Sustaining Peace as the Ultimate Goal: Q&A with ASG Oscar Fernandez-Taranco

Sustaining Peace as the Ultimate Goal: Q&A with ASG Oscar Fernandez-Taranco

2nd October 2015

Peacebuilding is not an afterthought, but a core task for the United Nations. It will require a “significant change in mindset” to place peacebuilding at the center of the UN’s conflict responses, according to Oscar Fernandez-Taranco, United Nations Assistant Secretary General for Peacebuilding Support.

Speaking with International Peace Institute Senior Policy Analyst Andrea Ó Súilleabháin, Fernandez-Taranco reflected on the recent report of the Advisory Group of Experts for the 2015 Review of UN Peacebuilding. The report coined a new term, “sustaining peace,” to call for a coherent approach to peacebuilding and “as a reminder of the UN’s original peace and security goal,” he said.

Fernandez-Taranco highlighted the increasingly complex and protracted nature of conflict today. A key dilemma for the UN, he said, is “constantly addressing immediate and short-term responses,” even though many crises require a longer-term vision. He said that uniting the UN’s work under the concept of “sustaining peace” can help ensure a more strategic response to address these challenges. This will require that UN actors overcome fragmentation, and coordinate their responses across various departments and between headquarters and field operations.

Fernandez-Taranco believes that peacebuilding can play this uniting role: “Peacebuilding should be seen as a thread that runs through the whole conflict cycle, focusing the attention of everybody on the ultimate goal, which is sustainable peace.”

Listen to interview:


I’m here today with Oscar Fernandez-Taranco, United Nations Assistant Secretary General for Peacebuilding Support. Before taking this role in November 2014, he served as Assistant Secretary General of Political Affairs for five years, building on his work across the UN system from Haiti to Tanzania to the West Bank and elsewhere.

Oscar, in July, the Advisory Group of Experts for the review of the peacebuilding architecture released their report. It marks the 10th anniversary of the creation of the Peacebuilding Commission, the Peacebuilding Fund and the Peacebuilding Support Office. In addition to this milestone, why is it an important moment to take stock of UN peacebuilding?

 First of all, let me thank IPI for the opportunity to talk about this very important and seminal report. It reframes and contextualizes what the new drivers of conflict are, and spells out the challenges for the United Nations in addressing the more protracted nature of ongoing conflicts. It is now increasingly clear that just addressing these crises through short-term responses will not work, and that we need a longer-term perspective.

The key dilemma is that the number and intensity of the crises have created a situation where we are constantly addressing immediate and short-term responses, which we believe is not viable, since many of these crises require a longer-term vision and the need for a mechanism that actually incorporates this notion of sustaining peace.

The Advisory Group of Experts (AGE) report shows a realistic and a feasible way forward, and it comes down to several points: First, that sustaining peace is a core task set by the United Nations charter, and it’s not just a peripheral activity, or something we think about as an afterthought. Second, we need a significant change in mindset in order to redefine the interests and the responses that each crisis needs to receive. And third, peacebuilding should be seen as a thread that runs through the whole conflict cycle, focusing the attention of everybody on the ultimate goal of the peace efforts, which is sustainable peace.


You’ve mentioned the new term that the Advisory Group of Experts Report introduced – ‘sustaining peace’ – which they used rather than the traditional term of ‘peacebuilding’. What is the implication of this shift?

It’s important because terminology matters, and has a way of guiding how we respond. And, up to now, peacebuilding has been understood as what happens here in New York, as a set of specific tasks and interventions, or as a discourse promoted by the three entities established in 2005, which you referred to earlier on: the Peacebuilding Commission, the Peacebuilding Fund and the Peacebuilding Support Office.

This has created a mindset that has exacerbated and promoted and strengthened fragmentation at the level of resources, and even the fragmentation and incoherence of strategies. And thus, terminology seems to have contributed to the major gaps that this whole concept was supposed to address: the scope, nature, and duration of the international community’s engagement in conflict and post-conflict situations.

We think that the [AGE] report underscores the imperative of collective political and programmatic engagement, and the response of various national, regional, UN, and non-UN actors, that we need to sustain throughout the life of the conflict. We need sustained attention on conflict from prevention, to management, to post-conflict reconstruction and reconciliation, and in the institution-building phases. With a view, of course, to building and sustaining peace.

In this context, the use of ‘sustaining peace’ is not intended as a new term as such, but more as a reminder of the UN’s original peace and security goal, and a call for improved coherence from all the actors engaged in peacebuilding beyond UN as well.


In your view, what is the biggest obstacle for sustaining peace in countries facing conflict today, and what are the most promising remedies?

The report offers a thorough analysis of the fragmentation that bedevils us in the UN and the international community. This fragmentation is expressed first between the principal organs of the UN. Second, between the headquarters of the UN and field operations. And third, between the different actors, including UN peace operations and UN agencies on the ground. I think this is the biggest challenge that we face. And [this report] contributes significantly to understanding how fragmented we are and why we are where we are.

In terms of remedies, I think the report makes a very important recommendation to take a systemic view. We have a systemic problem, and therefore we need a systemic view between these different layers in order to make them work together in a coherent and coordinated manner.

An example would be pushing the UN General Assembly and the UN Security Council to work together more on peacebuilding issues, drawing upon the potential role and the contribution of the Peacebuilding Commission. We believe that better coherence means less financial gaps, less duplication of efforts, and more efficiency. So therefore, better coherence should ensure that peacebuilding is more manageable.


You mentioned one challenge that we often speak of here in New York: the gap between headquarters and in-country efforts for peace. How can the UN’s New York-based peacebuilding structures lend needed support to countries and people affected by conflict?

The substantive inputs and leadership towards this longer-term strategic vision and viable outcomes has to be taken by the lead departments in the UN: the Department of Political Affairs, the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, and important agencies like the UN Development Programme, UN Women, and the United Nations Population Fund.

The Peacebuilding Commission should be reconfigured to provide more strategic analysis, better coordination, and advocacy. And again, the [AGE] report stresses this interesting concept that the Peacebuilding Commission should be seen as building the bridges between the different pillars within the UN – peace and security, development, human rights – and also helping to transcend the divides between the principal organs of the UN.

The Peacebuilding Fund, which actually comes out as one of the most dynamic parts of the peacebuilding architecture, can play a crucial role, because it has a proven track record of promoting and driving coherence within the UN and putting funding behind strategic vision and intent. It needs to continue to sharpen its niche as a rapid, impactful, procedurally light and risk-taking investor of first resort.

Our office, the Peacebuilding Support Office, should also be able to strengthen and continue its focus on coordination, on facilitation; allowing for the key analysis and inputs that are coming from lead departments to [be translated] into concrete operational recommendations. And in the process, of course, to promote inclusive ownerships and stronger partnerships with other entities that are equally involved in peacebuilding, such as the World Bank, the European Union, regional organizations, and many important actors from civil society.


How does the peacebuilding review relate to other key reviews and processes going on this year—from the high-level panel on peace operations to the global study on Resolution 1325 on women, peace, and security?

This has been a seminal year in terms of reviews. It’s extremely important that the complementarity and value-added of each review provides a more coherent, strategic, and better analytical framework so that we can promote this broader, systemic change. And to ensure that we have a more relevant, a more strategic and a more immediate response from the United Nations to address an ever-increasing complex global peace and security landscape.

The peace operations [review] represents an important tool to improve the UN’s response to conflict. The Secretary General’s report that just came out provides very important recommendations based on the HIPPO Report. One thing that we believe is extremely important is this notion of strengthening the gender dimension of responses. We believe this is crucial, and we need therefore a much more robust role of women in the peace and security agenda.

But the operational tools that are referred to in the SG’s report and HIPPO, and some of the policy guidelines that are coming out, need to be conceived within a broader political and structural framework. We believe that this is the excellent recipe that the AGE report offers all of us. We hope that the upcoming [peacebuilding] consultations for member states will thoroughly engage with this huge opportunity to change and adapt the way we do business, to address new and emergent realities that confront and challenge all of us collectively.


Thank you so much for speaking with us today.

Thank you very much.

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