We live in amazing times! Thanks to incredible advances in communications and transportation, trade, finance and technology, our world has become interconnected and interdependent in ways that are inextricable and unprecedented. In reality, the world is functioning as a single organism with all the consequent benefits and potential dangers. The problem lies in the fact that many dangers that were formerly localized now have the effect of endangering the entire organism very quickly. An example of this, is the spread of viruses such as Ebola and SARS that create the risk of pandemics that can threaten the entire world. Another example is that of Syria where what started off as protests clamoring for political change, evolved into civil war, the rise of insurgencies and the illegal use of chemical weapons. Syria's domestic problems eventually spawned three world-encircling crises: the flow of economic migrants and refugees to Europe and beyond, the creation of fertile soil for terrorist networks to flourish, notably ISIL, and the widening of the scope of the conflict with different countries such as the United States, Turkey and Russia arrayed on different sides of the internal conflict leading some to describe the war in Syria as a "proto-world war".
Yet, in the face of these growing global challenges and systemic risks to the international order, our systems of global governance have lagged far behind in their evolution and to the extent they exist, have demonstrated a remarkable incapacity to evolve in ways that can meet these challenges. Our modus operandi as a world community has been to wait until a crisis has wreaked a great deal of suffering and havoc or until the eleventh hour, before we begin to act: witness the laggardly pace at which we have responded to the siren calls warning us of the disasters that lie in wait as a result of unmitigated climate change. Our national leaders and international institutions have proven themselves unequal to the responsibility of being proactive and of cooperating and collaborating to manage common problems. To quote a former president of the UN Security Council: "The demand for global leadership has never been greater....the world has changed structurally, yet our systems for managing global affairs have not adapted" and so, he concludes: "Our world is adrift".
Many believe or assume that the United Nations can and will stem the tide of these global challenges and provide the global solutions we so urgently need. This, however, is a mistaken belief. The truth is that the the UN was created in a different era and was not equipped with the power, authority, legitimacy or tools it needs to properly address severe global challenges on the order of climate change, global financial crises, pandemics, terrorism, migration, genocide or the proliferation of nuclear weapons to name but a handful of the most severe crises of our times. As time passed, unfortunately, it failed to evolve as rapidly and drastically as was necessary to meet these challenges. Consequently, it stands in danger of becoming obsolete.
Here are some of the reasons why the UN in its present form is not up to the task of managing common problems:
Firstly, the UN General Assembly, though providing a wonderful forum for representatives of nation states to gather on a regular basis to consult upon and discuss global affairs, suffers from two obvious defects: firstly, its members are not truly representative of the peoples of the world, in that they are not directly elected by them as members of a national parliament or legislature would be. The institution therefore does not have the legitimacy it requires when it passes resolutions urging action in a particular sphere of activity. Secondly, the UN General Assembly does not have the power to pass legislation that is legally binding on all its member states. Consequently at a time in our collective history when we most need a viable collective decision-making body which can effectively address collective challenges, we find ourselves lacking. For example, we need a world decision-making body (i.e. a world parliament) that properly represents the people of the world to determine what kinds of energy we can use to arrest global warming with its potentially disastrous consequences and to be the trustee for natural resources that are part of the common heritage of humanity, while regulating the production and ensuring the equitable distribution of such resources. We also need a collective decision-making institution that can pass binding regulations in the financial arena that ensure that we will never again suffer from a global financial crisis that threatens the well-being of our planet.
Moreover, we need a world parliament that has the authority to levy taxes from individuals and corporations that would fund its critical activities that are in the global collective interest. Such a fund might be used to help bail out countries in financial distress (like Greece), that would support research and development to find alternative clean sources of energy or that would fund the research and development of vaccines to prevent the spread of virulent pathogens that threaten the health of our global society.
Such a world parliament would also need to have the capacity to enforce its rules through an international executive that does not suffer from the fatal flaws of our current UN Security Council which brings us to the point that the Security Council is not truly representative of the nations of the world. It is also hamstrung by the fact that its five permanent members have the right to veto a decision in support of restoring or maintaining peace even if all the other nations believe it is a good decision. Moreover, the Security Council's mandate is vague and needs to be properly fleshed out so that it can act swiftly and with confidence knowing that it will not be accused of overstepping its authority. Finally, the Security Council lacks some critical tools it needs to accomplish its mission of maintaining peace in the world. For example, it lacks an international intelligence agency from which it can obtain timely, reliable, shared and transparent information on the basis of which it can make decisions to take action. It also lacks an international police force serving at its behest to take timely, efficient and effective action to nip problems in the bud before they fester into unwieldy disasters.
To effectively counter our current global challenges we need to have an international executive that would serve in accordance with a universally-agreed-upon mandate and pre-determined rules arrived at by consensus of all nations. It would have at its command an international police force that would be comprised of units from all the nations of the world. In short, it would act only collectively at the behest of the democratically legitimate parliament in accordance with collectively determined rules and through collective mechanisms.
Finally, the United Nations today lacks the ability to forestall many global conflicts because the World Court which is one of its agencies lacks compulsory jurisdiction to require nations that are in dispute to come before it so it can hear and decide these cases before they spill over into conflict that destabilizing peace. It is untenable that at this moment in history when there is so much at stake, and local conflicts can so easily cascade into international conflicts that with potentially horrific consequences, including the use of nuclear weapons, that nations are not compelled to appear before a World Court to have their disputes decided peacefully.
Not only does the World Court lack compulsory jurisdiction, it also lacks the ability to enforce its decisions and essentially relies on the honor system for states to comply with its rulings. We would never countenance a national judicial system in which a murderer was either given the option to show up in court to be tried or to opt out of a trial (i.e. no compulsory jurisdiction), or in which such a murderer once found guilty was asked to go and lock himself in a gaol cell and remain there for the duration of his punishment. And yet, despite the fact that our world is now so interconnected and interdependent, we continue to put up with this manifestly ridiculous system that is not serving us well. It is high time that we create an international court with both the power of compulsory jurisdiction to hear cases that could lead to international disputes and the means of enforcing its decisions, through the agency of an international police force.
Ultimately the larger lesson here is that if global institutions, such as the UN, or policies or procedures are no longer serving the welfare of humanity as a whole and if our systems of global governance are lagging far behind the movement towards global integration and interdependence, then we must be willing either to radically reform them or to create new alternatives that will ensure our peace, security and well-being. We owe this to ourselves and to future generations.
The world cries out for new ideas to solve big problems like nuclear proliferation, climate change and ineffective international institutions . I hope to stimulate discussion by offering alternative analysis and possible solutions based on a principled approach. We need to stop reacting to crises based on short-term, narrow interests and start acting equitably and effectively, with an eye on long-term consequences and the needs of humanity as a whole.