Remarks at a General Assembly High-Level Dialogue on “Building Sustainable Peace for All”

Ambassador Michele J. Sison
U.S. Deputy Representative to the United Nations
U.S. Mission to the United Nations
New York City
January 24, 2017



On his first day in office, Secretary-General Guterres pledged to make 2017 a “year for peace.” The changes to the UN system that we are discussing today are practical ways that Member States and the UN can pursue this lofty goal – especially in the world’s most fragile states. We’re talking about common-sense reforms.

Traditionally, UN agencies and Member States have imposed artificial divisions on the tough work of restoring security and reducing poverty. Some challenges were for peacekeepers to tackle, others were for humanitarian agencies, and still others were for the development experts. UN programs often existed in different silos, even when there was a clear need for UN staff from different parts of the organization to collaborate. But when over the last two years Member States unanimously supported the Sustainable Development Goals and the Sustaining Peace agenda, they endorsed a new way of doing business.

Member States unanimously agreed that to build peace, we need to break down the barriers that exist in the UN so that staff focused on political, security, humanitarian, and development challenges all work together. Again, that may sound like an obvious conclusion, but we’re talking about nothing less than overhauling the way the UN has been organized for decades.

This reorganization is not about spending more money. To the contrary, it’s about pooling talent and resources that already exist so the UN can be more effective. The Secretary-General has already set an example by planning to co-locate officers from the UN’s Department of Political Affairs and Department of Peacekeeping Operations, so that those working on the same country can more easily share information. The United States believes that UN Country Teams abroad should also pursue a similar objective, with UN agencies all contributing their expertise to shared strategies and assessments for how to support governments in achieving the SDGs.

Liberia will soon be a real-world test for this approach. Because the Security Council is already drawing down Liberia’s UNMIL peacekeeping mission under its final mandate until March 2018, the Council requested that the Secretary-General prepare a plan by March to explain how the UN system will support Liberia’s government moving forward. That means the UN will need to draft a peacebuilding strategy explaining how all UN agencies will work together to strengthen Liberia’s security sector, deliver aid to those in need, and build the government’s capacity to deliver services. Liberia will also be a major opportunity for the Peacebuilding Commission to show that it can help organize the UN’s efforts and mobilize international donors in support of this new approach.

The United States believes the UN can and will achieve this move toward integrated peacebuilding. Sierra Leone is one precedent, where a UN peacekeeping mission transitioned to a civilian-led peacebuilding mission, before finally transitioning to a UN Country Team. In the process, the UN worked with Sierra Leone so the government could develop its own development strategy, the “Agenda for Prosperity,” which now guides the UN’s work. Meanwhile, the Peacebuilding Commission – with credit to Canada as chair of Sierra Leone’s configuration – continued regular on-the-ground visits to support the implementation of Sierra Leone’s development plans.

The UN Peacebuilding Fund provided grants to a number of different UN agencies to sponsor political dialogues, strengthen the security sector, and later, respond to the Ebola crisis. This is the type of collaboration that the UN should be looking to replicate.

Changing the UN’s bureaucracies will be challenging, of course. But it matters – it really does. That is because when people suffer in fragile states, the reasons for their suffering cannot be neatly arranged into humanitarian, security, and development boxes. These needs overlap, and thus the many UN agencies doing good work in the field also need to work as one to respond.

Thank you, Mr. President.