Jean-Marie Guéhenno: The Prevention and Settlement of Conflicts in a Changing Geopolitical Context in the International Community

Author:Jean-Marie Guéhenno Date:2017-12-25

On December 18, 2017, the Institute of International and Strategic Studies (IISS), Peking University (PKU) held the 21st “North Pavilion Seminar”, inviting Jean-Marie Guéhenno, President and Chief Executive Officer of the International Crisis Group (ICG) and former Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations of the United Nations (UN), to give a keynote lecture on “The Prevention and Settlement of Conflicts in a Changing Geopolitical Context in the International Community”. The seminar was hosted by Prof. Wang Jisi, President of IISS. Associate Prof. Guan Guihai, Executive Vice President of IISS, Associate Prof. Yu Tiejun, Vice President of IISS as well as over 20 PKU teachers and students attended the seminar.

Mr. Guéhenno believes that the domestic and international conflicts have steadily decreased since the end of the Cold War. However, the number of conflicts and victims has grown over the past five to six years. New conflicts have started to arise, while the old ones still existed. The fact that various conflicts are getting more protracted and lasting makes it difficult to resolve them. They all occurs under the background of increasing global and regional rivalries, violation of international norms, and the exploitation of public grievances by non-state actors for their criminal or radical activities. These worrying tendencies require us to review the methods of preventing and settling conflicts.

Mr. Guéhenno began by setting forth his two major judgements about current changes in geopolitical context. Firstly, the post-Cold War momentum is over; secondly, the post-World War II era has also ended. In terms of the end of the “post-Cold War momentum”, he believes that the short “unipolar momentum” and the situation where major powers seek for peaceful cooperation, which appeared after the Cold War, no longer exist. Instead, disagreements among the permanent members of the UN Security Council have deepened. Countries in different regions of the world have begun to harden their diplomatic positions and security policies. China has become a core power in international relations. The growing number of conflicts has arisen from the local level, while the international mechanisms and instruments established to prevent and resolve conflicts (such as military interventions and economic sanctions) are at the edge of failure.

With regard to the end of the post-World War II era, Mr. Guéhenno made three following explanations. Firstly, many new types of international conflicts, for example, “self-defensive war” and cyberattacks against terrorist attacks, are difficult to be settled within the framework of the UN and the UN Charter established in the 1945. Secondly, there is no ideological confrontation around the world today, therefore, domestic politics is much more vulnerable to external forces, and alliances among countries shift constantly in different issue areas. Thirdly, the origin of the national regime legitimacy is changing, and the people’s expectations of the state or government are also divided. Nationalist sentiments have risen in every country, and nowadays, terrorism symbolizes national vulnerability or national identity crisis.

Mr. Guéhenno further discussed how to adjust the methods and instruments of preventing and resolving the conflicts in a changing geopolitical context, and put forward 5 specific suggestions. First, the top priority should be conflict prevention and unity in the international community and domestic society. Second, we need to adjust our vision and expectations, making sure that the international community offers an appropriate and effective help while respecting the right of local people to determine their own future. Third, the peacekeeping operations require the guidance of consistent political strategies in order to reduce their military characteristics. Forth, today, there is no concise and unified international security architecture around the world, and therefore, the UN should strengthen its ties with regional security organizations to promote regional security more effectively. Finally, the international community should pay closer attention to the political dimension of specific conflicts and insure that development and reforms benefit all parts of the society, rather than simply believing that the development itself can solve all the problems.

In the Q&A session, Mr. Guéhenno exchanged views with teachers and students on such issues as how to build a unified international society, the principles of international peacekeeping operations, the effectiveness of international judicial institutions in conflict settlement, as well as how to enhance the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Regime, etc. (Contributed by Hu Ran) 

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