Welcome to the United Nations

Keynote Speech at the Conference on Transformative Global Governance: China and the UN, Under-Secretary-General Jeffrey Feltman

13 Jan 2014 - 13:56


Ladies and Gentlemen,

Dear Friends,

Allow me first to convey to you all the best regards and wishes of success from Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. I would also like to congratulate the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Fudan University, the United Nations Association of China and UNITAR for organizing this event – a unique opportunity to delve into the challenges of global governance from the perspective of cooperation between China and the United Nations.

I am delighted to be in China for the second time as Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs.

The United Nations welcomes the increasingly important role China plays across many areas of our work, including international peace and security. We share China’s view that peace and development go hand in hand. We welcome China’s determination to promote the reform of global governance with the United Nations at its core. We see China – with its long-term strategy of peaceful development, reform and opening-up – as our natural partner in this endeavour.

This September, Foreign Minister Wang Yi told the UN General Assembly that China would seek “to play a more proactive and constructive role in addressing international and regional hotspot issues to promote peace and dialogue, defuse conflicts and safeguard world peace and stability.” This is not only encouraging and vitally important, it is also what lies at the heart of the mandate of my Department and what I see as the pinnacle of our growing partnership with China and of the changing nature of global governance.

In my remarks today, I will therefore focus on how our efforts to strengthen the United Nations’ ability to prevent and resolve armed conflicts, in cooperation with Member States and regional organizations, mirror China’s pursuit of the “3 Cs”: “comprehensive, cooperative and common security”. I will provide you with a sense of how we carry out preventive diplomacy in practice, and share some lessons we have learned.

I am very pleased that my predecessor and friend, Ambassador B. Lynn Pascoe, who spearheaded my Department’s effort on conflict prevention, is present here with us today. I am sincerely grateful to Lynn for helping to turn DPA from what had been a largely analytical department into one that is also operational in the areas we are discussing today.


Ladies and gentlemen,

In our view, “Comprehensive, cooperative and common security” starts with conflict prevention. It is the raison d’êtreof the United Nations and lies at the heart of the Charter, whose drafters envisioned a strong preventive role for an Organization created to “save succeeding generations from the scourge of war”.

In 2011, State Councilor and then Foreign Minister H.E. Yang Jiechi at a high-level Security Council debate on preventive diplomacy reminded us that the UN “should truly change the mindset of prioritizing treatment over prevention” and to “devote energy to early warning, conflict prevention and peace mediation”.

This is exactly what DPA has been trying to do, and what we would like to do more of in cooperation with China. While our work to prevent and resolve conflicts takes different forms, today I will focus on the Good Offices of the Secretary-General and his Special Envoys as pivotal in preventing conflicts from erupting and in bringing wars to an end.

However, I will also be very clear that we cannot do this alone – history shows that only when we cooperate closely with Member States and regional organizations do we have a chance of succeeding.

Our Special Envoys are perhaps the most visible manifestation of the Secretary-General’s good offices mandate. In a variety of contexts across the globe, from Myanmar to the Arab world, these Envoys are supporting parties to prevent, defuse or resolve conflicts. They do this with support and mandates from either the Security Council, as is usually the case, or the General Assembly, and they always work in the context of respect for national sovereignty and ownership.

In Yemen, the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser has helped the Yemeni parties stay the course, thus far, in what remains the only negotiated transition of the Arab Spring. While I do not want to underestimate the fragility of Yemen’s institutions or the extend of the country’s challenges, the national dialogue that is currently taking place is the broadest consultation ever seen in the country, and a striking example of inclusivity, particularly women’s groups.

Yemen has deep, historic, regional, tribal, political, and even religious divides, and it has one of the most heavily armed populations in the world. Yet with the help of its regional and international partners, Yemenis remained determined to pursue a peaceful, negotiated transition.

In the African Great Lakes region, which has seen continued instability since the mid-1990s despite hosting the world’s largest UN peacekeeping mission in the DRC, the United Nations and its regional partners helped broker an unprecedented agreement, signed by eleven African nations, aimed at bringing peace to the peoples concerned.

The Secretary-General’s Special Envoy – the former President of Ireland, Ms. Mary Robinson – has been working closely with regional leaders, international actors and civil society groups to advance the implementation of this agreement and turn the tide from violence to hope. This agreement is called the “Framework of Hope,” and it contains voluntary commitments made at the national, regional, and international levels to address longstanding issues of governance, development and human rights. The Framework of Hope grew out of the conviction by regional and international leaders that the security problems in the Great Lakes region cannot be addressed by security means alone.

Ideally, prevention starts before it becomes even visible: in situations of low-level tensions that may, in the long run, become more serious if left unaddressed, we support national governments, at their request, to strengthen local capacities for conflict prevention and dispute resolution, working hand in hand with development partners.

In the best cases, we have worked with local and international partners successfully to address issues before they hit the news rather than merely respond once a conflict has attracted media attention.

When electoral processes raise the prospects of heightened tensions and instability, we work with governments to prevent election-related violence. In Guinea, for example, the Secretary-General responded last year to growing violence and calls for electoral boycotts by appointing an International Facilitator. The facilitator, working with a larger UN team of technical electoral and mediation experts, assisted the parties in overcoming their differences, with all parties agreeing to compete in and then accept the final results of the elections. The new national parliament is being sworn in today in Conakry, demonstrating that elections created the political space to move forward in the process of democratic consolidation. The fact that you have probably not heard of the UN’s role and that you didn’t have to read about a breakdown into violence are, in our opinion, hallmarks of successful intervention.

Often, prevention is about the patient and painstaking work of envoys and missions to keep attention on some of the world’s most chronic problems -- and to keep them from deteriorating. Big picture success has for decades eluded those working to bring peace to the Middle East, or solve the disputes on Cyprus or the Western Sahara. Yet there is not a doubt that the day-to-day work of keeping dialogue open and bringing parties around the table is helping to keep a lid on tensions.

Let me also refer specifically to Northeast Asia and Asia. The rest of the world expects a lot from the people and countries from this region, which is generally peaceful and well-equipped to address locally any issues that arise. But the region is not immune from serious challenges. Again with full respect for national sovereignty and in line with the UN Charter that is the basis of our work, we are ready to work with you and other countries concerned to overcome any deficit of mutual trust and understanding, so that the region can continue to realize its creative and constructive potential.

Regrettably, prevention does not always work. However, even in cases where it has clearly failed, such as Syria or the Central African Republic, Good Offices offer a potentially successful path back to security and reconciliation: diplomacy must continue to get the parties to step back from the brink and face each other around a negotiating table. Political challenges lie at the center of most conflicts and are the key to both their prevention and their resolution. Only by finding political solutions can we ensure that peace, when it does come, holds over the long term.

I am planning to travel with the Secretary-General to Geneva next week for the peace Conference on Syria. We have worked very hard to get the parties to Geneva. We still don’t know if we will succeed. But we see this as the best hope for achieving a political solution that can end the violence and help restore peace to Syria. We have long said that there is no military solution that will end Syria’s crisis, and the attempt by both the government and the opposition forces to impose a military solution has created a humanitarian catastrophe. It should be obvious to all that the cost of a military approach is simply too high. We’re grateful to China for its support of the 30 June 2012 Geneva communique which holds out the promise of a political solution.


Ladies and gentlemen,

Hard-won experience over the years has taught us a number of lessons about what works in preventive diplomacy and mediation as critical elements to bring about the “3Cs”. I know that China, too, has accumulated important knowledge in this regard, both in Asia and further afield. We are very interested in hearing your views, learning from your lessons, and exchanging experiences.

We have learnt that being present early is critical. This not simply about getting the necessary information at an early stage of the conflict, but also about mobilizing rapid, effective and unified diplomatic action as soon as opportunities present themselves. As a Permanent Member of the Security Council, China’s role here is essential: we need Security Council support for early engagement.

Second, early engagement is only part of the puzzle. We also need to be skilled at what we do. Preventive diplomacy and mediation are complex and increasingly specialized fields, which require expertise in a wide array of areas, some quite technical and complex. We have, therefore, focused on building up expertise that can be rapidly deployed and available to United Nations envoys, regional organizations and Member States themselves.

Third, partnerships are key. The crises we face are too complex for any one organization or Member State to address alone. In a world where the nature of conflict has evolved, where terrorism and transnational crime often intersect with political grievances, partnerships are all the more important. The United Nations is working ever more closely with regional and sub-regional actors, such as with the League of Arab States on Syria and with the African Union in Somalia and Mali. Our cooperation with the Shanghai Cooperation Organization provides a solid foundation for engaging with the region and we stand ready to work even more closely together. As does China, we are also building a strong partnership with ASEAN, in line with its own goals of establishing an ASEAN community by 2015.

Fourth, the perhaps most important ingredient for success in preventive diplomacy is leverage. The Secretary-General of the United Nations commands no battalions and is not in charge of a Treasury. The tools he has at his disposal are largely the power of persuasion and the principles of the United Nations Charter.

These are powerful tools in their own right. They reflect a shared understanding amongst Member States, refined through decades of negotiations and practice, and are applicable universally. But to be effective, they require that the international community – and in particular the major global powers – be closely aligned, empowering the Secretary-General to speak on behalf of a common voice.

In Syria, we see how hard it is to make progress when this unity of purpose is not present. In Mali and Yemen, on the other hand, the international community was able to move quickly to prevent quickly deteriorating situations from becoming even more unstable. We are attempting to do the same today in the Central African Republic and South Sudan.

While some countries may see UN support in conflict prevention or peacemaking as a sign that a government has failed, this is not the case. Our role is to support national efforts, and it is with national actors that we work in every single instance.


Ladies and gentlemen,

To realize “comprehensive, cooperative and common security”, the case for diplomacy – and ideally preventive diplomacy - is compelling andwe know that it works. Not in every situation, or even close. But our experience tells us that if we are present in the trouble spots, with early and skilful diplomatic initiatives, backed by the unified stand of the international community and the necessary resources, we can be successful in either preventing conflict or keeping it in check.

China is a key actor in this endeavour, whose voice needs to be heard both on specific cases and in general debates about a twenty-first century approach to these vital global governance topics. This is why this dialogue is so important and why, I hope, it will grow and flourish in the years ahead. We are confident that our partnership with China will contribute to making the world more peaceful, secure and prosperous.

May I wish you all a happy, healthy and dynamic forthcoming Year of the Horse.


Thank you.