February 11, 2014

World leaders will have to respond to a new geopolitical and economic landscape in the years ahead, said UN Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson during a recent talk at SIPA. Sustainability and climate change are issues that will rise in importance on the international agenda, he said, alongside the management of financial resources, information, and migration. He also said that women will play increasingly important roles in society in this century's new global landscape.

The diplomat spoke as part of the 10th annual Saltzman Forum, which attempted to map the international concerns of today and of the near future. Hosted by the Arnold A. Saltzman Institute of War and Peace Studies on February 7, the forum was the first since Ambassador Saltzman’s death in January at the age of 97. Professor Jean-Marie Guéhenno, director of the Institute’s Center for International Conflict Resolution, moderated the talk.

Eliasson began with an overview of the diplomatic processes recently under way regarding conflicts in Syria, the Central African Republic, and South Sudan. In the context of the humanitarian and political work being done under these difficult circumstances, he discussed UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon’s recent “Rights Up Front” initiative.

The initiative is an action plan to prevent mass atrocities at the earliest signs of human rights violations during an evolving crisis. It is a framework for early action and improved responses to complex crises, where preventive efforts are crucial for the task of protecting civilians.

Eliasson said that in the case of the Central African Republic, the first wave of action by the international community came a little too late despite this initiative. Nevertheless, he said, the concept of the responsibility to protect, which challenges state sovereignty when governments are not able to fulfill their duty to protect their populations from mass atrocities, is here to stay.

While Eliasson said a more nuanced discussion of sovereignty has taken hold, he suggested that “after a decade-and-a-half of interventions, there seems to be a kind of hangover in the international community” as people question the results, the costs, and benefits of those actions. But even if there is uncertainty about solutions and resources, Eliasson asserted, peacekeeping missions “should be dynamic to provide impetus for solutions.” Ultimately, he said, none of the three pillars of the UN system — peace, development, and human rights — could exist for long without the others.

An exchange of questions and answers with the audience further addressed women’s rights in post-intervention peace and development, as well as the emerging voices of small island states in the face of climate change and growing global inequalities.

Eliasson said that international solutions for climate change and developing societies could not be accomplished unless national interests were considered, concluding that a good “international formula” is one that has “national interest” in it.

— Doyeun Kim MIA ‘14

(photo on carousel slide by Holger Elgaard / Wikimedia Commons)