posted on Thu 28 Apr 2011 12:38 PM
Insights on the Secretary-General’s Annual Retreat

The Secretary-General’s annual retreat with the Security Council members will be held from this evening Thursday 28 April through Friday 29 April. As usual it will take place at the Greentree conference centre in Manhasset, Long Island. All the Permanent Representatives of Council member states are attending, many accompanied by their spouse (who are welcome to sit in on all sessions).

The retreat is an opportunity for senior members of the UN Secretariat—including the Under Secretaries-General of peacekeeping, political affairs, legal affairs and field support and senior officers in the Executive Office of the Secretary-General— and Council Permanent Representatives to reflect upon recent UN peace operations and discuss informally lessons learned.

It seems that the retreat will be broken into three sessions. The first session seems likely to be on the future challenges and recent lessons from political missions and related initiatives and the second on challenges and lessons from current UN peacekeeping operations. The third session seems likely to be on the political changes in the Arab world and the future role of the UN. This third session is anticipated to focus less on the specifics of recent events or specific country situations, but rather more on the role the UN system, particularly its political elements, could or should constructively play to foster peace and development in rapidly changing and unpredictable political environments.

The session on peacekeeping may touch on the challenges facing the UN peacekeeping missions in Côte d’Ivoire, DRC and Sudan. These examples seem to reflect the diversity of challenges facing the UN in each location, both operationally and due to rapidly changing political contexts.

The retreat is often seen as a useful opportunity for senior Secretariat and Council members to take a step back from the relentless pace of Council activity and reflect at a strategic level on key peace and security issues. No formal outcome is produced. Despite the potential for useful policy discussion, in the past it seems that the annual retreat has rarely led to obvious changes in the Council’s dynamic or approach to issues. But it clearly offers a sounding board for the Secretariat to take the pulse of Council thinking on key strategic issues and for Council members to network in a less pressured and more strategic context.