Welcome to the United Nations

We need urgent, united action to face global crises, says USG DiCarlo at meeting of Academic Council on the UN System


Washington D.C., 21 June 2023


Thank you, Lise, for that introduction.

I would like to thank the Academic Council on the United Nations System for the invitation to address this year’s Annual Meeting. Thank you also to the United States Institute of Peace for hosting us. I am happy to be here to speak with many colleagues and friends. It’s good to be back in Washington as well.

At this time of uncertainty and unpredictability in global affairs, I welcome the very timely focus of this meeting on “Making, Keeping, and Sustaining Peace”.

I have just come back from a trip to Moscow, a place where I spent several years of my career as a U.S. foreign service officer.

I vividly recall the sense of expectation I felt as a diplomat in the Russian capital as the Cold War was ending. We were witnessing, no less, the advent of a new era of international cooperation.

Today we are once again at an inflection point. The post-Cold War period is clearly over, but the contours of what is to follow it are still unclear. A few things are certain, though: global divisions are deepening, and geopolitical tensions are the highest they have been in decades.

International cooperation is becoming harder and harder to achieve. Instead, there is increasing competition among major powers and growing mistrust between the so-called Global North and the Global South.

Civil wars are increasingly enmeshed in global dynamics. Close to half of all conflicts in 2021 were internationalized, which makes them harder to resolve.  

The climate emergency is intensifying competition for resources and exacerbating tensions. Inequalities - within and between states – are growing.

Governments in some areas are rolling back human rights, many targeting women and minorities especially. More and more people are fleeing strife and deprivation.  

The repercussions of the Covid-19 pandemic are still being felt. And we are increasingly confronted with the potential misuse of new technologies.

And, of course, a year and a half ago, interstate war made a catastrophic return, further fueling global turmoil. Indeed, no other issue epitomizes the critical test the world community faces today as fully as the war in Ukraine. Russia’s invasion and purported annexation of Ukrainian land defy the UN Charter and the very tenets of the collective security system.

In short, just when we need urgent, united action to face multiple interlocking crises, the world is growing ever more dangerously divided.

But what I have laid out is hardly news to you. Advancing multilateral action for peace today is the hardest it’s been in at least 30 years. The issue is what we do about it.

At the United Nations, we are condemned, or privileged, to attempt to answer a fundamental question: what would it take to ensure that in this emerging new era, fragmented and fractious as it is, Member States can find avenues for cooperation towards shared interests and to maintain peace?

This is what the Secretary-General’s upcoming New Agenda for Peace will seek to do.

The New Agenda for Peace is part of a broader plan, known as Our Common Agenda, to reinvigorate the UN’s work generally. The department I head is leading the drafting of this peace agenda in cooperation with our colleagues in the Department of Peace Operations, Office of Disarmament Affairs and Office of Counter-terrorism.

This Agenda for Peace is still in preparation, but our goal is to present a unifying vision and outline a series of actions that States could take to rebuild momentum for collective action for peace.

Today, I would like to share with you some of the discussions we have had with Member States and civil society during our consultations of the last six months.

I am going to focus on four priority areas: (i) safeguarding the principles and norms underpinning the international peace and security architecture, (ii) conflict prevention, (iii) the challenges posed by new technologies to peace and security, and (iv) mechanisms to prevent conflict and sustain peace.

First area – We must rebuild consensus on the meaning of - and adherence to - the normative frameworks that anchored the international system – and prevented a new global conflagration - for nearly 80 years.

Many UN member States are failing to effectively address the global and interlocking threats before them, manage their rivalries and respect the normative frameworks that both govern their relations with each other and set international parameters for the well-being of their societies.

They are neglecting principles that form the basis for friendly relations and cooperation among nations and within societies: trust, solidarity, and universality. As a result, collective security is fraying.

In a world of sovereign States, international cooperation is predicated upon trust. Cooperation cannot work without the expectation that States will respect the commitments which they have undertaken. The UN Charter provides a set of norms against which the trustworthiness of each State should be assessed.

The original Agenda for Peace in 1992 warned of the need for consistent, rather than selective, application of the principles of the Charter, and I quote “for if the perception should be of the latter, trust will wane and with it the moral authority which is the greatest and most unique quality of that instrument”.

Trust is the cornerstone of the collective security system. In its absence, States fall back to their basic instinct to ensure their own security, which when reciprocated, creates more insecurity for all.

To help reinforce trust, confidence building mechanisms have been of great value. These can range from crisis management hotlines to the monitoring of ceasefires or bilateral arms control agreements with verification provisions. Regional organizations and frameworks can play a crucial role in this regard.

If we are to rise to the challenge, it is in these principles, taken together and carried forward by all States, and within countries, that action for peace must be grounded.

It is self-evident, but we need more dialogue and diplomacy, based on a shared understanding and commitment to foundational principles, such as those enshrined in the UN Charter. 

I have been in this business for some time. I am realistic about what talk can achieve. But remember that during moments of the highest geopolitical tensions, from Suez to the Cuban missile crisis, diplomacy has saved the world from war or helped find ways to end it.

Diplomacy requires risk-taking, persistence and creativity. Diplomatic engagement is important among countries that think alike. But it is crucial between those that disagree.

Second area – Prevention must become a political - and funding – priority.

It is easy to make the intellectual case for conflict prevention. It saves lives, but it also saves money, especially in post-conflict reconstruction, resettlement and humanitarian costs.

According to a 2018 UN-World Bank study, net savings from investment in prevention range from $5 billion to $70 billion per year. And yet, prevention remains chronically under-prioritized. For example, it is estimated that only 4 per cent of total official development assistance goes towards conflict prevention.

Another obstacle to effective prevention is the perception in some countries that it is selective, or a cloak for interference in their internal affairs. So, while we have the evidence that prevention makes financial sense, we need to do more work to build the trust needed to make prevention the norm and promote stability.

That starts with framing prevention as a universal imperative, not just a matter for societies seen as fragile. Growing risks, while differentiated, exist in developed, middle income and developing States alike.

Prevention starts at the national level. It means countries protecting human rights, including non-discrimination on any basis, promoting inclusive economic and social development, ensuring the full participation of women in governance and all other areas.

We need to support – and invest more seriously in – national prevention capacities and infrastructures for peace. The UN Secretary-General’s Peacebuilding Fund is providing assistance to many such efforts. The international financial institutions could also align funding mechanisms to help address the economic causes of instability at the national level.

Third area – We must guard against the possible perils of new and emerging technologies.

Technological advancement and progress are often perceived synonymous. But better technology has historically also meant more lethal warfare. Today’s rapidly advancing and converging technologies have the potential to revolutionize conflict dynamics in the very near future.

The malicious uses of digital technologies, by State and non-state actors, have increased in scope, scale, severity and sophistication. Developments in artificial intelligence and quantum technologies, including those related to weapons systems, are exposing the insufficiency of existing governance frameworks.

In the information space, the use, including in some cases by governments, of powerful software tools that can spread and distort content instantly and massively has already caused disruption and even bloodshed.

The ease of access to these technologies for non-State actors, particularly terrorist groups, poses a significant threat.

Meanwhile, some social media platforms, operating largely without human rights-compliant regulations against online harm, have developed irresponsible business models that prioritize profit at the expense of the well-being and safety of their users and societies.

The urgency of the potential threats requires the deployment of national and international governance frameworks to minimize harm and address the cross-cutting risks posed by converging technologies. Such structures must be consistent with States’ obligations under international humanitarian and human rights law.

Fourth area – Special political missions are a vehicle for advancing multilateral action for peace.

Boosting diplomacy and multilateral action for peace requires investing in mechanisms that can help keep channels open, quietly defuse tensions, build trust and confidence, and bring opponents together.

This is what United Nations special political missions have specialized in since 1948. That’s when the UN dispatched its first mediator, Count Folke Bernadotte, to help broker a compromise on Palestine.

As we mark the 75th anniversary of special political missions, which are civilian operations, it is useful to recall their role in conflict prevention as well as in conflict resolution.

Our missions engage in peacemaking in Syria, Yemen and Sudan, for example. They support complex political transitions in Libya and Iraq.   

In Colombia our mission has helped to implement the peace agreement that brought an end to the longest civil war in the Americas.

Our regional missions serve as forward platforms for preventive diplomacy and regional partnerships in West Africa and the Sahel, Central Africa, the Horn of Africa and Central Asia.  

Over 30 years since the end of the Cold War, the world order is again perceptibly shifting. Unlike the changes of the early 1990s, however, the current transformation is not a source of unalloyed optimism. Quite the contrary. And perhaps that is not all to the bad. Accumulated experience and experiments, successful and failed, allow us to be clear-eyed about the magnitude of the problems we face, but also about the solutions they demand.

We know that there are only poor, even disastrous, alternatives to truly principled, multilateral action. Cooperation, even with those with radically different visions of the world, is how we bridge the divides while safeguarding, and whenever possible advancing, the gains achieved in human freedom and well-being since the end of the Second World War. This is not naivety: It was at the height of the Cold War that some of the most important multilateral mechanisms were created, including nuclear non-proliferation regimes.

The United Nations will continue to advocate for avenues to advance common goals and shared interests, especially among rivals. Cooperation is not fated to succeed. But neither are we destined for ever growing strife. We will continue to work for a renewed global commitment to multilateral action for peace, including formally at the Summit of the Future which is set to take place in September 2024. I hope all of you will be with us in this journey, and I do want to stress that Washington’s leadership will be vital in that regard.

Thank you.