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The United Nations

The United Nations –from Goliath NGO to Global Rule Maker or ‘How the United Nations Can Take the Reins of a Runaway World’ “The future of the U.N. will be determined by its readiness to change and adapt.” –Antonio Guterres, UN Secretary-General. “Humans are at imminent risk of sending this planet to hell in a handbasket before our grandchildren are out of their nappies. If the UN doesn’t step up soon, we are all cactus.” – the rest of us. Part A In December 2021, the UN Security Council declined to adopt a proposed resolution to integrate climate-related security risk into conflict-prevention strategies, because Russia didn’t want it. The world didn’t even notice. This is because even if the resolution was accepted, everyone knows nothing would change. This is, some might say, because the UN is just ‘blah blah blah’. We all know the UN needs to start making more than resolutions. We would all like it if the UN started to actually make and enforce common sense global rules. This paper explains why it is important for the UN to become a rule maker and enforcer, a ‘regulator’. It further explains how it can do this under its current Charter, and why it is important for it to do so. Most importantly, it explains how the UN can transition to being a rule maker without upsetting the existing power structure. As I will explain below, any pathway for the UN to transition from the goliath NGO that it is, to a powerhouse of global governance which it needs to be, can only be navigated if done without the UN losing any of its present functions, agencies or people; and without the heady powers of the current permanent members of the Security Council being compromised. It can be done. The key to it all is that the UN recognizes and acts on its power to make and enforce regulations for the preservation of global stability by reference to its ‘security’ powers. You see, in the past 50 years, the question of global regulation in many areas of common interest has shifted from being a matter of preference to a matter of security. We live in a world where we know what we need to do to resolve existential threats, but we just can’t do it. We just don’t have the global political structures or administrative processes to address so many issues: from cutting pollution of the atmosphere, to control of contagious diseases; from effective management of the oceans, to putting controls on the development of artificial intelligence. The need for global regulation is self-evident. It is not just necessary for the people of today, it is essential for humanity’s future. And It is not just necessary for people - it is critical for the future of so many other species with whom we share this planet. So, why does the United Nations, our preeminent body for global administration, sit on its hands? The problem is this: The UN was set up in 1945. It was all about processes for resolving international conflicts. Back then, another layer of governance – global governance – was not needed. There were 2.3 billion people in the world. Interconnectedness between peoples was limited. Resources were plentiful. We had our local and national governments. That was enough. Now it is 2022. The global population is 8 billion. The capacity for people to affect the interests of one another from afar, either on purpose (eg cyber), or by accident (eg pollution), are exponentially greater. Global resources are not plentiful. Our local and national governments alone simply cannot protect us from the burgeoning risks to us their constituents presented by globalization. In short, a new global need has emerged. Since the UN Charter was signed, there has evolved a need for ‘common sense global regulation’ - regulation that everyone in the world has to follow in response to our new found capacity to shoot, pollute and commute to each other from one side of the planet to the other. Managing our security is no longer a transactional matter that can be dealt with by occasional resolution. Our security is now a regulatory matter. We the people need global regulations to keep those who can harm us in check. Yet because the UN was not designed to govern, there are no processes for governance set out in its Charter. But it gets worse. The UN Charter has an inbuilt mechanism that, effectively, prohibits itself from changing. The winners of the Second World War, who set up the United Nations in 1945 - The United States of America, China, France, the UK and Russia, the five permanent members of the Security Council - are each vested by the UN Charter with the power to individually block any decision of the UN they choose, including any decision to change to the Charter of the United Nations itself (Article 108). Now, if you think about this for just a millisecond, you will realize that, well, lets’ just say the functions and powers of the UN will not change any time soon. They cannot change anytime soon, because certain individual countries have such overwhelming power and overwhelming incentive to ‘not permit change’ - because any change to the UN structure could threaten their hold on absolute power – that it is a ‘given’ that they simply will not permit change to the Charter of the UN. So, not only is the UN seemingly unable to regulate, but the UN also cannot become an organization for global governance because it is impervious to change. That is etched in stone. In much the same way as the Second Amendment, the right to bear arms, is etched into the fabric of the United States. It is constitutional. It will be explained shortly how this apparent ‘capacity to regulate deficit’ in the UN can be overcome. But before that, a couple of further things about the UN should be noted. Part B First, the founding member countries of the UN in 1945 were reluctant to give the power of veto to a handful of countries at all. They only did so under sufferance, to get a deal, rather than leave San Francisco empty-handed. Further, at the time it was drawn up, it was intended that the UN Charter had to be flexible to adjust to the times, and so it was written in that it should be reviewed every 10 years. Yet there has never been a review of the Charter of the United Nations, precisely because it is not in the interest of the veto powers for there to be a review. As a result of this, people have, from time to time, called for a new or different body to run world affairs. There have been no shortage of proposals for a new world government. But these calls have really been from individuals, not countries, and it is fair to say they have mostly fallen on deaf ears, if anyone has been listening at all. The most recent organized push for change - and the only change to the UN that could be said to be potentially ‘in the wings’ –is a push for a ‘Citizen’s Parliamentary Assembly’. This is an assembly comprising global citizens that will be allowed to consult with the General Assembly. If implemented, it is acknowledged even by its proponents that it should not have decision making powers, at least initially. Aside from this, there have been no serious proposals for change to the UN’s structure in recent decades. It is true Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has raised some eyebrows as to the utility of the Security Council at all, but this commentary is mostly limited to academia and the odd journalist. If we are honest, the world does not really care too much about the structure of the UN. At least, it does not give it as much attention to it as it does to cat memes. But even if it did, as outlined above, there can be no change to the UN structure in the foreseeable future, anyway, because there is a constitutional roadblock to change in the form of Article 108. So, there are two reasons why there is no point in advocating major change the United Nations structure or Charter, at this point in time: 1. The world is not listening. While there is nobody listening, there can be no revolution; and 2. Even if there was a revolution, there is no Bastille to storm. There is just a bit of paper that gives inalienable rights to a select few to prevent change, which they will. There is a second thing about the UN to say before explaining, in a moment, how, despite all these challenges, the UN can be turned into an effective institution for global governance. That is that there are many UN agencies and bodies that do great things, and that have important functions all around the world. Under the proposed way forward, these do not need to be touched. These agencies and bodies, and the people within those bodies who do tremendous work and truly great things all round the world, must be allowed to continue to do their good work. That all being said, so what is the plan? Part C Well, before laying out the plan, let’s look at the existing powers of the General Assembly and the Security Council by reference to the UN Charter itself: First, let it be noted that the General Assembly has power to take to the Security Council such matters as it sees fit for action on issues pertaining to peace and security. Second, the Charter gives to the Security Council the following powers: Article 39 The Security Council shall determine the existence of any threat to the peace, breach of the peace, or act of aggression and shall make recommendations, or decide what measures shall be taken in accordance with Articles 41 and 42, to maintain or restore international peace and security. Article 41 The Security Council may decide what measures not involving the use of armed force are to be employed to give effect to its decisions, and it may call upon the Members of the United Nations to apply such measures. These may include complete or partial interruption of economic relations and of rail, sea, air, postal, telegraphic, radio, and other means of communication, and the severance of diplomatic relations. Article 42 Should the Security Council consider that measures provided for in Article 41 would be inadequate or have proved to be inadequate, it may take such action by air, sea, or land forces as may be necessary to maintain or restore international peace and security. Such action may include demonstrations, blockade, and other operations by air, sea, or land forces of Members of the United Nations. Third, the Charter provides for the General Assembly to establish such subsidiary organs as it deems necessary for the performance of its functions (Article 22). Now, having regard to these powers, to humanity’s needs, and to the geopolitical challenges of today, it becomes clear there is a constitutionally permitted pathway forward to global governance that the UN can follow without any changes to the UN Charter: Part D It is time for UN Delegates to add to their existing agenda of the General Assembly (which is, by the way, already way way too long, but full of talking points and not action points), a list of items in the nature of proposed regulations to be recommended to the Security Council. These will be regulations deemed, by experts that advise the General Assembly, and the General Assembly itself, necessary for the security of humanity. Once considered by the General Assembly, there is nothing preventing such resolutions for regulation, and proposals for enforcement of regulation, from being sent, by two thirds vote of all member countries as is currently required, to the Security Council. As long as they are regarded as for the security of mankind, there is nothing then preventing the Security Council from voting on them and, depending on the vote, acting on those recommendations as they deem fit. In order to implement the regulations and enforce them, the UN will need to set up administration and enforcement agencies. The UN is good at setting up agencies, this is not a problem. This can be done under Article 22, which gives the UN the mandate to set up such bodies as are necessary to the performance of its functions. Such regulations and their enforcement will be lawful, and in accordance with the UN Charter. Not least by reference to Article 24 of the UN Charter that provides the Security Council has a mandate to provide security to the world. Think of it. The UN, not just issuing resolutions, but actually regulating and enforcing. Saving the Amazon. Saving the Congo. Limiting emissions of pollutants into the atmosphere. Drawing up rules around the development of Artificial Intelligence. Maybe even taking steps to keep the internet free and accessible. These are not the jobs of Elon Musk or faceless men. These are jobs for the United Nations. The point is that the UN does have power to do these things. Now, in order for the UN to do these things in all our interests, it is integral to this process that the General Assembly must be provided with an expert panel on everything that needs regulation. The time has passed for political actors to bring their own agendas to the UN table. It must be agreed at the outset that the General Assembly will inform itself by expert panels on what needs to be done for the security of humanity. As mentioned above, the UN has power to set up whatever bodies it needs to make thigs happen, under Article 22. So, set up the expert panels! If the UN General Assembly needs an expert panel on AI regulation in order for it to make recommendations to the Security Council for AI regulation, give it to them. On space regulation, give it to them. On climate regulation, on disease control regulation, on oceans, give it to them. There is expertise is the wider world. Where the General Assembly needs expertise to make a recommendation to the Security Council, give it to them. Then, after receiving advice from the expert panels, and only then, should there be voting by the General Assembly and recommendations for regulation referred by the General Assembly to the Security Council. Then, and only then, let the Security Council then act on those recommendations, as they see fit. It is true, certain permanent members may not agree to all regulations proposed, and one country can torpedo a rule that everyone else wants. Sobeit. That is the way of the world, and, in any event, the world has signed on to a system in 1945 that makes it hard for the UN to regulate. So, it is hard. But as night follows day, common sense will under this method prevail. Common sense regulation for the benefit of mankind is completely doable under the current UN Charter, if it takes these steps. And, most importantly, common sense global regulation can be enforced by the UN through the above process, today. You might well ask, “What about the separation of powers?” and “Where is the right of review?”. In a world that decides a global rule should exist by refence to expert panels, then by two thirds majority of all countries in the world, and then by all five veto powers and the majority of the Security Council, such traditional checks may not actually be in our interest. We have to get on with things. We as a world need to get things done. Implementation of the rules, as opposed to rule making, is another matter. Perhaps the International Court of Justice that can be made fit for purpose to oversee legal challenges to implementation of the rules. To summarize: Leave everything as it is, and let everything evolve as it is. Plus The time has come: For the General Assembly to start to characterize the big issues that affect humanity as ‘security’ issues, which they are. For the UN Delegates to acknowledge the time has come for global regulation, and enforcement of regulation, and to put global regulation on the General Assembly agenda. To bring in expert panels to inform the General Assembly as to what regulation the world needs. For the General Assembly to consider, and where agreed by them by two thirds majority, as required by the existing Charter, make recommendations to the Security Council as regards appropriate regulation. For the Security Council, as required by the existing Charter, to execute action: to vote, and to make global rules and their enforcement a reality. The United Nations is an imperfect organization. But at the end of the day, it is also our best hope for developing and enforcing global regulations that are desperately needed. The above are steps that can be taken, all within its current powers, for the UN to take the reins of this runaway world. 18/6/22
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