Remarks at a UN Security Council Open Debate on Peacebuilding and Sustaining Peace: Post-Conflict Reconstruction and Peace, Security, and Stability

Ambassador Jonathan Cohen
U.S. Deputy Permanent Representative to the United Nations
U.S. Mission to the United Nations
New York City
December 5, 2018


Thank you, Mr. President.

Mr. President, Ministers, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentleman, today, the American people mourn the loss of President George H.W. Bush, the forty-first President of the United States of America. We thank the Security Council, the many delegations, and colleagues who have offered their condolences since his passing. Allow me to make a short statement now in his memory.

President Bush exemplified a fearless sense of duty to his nation through his lifelong commitment to public service. On his eighteenth birthday, he enlisted in the United States Navy to serve his nation. From his time as a Member of the Congress, U.S. Ambassador to China, Director of Central Intelligence, and as President of the United States, he guided our nation to peace and prosperity. He also shaped a freer, safer world, including with the United Nations as Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s Special Envoy for South Asia Earthquake Disaster, and in this very Council as the United States Ambassador to the United Nations, where he worked selflessly to defend justice and promote peace.

On a personal note, I had the honor and privilege to work for President Bush. He was the first sitting president of my country that I met personally, for the first time here at the UN General Assembly High-Level Week in 1991, twenty-seven years ago. He made an indelible impression as a man of great decency and great dignity. And he left a legacy of towering foreign policy achievements. We honor the legacy of President Bush. His unwavering commitment to public service and his accomplishments in both war and peace will continue to inspire generations to come.

And now, thank you, President Ouattara, for gathering us today to identify concrete ways the Security Council can support peacebuilding and sustaining peace around the world.

This session provides an opportunity to identify best-practices in peacebuilding. It also allows us to reflect on peacekeeping missions that still have a long road to travel before peace is restored. It’s our hope that we leave today with a renewed collective commitment to working with the UN peacebuilding community to support each country seeking to transition to a post-conflict environment.

Mr. President, this Council spends much of its time addressing conflicts featuring open fighting, active violence, and significant loss of life. But once the hard work of achieving a ceasefire has taken hold, these conflicts often fade from the front pages and from the Council’s agenda. It’s precisely at that moment when the quieter – and arguably harder – work begins to heal a society torn apart by conflict.

While this work had historically been the domain of national governments or NGOs, the UN has recently scaled up its capacity to play a leading role in peacebuilding. The Secretary-General’s move to integrate the Peacebuilding Support Office into the Department of Political Affairs was a signal that the UN seeks to break down institutional silos and marshal the full expertise of the UN system for this task.

The Secretary-General’s recent sustaining peace report lays out a number of important recommendations, including the development of integrated strategic frameworks, UN Development Assistance Frameworks, and greater UN cooperation on the ground. While some progress has been made, we encourage the UN to push forward on the full range of proposals.

Some of these proposals may require new resources. We encourage countries to provide additional voluntary contributions to the Peacebuilding Fund, but we do not support efforts to tie a percentage of the peacekeeping budget to that fund. On the whole, though, greater coordination and communication across the UN peacebuilding system should not require additional financial outlays.

Mr. President, we face a collective challenge as we approach peacebuilding. Our statements today will all support the UN’s peacebuilding efforts, yet we may all have different, undefined visions of what this work should encompass in each context. To remedy this, we encourage the UN in each specific instance to identify a vision for an achievable end state and align resources and stakeholders to get there.

Optimally, the UN would identify this desired end-state at the start of a peacekeeping mission and would pair it with an achievable exit strategy. Once the mission has fulfilled its mandate, UN efforts would transition to peacebuilding support.

Cote d’Ivoire and Colombia are two models of UN peacebuilding that have benefited from a clear vision of a more peaceful future.

In June of 2017, the UN Mission in Cote d’Ivoire closed its doors after successfully providing support to the 2003 peace agreement and helping address the 2010 political unrest. We made the right call as a Council to terminate a mission whose objective to stabilize a post-conflict country was largely accomplished.

Cote d’Ivoire also recognized that UNOCI’s closure meant not that their task had been completed – but that the hard work of peacebuilding was just beginning. The Peacebuilding Commission has been actively engaged across the country, from standardizing identification documents and formalizing citizenship rights, to organizing election-focused civil society dialogues. This strong coordination among the Security Council, the UN peacebuilding community, the government, and local citizens has allowed Cote d’Ivoire to overcome conflict and restore peace. President Ouattara, we recognize the difficult task you faced and your critical leadership in building a more peaceful society.

In Colombia, the Security Council approved a narrow and specific mandate for a UN Special Political Mission: the monitoring and verification of the ceasefire between the FARC and the Colombian government. As a result, the FARC relinquished thousands of weapons and explosives, became a political party, and participated in recent elections. The successor mission, the UN Verification Mission in Colombia, now monitors security guarantees and the reintegration of FARC members into Colombian society.

Colombians and the UN mission are now working toward the full implementation of the comprehensive peace plan. They are embracing a collaborative, inclusive approach that is already delivering dividends for peace.

Mr. President, as the United States has supported post-conflict reconstruction efforts, we have identified several common best-practices. First, the international community should treat a “peace deal” or a ceasefire as only the first step in a long process. Second, post-conflict reconciliation takes time and cannot be rushed. Third, local actors and societies as a whole must buy into the transition. President Ouattara, you operated with these goals in mind as you supported your country’s transition. The Peacebuilding Commission understands these dynamics, and is well-positioned to support this critical work elsewhere.

And I thank you.