A Japanese Perspective on the UN’s New Agenda for Peace

On July 20, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres gave a speech in front of representatives of the UN member-states at the UN headquarters in New York. Guterres stated that the United Nations has been faced with new threats and challenges, such as violations of international law, inequities exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, and violations of human rights around the world. He criticized the Russia’s military aggression against Ukraine, saying “the Russian Federation’s invasion of Ukraine has made it even more difficult to address these challenges. If every country fulfilled its obligations under the Charter [of the United Nations], the right to peace would be guaranteed. But when countries break those pledges, they create a world of insecurity for everyone.”

Presenting an Agenda for Peace

At the same time, Guterres announced a 40-page-long policy brief entitled “A New Agenda for Peace” which is one of the UN’s most important policy statements in recent time, stressing on how to maintain international peace and security in the wake of the Russia-Ukraine War. “A New Agenda for Peace” should be regarded as a message to the world about the new mission and challenges of the United Nations in the post-pandemic era. In his speech, Guterres warned that “last year saw the highest number of conflict-related deaths in almost three decades. Concerns about the possibility of nuclear war have re-emerged. New potential domains of conflict and weapons of war are creating new ways in which humanity can annihilate itself.”

Interestingly, Guterres’ “A New Agenda for Peace” reminds us of a famous UN document, “An Agenda for Peace” announced by the then UNSG Boutros Boutros-Ghali in 1992. About three decades ago, Ghali’s “An Agenda for Peace” categorizes the role of UN peace operations into four stages (preventive diplomacy, peacemaking, peacekeeping, and peacebuilding) and made significant contributions to the development of UNPKOs. Ghali’s “An Agenda for Peace” proposed the use of force by the United Nations as “peace enforcement units.” Nonetheless, the peace enforcement attempts by UN peacekeepers resulted in failure in the Somali Civil War and the Bosnian War.

Accordingly, Ghali was forced to withdraw the idea of “peace enforcement” by UN peacekeepers in another UN document, “Supplement to An Agenda for Peace” in 1995. Either way, Ghali’s “An Agenda for Peace” had a great impact on the theory and practice of UN peace operations and made the international community aware of the importance of UNPKOs. In this context, the Japanese government enacted the Act on Cooperation with United Nations Peacekeeping Operations and Other Operations (PKO Law) in June 1992, which enabled dispatch of the Japanese Self-Defense Forces to UNPKOs in post-conflict countries, such as Cambodia, East Timor, and South Sudan.

The New vs. the Old

Critics of Guterres’ “A New Agenda for Peace” (Guterres proposal) might argue that it fails to impact policymaking processes for international peace and security as opposed to Ghali’s “An Agenda for Peace” (Ghali proposal). Nevertheless, as pointed out by Adam Day of the United Nations University Centre for Policy Research, although the Guterres proposal seems to be “far from perfect,” it also offers “a potentially transformative model for emerging and future risks.” Indeed, it can be observed that the Guterres proposal investigates comprehensive issues related to international peace and security and is in a different dimension from the Ghali proposal. Yet, how do we analyze the comprehensiveness of the Guterres proposal?

First, from the perspective of typology of security, the Guterres proposal addresses the following types of security: (1) outer space security, (2) global security, (3) international security, (4) collective security, (5) regional security, (6) national security, and (7) human security, (8) biological and health security, and (9) food security. In addition, one of the references in the endnote is regarding (10) economic security. In the light of Japan’s security policy, the Guterres proposal can be regarded as “comprehensive security”, addressing both military and non-military threats as advocated by the Ohira Masayoshi administration. The comprehensive analysis of a variety of security will help the United Nations address new challenges in the ever-changing security environment.

Second, the Guterres proposal argues that “peace” is, and will remain, “elusive” in the foreseeable future. However, if we analyze the Guterres proposal by applying the “definition of peace” in the field of peace research advocated by Johan Galtung, the Guterres proposal can be divided into “negative peace” (absence of direct violence) and “positive peace” (absence of structural violence). For instance, the Guterres proposal examines elements of “negative peace,” such as the abolition of war and nuclear weapons, the need for international norms regarding the military use of artificial intelligence (AI), and the importance of counter-terrorism measures.

In particular, the issue of “singularity,” where AI surpasses human intelligence and has a serious impact on the humanity and civilization, has been discussed in recent years. As a matter of fact, the combination of AI and nuclear weapons could pose an apocalyptic threat to the very existence of the human beings. For this reason, the Guterres proposal argues that an international regulation of “lethal autonomous weapons systems” (LAWS), also known as “killer robots,” should be formulated by 2026. Just like the Ghali proposal, the Guterres proposal re-examines the role of UN peace operations and then re-analyzes the need for UN “peace enforcement” in the changing international security environment. Notably, in response to the July 20 speech by Guterres, Ambassador Ishikane Kimihiro, Permanent Representative of Japan to the United Nations stated that “we support the idea of strengthening peace operations by giving them clear and realistic mandates with necessary resources. We also welcome the proposed idea on peace enforcement…”

Furthermore, the Guterres proposal investigates elements of “positive peace” including the issue of overcoming poverty, hunger, economic inequity, health, human rights, and environmental destruction, which can be regarded as the achievement of “sustainable development goals” (SDGs). In other words, whereas the Ghali proposal mainly focuses on the types of UN peace operations to achieve and maintain “negative peace,” the Guterres proposal deals with both “negative peace” and “positive peace.” In this regard, the Guterres proposal is more thorough than the Ghali proposal, and therefore, the former should be highly evaluated for its comprehensiveness. Regarding the issue of SDGs in the Guterres proposal, Ambassador Ishikane commented that “Japan is fully committed to discussions toward the upcoming opportunities such as SDG Summit, Summit of the future, Peacebuilding Architecture Review and beyond.”

Implications for Japan

Significantly, the Guterres proposal has profound implications for Japan’s policy on international peace and security. At the Shangri-La Dialogue last year, Kishida announced the “Kishida Vision for Peace” comprising five pillars: (1) maintaining and strengthening the rules-based free and open international order and bringing new developments towards a Free and Open Indo-Pacific, (2) advancing the fundamental reinforcement of Japan’s defense capabilities in tandem with reinforcing the Japan-U.S. Alliance and strengthening security cooperation with other like-minded countries, (3) promoting realistic efforts to bring about a “world without nuclear weapons,” (4) strengthening the functions of the United Nations, including UN Security Council reform, and (5) strengthening international cooperation in new policy areas such as economic security. Points 3 and 4 of the Kishida Vision for Peace overlap with the purposes of the Guterres proposal. On the basis of the Kishida Vision for Peace, the Japanese government is expected to respect “A New Agenda for Peace” and make further diplomatic contributions to international peace and security and the abolition of nuclear weapons.

(The earlier Japanese version of this article first appeared in Komei Shimbun on August 23, 2023).