Essentials of preventive diplomacy

Thursday, March 01, 2018

The idea of preventive diplomacy has captivated the United Nations ever since it was first articulated by Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld nearly half a century ago. Preventive diplomacy was presaged by Article 99 of the United Nations Charter, which allowed the Secretary-General to bring to the Security Council’s attention threats to international peace and security (Ramcharan, 2011). The United Nations Organisation (UN) is best endowed to conduct preventive diplomacy (PD) by preventing disputes and conflicts arising from interstate and intrastate relationships. The UN has the means to prevent such conflicts and disputes from emerging and escalating into armed confrontation (OPIYO 2012).

The idea of preventive diplomacy under ECOWAS is aimed at operationalizing the relevant provisions of Article 58 of the Revised Treaty; Articles 3, 8-27, 31-32 of the Mechanism; and Article 36 of the Supplementary Protocol on Democracy and Good Governance; the objective of Preventive Diplomacy is to defuse tensions and ensure the peaceful resolution of disputes within and between Member States by means of good offices, mediation, conciliation and facilitation based on dialogue, negotiation and arbitration. Usually applied in the face of imminent crisis, preventive diplomacy shall also be applicable in the management, resolution and peace-building phases of conflict (ECOWAS Conflict Prevention Framework, 2008).

As a Concept –  Preventive diplomacy is a widely used term in international relations and peace matters implying the politically motivated process of engendering dialogue and negotiation to foster peace and unity in a potentially-volatile conflict-prone society presumed to de-escalate a potentially-escalated crisis to a violent one (Omotosho, 2017). The concept of preventive diplomacy has proven to be controversial (Lund 1996). However, there appears to be consensus that PD is preventive diplomatic and political action taken by sovereign states with the consent of the involved parties (OPIYO 2012).

As a process and Ideology – A brain child of the UN under Boutros Boutros-Ghali in the early 1990s, (the former SG. of the UN) to install world confidence on conflict diffusion, tension de-escalation and peace-building that involves initiated good governance process and initiatives, respect for democratic institutions and values, societal goods distributional equities and fairness and early warning system that deter wars and crises and install political certainties. He defined preventive diplomacy as “the use of diplomatic techniques to prevent disputes arising, prevent them from escalating into armed conflict and prevent the armed conflict from spreading” (OPIYO, 2012).

According to Ban Ki Moon, former United Nations Secretary General - report on Preventive Diplomacy: Delivering Results in 2011, he stated that ‘’Preventive diplomacy today is being conducted by a broader array of actors, using a wider range of tools, than ever before. This is due in part to the emergence of stronger normative frameworks in favor of international efforts to prevent violent conflict and mass atrocities and to ensure the inclusion of more voices in governance, peace and security’’.

Michael Lund defines preventive diplomacy as “actions taken in vulnerable places and times to avoid the threat or use of armed force and related forms of coercion by states or groups to settle the political disputes that can arise from destabilizing effects of economic, social, political, and international change.”


A Guest Editorial