The UN’s New Agenda for Peace: Reevaluating, Restructuring, and Reaffirming

On Thursday, 20 July, the UN Secretary-General António Guterres launched a new policy brief called ‘The New Agenda for Peace’ encompassing his overall vision for global conflict resolution and categorising what he believes are the focal points of global peacebuilding. Guterres introduced the brief stating it ‘outlines an extensive and ambitious set of recommendations that recognise the inter-linked nature of many of these challenges.’ This is one of the many policy briefs the Secretary-General will release in the stages leading up to the Summit of the Future, which will take place in September 2024. The Summit of the Future seeks to improve global governance and adjust framework towards better international relations. Guterres has outlined a wide range of topics for the Member States to consider in preparation for the Summit of the Future, with last week’s New Agenda for Peace representing Policy Brief 9 of the Secretary-General’s series of ‘Our Common Agenda’ Policy Briefs. 

The title and basic interests of this particular brief are adopted from the original Agenda for Peace, proposed by Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali in 1992. This brief primarily sought to address post-Cold War issues and stabilise global relations following the conflict. The New Agenda for Peace reaffirms that peacemaking is central to the work of the UN but shifts focus to the obstacles currently in the way of global peacemaking. In presenting the New Agenda, Guterres stressed the great extent to which the world has changed since the previous Peace Agenda in 1992, pointing out how technology has evolved and how new technologies beg for careful consideration in discussions of global affairs. In noting the growing threat of nuclear warfare and other pressing issues, Guterres stated, ‘The New Agenda for Peace is a critical opportunity for Member States to begin the process of updating multilateral peace operations for today’s world.’ Thus, the New Agenda reflects not only on new forms of violence, but also on the new spaces in which conflict has or is likely to occur, such as in space and in cyberspace.

The New Agenda for Peace takes into consideration five priority areas: global security, human rights, past and present conflicts, technological innovation, and existing UN policies. Beginning with a brief discussion on global security, the Secretary-General stressed the importance of addressing geopolitical divisions, boldly stating, ‘Reducing the existential risk posed by nuclear weapons is an urgent priority—but it is not enough. We must do everything possible to eliminate this risk—by eliminating nuclear weapons.’ Despite the intentions of the original Agenda for Peace, Guterres pointed out the increase of violence across the globe since 1992. Thus, moving onto the second area concerning human rights, the Secretary-General explained how this includes gender parity, sustainable development, and climate justice, expressing his hope for the development of ‘a paradigm for addressing all forms of violence.’ The agenda’s third core area dwells on past and current conflicts, considering how to work towards peace in these realms. Guterres discussed the importance of conducting peacemaking operations with clear and realistic goals in mind. Paying special attention to emerging technologies such as AI, Guterres summed up the fourth area as the careful and intentional promotion of non-violent technological advancement. Guterres concluded with the fifth area of focus centred on the reformation of global security organisations and preexisting UN policies.

The New Agenda for Peace, along with other Common Agenda Policy Briefs the Secretary-General has presented to the Member States in recent months, is primarily concerned with the modernisation of the UN according to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. We intend to shift expertise to areas that are vital in the 21st century,’ Guterres declared, specifying the importance of shifting focus to the areas of ‘data, digital innovation, strategic foresight, and behavioural science.’ He went on to make a commitment to inclusivity within the UN, saying, ‘We will also foster a more forward-thinking and inclusive culture across the UN, increasing support for creativity, agility, geographic diversity, gender equality, and youth empowerment.’

These focal points stem from the list of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) formulated by the UN in 2015. The SDGs include ending poverty, achieving gender parity, fully relying on sustainable energy, and reducing inequalities amongst countries. Because 2023 marks the midpoint of the 2030 timeline for these goals, it is a good time to reconsider, readjust, and direct attention to where it is most needed. The SDG Summit will take place in mid-September for this purpose, and next year’s Summit of the Future will build on the establishments of the SDG Summit. In February, Guterres noted, ‘I want to stress that Our Common Agenda is aimed at turbocharging the 2030 Agenda and making the Sustainable Development Goals real in the lives of people everywhere. Because halfway to 2030, we are far off track.’ The COVID-19 pandemic and its aftermath have greatly impacted the issues the SDGs seek to eradicate, exacerbating previous concerns and raising new ones. ‘Human rights are under attack across the world, including a pernicious pushback against women’s rights,’ stated Guterres. ‘Conflicts have become more complex, deadly, and harder to resolve,’ he reported, and ‘last year saw the highest number of conflict-related deaths in almost three decades.’

The New Agenda for Peace highlights the ever-strengthening connection between inequalities and conflict. This is a necessary step towards preventing future conflicts as it helpfully considers the root causes of conflicts across the globe rather than simply pacifying conflicts as they erupt. Guterres believes we are moving towards a ‘multipolar world,’ insisting that multilateralism must remain at the core of these discussions. Thus, in the New Agenda, Guterres suggests the UN should adopt a supportive, facilitating role in the five aforementioned priority areas rather than initiating and leading efforts to address them. According to the New Agenda, these ongoing issues must be resolved by each Member State addressing the needs of their own countries rather than the UN creating new institutions to address them. 

While the New Agenda encourages Member States to consider the unique conditions of current global affairs, this must not overshadow the valuable insights found in dwelling on the conflicts and peacebuilding initiatives of the past. Although the New Agenda focuses on the modernisation of global systems and the multilateralisation of the UN, Guterres clearly stated that his ‘paradigm for addressing all forms of violence’ requires ‘a comprehensive view of the peace continuum and a holistic approach that identifies root causes and prevents the seeds of war from sprouting.’ In the words of Guterres, ‘the United Nations, as the only truly universal platform, must be at the centre of these efforts.’ As the overarching statement of the New Agenda for Peace, perhaps the role of the UN needs to be reimagined; it needs to strike a balance between remaining at the heart of global peacemaking initiatives and providing historical and modern scope for addressing these issues, while at the same time, allowing space for the Member States to birth and nurture these initiatives. This demands, as Guterres urged, restoring ‘trust in each other,’ establishing trust where it is lacking, and helping conflicts reach resolution from the inside out. 


Kristina Swanson


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