The Permanent Gang of
Five on the UN Security Council
Our planet is now integrated by electronic
communications and economic pathways. We already are a global civilization but our mentality and ethos as
one human tribe (especially politically) has not developed in tandem to these other areas.
While we are a rich mosaic of ethnicities,
languages and cultures which certainly should be cherished, we must also remember that this diversity is part of the larger whole that is the brotherhood and sisterhood of humankind. . . the
Nation of Humanity. On that global level we are currently limited
in our interactions by the traditional nation-centric system that is espoused by international organizations such as the United Nations (UN) which are based on a divisive
system is archaic and awaits a creative spark of political intelligence.
Essentially, the political evolution of humanity has been stalled. The United Nations, which was crafted in 1945 to assure
international peace and security, has remained structurally stagnant since then. In fact, the victors of WW II, China, France, Russia, UK and USA, remain in the Security Council with their veto
power and are responsible for about two-thirds of world military expenditures and world arm sales. In 2003
Dame Helen Mirren, Oxfam ambassador to the UN, referred to this group of nations as Murder
Inc. Hence, a structural change to the
UN, which might make it more democratic, is simply not enough. What is needed instead is a systemic change based on the cultural change that has already happened as a result of globalization.
Current proposals for more permanent members is merely re-arranging the deck-chairs on the Titanic. As Kishore Mahbubani, Singapore ambassador to the UN Security Council in 2000 wrote in his 2013
book The Great Convergence, Asia, the West and the Logic of One World, “The absolute refusal of the P5 to brook even small reforms seems absurd in 2012. I
do not know when the Council equivalent of an Arab spring will emerge to sweep away the legitimacy of the P5 in the global system”. This could be done,
as a first step towards global democracy, by way of a Uniting for Peace Resolution and Art. 24 of the UN Charter which would have the UN Security Council return power to all 193 members of the UN
It is important to note that the UN and its specialized agencies have played a beneficial role in many progressive actions as an international institution. However, how
it addresses global issues like peace and security, economic disparity and climate change is no longer adequate. Innovative and life-saving programs like the UN Emergency Peace Service (UNEPS)
and the Right to Protect (R2P), are adopted but not implemented. A democratic World Federal Parliament is required for many of today's global dilemmas that nation-centric institutions like the UN
simply cannot and will not address.
With world military expenditures of $1.7 Trillion annually and the re-furbishing
of nuclear arsenals we have returned to a 1970s-style scenario of Mutual Assured
Destruction. This is a global regression at a time when change towards a better global society
is imperative. There is a dangerous complicity and complacency with the status-quo among most of the UN member states. Furthermore, the anti-globalization phase we are increasingly witnessing,
reflects the unequal sharing of the world's wealth and decision-making. It is immoral and barbaric that there are still regions of the world where thousands of men, women and children needlessly
die on a daily basis due to starvation. If the current political and economic global system that is already showing signs of decay is not re-structured, it will collapse under its own
Saul Mendlovitz, Director, World Order Models Project, Rutgers University, N.J. USA noted that “There is no longer a question of whether or not there will be world
government. The questions are how it will come into being – cataclysm, drift or by rational design and whether it will be totalitarian, benign or democratic. The probabilities being in that
In order to shift to the next level in our global evolution we need to first create the institutions that create and foster a global mentality.
In1861 Massimo d'Azeglio, a pioneer with Garibaldi of Italian unification noted that “by creating Italy [they] created Italians”. As such, let us create a World Parliament to then
enable the next level of government evolution, one that fosters a World Citizenship ethos, to take place.
The dire need to have a global
authority to represent the human, universal good and the inadequacy of the present system to do just that is very well exemplified by Pope John XXIII in Part IV of his 1963 encyclical Pacem en
Terris titled, “The Insufficiency of Modern States to Ensure the Universal Common Good” in which he analyzes the complex problems and political structural defects facing the human
Today the universal common good
poses problems of world-wide dimensions, which cannot be adequately tackled or solved except by the efforts of public authorities endowed with a wideness of powers, structures and means of the
same proportions; that is, of public authorities which are in a position to operate in an effective manner on a world-wide basis. The moral order itself demands that such a form of public
authority be established.
The criminality of corporations and technology
There is a need for a world governmental system. We are currently facing many problems brought on by the misuse of our technological advancements and the corporate
structure that puts profit over people. These issues affect people across the world in different ways. As such, we need a worldwide public authority with enforceable powers- a democratic world
federal government, to oversee the solution to these planetary issues.
A prime example of a global problem that requires a global solution is the issue of climate change. Extremes of climate around the world such as heat waves, massive
floods, tornadoes, severe droughts among many others, are occurring more frequently. As United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said on the 30th of May, 2017 to the New York
University Stern School of Business in a talk about climate action, “The moral imperative for action is clear. The people hit first and worst are women and girls, the poor, the vulnerable
and the marginalized. The time has come for transformation”. There is a clear lack of a global outlook to tackle these problems. While implementation of any given solution will start at
the national level, regulation and enforcement needs to be thought of and enacted at the planetary level with a globally-elected, globally-accountable government structure.
The greedy, short-term nearsightedness of many corporations and the current economic mentality has proven not only dangerous, but disastrous for the overall benefit
and well-being of humankind and our planetary home. Compounding this problem is the fact that technology today governs almost every aspect of our lives and is now digitialized in unprecedented
ways. This makes us all vulnerable because now more than ever a few IT and communication companies have control over our personal information and hence can manipulate this data for their own
interest. Indeed, whoever owns this data owns the future and as Hannah Jane Parkinson in a 12th May, 2017 article in The Guardian stated, “We need to take these tech giants to task. They
must acknowledge their influence and become truly accountable for their actions.”
Similarly, the corporate, profit-making industries around the world have managed to influence all aspects of human life. We need to move forward into an era where
human good supersedes corporate good; the first step to doing so needs to be that of highlighting how insidious the dark forces like that of the corporate and political elites really are.
If the short-term and short-sighted profit agenda of the corporate system that rules today is left unmitigated and allowed to continue unabated, the changes at the
systemic level necessary to curtail dangerous and accelerating climate change will not come to fruition. Should this be the case, as Guterres continued, “the effects as we are already witnessing,
would be nothing less than catastrophic.”
It is now well-known, especially in the industrialized world, that corporations exert such a level of influence and control that one cannot help but feel powerless
in dictating how they should or should not use the data about us that they have access to. In addition, the climate changes we are witnessing in this current era are inextricably tied to the way
a large portion of the world lives, mainly under the neo-liberalist policies of consumerism and the assumption of endless wants disregarding the fact that nature has finite limits and
constraints. What is needed to bring solutions to these problems is adequately professed by Pope John XXIII in his 1963 encyclical titled Pacem en Terris under Part IV “The Insufficiency
of Modern States to Ensure the Universal Common Good”. In it, he states,
Today the universal common good poses problems of world-wide dimensions, which cannot be adequately tackled or solved except by the efforts of public authorities
endowed with a wideness of powers, structure and means of the same proportions; that is, of public authorities which are in a position to operate in an effective manner on a world-wide basis. The
moral order itself demands that such a form of public authority be established.
Indeed, a globally and democratically-elected word federal government would give structure and order to the present global political anarchy that is controlled and
regulated by the top corporations and the technology that they use to cement their power.
The recent events in Greece highlight the need for a World Federal Parliament system to ensure that public good supersedes corporate greed. As Helena Norberg-Hodge writes in her July
31, 2015 article in the Common Dreams titled "We Are All Greece", "... the economic problem in Greece is the product of a global system that puts the
needs of corporations and banks ahead of people and the planet." Full article at: http://commondreams.org/views/2015/07/31/we-are-all-greece
Toward a “UN Spring”
published in the Feb. 3, 2015 issue of the Democratic World Federalists blog
February 3, 2015 1
Canadian Federalists Take On the Security Council
By Vivian Davidson
President, World Federalist Movement-Canada (Vancouver chapter)
The United Nations is currently locked in a rigid and outdated structure, unable to reform itself. Because of its inability to adapt to a changing world, the UN is severely handicapped in its
capacity to “save succeeding generations from the scourge of war” as was mandated by its charter. How is it that, for almost seventy years, China, France, Russia, the UK and the U.S. remain the
permanent members (P5) of the United Nations Security Council, each wielding veto power over the entire organization?
The power and authority to deal with issues of “international peace and security” was conferred on the Security Council (SC) under Article 24 of the UN Charter. In practice, this means that any
resolution the General Assembly (GA) passes has to be approved unanimously by the P5 of the Security Council. If one knows anything about the workings of the SC and more importantly, the P5
members, it is that consensus on any issue is hard to come by at best. The geopolitical inclinations of each P5 member are vastly different, as are their global economic and social status.
Disagreement on most UN affairs—and paralysis in the face of key issues—is the natural result of such disparities.
Seeking to remedy this obvious shortcoming of the UN, I led the Vancouver branch of the World Federalist Movement-Canada (WFM-C) in drafting a resolution in October 2014. Our mission is to have
the SC return its unbridled power and authority to all 193 members of the GA (which includes the P5 of course). Soon after, the resolution was adopted at the national WFM-C Annual General Meeting
in Ottawa on October 25th, 2014. We then mailed the WFM-C resolution, along with a signed cover letter from me as president of the Vancouver Branch, to all 193 ambassadors of the UN General
Assembly members in New York on Dec. 1, 2014.
Undoubtedly, our initiative will face opposition both within and outside the UN. Many will be skeptical about this seemingly unrealistic goal of getting the P5 to relinquish their unchecked power
to the GA. Nevertheless, the World Federalists of Canada (WFM-C) remain hopeful that this resolution helps keep alive an impetus already present at the UN and other international political
forums. Progressive minds at the forefront of this idea envision the abolition of the SC as one of the possible steps needed to create the fluidity that would allow a more democratic, effective,
and accountable UN. Such drive was recently exemplified in June 2014 at the G77 Summit in Bolivia when Bolivia’s President, Evo Morales, himself called for the abolition of the Security Council—a
bold action that was unprecedented by the political leader of a country.
Despite world military expenditures amounting to $1.74 trillion in 2013 according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), there is still no international peace and
security. In fact, the P5 is responsible for 71% of such expenditures and 66% of arms sales to the world. A formal review of the UN Charter, which could potentially take up the issue of
dismantling the SC, was scheduled in the Charter for 1955. Yet, such a review has not yet taken place—nor will it—if the current unwillingness to reform is maintained by the P5 who seem all too
comfortable with their elite status. Our resolution is a project that could be the first step in democratizing the GA. The WFM-C advocates the democratization of the United Nations General
Assembly so that it becomes a global structure for realizing the brotherhood and sisterhood of humankind. We have come a long way since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was guided
through the UN by Eleanor Roosevelt in 1948. But, deaths from war, violence, malnutrition, and easily preventable diseases continue to plague humankind. Such crimes against humanity must be
reversed by the peoples of the world acting through a reformed United Nations. A UN Spring could be the first step towards this end and eventually towards the creation of a global government
structure that brings peace and justice for all.
Published in MONDIAL newsletter of the World Federalist Movement Canada December 2014
(to read the article online please
Time for a UN Spring
“The absolute refusal of the P5 to brook even small reforms seems absurd . . . . I do not know when the Council equivalent of an Arab Spring will emerge to sweep away the legitimacy of the P5 in
the global system.”
Kishore Mahbubani, former Ambassador of Singapore to the United Nations, in his 2013 book, “The Great Convergence: Asia, the West, and the Logic of One World.”
We are at an unprecedented period in our human history with planetary personal communications, a global integrated economy and the evolutionary acceptance in the genome that we are all one
species, though a rich mosaic of cultures and ethnicities, the brotherhood and sisterhood of humankind, the Nation of Humanity. Our cosmic identity is underlined
with space exploration and now the incredible landing on a comet.
But we are still in Neanderthal mode in our tribal relations, where the buzzwords “international peace and security” of the UN Security Council are a hollow promise for the hundreds of millions
of people who go to bed hungry every night. Deaths by violence, malnutrition and easily preventable diseases are an Auschwitz every ten months. And yet world military expenditures (according to
SIPRI, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute) for 2013 were $1,747 billion and have been over a trillion dollars for ten years. The permanent five members of the UN Security
Council, China, France, Russia, UK, USA (i.e. those same parties tasked with “maintaining peace and security”) are responsible for 71% of world arms sales.
How much is $1,747 billion? Ten $100 bills are a thin 1 mm slice. A one-metre slab is a million dollars. A billion dollars is one Km of $100 bills. World military expenditures is 1,747
Kms of packed $100 bills … and yet Malala has to plead for money to educate little girls and boys.
A creative spark? At the World Federalist Movement - Canada’s AGM in Ottawa 25th Oct 2014 a resolution was submitted from the Vancouver Branch. It was introduced in a teleconference call by
Vancouver President Vivian Davidson. The resolution proposed that World Federalists encourage members of the UN General Assembly to consider rescinding Art. 24 of the UN Charter and that the
Assembly itself assume responsibilities for international peace and security, as allowed in Art 18 of the Charter, as a first step in creating a political fluidity in the UN structure for
the evolution of a democratic World Parliament and Government. It is now history. The resolution passed.
Under Art. 24 of the UN Charter the members (UN General Assembly) confer on the UN Security Council primary responsibility for international peace and security. The resolution would have the
Assembly rescind these powers.
This would leave responsibility for peace and security in the hands of the General Assembly. According to Art. 18 of the UN Charter, decisions of the General Assembly on important questions shall
be made by a two-thirds majority of the members present and voting. These questions shall include recommendations with respect to the maintenance of international peace and security.
It has become a Vancouver project to propose to the remaining188 members of the UNGA that they need not, should not continue to be subservient to the entrenched interests of the Permanent Five.
The mindless carnage of World War One gave political energy to create the League of Nations,(“First Parliament of Mankind,” headlined the Globe, now the Globe and Mail), the International Court
of Justice and in 1929 The Pact of Paris or Kellogg-Briand Pact that outlawed war. (“War Outlawed,” headlined The Globe).
World War Two led to the creation of the United Nations with 51 nations in 1945. The major Allies, China, France, Soviet Union, UK, USA who had spent so much blood and treasure against the Axis
regimes, were the pioneers, the deliverers of an organization to “save succeeding generations from the scourge of war.” Russia inherited the permanent seat that had been assigned to the
USSR in 1991.
In 1945 a world led by these quintuplets seemed to many the natural order of things. The United States, with no domestic destruction and lower than the others in per capita deaths, was the new
superpower. France and U.K., though devastated by the conflict, still held political dominion over great swathes of the globe with imperial dominance in Africa and South Asia.
To give initial stability to these founding 51 nations of the United Nations a Security Council was incorporated in the UN Charter with these five nations having permanent seats and their
concurring votes required for resolutions to pass – the so-called veto. Insidiously, the Permanent Five’s assent is also required for any changes in the Charter itself. Art 108 on Charter
amendments requires 2/3rds members including all the permanent members of the Security Council. After 1955 (Art 109) a conference to review the Charter could be held if so decided by a majority
of the General Assembly, but any amendments proposed would also require the concurrent support of the P5.
With these provisions, there have been no significant changes to the Security, Council except in 1966, when the number of non-permanent members was increased from six to 10. These two-year
transients with a chance to posture on the world stage are elected to the UNSC by the General Assembly for their contribution to international peace and security. 2014- 2015 members are
Chad, Chile, Jordan, Lithuania, and Nigeria. 2015 –2016 members are Angola,
Malaysia, New Zealand, Spain, and Venezuela.
To have the same five permanent members with veto in 2014, with now 193 UN members, is a stagnating anomaly, an anachronism that requires nothing less than the interring of the UN Security
Council. The Vancouver, now a WFM-C, resolution could be pulling the plug on a log jam that is imminent in any case. In the July issue of Mondial our Exec. Director Fergus Watt notes “the
growing frustration among members of the General Assembly with the secrecy and failures of the Security Council.” He was referring in this case to “electing” a
new Secretary-General by the General Assembly, which in eﬀect rubber-stamps a closed-door decision of the P5.
The UN General Assembly has been marginalized, and an osmosis of power and authority
(by rescinding Art 24) could provide an energizing political fluidity.
Were this to be adopted, it should also be accepted in some fashion that a decision of the UNGA should represent 2/3rds majority of the world’s people, the brotherhood and sisterhood of
humankind, as well as (per UN Chapter, Art 18) 2/3rds of member states.
The World Federalists can provide the goal, the vision; but the how-to, the means that would allow the UN to better fulfill its purposes in the event these measures are to be implemented, is the
work of a broadly based UN preparatory committee process.
Vivian Davidson’s poster says it best: “Don’t Stay Calm. Change the World.”
Remarks by Said.W. Musa, Prime Minister of Belize at UN 2000
In the past, we looked to the. nation state for solutions.Today the true center of governance has changed dramatically. Transnational and multilateral organizations control our lives; they are
the agencies of what we may call real; existing world government. That government is powerful, it. rules the entire world; but it is not democratic. It is not just: And it is not accountable
A relatively small number of world agencies really do determine the fate of the world's peoples, and they are controlled by a few for the benefit of the few. For example, the G7
members,with 12% of world population, controls 7% of the votes at the IMF and the World Bank. The OECD countries, with only 19% of global population control 70% of world trade. And no one is
fooled by the fiction that the World Trade Organisation practices representative democracy.
Not so very long ago, autocracy was the norm; then a kind of limited democracy evolved, with voting rights limited to property holders or those with a certain income. Only relatively recently has
universal suffrage become the norm or even the goal of most countries. But in global governance, where we are called to be more enlightened if we are to survive, we are so far behind that we
appear even to be afraid to demand democracy, accountability and justice.
Vaclav Havel Calls for UN Parliamentary Assembly,· Global Responsibility
Address by Vaclav Havel, President of the Czech Republic, to the· Millennium Summit of the United Nations, New York,.8 September 2000
What will this world, and the United Nations, look like a hundred years from now?
There are countless possibilities - from the most horrific to the ideal. And it would be against our elementary political obligation if we did not seek to pursue the better rather than the worse
choices ..What should the United Nations be in case of a favorable development of the world, and how should it help to advance such development?
First of all, it should probably quickly change from a scene of clashes among particular interests of various states into a platform of joint, solidarity based, decision-making - by the whole of
humankind - on how best to organize our stay on this planet. Even more definitely, it should transform itself from a large community of governments, diplomats and officials into a joint
institution for each inhabitant of this planet - who would all see it as their very own Organization for which they spend money not only in order that it defend them as individuals but also in
order that, on the authority of the people, it looks for ways toward a lasting well-being of the humanity and toward a genuine quality of life.
Such a United Nations would probably have to rest on two pillars: one constituted by an assembly of equal executive representatives of individual countries, resembling the present plenary, and
the other consisting of a group elected directly by the globe's population in which the number of delegates representing individual nations would, thus, roughly correspond to the size of the
nations. These two bodies would create and guarantee global legislation. Answerable to them would be the Security Council - or its successor-which would serve as an executive organ handling, on
a.continuous basis, some of the crucial problems of the world. The composition of this organ would, of course, have to be different from that of the present Security Council. The
qualifications and the personalities of the individual members should probably carry more weight than the circumstance as to which country they come from. Also, the right of veto should
probably not be exercised by any single member. The future United Nations should have its own permanent military and police force. This superior executive organ should monitor the observance of
laws or decisions of the Organization, and seek their enforcement in the areas of security, human rights, environment economic competition, health, finance; local development, etc.
Whenever I encounter any problem of today's civilization; inevitably; I always arrive at one principal theme: the theme of human responsibility. This does not mean merely the responsibility of a
human being towards his or her own life or survival; towards his or her family; towards his or her company or any other community. It also means responsibility before the infinite and before
eternity; in a word, responsibility for the world. Indeed, it seems to me that the most important thing that we should seek to advance in the era of globalization is a sense of global
Somewhere in the primeval foundations of all the world's religions we find, basically, the same set of underlying moral imperatives. It is in this set of thoughts that we should look for the
source, the energy and the ethos for global renewal of a truly responsible attitude towards our Earth and all its inhabitants, as well as towards future generations. Without an ethos emanating
from a rediscovered sense of global responsibility, any reform of the United Nations would be unthinkable, and without meaning.
Will Canada champion global democracy?
PUBLISHED : Monday, March 13, 2017 12:00 AM
THE HILL TIMES
Canadians can be proud of their notable contributions to the United Nations, including vital support for the Land Mines Treaty and the International Criminal Court. If the Liberal government
wishes to step up its re-engagement with the UN, it might next champion a visionary yet practical project in line with Canadian values—the advancement of democratic decision-making at the global
The idea is to start with an advisory body at the UN—a citizens’ watchdog with clout—that gradually transitions into a legislative assembly. If accountability, transparency and effectiveness at
the international level are vital, then why not promote the same indispensable model that has served us so well domestically—the institution of Parliament? Under Article 22 of the UN Charter, a
parliamentary assembly (UNPA) could be created by the General Assembly as a subsidiary body without requiring Security Council approval or Charter reform.
As a transitional measure until direct elections become possible, national parliaments could second MPs to the UNPA in proportion to party standings. Unlike UN ambassadors, UNPA parliamentarians
would not take instruction from national governments, but would be directly accountable to citizens and mandated to act according to conscience and the common good, and to promote better social,
economic and environmental management of our single, finite planet.
As the world and its regions have become ever more interconnected, parliamentary institutions above the country level have been created at a furious pace. Perhaps the most well-known
international parliamentary institution (IPI) is the European Parliament which helps over 507 million European citizens manage their mutual interests. A recent study has found that before 1990,
40 IPIs existed, but since then an additional 119 have been created.
At the United Nations, however, the democratic deficit stubbornly remains. That is why Canada should champion a civil society initiative begun in 2007, the Campaign for a UN Parliamentary
The UNPA Campaign has deep Canadian roots. The seminal case for a United Nations Parliamentary Assembly was written by a Canadian, Dieter Heinrich, in 1992. The Canadian House of Commons Foreign
Affairs Committee expressed its support for the UNPA concept in its June 2007 report. As of November 2016, 38 Canadian MPs and Senators representing all major political parties have endorsed the
UNPA campaign’s international appeal.
The creation of a UN Parliamentary Assembly would be a revolutionary step.
The existence of a global parliamentary assembly would foster a planetarian ethos by symbolizing the idea of the world as one community, and not just a collection of self-interested governments.
A UNPA could immediately act as the world’s conscience. Though a UN Parliamentary Assembly would not initially have legislative powers, it should certainly have authority to pose questions that
officials must answer, establish committees to hear citizen groups and expert testimony, scrutinize budgets, and call for urgent action by the UN and its member countries. Citizens would have a
watchdog, ombudsman and spokesperson at the heart of international action, attracting media and public attention.
A UNPA could also act as a lever for institutional change. Many national parliaments were originally only advisory bodies to all-powerful kings, but over time, regents had to bend to the will of
their subjects. Similarly, while a UN Parliamentary Assembly would lobby for more effective management of the current system, it would also catalyze longer-term structural reforms to ensure that
those impacted by global decisions have greater power to influence the result.
Around the world, demand for democracy is growing, and the Campaign for a UN Parliamentary Assembly is part of that forward surge. Will Canada put its diplomacy behind this important initiative,
or will we sit idly on the sidelines as the torch passes us by?
(The letter-writer is on the advisory board of the World Federalist Movement-Canada.)
Image by United Nations Photo
Has the United Nations become irrelevant? That question is being asked with increasing frequency in recent years. While there are undoubtedly many reasons,
the foremost in my estimation is the UN’s poor record in respect to carrying out what many observers regard as its primary mission: peacekeeping. This perception underlies
the stated determination by the new Secretary-General, António Guterres, to make
peacekeeping his top priority during his five-year tenure.
Over the long term, the UN record in regard to peacekeeping has been decidedly mixed. Although there have been some remarkable successes (e.g., dealing with
the Suez Canal crisis in1956), the past decade has been marked by a succession of failures. None of these failures, one may argue, has had a more negative influence on popular perceptions
of the UN than the organization’s ineffectuality in dealing with the protracted and complicated civil war in Syria, much less in bringing it to an end. Comparably baneful was the
aftermath of the 2011 Security Council-authorized intervention in Libya. The authorizing resolution – passed by a ten to zero vote (with Russia and China among the five abstainers) – was
based on the widely acclaimed “Responsibility to Protect” (R2P) principle. The resolution authorized a US-led NATO mission to
undertake a humanitarian mission to avert an anticipated slaughter of opponents to the dictatorial regime of Muammar al-Qaddafi. The operation, however, soon morphed into one of regime
change. The outcome was that Libya lapsed into a state of anarchy from which it has yet to fully emerge. Paradoxically, the UN appeared inept when it failed to act and inept when it did
Armed conflict presently characterizes much of the Middle East and Africa; and a persistent threat of conflict hangs over additional areas now nominally at
peace. The possibility of nuclear warfare (more likely involving India, Pakistan, Israel, or North Korea, than the P-5 powers) is real. Meanwhile, the recently installed US President, the
temperamentally mercurial and unpredictable Donald Trump – no lover of the United Nations – cavalierly professes a lack of concern in regard to a renewed nuclear arms race. In these
matters, the UN has not played a major constructive role. Nor has it adequately addressed the causes of, and optimal responses to, the spate of wanton acts of terrorism, the most dramatic
of which were those of 11 September 2001. These are causes for deep concern.
Nevertheless, seismic shifts in the global geo-political landscape, along with a host of other existential issues, to be noted below, make the United Nations
system more relevant today, I would argue, than ever before in the seven-plus decades of its existence. Let us review some of the major changes.
The UN in the Post-Cold War Era
Of utmost importance has been the conclusion of the Cold War during a brief period culminating with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1991. This revolutionary
change was presaged in a speech made before the
UN General Assembly on 7 December 1988 by the Soviet premier, Mikhail Gorbachev. In that remarkable address, he called for a new, peaceful, lawful and democratic multi-lateral world
order, a world characterized by ‘the de-ideologization of international relations.’ However, distrust of Gorbachev’s motives prevented an American embrace of his vision, and, a mere three
years later, Gorbachev lost power and esteem in his own country. The implosion of the Soviet Union in 1991 might, conceivably, have brought an end to the military, political and economic
confrontation between the Western (NATO et al) and Eastern (Warsaw Pact et al) blocs of nations, along with their globally scattered allies and client states. But that was not to
With the benefit of hindsight, we can now recognize the next few years as an open moment in history, one in which the United States, the undisputed colossus
of a uni-polar world, enjoyed an unprecedented capability to shape the future. Had it chosen to do so, the US, in concert with other relatively affluent democracies, could then have
initiated a process leading to a substantially reformed United Nations. It could have led by example in strengthening newly emerging democratic regimes (mainly in Eastern Europe and
Latin America). It could have become the prime mover of what later came to be called a ‘global Marshall Plan’ to mitigate world poverty and
reduce the obscene economic gap between the global North and the global South. It could have resuscitated the aborted 1961 McCloy-Zorin accords on ‘General and Complete Disarmament.’ Finally, it could have taken on a key role as a steward
of the world’s environment, a role that many hoped it would assume at the 1992 Rio Conference on the Environment and Development.
Regrettably, however, distrust dies slowly; and ideologically driven preconceptions also impede diplomatic progress. All of the possible post-Cold War
initiatives noted in the previous paragraph would have required trust and cooperation between the United States and other nations, both within and outside the United Nations system. But,
as recent events confirm, a majority of Americans judge the rest of the world to be less enlightened than the USA, less financially and technologically capable, less virtuous and less
trustworthy. Further, the reform agenda suggested above would have necessitated a sharing of power and quite possibly lead – heaven forbid! – to limitations on the zealously guarded
national sovereignty of participating nations. So, the international aid offered by the Northern rich was usually sufficient to placate, co-opt, and shore up local elites in compliant
States, though rarely enough to effect wholesale transformation of many fundamentally unjust societies.
While the engagement of the global North with other nations was not devoid of altruism, it tended to be of such a nature as to promote the economic interests
of the Northern donor nations. This was especially true in their dealings with countries well-endowed with oil, natural gas and/or other strategic raw materials. Countries with
left-of-center regimes generally received short shrift, while those well to the left and/or opposed to the US and the former colonial powers of Europe often became targets for political
coups engineered or abetted by the US’ CIA or its counterparts in other affluent countries.
A New American Century
Toward the latter 1990s a ‘neo-conservative’ cabal of political activists became dominant actors in American politics. Uncompromising advocates of unbridled
capitalism world-wide, they promoted what many political observers called a ‘Pax Americana,’ or, to use their own terminology, a ‘New American Century.’ This presumably inevitable US global hegemony would be militarily guaranteed by ‘full-spectrum
dominance,’ on land and sea, in the air, in outer space and cyberspace. To buttress the Pax Americana a network of military bases was established in scores of countries located, for
the most part, in fairly close proximity to Russia and China, both nuclear powers and, arguably, the only two adversaries with sufficient military strength to thwart American dominance of
their respective regions.
In the overweening neo-conservative worldview there was little inclination to recognize any source of authority other than the US itself, and certainly not
for a reformed UN system well-endowed with both human capital and finances. Nevertheless, given the inherent moral authority that the UN alone possesses, the US does recognize that the
world organization can be useful now and then, though not as a major arbiter of how the world is to be run. That role remains in the domain of great power politics. Thus, to a large
extent, the shortcomings of the UN system noted in the first few paragraphs of this essay may be attributed to its being kept on a starvation diet by the US. Other countries are also
complicit. They, too, deal with the UN system mainly in terms of how it might best serve their own interests, rather than those of the planet as a whole.
A concomitant of a Pax Americana was the idea that America should be the ‘world’s policeman’ or, perhaps its sheriff, with faithful NATO allies as deputies.
That notion is what keeps American troops in Afghanistan, long after meting out punishment to the Taliban for their alleged support of the Al Qaida perpetrators of the 9/11 terrorist
attacks. It also explains the US’ premeditated invasion of Iraq on the pretense that Saddam Hussein’s regime possessed — and might soon use — weapons of mass destruction. And, despite the
falsification of that claim and the subsequent piecemeal destruction of the Iraqi nation, it explains calls for military intervention in Iran and other perceived trouble spots.
There are a number of problems with America acting as the world’s policeman. First, outside the US itself, no legitimate authority has asked America to
assume that role. It has no moral or legal basis. Second, it is enormously costly (running, over time, to trillions of dollars), and many American taxpayers are belatedly recognizing that
the expenditure is, by no means, cost-effective. Third, the policy has not worked and will not work (witness the inability, over more than 15 years, to pacify Afghanistan). Finally, it
has multiplied the number of America’s enemies, creating new cohorts of jihadi terrorists faster than it decimates the old groups, real and imagined.
Still, one may ask, who would wish to live in a society – global as well as local and national – without a police force? At the local and national levels,
most of the world takes some measure of police protection for granted. But at a global level anarchy persists. We fall back on inadequate ad hoc expedients. For major
operations the world may tolerate American-led operations, running the risk of unforeseen mission creep (as in Libya). Smaller jobs are typically entrusted to patchwork forces
overwhelmingly recruited from the global South. The UN can and must do better. It is time to establish a standing, all-volunteer, elite, internationally recruited, rapidly deployable
peace force, under direct UN command, and with both military and police capabilities. Opposition to the creation of such a force in the interest of national sovereignty has become
anachronistic. The UN, not the US, must assume responsibility. Given its universality, the UN alone has the moral standing to do so. Further, no country, no matter how powerful, should
have the power of the veto. Happily, several proposals are now under consideration that call for either restraint in the use of the veto or its total elimination, especially in humanitarian crises. Contrary to received wisdom that these goals are
impossible to achieve, both are, in my estimation, not only necessary, but achievable in the not very distant future.
We have focused in this essay on security issues with a military dimension. It is the UN’s shortcomings in this regard that have led to our opening question:
‘Has the United Nations become irrelevant?’ Our unequivocal answer is ‘No.’ But we cannot close without calling attention to a host of additional global problems that, like
security, call for global solutions. Foremost among these issues, without a doubt, is climate change. This is also a security issue, albeit without a significant military nexus as yet
(though military responses to flows of environmental refugees is probably not so very far off).
Other problems include population growth, migration, communicable diseases (especially pandemics), the North-South economic gulf, the regulation of financial
flows, narco-trafficking, sex trafficking, genocide, ethnic cleansing, other egregious violations of human rights, such mundane matters as air traffic control and weather forecasting, and
so forth. (This list is far from complete.) In all of these matters, the United Nations system is playing, or should be playing, a major role. Its relevance is beyond dispute.
Though little known, much has been written in regard to how to resolve the problems alluded to in this essay. I will close by commenting briefly on three
such works in ascending order of their time horizon.
For practical and achievable recommendations dealing with the UN system in its present form one cannot do better than to consult Thomas G.
Weiss, What’s Wrong with the United Nations and How to Fix It, (3rd Ed.) Malden, MA, USA, Polity Press, 2016. Weiss is, arguably,
the leading academic expert on the UN system.
A more future-oriented and ambitious change agenda is put forth by the Commission on Global Security, Justice & Governance, chaired by Madeleine
Albright, former US Secretary of State and Ambassador to the UN; and Ibrahim Gambari, former Foreign Minister of Nigeria and UN Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs. This
report, Confronting the Crisis of Global
Governance, was jointly published in 2015 by The Hague Institute for Global Governance and the Washington-based Stimson Center. Its proposals anticipate major
rethinking of the nature of global governance in the year 2020 when the UN will celebrate its 75th anniversary. Among its many innovative recommendations is the establishment
of a UN Parliamentary Network.
Looking still further into the future, but certainly not beyond the lifetime of most readers of this essay, is Transforming the United Nations System: Designs for a Workable World, Tokyo: United Nations University Press, 2013.
This work, by the present author, Joseph E. Schwartzberg, demonstrates the ultimate need for a democratic federal world government. It puts forward scores of proposals for progressive
improvements in the UN system as humankind proceeds along its arduous journey to a peacefully united world. (The book’s lengthiest chapter relates to security issues.) E-editions of
translations of the work into Arabic, Chinese, French, German, Japanese, Russian and Spanish should become available during the year 2017, together with Study and Discussion
Guides in those same seven languages, as well as in English.
A great example of how global crises like climate change need the COLLABORATION of the world community to be solved adequately and soon. This interview of Dr. Martin Lees, former
Secretary-General of Club of Rome by Sophie Shevardnadze of RT media highlights how while it is "difficult it is to reach agreement, and the climate problem raises all manner of
complexities, which is very hard to negotiate...oddly enough, we have in past managed to reach agreement on difficult problems and to take concerted international action."
A good read to understand how we do have the technology, financial resources and awareness to solve global problems but are missing the unifying structure (like a World Parliament) to bring the
international community together successfully with the goal of helping all humanity.