News and Events

Leveraging diplomatic power and influence on the UN Security Council: the case of Australia

UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe. Security Council Authorises Multinational Force in East Timor. Alexander Downer, then Minister for Foreign Affairs of Australia, addresses the Council on 15 September 1999 at the United Nations, New York.

In their recent paper ‘Leveraging diplomatic power and influence on the
UN Security Council: the case of Australia’, published in the Australian Journal of International Affairs Jeremy Farrall & Jochen Prantl compare Australia’s efforts to influence UNSC decision-making both as a UNSC member, and as non-member on the issue of East Timor.

You can access the paper here.

Jeremy Farrall’s new book chapter: ‘The use of UN sanctions to address mass atrocities’

Jeremy Farrall’s latest analytical piece on the use of UN sanctions to address mass atrocities was published in The Oxford Handbook of the Responsibility to Protect. This first edition of the Handbook, edited by Alex Bellamy and Tim Dunne, was released last month.

A copy of the chapter is available here. You can also buy your copy of the book here.


Policy proposals on strengthening the rule of law through the United Nations Security Council released as UN document

On April 27, the report Strengthening the rule of law through the United Nations Security Council, authored by Prof. Hilary Charlesworth and Dr. Jeremy Farrall, was released as a UN document under the symbol S/2016/397.

The report offers policy proposals aim to enhance the Security Council’s capacity to strengthen the rule of law, particularly when it deploys peace operations, applies sanctions and authorises the use of force.

You can access the report here.

Here’s how to end UN peacekeeping’s history of sexual violence

UN Photo/Marie Frechon

By Jeni Whalan

First published on The Interpreter on 29 April 2016. 

After years of moral outrage and stern official rhetoric, the odious scandal of sexual abuse by UN peacekeepers of the vulnerable people they are sent to protect may finally attract tangible penalties for the organisation. US senators this month threatened to withdraw funding from the UN over its leaders’ failure to prevent sexual violence by peacekeepers and to hold perpetrators to account when it occurs. Given that the US funds 28% of the US$8.3 billion annual peacekeeping budget, it’s a threat with teeth.

This latest legitimacy crisis for UN peacekeeping has been brewing a long time. Since the first widely publicised abuses by peacekeepers in Cambodia in 1992, allegations of sexual abuse and exploitation have followed the UN’s deployments to crises around the world: Bosnia, Timor-Leste, Kosovo, Burundi, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Haiti, the DRC, Côte d’Ivoire, Sudan and Mali.

But it is stories of widespread sexual violence against women and children in the Central African Republic (CAR) that have captured global media attention and which may finally prompt meaningful reform.

Reports of children being sexually assaulted and raped in CAR emerged in May 2014. UN investigators recorded numerous reports from young boys, aged 8–13 years, of their abuse by French troops serving under the (UN-authorised but French-commanded) Operation Sangaris. Gross mishandling by UN and French officials saw nearly a year pass before the reports surfaced publicly, thanks to the scrutiny of the NGO AIDS-Free World; only then did French officials begin criminal investigations. A month later, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon appointed a panel to investigate the UN’s response. Their damning report concluded that the UN’s mishandling amounted to ‘gross institutional failure’ and ‘an abdication of responsibility’ on the part of senior officials. In the meantime, Mr Ban sacked the head of the UN’s peacekeeping mission in the CAR.

But as the UN focused inward on the inadequacies of its own bureaucratic procedures, new reports of abuse continued to emerge. In February 2016, 120 peacekeepers from the Republic of Congo and the Democratic Republic of Congo were sent home over new accusations of sexual abuse brought to light by Human Rights Watch. Other allegations involved troops from Georgia, France, Burundi, Morocco and Tanzania.

And then in late March 2016 came the revelation that the UN had investigated 108 further cases of abuse by French and Gabonese forces. The vast majority of victims were children and the allegations included grotesque violence and bestiality by a French commander. Just a few weeks later, AIDS-Free World uncovered another 41 cases of sexual violence.

Why have peacekeeping missions so frequently been guilty of abusing those they were sent to protect? And given that only a tiny fraction of peacekeepers are responsible for the abuses, why has the UN proved so incapable of holding them to account?

Some blame the UN’s reliance on unprofessional, inadequately trained troops from countries with poor human rights records. To be sure, the demand for peacekeepers is at an all-time high and they are deployed overwhelminglyfrom developing countries. But that can’t explain the involvement of French troops in the CAR scandal — including in its most depraved incidents — nor the fact that most peacekeepers do not sexually abuse or exploit local people.

At the same time, while the vast majority of peacekeepers serve honourably and professionally, this is not simply a case of a few bad apples: the peacekeeping system is woefully deficient when it comes to the local accountability of peacekeepers.

The primary obstacle is the legal basis on which peacekeepers are deployed, according them immunity from prosecution by the host state. Intended to allow peacekeepers to operate without host state interference, in practice immunity has enabled impunity. The rules of UN deployments protect peacekeepers, not their victims. Countries contributing peacekeepers remain fully, and solely, responsible for investigating, prosecuting and punishing their own personnel. If their home countries turn a blind eye to abuse allegations, there is little the UN — or survivors of abuse — can do about it. Recent recommendations for ‘naming-and-shaming’ recalcitrant UN member states and withholding payment for their troop contributions reflect welcome progress, but these are weak mechanisms for preventing or remedying these crimes.

A range of other factors is at play. Field missions answer to UN headquarters in New York, not to communities on the ground. Sexual abuse and exploitation has been treated as misconduct, requiring disciplinary action, rather than as criminal acts requiring a legal response. A lack of transparency, systematic monitoring and public reporting means that local populations rarely have a voice, and it has required ad hoc efforts by civil society organisations to bring abuses to light. Finally, peacekeeping is fundamentally a foreign activity, involving the deployment of international troops within societies they usually know little about. In her book Peaceland, ethnographer and former UN peacebuilder Séverine Autesserre finds that derogatory views of local populations are alarmingly common, recounting ‘blatantly racist and shockingly offensive’ attitudes and behaviours described variously as degrading, belittling, humiliating, dehumanising and denigrating of local people.

Together, these features of peacekeeping create a permissive, even enabling environment for sexual violence and exploitation. A slew of organisational reforms over the past decade has not, it seems, made the UN any more effective in curtailing these abuses.


Withholding funding from the UN, as US senators have threatened, is a powerful form of leverage. The 1964-65 session of the UN General Assembly, for example, essentially ground to a halt after several countries — including the USSR and France — refused to pay their share of the peacekeeping budget in protest over what they saw as the illegitimate authorisation of peacekeeping operations.

Today, the top five financial contributors to UN peacekeeping provide 60% of the entire budget: US (28%), Japan (11%), and France, Germany and the UK (each around 7%). These big contributors can wield substantial influence. While reforming the system of legal immunities is impractical, their leverage could exact reforms from UN peacekeeping bureaucracy to improve the process for dealing with abuse allegations. More importantly, their concerted attention could help to move attention from the politics of New York to the survivors of abuse in host countries, in the form of assistance and compensation.

They could also lend their political and financial weight to two more ambitious accountability reforms.

First, UN peacekeeping needs an ombudsperson, with budgetary and reporting independence from peacekeeping operations in the field and from peacekeeping bureaucracy in New York. The experiment with an ombudsperson in Kosovo provides both a precedent and a demonstration of the limits of an accountability mechanism that depends for its authority and funding on the very actors it is trying to hold to account.

Second, the extent of sexual violence in the CAR — and the UN’s mishandling of it — only came to light through the determined but ad hoc reporting of international NGOs, including AIDS-Free World, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. Friends of UN peacekeeping, like Australia, should promote and fund systematic civil society monitoring of peacekeeping, ideally through a mix of host country and international NGOs, to monitor operations and give voice to those made most vulnerable by violent conflict.

Book release: Strengthening the rule of law through the UN Security Council

The book StrengtheROL_book_coverning the rule of law through the UN Security Council, edited by Hilary Charlesworth and Jeremy Farrall, was released this month. The collection of essays, three from members of the Security Council Analysis Network,  examine the extent to which the Council has honoured his commitment to the rule of law when exercising its powers under the UN Charter to maintain international peace and security.

The book discusses both how the concept of the rule of law regulates, or influences, Security Council activity and how the Council has in turn shaped the notion of the rule of law. It explores in particular how this relationship has affected the Security Council’s three most prominent tools for the maintenance of international peace and security: peacekeeping, sanctions and force. In doing so, this book identifies strategies for better promotion of the rule of law by the Security Council. Click on  the links below to read excerpts from the book.

Foreward by Alan Ryan and preface to the book

Introduction by Hilary Charlesworth and Jeremy Farrall

Strengthening the local accountability of UN peacekeeping by Jeni Whalan

The UN Security Council as regulator and subject of the rule of law: conflict or confluence of interest? by Jeremy Farrall and Marie-Eve Loiselle




UNSC and the RoL: Launch of policy recommendations a success

UN Photo/Mark Garten 

Dr. Jeremy Farrall and Prof. Hilary Charlesworth traveled to New York  this month to launch a set of policy recommendations to strengthen the rule of law through UNSC’s practice. The launch was held at the UN headquarters in New York on 11 March during the Dialogue with Member States on the rule of law at the international level. The event was organised by the Permanent Mission of Australia, the Permanent Mission of Japan, and the Rule of Law Unit, on behalf of the UN Rule of Law Coordination and Resource Group.

Participants to the event included Mr. Edric Selous, Director, Rule of Law Unit, Executive Office of the Secretary-General; H.E. Ambassador Gillian Bird, Permanent Representative of Australia to the United Nations; Dr. Jeremy Farrall Fellow, Asia-Pacific College of Diplomacy, the Australian National University; Prof. Hilary Charlesworth Director, Centre for International Governance and Justice, the Australian National University; Prof. Terence Halliday Co-Director, Center on Law and Globalization, American Bar Foundation; and H.E. Ambassador Motohide Yoshikawa, Permanent Representative of Japan to the United Nations.

Introduction by Edric Selous, Director of the Rule of Law Unit:

Comments by the Permanent Representative of Australia to the UN

Comments by Prof. Hilary Charlesworth

Comments by Dr. Jeremy Farrall

Comments by Prof. Terence Halliday (part 1 and 2)




New York launch of policy proposals for strengthening the rule of law through the UN Security Council

On Friday 11 March Dr. Jeremy Farrall and Prof. Hilary Charlesworth will launch the Policy Proposals on Strengthening the Rule of Law through the UN Security Council (hyperlink). The Policy Proposals were developed as part of an Australian Research Council Linkage Project entitled ’Strengthening the Rule of law through the UN Security Council’. The Project was a collaboration between the Australian National University and the Australian Government’s Australian Civil-Military Centre.

The Policy Proposals aim to enhance the Security Council’s capacity to strengthen the rule of law, particularly when it deploys peace operations, applies sanctions and authorises the use of force. The Proposals promote a responsive model of decision-making that balances a commitment to preventing the arbitrary use of power with a pragmatic opens to finding the best way to strengthen the rule of law in diverse contexts. The responsive model of the rule of law contains four basic principles that combine to increase the likelihood that the Council’s decision-making will strengthen the rule of law: transparency, consistency, accountability and engagement. According to this model, the more these principles are respected and promoted, both in the making and implementation of Council decisions, the greater the Council’s capacity will be to strengthen the rule of law.

Access the invitation and concept note here.

Access the policy proposals here.


However annoying, failure to engage Russia is not an option

UN Photo/Rick Bajornas. Russia and US brief media on Middle East.


By Jochen Prantl

First published in Yale Online16 February 2016.

A strategic objective in engaging Russia must emphasize the profitability of balanced foreign policy in bridging East and West

UN negotiations to end the five-year civil war in Syria and form a transitional government will resume at the end of this month. With 250,000 people dead and more than half of the 22 million pre-war population either internally displaced or refugees, the talks are a litmus test for the key external stakeholders, especially the United States and Russia, to negotiate shared principles underlying peace and order. Russia’s September military intervention in Syria, in support of President Bashar al-Assad, has turned Moscow into a pivotal player in the region. The agenda is currently being set by an alliance formed by Russia, Iran and Assad. The danger of a proxy US-Russian conflict is real. Also, should Iraq request help from Russia in fighting Islamic State, the proxy conflict may escalate into direct confrontation between Washington and Moscow. Russia needs to be convinced that an immediate ceasefire rather than the continuation of war serves its long-term interests.

A quarter century after the end of the Cold War, the crisis has raised serious concerns about global security, especially at a time when the balance of power is rapidly shifting to the East and South. According to a well-cited Harvard study by Graham Allison, 12 out of 16 cases of power transitions over the past 500 years indicate that war is the norm rather than the exception. Resetting political relations with post-Soviet Russia – beyond the selective engagement on Iran and Syria, by building a partnership based on equality and mutual respect – is a matter of priority. The Obama administration’s 2009 reset in US-Russia relations has fallen short of achieving that objective.

Russia has significant capacity to help or hinder global and regional peace. From a grand strategic perspective, three factors stand out:

  • According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute’s 2015 Yearbook, Russia possesses 7,500 nuclear warheads of which 1,780 are deployed on missiles and on bases with operational forces. It also maintains 2,000 tactical nuclear weapons with lower yield munitions that can be used in the battlefield. Unlike China, Russia’s most recent nuclear doctrine – reaffirmed in December 2014 – permits the first use of nuclear weapons in response to conventional attacks that pose existential threats. At the same time, with the third-largest military budget in the world, Moscow has invested in nuclear and conventional modernization programs, recouping its power projection capabilities in the region and beyond.
  • In 2010-14, the United States and Russia combined supplied 58 percent of all international transfers of major weapons. Almost two thirds of Russian arms exports went to three countries – India, China, and Algeria (SIPRI 2015).
  • Russia has had its own pivot to Asia in the military, energy and trade realms. This has been driven by both the desire to become an integral part of the so-called Asian Century and deterioration of its relations with the West. This strategic realignment may well help Russia to become a force to be reckoned with in the East Asian security order. Notably, a major overhaul will be transforming Russia’s Pacific fleet from its smallest to its biggest naval asset, with implications for boosting regional power-projection capabilities.

Russia, by pursing a balanced foreign policy, could become a bridge between East and West – and profit.

In a nutshell, Russia is still strategically too significant to fail. It retains its permanent seat on the UN Security Council. Russia’s vast geography extends across Northern Asia and Eastern Europe – it is part of both East and West. This geographical position poses challenge and opportunity. It is a challenge since Russia may find itself between a rock and a hard place, excluded from both the West and the East, isolated and encircled. But geography can also be an opportunity, if Russia fully embraces its Eurasian roots and pursues a balanced foreign policy to profit from and become a bridge between East and West. This ought to be the strategic objective of Western and Eastern engagement.

For Moscow, but also for Russia’s neighbors in Europe and Asia, diplomacy needs to be put back on center stage. A strong focus on identifying areas of common interest – including counterterrorism, nuclear and conventional arms control – rather than a divisive exchange about a clash of values and worldviews should top of everyone’s policy agendas.

Failure to engage Russia is not an option. Low oil prices create good conditions for engagement.

Post-Cold War stability depends on the effective renegotiation of “the rules of the game” driving international cooperation in the long-term. Moscow’s military interventions in Syria – and eastern Ukraine – intended to send a strong signal to external parties: Russia acts on its own terms and does not follow rules superimposed by the West. In both cases, Moscow has modified the rules of the game in its favor, changing the status quo without negotiation. Whatever we make of Putin’s politics, failure to engage Russia is not an option. The collapse of global oil prices has created favorable conditions for engagement. With oil and gas accounting for 70 percent of Russian export incomes, its economy is under immense pressure.

The most reliable foundation for a sustainable partnership is to engage Russia on more equal terms within a greater Eurasian security community, to enfranchise Russia in such a way that it will play a constructive role because it has equal stakes and status. This is still unfinished post-Cold War business. Related proposals – similar in their intent but different in detail – have been discussed in Europe and Asia. Ideally, this security community would provide a catalyst for synergies between regional institutions and initiatives such as the European Union, NATO, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, the Eurasian Economic Union, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, and China’s One Belt One Road Initiative.

At the societal level, recent high-level conferences inside and outside of Russia have highlighted the uneasiness of Russian scholars, practitioners and students with the status quo. Among the ones attended by the author: the 10th General Conference of the Council for Security Cooperation in the Asia-Pacific, Confidence Building in the Asia-Pacific: The Security Architecture of the 21st Century in October in Mongolia; Moscow State University International Congress, Globalistics-2015: Global Governance and Diplomacy in an Unstable World in October; and the Russian Association of Political Science and Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO), Political Science in the Face of Contemporary Political Challenges in November.

Russian scholars and practitioners, uneasy with the status quo, seek frank exchange and mutual respect.


Discussions reflect a widespread sense of isolation, a sense of betrayal by the United States and Europe, and a sense of detachment from the rest of the world. The breadth and depth of these anti-Western sentiments render them difficult to dismiss simply as a shared delusion of the Russian intelligentsia. These audiences display a worrying preoccupation with the prospect of a third world war, which could potentially erupt over regional flashpoints such as eastern Ukraine and Syria. On the positive side, there is a strong desire – probably exacerbated by the current Western sanctions – for frank exchange, mutual respect, equal partnership, recognition, and for being “a normal modern country.”

A recurrent theme emerging at such conferences is the vital importance of exposing the next generation of Russian scholars and practitioners to the contemporary world, and of exposing foreigners – students and scholars alike – to Russian ideas and thinking. This is the vital entry point for universities in Europe, the United States and the Asia-Pacific, foundations, and public policy institutions to step in and facilitate intellectual exchange centered on mutual understanding and confidence-building. Such initiatives existed even at the height of the Cold War.

As the 19th century Russian philosopher and historian Nikolai Danilevski put it, the essence of progress “is not going in one direction … but in walking all over the entire field of historical activity, and in every direction.” The double-headed eagle in Russia’s coat of arms, looking East and West, suggests just that.

Evaluating Integrated Peace Operations

Whalan_occasionalpaper_2014_2In this paper Jeni Whalan reviews the state of the art on evaluating integrated peace operations. She examines the intersection between two prominent trends that have characterised peace operations over the past 10–15 years: the progressive integration of security and development objectives, and the increasing demand for comprehensive evaluation of policy interventions.

The paper identifies a set of inherent constraints to evaluating integrated operations, develops principles for improving evaluation, and presents examples of good evaluative technique to inform future policy development. Case studies are used throughout to illustrate and extend the analysis. Finally, the paper highlights a number of emerging ‘good practices’ that are not widely used in the evaluation of integrated missions, but should more often be employed.
‘Evaluating integrated peace operations’ – International Forum for the Challenges of Peace Operations, Occasional paper, No. 2, April 2014.
You can access the paper here.

New SCAN project: The influence of elected members

ARC Discovery Project

Leveraging power and influence on the UN Security Council: The role of elected members


Inaugural workshop launches new project to investigate the power and influence of UN Security Council elected members

When countries serve a two-year elected term on the UN Security Council—as Australia did in 2013–14—they must use innovative diplomacy if they want their voice heard. Australian researchers have begun a four-year project to discover the diplomatic practices that can help elected members wield influence on the world stage.

The United Nations Security Council has the primary responsibility for maintaining international peace and security. Forged by a post-World War II settlement of the victorious powers, the UN Charter allocates special rights and responsibilities to five permanent members: China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States (the P-5). More than 70 years later, this structure has not essentially changed. Conventional wisdom suggests that the Council is controlled by the P-5, while the other 188 UN member states are effectively sidelined, including those serving two-year terms on the Council as elected, non-permanent members.

This project challenges the conventional wisdom of unfettered P-5 predominance. It examines how elected members on the Security Council can influence Council decision-making and norm development. Assembling a research team of international lawyers and political scientists at the University of New South Wales (UNSW), the University of Queensland (UQ), and the Australian National University (ANU), the project provides a rigorous, multi-disciplinary evaluation of why and when non-permanent Council members have been able to shape the Council’s decision-making process, despite lacking the veto power available to the P-5.

The four-year research project was officially launched at the ANU’s Asia-Pacific College of Diplomacy on Friday, 19 February 2016, when the project team convened a roundtable of key stakeholders from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the academy and from the wider policy community, under the Chatham House rule.

Three preliminary findings stand out:

  1. For Australia, finding effective means of leveraging power and influence on the UN Security Council is of utmost importance, given the centrality of the Council in, and Canberra’s dependency on, a functioning rules-based global order.
  2. The project’s outputs, which include advancing evidence-based and empirically grounded policy proposals designed to increase the capacity of elected members to exercise power and influence over the Council’s agenda and policy, will be of vital interest to the 188 UN member states that are not permanent Security Council members.
  3. Finally, the project raises larger questions of global governance in times of shifting power. At the beginning of the 21st Century, the global order is in transition. The liberal institutional architecture that was created in the aftermath of World War II is not only challenged by complex problems but also by the lack of voice and representation of those countries to which global power is shifting. This wider background turns the project into a compelling case study with profound implications beyond the case of the UN Security Council.

Contact: Ms Marie-Eve Loiselle, Project Manager,

Project website:

Brisbane, Canberra, and Sydney, 19 February 2016

Four things you need to know about the Syrian ‘ceasefire’ agreement

Jeni Whalan

The Syrian agreement announced on Friday is far from a comprehensive breakthrough, but it’s a significant step, particularly if we look at what’s required to successfully negotiate peace, writes Jeni Whalan.

Amid the brutality of Syria’s five-year civil war, it’s easy to be cynical about the latest peace deal. Critics have already labelled it “a sham“, merely “political cover” for Russia and the US, and – more colourfully – “as shot full of holes as an Aleppo apartment building“.

To many observers, it is just diplomatic hot air.

Certainly, the agreement announced on Friday is far from a comprehensive breakthrough. It won’t end the fighting nor ensure that sustained humanitarian relief reaches all those in need. But it is significant step, particularly if we take a long view of what’s required to successfully negotiate peace.

1. It’s not a ceasefire

Technically, the agreement is for a cessation of hostilities to begin within a week, and for the immediate delivery of humanitarian aid to seven priority areas as “a first step toward full, sustained, and unimpeded access throughout the country“.

A “cessation of hostilities” is generally understood to be less ambitious than a ceasefire, particularly as it was agreed not by the Syrian parties themselves but by a group of 17 countries with a stake in the war – chief among them, the US and Russia.

The agreement excludes two main parties to the conflict: Islamic State, which controls territory in Syria’s east, and Jabhat al-Nusra, al-Qaida’s Syrian affiliate. These two groups will continue to be legitimate targets for parties within and beyond Syria, but their exclusion also means they can continue their attacks throughout the country. Expect both to play spoiler to any tentative cooperation between the Assad government and opposition groups.

2. Forging an international deal first may help a Syrian deal to follow

Peace agreements, particularly in the most difficult conflicts, often begin as deals among international players who then persuade, pressure and even coerce their local allies to comply. This internationally led model was used in the peace deal that ended the Bosnian war in 1995; as Christopher Hill, one of its negotiators, recalled:

First, an international “contact group” agreed on a framework for peace. Then, the parties directly involved in the conflict were brought in to reach agreement within the framework. That may sound patronising, but it worked.

This approach has merit in a civil war as internationalised as Syria’s. While lasting peace must ultimately be Syrian-led, getting these international parties to agree the basic parameters of a deal is an essential first step.

3. Russia can now get (more of) what it wants

Recent Russian airstrikes have decisively tipped the battlefield in favour of the Assad government. As in Ukraine, Russia’s military action makes it better able to get its way on what it sees as core security interests – in this case, continuing rule by the Assad regime.

Much now depends on Russia’s own compliance with the cessation of hostilities. Despite claiming to target Islamic State, the overwhelming majority of Russian bombs have instead pummelled the Syrian opposition, killing over 1000 civilians. If Russia continues to target the moderate opposition groups under claim that they are terrorists, Friday’s agreement will be dead in the water. More likely is that, satisfied with recent advances and cautious about the costs of an expanded military campaign, Russia will be content for now to see its newly acquired advantage play out in the negotiating room.

4. The deal won’t hold, but peace talks must continue

As I have argued previously, the road to a peace deal is always paved with failed negotiations. Ceasefires require continued renegotiation and violations are commonplace, even once a comprehensive settlement is reached.

So what should we expect of this agreement? Hostilities, if they do cease, will resume. Aid delivery, if it does begin, will again be obstructed. Violence will probably flare as all sides seek the most advantageous position before the cessation of hostilities effectively freezes them in place.

But even if the agreement does little more than allow a temporary period of humanitarian relief for people in Syria’s besieged cities, it will have been worthwhile. While Russian airdrops are far from the ideal means of aid delivery, even a brief alleviation of human suffering is surely a positive outcome. More significantly, the deal provides a foundation from which further humanitarian access can be negotiated.

Finally, the agreement should be judged not on whether fighting ceases but whether it allows UN talks to resume, as planned, at the end of the month. It is not a coincidence that its key features address the Syrian opposition’s preconditions for talks. But as John Kerry put it on Friday, much more will be required than simply words on paper.

UN Photo/Mark Garten, Jordan Camp Host to Thousands of Syrian Cross-Border Refugees

We must not give up on Syrian peace talks

First published by The Drum, 5 February 2016

 It’s easy to be sceptical of political negotiations about Syria, especially when talks have already been suspended. But with patience and a herculean effort, peace is possible, writes Jeni Whalan.


Secretary-General meeting with President of the European Council.
Secretary-General Ban-Ki-moon with Staffan de Mistura, his Special Envoy for Syria, during the Syria Donors Conference 2016 in London.

But the road to a peace deal is always paved with failed negotiations, particularly when it must traverse terrain as dangerous as the Syrian war.

The inevitable setbacks that will plague mediation efforts must be met by redoubled international efforts to wrest a diplomatic solution from a conflict that has killed more than 250,000 people, forced more than half the population to flee their homes, and left 13.5 million people in Syria in dire need of humanitarian assistance.

No one expected a breakthrough peace deal this week – not the UN mediator ( operating under the spectre of two previous rounds of failed Geneva talks), not the US, not Russia, nor the regional heavyweights variously aligned with opposing sides of the conflict, not the Assad regime (currently laying siege to 15 Syrian cities and denying a ravaged civilian population urgently needed supplies), and not the fragmented opposition factions (under new pressure from Russian airstrikes and severed supply-lines).

No one even expected the warring parties to sit in the same room, let alone talk directly. Representatives of both the Assad regime and the Syrian opposition had declared their unwillingness to actually negotiate, even via the ‘proximity talks’ model (in which the UN team shuttles between the parties).

While we must never take our eye off the end goal, just getting to the negotiating table – or even to separate rooms in Geneva – is significant.

Simply getting the key Syrian players to agree to turn up at all can rightly be hailed a victory by the negotiating team.

With prospects so bleak, it is easy to be a critic. The three-week pause in negotiations is unlikely to alter the overwhelmingly pessimistic predictions; the talks will come to nothing, they will give the warring parties time and new cause to escalate fighting, and they will strengthen the Islamic State.

Yes, these talks have failed to provide any tangible relief from the scale of human suffering in Syria and a ceasefire deal is a long way off. But that’s how peace talks work: slowly, erratically, and usually thanks only to politically serendipitous conditions that have little to do with the civil war itself.

Take the Bosnian war. There too, negotiators attempted to forge peace amid intense fighting, unspeakable atrocities committed by thugs who would eventually be convicted of war crimes, devastating urban sieges, and a massive outpouring of refugees.

The Bosnian war was eventually settled under the Dayton Peace Agreement, frequently invoked as a model for Syria, but only after the failure of 30 mediation attempts and ten negotiated agreements.

Negotiating peace in Syria is a far more difficult prospect. Not since Cambodia has a civil war attracted such focused diplomacy from outside players with such divergent interests. It took a decade of international attention, 15 distinct mediation attempts, and the end of the Cold War before a comprehensive Cambodian peace deal was finally signed in 1991 – including by the genocidal Khmer Rouge.

Lebanon’s second civil war saw 28 mediated ceasefires before a comprehensive peace agreement was signed in 1989.

Convincing bitter enemies to lay down their arms and agree the terms of lasting peace is among the most difficult tasks of international affairs.

Sierra Leone’s conflict ended only after mediation attempts by 55 different negotiating teams.

While we must never take our eye off the end goal, just getting to the negotiating table – or even to separate rooms in Geneva – is significant.

Inconclusive mediation now can still lay essential foundations for a concrete settlement later. Talks allow warring parties to gather new information, reconsider their views of the enemy, and identify potential areas of common ground that can’t be gleaned from battlefield tactics.

Negotiations let parties articulate their case to one another, to their constituents, and to the world at large. Talks have already pushed the disparate Syrian opposition groups to formulate a common position, to negotiate among themselves, and maybe even to develop a united front.

Talking about talks is, in other words, a crucial part of any peace process. For mediators, talks increase their familiarity with the warring parties, making more transparent the political dynamics within each faction and possibly identifying moderate blocs more favourable to negotiation.

Convincing bitter enemies to lay down their arms and agree the terms of lasting peace is among the most difficult tasks of international affairs.

In Syria, it will require a herculean effort. A decisive breakthrough will probably be the result of dynamics far from the devastation of Homs, Aleppo, and Damascus.

But negotiators – and those committed to eventual peace in Syria – must be ready to seize that window of opportunity when it eventually appears.

Global Governance discussion seminar with Jeremy Farrall

GG Cover_0Jeremy Farrall will lead the discussion at the next Geneva Global Governance discussion seminar.  The discussion on the role of elected members on the Security Council will be based on the recent article published by Jeremy Farrell and John  Langmore in the journal Global Governance ‘Can Elected Members Make a Difference in the UN Security Council? Australia’s Experience in 2013—2014’.

The event will be held at the Permanent Mission of Australia to the United Nations in Geneva. Participants will include H.E. Mr. John Quinn, Permanent Mission of Australia to the UN, Alistair Edgar, Academic Council to the United Nations System (ACUNS), and Roberta Spivak, One Earth Future Foundation (OEF).

The Global Governance discussion series provides a forum for scholars and policymakers to share ideas and forge new partnerships. It is convened by the One Earth Future Foundation and the Academic Council on the United Nations System (ACUNS). For more information visit: Access the brochure of the event.


The UN Charter gives the Security Council the extraordinary function of being responsible for international peace and security. Although the Permanent Five members are disproportionately powerful, there is nevertheless scope for elected members to influence the Council’s decision-making processes during their short two-year terms. This article uses Australia’s membership in 2013 and 2014 as a case study to examine why states seek election to the Council, means through which they can strengthen their influence how they can navigate P5 power. How successful they are in achieving their objectives, and how the effectiveness of both elected members and the Council as a whole could be improved. Despite the substantial constraints facing elected members, those that are imaginative and industrious can nevertheless make influential contributions to achievement of the Council’s purposes.

John Langmore and Jeremy Farral, ‘Can Elected Members Make a Difference in the UN Security Council? Australia’s Experience in 2013—2014’, Global Governance, 22 (2016), 59—77.  Click here for full paper.




Book review of ‘How peace operations work’ in Political Science Quarterly

Review of ‘How peace operations work: Power, legitimacy, and effectiveness’ by Lise Howard in Political Science Quarterly.

 ‘In this book, Jeni Whalan has united the literatures on power and legitimacy with the technicalities of peace operations in a novel, significant, and thor­oughly convincing manner. Whale’s cross-disciplinary analysis provides an excellent typology for understanding the crucially important role of legitimacy in peace operations’.
You can access the full review here.


Jochen Prantl and Jeremy Farrell speak on Australian diplomacy and UN Security Council at the Australian Diplomacy Today symposium

Jochen Prandtl and Jeremy Farrell talk about influencing decision-making on the Security Council and Australia’s experience as elected member at the Australian Diplomacy Today symposium. The event held on 28 August was organised by the Australian Institute of International Affairs. They also introduced the new four-year ARC Discovery Project Leveraging power and influence on the United Security Council  involving SCAN members Jeremy Farrell, Marie-Eve Loiselle, Christopher Michaelsen, Jochen Prandtl, and Jeni Whalan.

Book review: ‘How peace operations work’

Book review by Vanessa Newby in Global Responsibility to Protect.


‘Whalan’s book is a valuable addition to newer scholarship on peace operations at the local level. Her strong methodological approach combined with rigorous engagement with the theory on power and legitimacy is a welcome addition to the peacekeeping literature. It will make an excellent addition to the literature on peace and conflict courses, for the peace operation practitioner and for scholars of peace operations more broadly’.


You can access the full review here.

New article by Christopher Michaelsen “Human Rights as Limits for the Security Council: A Matter of Substantive Law or Defining the Application of Proportionality?”

UN Photo/Loey Felipe, avi Pillay, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, addresses the Security Council debate on conflict prevention.

A/Prof Christopher Michaelsen publishes an article in the Journal of Conflict & Security Law entitled “Human Rights as Limits for the Security Council: A Matter of Substantive Law or Defining the Application of Proportionality?”

Abstract: This article examines the extent to which human rights constrain the Security Council in the exercise of its functions under the United Nations Charter. It argues that there are good grounds for suggesting that human rights bind the Council as a matter of substantive law. However, such a general determination says little about how human rights bind the Council in practice. It is well recognized, for example, that many rights permit limitations or derogation in times of war and emergency. The article argues that the possibilities of human rights binding the Council on a practical level are limited. It argues further that an analogous application of the derogation clauses in international human rights treaties is problematic and unlikely to lead to increased accountability of the Council. The article then explores whether human rights can be employed to define the scope and content of alternative procedural constraints. It argues that the proportionality principle, in particular, constitutes a relevant procedural tool that can limit the powers of the Council, both as a principle of law and as a principle of good governance and regulatory policy. The article concludes that human rights law, including the jurisprudence on derogation, can play an important role in defining and informing the application of the proportionality principle in the context of Security Council decision-making.

New publication by Jeremy Farrall: ‘Rule of Accountability or Rule of Law? Regulating the UN Security Council’s Accountability Deficits’

UN Photo/Rick Bajornas. Security Council Considers Promotion of and Strengthening of Rule of Law

In this article published in the Journal of Conflict and Security, Jeremy Farrell  examines how the attempt to pursue Security Council accountability relates to parallel efforts to strengthen the rule of law. The article argues that accountability and the rule of law are closely connected and that steps to promote one have the potential to reinforce initiatives that promote the other. The challenge for the accountability and rule of law agendas is to ensure that these closely linked waves of reform initiatives will have a cumulative impact that improves the capacity of the Security Council to act effectively and legitimately to maintain international peace and security. This means strengthening the Council’s ability not just to pursue the accountability of other actors, but to model accountability itself, and not simply to promote the rule of law elsewhere, but to respect the rule of law in and through its own decision-making process. The article traces the evolution and meaning of both the rule of law and accountability in the Security Council’s practice. It then examines the relationship between the two terms, arguing that at the end of the day they share a symbiotic relationship that is mutually reinforcing.

Access the article here.

Making peace operations work: The importance of local legitimacy

UN Photo/Albert González Fardan. UNAMID hosts cultural and sports event.

Jeni Whalan presented the findings from her recent book How Peace Operations Work at Chatham House on 31 January. Dr. Whalan addressed the issue of local support for peacekeeping operations and the overriding importance of local legitimacy – the perception among local actors that a peace operation, its personnel, and its objectives are right, fair, and appropriate. The roundtable discussion considered a number of practical policy recommendations to make peace operations both more legitimate and more effective.

The event was chaired by Lord Michael Williams of Baglan, Distinguished Visiting Fellow and Acting Head, Asia Programme, Chatham House, and discussant Ian Martin, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the UN Support Mission in Libya (2011-2012).

The event was presented by the International Security department and the Asia programme.

Click here for more information