U.N. General Assembly Starts: NGO Action Needed


René Wadlow – TRANSCEND Media Service

With the United Nations General Assembly starting on 19 September 2023, there is a good deal of reflection going on among governments and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) regarding the  effectiveness of the U.N. to meet the challenges facing the world community.

In 1992, the then Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali outlined a post Cold War Agenda for Peace.  He built his Agenda on four key pillars for U.N. action: Preventive Diplomacy, Peacemaking, Peacekeeping, and Post-conflict Peacebuilding. These four pillars remain the heart of U.N. action.  What is new from 1992 is the increased role of NGOs and potentially the international business community, both in preventive diplomacy and post-conflict peacebuilding.

Preventive diplomacy is the most important and requires the most revitalization to be effective. As the song title says ” You don’t have to be a weatherman to know the way the wind is blowing.” In Syria, there were at least four months of protests and non-violent efforts before armed violence and counter-violence exploded in Syria – a time which might have been used to see if needed reforms could be put into place.

Signs of growing tensions between the Russian Federation and Ukraine were visible to many prior to the Russian attack.  There had been the “Normandy Effort” – Russia, Ukraine, France and Germany.  There was no visible U.N. leadership and few NGO efforts to build on this mediation effort to create new constitutional structures within Ukraine.

Today, there are other tension-increasing situations that require preventive action: India-China frontier disputes, South China Sea delimitation issues, China-Taiwan tensions, increasing tensions within Myanmar which are already violent but can easily spread if things continue as they are going, and new Israeli-Palestinian tensions.

There were some efforts, especially among political research institutes and some NGOs on early warning indicators.  Such indicators should be calls for early action, but I have seen little follow up on this early warning effort.

For NGOs, there is a need to create mediation teams which can act quickly and which have already developed avenues of communication with authorities, media and other significant actors where tensions are growing. For NGOs, there may be possibilities for greater use of older persons retired from the U.N. or national diplomatic services.

Preventive diplomacy requires patience as there are seldom spectacular  breakthroughs, but the times require creative leadership.


René Wadlow is a member of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace Development Environment. He is President of the Association of World Citizens, an international peace organization with consultative status with ECOSOC, the United Nations organ facilitating international cooperation and problem-solving in economic and social issues, and editor of Transnational Perspectives.

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This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 18 Sep 2023.

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