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Return To: 2021 Handbook

General Assembly Plenary (Virtual)

Purview of the General Assembly Plenary Purview of the General Assembly Plenary

The General Assembly Plenary considers issues that are best addressed in a comprehensive manner or that require coordinating work between many bodies of the United Nations. The Plenary has the widest latitude of the deliberative bodies to discuss and pass resolutions on a wide variety of topics. For example, the 60th General Assembly established a Peacebuilding Commission that oversees the United Nations peacebuilding processes and coordinates the work of the Security Council, the Economic and Social Council, the Secretary-General and Member States emerging from conflict situations. Note: if the Security Council, which is given the primary task of ensuring peace and security by the Charter, is discussing a particular issue, the General Assembly Plenary will cease its own deliberations and defer to the Security Council. Additionally, only the Fifth Committee is able to set or discuss the United Nations budget. No other body, including the Plenary, is able to do so.

Review of the United Nations peacebuilding architecture Review of the United Nations peacebuilding architecture

The founding mission of the United Nations is to ensure international peace and security. To that end, the United Nations has used peacekeeping forces since the first mission in the Middle East in 1948. These peacekeeping missions have evolved from mostly-unarmed observers and supporting personnel to an armed security force and finally to today’s hybrid operations that support post-conflict stabilization and reconstruction. Despite these changes in structure, the prevailing reason for the missions has remained the same: to defuse conflicts between Member States and support diplomatic resolution of conflicts. At the end of the Cold War, however, the nature of conflicts shifted. More conflicts were intrastate conflicts triggered by local unrest, and therefore, less able to be resolved through international means. These intrastate conflicts also endured much longer than the interstate conflicts of the Cold War era. This shift in the nature of conflict pushed the United Nations to adapt.

The response was to emphasize peacebuilding: rebuilding civil institutions while ensuring safety and security. Former Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali placed peacebuilding firmly on the agenda with his 1992 report, An Agenda for Peace, as the United Nations looked toward a post-Cold War world and presided over a decade marred with civil wars. The failures of the United Nations peacekeeping and peacebuilding architecture became especially apparent later that decade, following the heavily-criticized response to the Rwandan genocide in 1994 and the Bosnian civil war in 1995. In 2000, the United Nations Department of Peace Operations produced the Brahimi report, which called for greater clarity in peacekeeping operations as well as institutional changes. 

At the 2005 World Summit, the General Assembly and the Security Council established the three entities that compose the modern peacebuilding architecture of the United Nations: the Peacebuilding Commission, the Peacebuilding Fund and the Peacebuilding Support Office. The Peacebuilding Commission was established as an intergovernmental United Nations body to aid States emerging from conflicts and advise the Security Council and General Assembly. It is charged with identifying clear peacebuilding objectives and working closely with the United Nations operations in the field. The Peacebuilding Fund focuses on monitoring and evaluating potential conflicts while also raising funds for peacebuilding initiatives. These two arms are supported by the Support Office, which provides strategic advice and policy guidance to the Commission, helps administer the Fund, and educates the public on peacebuilding. 

Over the following years, the new peacebuilding architecture saw progress, including success in supporting elections in Guinea-Bissau and establishing reintegration programs for combatants in Côte d’Ivoire. However, the peacebuilding architecture was not without flaws, and, in preparation for the General Assembly’s ten-year review, the Advisory Group of Experts published a report in 2015 reviewing the effectiveness of the peacebuilding architecture. This report identified several flaws in the architecture, such as the short attention span of the international community and the instability of funding to peacebuilding operations. Its most important recommendation was to have the Commission bridge the gaps among the General Assembly, the Security Council and the Economic and Social Council. The Advisory Group noted that effective peacebuilding requires action spanning the purview of those three organs, but a lack of coherence resulted in a vastly unbalanced distribution of the United Nations’ attention to different aspects of peacebuilding. In particular, the Advisory Group described the pattern as an “inverted U,” with the majority of effort spent as a crisis flared, not on prevention before or rebuilding after.

In 2016, the Security Council and the General Assembly passed a joint review of the United Nations peacebuilding architecture, taking the Advisory Group report into strong consideration. In it, they reaffirm the necessity of levelling out the “inverted U” by adopting the Advisory Group’s terminology of “sustaining peace” as the primary goal of peacebuilding. They also noted the problem of fragmentation of the United Nations system, and urged the Commission be structured to connect the principal organs for peacebuilding activities, as well as to regularly meet with regional and subregional organizations to improve cooperation at those levels. The review also laid out several key priorities for the United Nations in their future efforts to maintain international peace and security, including increasing the Commission’s emphasis on women’s leadership and the integration of gender perspectives into conflict resolution and peacebuilding strategies. However, the review did not address the issue of funding, instead asking for a report from the Secretary-General on potential options. As the Fund currently depends on voluntary contributions, the Advisory Group had recommended providing a moderate baseline of funding from the peacekeeping operations budget. This recommendation raised concerns about the Fund’s flexibility, largely seen as one of its greatest strengths, as it would place the Fund under the purview of the Fifth Committee. Additionally, as development and peacebuilding are mutually beneficial, the review also encouraged cooperation between peacebuilding programs and the World Bank—particularly the World Bank’s State and Peacebuilding Fund, established in 2008—however no real suggestions were made as to how this would be accomplished. In his report leading up to the third comprehensive review of the United Nations peacebuilding architecture in 2020, the Secretary-General noted that the topic of financing has been the area of least progress since the 2016 review, and remains the greatest challenge moving forward. The General Assembly will convene a meeting during its seventy-sixth session to advance, explore and consider action-oriented options for ensuring adequate, predictable and sustained financing for peacebuilding.

Questions to consider from your country’s perspective:

  • How can the Peacebuilding Commission improve cooperation among the principal organs and with relevant peacebuilding organizations, such as the World Bank, to implement sustainable ways for countries to continue promoting peace and to rebuild after conflict?
  • How can the United Nations better facilitate the transition from peacekeeping to peacebuilding? 
  • Should the Peacebuilding Fund be funded through voluntary contributions from Member States, from the peacekeeping budget or through some other method?

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Bibliography Bibliography

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Global health and foreign policy Global health and foreign policy

For centuries, interstate health crises have been a major concern of States. By the start of the twenty-first century globalization began to highlight the variety of ways that State health policies interact with foreign relations and economics. Epidemics like HIV/AIDS and new influenza strains have driven unprecedented levels of international cooperation on research and provision of aid. More and more United Nations bodies and regional organizations are coordinating on health-related issues, and private philanthropies and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are playing increasingly major roles as donors and activists in developing countries.

The list of health concerns is diverse and includes major disease outbreaks, non-communicable diseases (NCDs) and poor health systems in many countries. Health outcomes are heavily tied to poverty, famine and health worker safety, which themselves are influenced by war, forced migration, climate change and natural disasters. These interconnections make global health policy complex, as each region has its own set of health issues, its own medical systems and its own perspective on health practices. The global community is constantly challenged to address root problems without simply reacting to successive crises, and bringing together often conflicting foreign policy objectives is a key goal for the coming decades.

The United Nations has been concerned with coordinating international health policy since the founding of the World Health Organization (WHO) in 1948. WHO’s early focus on disease eradication led to smallpox becoming the first disease to be completely eliminated by human effort alone in 1980. At the 1978 Alma-Ata International Conference on Primary Healthcare, WHO began a pivot toward “Health for All,” pushing for all governments to focus on high quality universal primary care. It continued putting forth new initiatives to battle polio, HIV/AIDS, NCDs like cancer and heart disease, and even campaigns promoting healthy living and tobacco-free societies.

The emphasis on the need for coordinated health policy continued to grow over the following decades. The landmark Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) defined United Nations development priorities between 2000 and 2015; three of the eight Goals were health-related. In 2005, following the 2002–2004 SARS outbreak, WHO passed the International Health Regulations (IHR), creating binding international law that requires all States to report on health emergencies and establish specific health procedures.

The following year, France and Norway established the Foreign Policy and Global Health Initiative, connecting seven Member States from across the world to promote health topics in the United Nations General Assembly. In their 2007 Oslo Ministerial Declaration, the seven foreign ministers made the case for stronger interstate collaboration and marked the first explicit effort to elevate global health to a new strategic place on the international agenda. The document advocated a number of recommendations to improve foreign policy support for global health, leading to the first General Assembly resolution on the issue in 2008. The United Nations has repeatedly kept the topic on its agenda, focusing on a new area with each resolution, including health employment and economic growth, nutrition, and health systems in recent years.

One of the biggest challenges facing the international community is how to prioritize the varied global health issues. Foreign policy incentives are the main drivers of priority, not health impact, thus creating major disparities in funding for health issues. 105 billion dollars were donated for infectious disease research between 2000 and 2017, and AIDS alone benefitted from over 40 percent of the total. Meanwhile, malaria and tuberculosis, other significant drivers of death, received five and three percent of research funding, respectively. Chronic diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer and chronic respiratory diseases account for about 60 percent of deaths worldwide, however, being non-communicable, these diseases see low levels of State cooperation and funding. This was particularly a concern in the first part of the 21st century, as the MDGs excluded NCDs from its health goals, and hence efforts to address NCDs in developing countries had minimal funding from development programs. The Sustainable Development Goals notably include NCDs as a part of the post-2015 development agenda.

Although multilateral approaches between States are growing, coordination with major NGOs remains low. In June 2016, the General Assembly hosted a high-level meeting to discuss progress made on the Declaration of Commitment on HIV/AIDS. Acknowledging the important contributions of non-State actors, the process began with an informal civil society hearing for the purpose of facilitating cooperation between Member States, NGOs and the private sector. Although such meetings are useful, there are still few formal avenues for bringing States and NGOs together.

The ongoing health crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has again highlighted the importance and urgency of State cooperation. The pandemic has killed more than 3.3 million people worldwide as of 31 December 2020, brought about the deepest global recession since the end of World War II and highlighted numerous social inequities. As with many other crises, the poorest and most vulnerable have been the most negatively impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic pushed an additional 88 million people into extreme poverty in 2020, and some projections estimate that some of the poorest countries might not be fully vaccinated until 2023. 

The COVID-19 pandemic exposed myriad underlying problems that require prioritization in order to prevent future health emergencies. The Global Preparedness Monitoring Board (GPMB), an independent monitoring and accountability body co-convened by WHO and the World Bank Group, offered several recommendations for future action. Beyond calls for responsible leadership and engaged citizenship, the GPMB’s report urged the United Nations, national leaders and international organizations to develop a robust global governance to strengthen coordination mechanisms and cultivate a global culture of preparedness before the next disaster strikes. In addition, bolstering health infrastructure and improving public health capacity to surveil and rapidly respond to outbreaks would go a long way toward preventing and mitigating future pandemics. Despite the ever widening array of issues at the intersection of global health and foreign policy, this topic is seeing more attention than ever before, requiring continued efforts to synchronize global health policy and cooperate in all areas requiring urgency.

Questions to consider from your country’s perspective:

  • Given that global health issues involve the coordination of many Member States and non-governmental actors, what kinds of problems should be prioritized? Are the current forums for organizing policy objectives sufficient?
  • What role should non-governmental organizations play in the implementation of global health objectives? How can the United Nations and Member States better coordinate their own policies with non-State actors?
  • How can the international community better work to support States experiencing ongoing global health emergencies and mitigate their effects on disproportionately affected communities?
  • What lessons can be learned from past health emergencies? What actions are needed to cultivate a global culture of preparedness before the next disaster strikes?

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Bibliography Bibliography

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United Nations Documents United Nations Documents

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