted the link between disarmament and development, and called for a reduction in the spending on arms.


While the debate provided several good practices and highlighted opportunities for further action, the Feminist Security Council Agenda is not yet on the able. Disarmament, women’s meaningful participation and proper financing are crucial to achieve sustainable peace. In this regard, we recommend the Council to:

  • Ensure disarmament and demilitarisation - Militarism is not the only response to security, and women human rights defenders are the true bearers of the peace mandate, not the military;
  • Fundamentally reframe security away from militarised approaches to one based on human rights, sustainable development, and equality;
  • Publicly name and shame countries that supply arms to countries in conflict, with fragile contexts, or with a high prevalence of gender-based violence, and pressure them to stop doing so;
  • Pressure states to ratify, accede to, and implement the Arms Trade Treaty, along with other arms agreements, and to conduct transparent, comprehensive gender and human rights impact assessments before transferring weapons;
  • Use local expertise - Local women’s voices and locally-driven solutions will help achieve disarmament and demilitarisation goals;
  • Strengthen gender mainstreaming (including gender-sensitive analysis, sex-disaggregated data, and gender budgeting) within the organisational structure of all agencies, and ensure gender analysis and information based on local women's experience is central to all UN action around conflict prevention, response, and peacebuilding.
  • Work more closely with civil society - The political environment must value women’s civil society work, and ensure that peace processes are informed by women's experiences and perspectives on the ground to reflect national priorities, including the priorities of the local communities and the different groups within them;
  • Ensure the implementation of women’s human rights, and put pressure on states to develop, finance, and implement UN Security Council (UNSCR) 1325 National Action Plans with holistic agendas and meaningful participation of civil society throughout;
  • Ensure women's meaningful participation by substantially increasing funding to grassroots women human rights defenders to support and recognise their work on the ground and their participation and advocacy efforts in international human rights procedures - Funding should be coupled with a two-part approach that includes gender assessment before any project, and involving women in the design of any project.

Concept Note for the Security Council Open Debate on "Maintenance of international peace and security: Addressing complex contemporary challenges to international peace and security": December 2017