Sustainable Development should not become war propaganda

October 24, 2023

Javier Surasky
Director of Research

It is repeatedly said the first victim of any war is truth. Further, we know from centuries that war is played in both military and political scenarios. This has been proven once again by the recent escalation of violence in Israel and Palestine.

While bullets are flying, belligerent actors trigger its propaganda machine. Since Sustainable Development has become a significant issue at the global level, that propaganda machine is taking advantage of the 2030 Agenda global scenarios to spread each part of conflict words.

During the last months, the “scourge of war” mentioned in the UN Charter preamble has reappeared with a new energy: Russia invading Ukraine, Azerbaijan violently ending the Nagorno-Karabaj dispute, and a new armed conflict that exploded in the Middle East.

Looking back, both Russia and Ukraine submitted Voluntary National Reports (VNRs) to the United Nations High-level Political Forum (HLPF) in 2020, almost a year before the invasion ignited. 

At that time, Ukraine’s VNR mentioned many times the fact that the Russian occupation of part of its national territory affected Ukraine’s chance to accelerate advance towards sustainable development: “Major obstacles to development still include the temporary occupation of the AR of Crimea, Sevastopol city and some part of territory in Donetsk and Luhansk oblast by the Russian Federation” (2020 Ukraine’s VNR, page 6).

On the contrary, Russia’s VNR did not mention any conflict with Ukraine and avoided mentioning the situation in Donetsk or Crimea. The only mention of Ukraine intended to demonstrate specific collaboration between both States: “The Russian Federation entered into several key intergovernmental agreements on protection and use of water bodies with Azerbaijan, Belarus, Kazakhstan, China, Mongolia, Ukraine…” (2020 Russia’s VNR, page 80).

Now, when the list of countries presenting VNRs to the 2024 HLPF is under construction, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Israel, and the State of Palestine have formally requested to submit SDG progress reports. Thus, the HLPF will become a new platform to reaffirm the national positions that have led to the forbidden use of force in international relations. Consequently, the SDGs reporting is in danger of becoming propaganda of war.

Looking ahead, it is not hard to imagine that war will be presented as a forced result of the impediments to advancing Sustainable Development. It is an unacceptable tweak. No excuse for war is permissible. The UN Charter is clear as water on that issue.

Moreover, the main obstacles to adopting HLPF final documents by consensus during the last years were related to issues closely linked to wars, such as territorial occupations and displaced people. Those issues would arise in the 2024 HLPF political declaration negotiation with increased polarization, blocking the necessary openness to dialogue required by any international negotiation.

We should do our best effort to ensure that the SDGs will not be used to justify armed violence or become war hostages. The 2030 Agenda should be protected from becoming another war casualty.


At the beginning of November 2023, when this text had already been published, the United Nations announced that Israel withdrew the offer to present its Voluntary National Report in 2024.

Share This