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The Veto Trap

Issues demanding global governance are everywhere. Climate change action; care for the oceans; coordinated responses to terror organizations, tyrants and torturers; coordinated responses to natural disasters and contagious diseases. The more time passes, the more urgent it is that the whole of the world gets its act together. The world simply must develop the capacity to execute appropriate global responses where warranted. Each one of us could be the next victim of our continuing failure to organize ourselves. Now, we all know there will be problems establishing protocols for whole of world governance. It won’t be easy. But is that a good enough reason to do nothing? Yet doing nothing on in the global governance space seems to be the current status quo. So, what’s up? On analysis, the biggest obstacle to any form of proper global governance is the ‘veto trap’: The veto trap is this: There are five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, each of whom have a right of veto. That is, a right to prevent the implementation of any action of the UN that they consider adverse to their interests. Those countries are: Russia USA France China UK They are 5 out of the 196 countries in the world. They represent less than one third of the global population. The truth is that everybody knows that each one of them will block any change to UN structure. Why? Because they are beneficiaries of the status quo. To be clear, the beneficiaries of the current status quo have absolute power to maintain the status quo. That is the veto trap. The veto trap means the United Nations is blocked from becoming more powerful, more coercive, and ultimately more useful regulator, and that matters a lot to each and every one of us. we need global regulation. But any suggestion of structural change to the UN to give it any sort of clout whatsoever will diminish the absolute power of the Big 5. And so it is a given that at least one of them (probably all of them) will vote it down. So, the proposition is never raised. It is a straightforward case of absolute power corrupting absolutely. And so the United Nations can never be an institution for global governance, nor a vehicle to usher in any other form of global governance. Because everybody knows that any proposal to change the current structure will be vetoed down every time. The problem is: without structural change, the United Nations will continue on as a goliath and usually benevolent NGO, with some special powers. It can never be a forum for the kind of global governance that is needed today. How Did This Happen? The UN was set up in 1945. Its purpose was to promote world security post World War II. Special privileges (the power to veto any decision) were given to themselves by the winners of the war. Fair enough. But back then ,security, not governance, was paramount in the thinking of the UN's creators. There were 2.3 billion people in the world (there were 14 cities in the world with over a million people). Interconnectedness between peoples was limited. International conflicts were represented by border wars. Resources were plentiful . Now it is 2021. The global population is 8 billion (there are 1,500 cities with over a million people). People frequently and seriously affect the interests of one another from across borders – on purpose (eg cyber), or by accident (eg pollution). Resources are no longer plentiful. Common sense global regulation in response to our capacity to shoot, pollute and commute across borders is needed. It is true that the UN has expanded its functions since 1945. But not nearly enough. One of its functions is not, and has never been, global governance. So, what to do? Sit here, and watch it all unfold? After all, no matter how real and urgent the need for it, global governance can’t happen because of the veto trap, right? Well, maybe it is up to us to start having the conversation. The truth is: the status quo is less secure for all global citizens than strong global governance. And the truth is that who won the Second World War should no longer underpin the main structure of global politics. What To Do This apple cart needs to be upended. We now need to move to an era of actual global governance. And in order to have global governance of the kind required, first a global penny needs to drop – on both the existence of the current predicament and the reason for it. At the moment, our leaders seemingly give no thought to this problem. Perhaps because it will not help them win their next election? Of course. Nobody is talking about it and so it will not win a vote. A government’s survival agenda is different to that of a person, do not forget. But our interests extend beyond the next election. People's persona interests go way beyond that of their governments. We need to think as global citizens. Ultimately, we will need to engage, cajole, petition, pressure and require the UN veto powers to let go of their privileges and make way for a new, more democratic and more powerful United Nations or equivalent body, or perhaps it will be a deliberative democracy based on blockchain ID voting. Whatever it will be, this is the conversation that we need to have. Do not fear global democracy. The less democratic the world, the more likely tyrants will hold sway, not the other way around.
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