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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 13 December 2018

Focus must be on preventative diplomacy to avoid future conflicts, diplomats say

The United Nations Special Coordinator for Lebanon said that diplomacy was key to help end the “tremendous human suffering” in the Middle East

UN secretary general Antonio Guterres believes that conflict prevention is not merely a priority, it is the priority. AP
UN secretary general Antonio Guterres believes that conflict prevention is not merely a priority, it is the priority. AP

Middle Eastern countries must invest and focus on diplomacy and mediation if they are to prevent future conflicts, experts have said.

In a volatile region with conflicts spilling out of control in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Libya, Sigrid Kaag, the United Nations Special Coordinator for Lebanon, said that diplomacy was key to help end the “tremendous human suffering”.

“The root causes of conflict need to be addressed to establish and sustain peace and work towards sustainable development,” she said on Tuesday. “We need to shift from response to prevention and all member states have a role to play, with a big opportunity also for the UAE.

“More investment in mediation and facilitation is needed, as well as enhanced leadership, resources and partnerships.

“Our focus needs to be on inclusive dialogue, and solutions need to be comprehensive.”

Ms Kaag said realigning security and development is a hot topic at the UN and that a move towards preventative dialogue is necessary.

“We are struggling with ways to achieve prevention and it is also a focus of our new UN secretary general, Antonio Guterres, to establish a surge for peace,” she said. “In a world of growing complexity, asymmetrical conflict and with regional components, we must better address this and be better equipped to look at prevention with a firm lens on human rights.”

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The instability in many areas of the Middle East, exacerbated by the Arab Spring in 2011, is causing growing security threats, she said, but conflict prevention is not solely about peace and security but also relates to good governance, human rights, inclusive development and social cohesion.

“All forms of violence need to be addressed, including gender-based violence,” she said. “Addressing inequalities, strengthened institutions and ensuring that development strategies are risk-informed are central to preventing the unravelling of a social fabric.

“All situations differ but, from experience and studies, a degree of commonality is found - the effectiveness of our prevention and future responses depends on the alliances we can build, with governments, civil society, the private sector and regional and international partners. Above all, it is always about people.”

According to Bert Koenders, the Dutch foreign minister, preventing conflicts and crises is always better than curing them. “It’s not easy,” he said. “It requires a complex mix of addressing the root causes of conflict. Mr Guterres rightly stated that prevention is not merely a priority, it is the priority.”

Weak economies, low employment, an inadequate education system and lack of access to basic services are said to be some of the root causes of conflict.

“In these conditions, political agreements are needed, not only to support a peace settlement and make it work but also to address the underlying under-developed,” Mr Koenders said. “The real solution can only be political. Many actors have a role to play here, not just the parties concerned but the whole international community.”

Countries have increasingly been focusing on raising military spending. “This is important but we must not forget the importance of diplomacy,” he added.

“When it comes to preventing conflicts, rather than fighting them, there are things that diplomats and development workers are good at. They can detect signs of a conflict at an early stage and be instrumental in bringing people together, so that small differences don’t spin out of control.”