Proposal for a Radical Reform of the United Nations

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As it is structured now, the United Nations is controlled by national governments, with their military institutions and military budgets. Over the course of history, national governments have come to monopolize war. As a result, if we are to make the transition from a culture of war to a culture of peace, we need a radical reform of the United Nations. Instead of being controlled by the Member States, it should be controlled by “We the Peoples,” the words that begin its Charter.

Before making a proposal for such a radical reform, we need to consider the following:

1) The national governments of the world increasingly ignore the United Nations when faced with global problems. Just this last month the major countries failed to send heads of state to the United Nations Humanitarian Summit. We first saw this trend with the global economic crisis of 2007-2008; the powerful states, meeting as the G-7, ignored the relevant financial institutions of the United Nations, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, and responded to the crisis with meetings of their finance ministers. Then in 2010, the powerful countries ignored the United Nations Non-proliferation conference and met in Washington in a parallel conference called by President Obama. Only Iran sent a head of state to the United Nations conference. Finally, even when the national governments attend a United Nations summit, the results are not adequate, as illustrated by the conferences to confront global warming in 2012 in Rio and 2015 in Paris.

2) The global system of national governments periodically fails, leaving a void where other institutions can take their place. During the 20th Century this occurred twice with World Wars I and II, as well as during the global economic crisis beginning in 1929, and (for half of the world) with the economic, then political collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989. There is a growing awareness that the world is due for another economic (and political?) collapse, including a collapse of the American Empire, which may leave a temporary void in international decision-making. It may provide a “window of opportunity” for radical change.

With this in mind, let us consider what a radical reform of the United Nations could look like.

Let us begin with the proposal of the Pan-African Parliament, as reprinted in this month’s CPNN bulletin, for a United Nations Parliamentary Assembly. This would have the advantage that parliamentarians have less vested interest in the culture of war than do the representatives of national governments. Parliaments do not have military forces, although they may vote on military budgets. As the Parliament’s President explained, “It is long overdue that ‘We, the Peoples,’ as the UN Charter begins, have more say in global affairs.

But the real problem is the Security Council. As the bulletin describes, there are many proposals to reform it, but they all continue to assume that it should be controlled by representatives of the Member States. Instead, we need a global organization where the decisions are made by “We, the peoples”. I can imagine two possibilities: a Security Council controlled by the mayors of the world, or one controlled by the parliaments of the world.

Since such a reform cannot be achieved under the present system of national governments, it must await the “window of opportunity” of their next crash. In the meantime, I propose the establishment of an “Alternative Security Council” (ASC) composed of mayors or parliamentary representatives from all the regions of the world. This ASC would regularly consider the issues faced by the actual UN Security Council and publicize its “decisions” in order to provide an alternative vision of how the issues of war and peace could be managed at a global level. One can imagine that their decisions would be radically different concerning, for example, nuclear disarmament, approaches to the disasters in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Libya, etc.  This would be a powerful force for consciousness-raising in the general public, and it could provide a model for an eventual radical reform of the UN.

There are several ways that mayors and parliaments are organized globally, any of which could be represented in an Alternative Security Council:

1) Regional organizations of parliaments such as the European Parliament, the Latin American Parliament and the Pan-African Parliament or of cities such as the Council of European Municipalities and Regions and the Arab Towns Organization.

2) Global organizations of parliamentarians for peace such as Parliamentarians for Global Action or of mayors and cities for peace, as described in a recent CPNN bulletin.

3) Global organizations of parliamentarians in general such as the Inter-Parliamentary Union or of cities in general such as the UCLG: Global Network of Cities, Local and Regional Governments.

All that is needed in order to establish an Alternative Security Council at the present time is;

a) an institutional host for the ASC, preferable a recognized international body that promotes a culture of peace;

b) an agreement for membership of the ASC, which could be established with any one of the organizaions of mayors or parliaments mentioned above;

c) a small secretariat to manage the Council by email (rather than actual meetings which would not be convenient, both because of the cost and because the members would not be free from their other tasks)

d) a means to disseminate widely the decisions of the council, i.e. a network of partners for publicizing these decisions.

e) a small budget which would be minimal if the sponsoring organization were receptive and if the secretariat and ASC members were volunteers.

The time is now to prepare a new system that will be ready to install during the next window of opportunity. If we wait for the crash of the present system, it will be too late. The time is now for radical action. And here is an action we can do now: an alternative security council.

The paradox of disarmament

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The latest CPNN bulletin illustrates clearly the paradox of disarmament. On the one hand, there seems to be no progress at all, and then we see what seems like a “breakthrough” in the agreement to inspect and destroy the chemical arms of Syria. Immediately, a Nobel Peace Prize is awarded!

But is it really a breakthrough? I don’t think so. Look at the other articles this month. There is no progress in nuclear disarmament. Even the Arms Trade Treaty that was drafted by the UN this spring with apparent support from the major countries, now seems useless, as senators in the US refuse to allow it to be ratified.

How can we explain this?

The explanation is simple. Over the centuries the nation-state has come to monopolize war. Only the state has the “right” to make war. Hence, the state does whatever is needed to ensure that weapons do not fall into the hands of non-state actors. That’s why the urgent agreement on the chemical arms in Syria; with the disintegration of the state during the civil war, it seemed likely that the chemical weapons would fall into the hands of terrorist groups, and it was urgent to prevent this from happening.

The state’s monopoly on war is its fundamental power, its “sovereign prerogative.” This was clearly expressed by the researcher for the International Peace Bureau in the CPNN article this month: “It is counter intuitive that a state would educate its own population to question its sovereign prerogatives, and the author was not optimistic of finding a genuine disarmament education program run by a state.”

Although military force is usually justified by the state as being needed to defend itself against foreign powers, its ultimate value for the state is to suppress internal opposition to its power.   It is for this reason, rather than external defense, that the culture of war is an essential aspect of the nation-state.  I have described this in detail for the case of the United States in the article I wrote for the Journal of Peace Research, Internal military intervention in the United States.

The effort by states to prevent “terrorist groups” from obtaining weapons of mass destruction is ironic. We must ask “what was the greatest example of terrorism in our time?” How can we avoid the fact that the greatest terrorist attack in world history was the American bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki? What are nuclear weapons except terrorist weapons? They are not useful in ordinary warfare. Instead, they are the “ultimate terrorist weapon.” They hold the entire enemy country hostage, threatening to wipe out its civilian population. That’s why they are not an effective counter to terrorist groups, because the terrorists have no civilian population that can be destroyed.

All terrorist acts committed since Hiroshema and Nagasaki are pale by comparison, including the destruction of the World Trade Towers in 2001. And all terrorist threats pale by comparison to the MAD (Mutual Assured Destruction) policies of the US and Soviet Union during the Cold War, each threatening to destroy the civilian population of the other.

Since the culture of war is essential to the state, we need to seek another system of governance.  This is why, in my books such as World Peace through the Town Hall, I advocate a new world system with the United Nations based on regional representation of city governments (See my blog of August 2013). City governments, unlike the nation-state, have no militaries, no military contracts, no borders to defend, hence no interest in the culture of war or its terrorist manifestations.

Disarmament: Two steps forward, one step back

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If we take only a short-term view of history, I think that we have only taken one step forward and one step back with the adoption last month of the Arms Trade Treaty by the United Nations. By this, I mean that we should not expect any real control of the arms trade to be possible as long as the world (and the UN) is run by nation-states. As I have shown elsewhere in detail, military power has become essential to nation-states, and they consider that to give it up is to commit suicide. Once again this week, this was stated explicitly by the British government when it warned that if it were to lose its nuclear force in Scotland it would lose its power on the world stage.

Even the limited disarmament successes, including the present treaty as well as those on anti-personnel land mines and cluster bombs, have been achieved through sustained efforts by the civil society, and against opposition by the nation-states.

Meanwhile armaments continue to proliferate, whether nuclear arms or small arms, despite the treaties. Hence, in the short-term, we may say there is one step back that cancels the one step forward.

If we take a long-term view of history, we can see that the Arms Trade Treaty provides a second step forward. The Treaty joins other declarations by the United Nations, including the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and the Declaration and Programme of Action on a Culture of Peace, as documents that can someday be the basis of a universal culture of peace. This will be possible if and when the United Nations (or its successor) is no longer dominated by nation-states, but by the peoples of the world through another form of representation such as leagues of cities and regions.

With a long-term view, we can see how the efforts of the civil society, working in the context of the United Nations, flawed as it may seem, are laying the basis for a new world. The documents are only the visible portion of the much greater “iceberg” of consciousness of the people of the world that, in the words of the World Social Forum, “a better world is possible.”