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.