What the world needs now

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What the world needs now probably is a dose of ‘love, sweet love’ but – to mix my song lyrics – equally probably, ‘love is’ not ‘all we need’.

We have a range of governments, between them covering the majority of the planet’s population and landmass, behaving exceptionally badly even by the miserable standards of the last hundred years. We have a climate crisis just coming to its boiling point, whatever we do, and due to carry on boiling like a kettle with no off switch if we are laggardly. 

The shock of two world wars in thirty years (the same timescale as from the Srebrenica massacre till now) pushed leaders in France, Britain and, less enthusiastically at first, the USA to invent multilateral institutions to at least put a drag on events spiralling in that direction again. In order to bring Stalin on board, which he had to be (however horrid) since he controlled all the territory from the Bering Straits to Prague, they came up with a United Nations Security Council where even the Soviet Union could veto initiatives or action as a Permanent Member.

It was bound to lead to futility but the argument went that it was better than nothing and did allow for concerted global debate, if rarely consensus and enforcement. 

In the event each Cold War bloc protected its favoured client states from forthright criticism and the position became even more futile with addition of China to the club. While the UN’s many subordinate agencies have carried out amazing work against absurd odds, they cannot act as dei ex machina.

Regional institutions, like the European Union, have been adapting slowly to the removal of unanimity rules but no government likes to have its wings clipped and so it is taking a very long time, even as the EU itself has expanded to cover most of the territory that people think of as European.

None of the other regional and global bodies – the Council of Europe, African Union, Arab League, Organisation of American States, Association of Southeast Asian Nations or the Commonwealth – have anything like the clout of the EU and so are ineffective in imposing peace and prosperity, despite some valiant attempts. Many words are failing to move mountains or calm seas of human barbarity.

Those 20th century multilateral organisations desperately need a rethink: not abolition or merger but radical rearrangement. The purposes have to be refined, the means found and compliance enforced otherwise the 2030s and 40s are likely to be just, if not more, unpleasant than the same decades a hundred years before. I do not want the next group of young people to have to put up with the grim experiences my parents’ generation did.

In Ukraine, Palestine, Syria, Afghanistan, much of China, Saharan Africa, Central America and Myanmar they already are.

Someone has to suggest how the new dispensation should look, even if the formula is experimental and needs adjusting. Radix is the forum in which such ideas can be proposed, if not always formulated in detail, so here goes. I might as well start with a very big idea.

The United Nations must stop being a members’ club and instead become United People (UP). It will inherit all the UN’s agencies but not its assembly. Its governing council will be the Secretariats of revamped Continental Intergovernmental Organisations, in which governments will be represented on certain conditions.

Recognition of any government’s authority will only be granted in accordance with its strict adherence to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). UP will have its offices on every continent and an HQ. Each will be a territory in its own right (rather in the way various capital territories and the Vatican are now).

No place must ever again be occupied by force. All military forces will be under UP command and will be used only to keep the peace and remove governments deemed to be non-compliant with human and environmental rights. 

Whether or not nations should continue to exist will be hugely controversial, of course. My instinct is that they might as cultural entities but not as governments. Administration should be at local/local regional, continental and global level. So for example, the executive body of something like the Council of Europe and EU would be the equivalents of their current local and regional authorities bodies, not national states. Human migration must be allowed but its management should be easier once the fear of persecution is dampened.

The UP Assembly will be directly elected by all people in the world, voting as one constituency. Elections will be held every six years, administered by local authorities, not national governments (if they exist). No member elected may serve more than two terms. The Assembly and the Secretariat will have equal power to propose legislation to each other. A Court of Arbitration will rule if agreement cannot be reached within two years. 

Any legislation or action will be governed by the UDHR and a similar declaration designed to formulate environmental rights, not just those of people. Any corporation in breach of either will have its assets sequestrated and its board and executives sanctioned.

The purpose of all this would be to make autocracy impossible: to reinvent the checks and balances envisioned in the Enlightenment in our context.

The principle of its democracy has to be universal care, not factional domination. Government’s task at any level would be to provide individuals with services, ensure pleasant living standards, limit the actions and abilities of machines, and protect the environmental balance. Nothing more: no glory, no corrupt gains, no intrusive authority. Everybody holds limited individual influence, nobody holds power.

I expect there will be a torrent of argument that none of this is possible, likely or (even if possible) quick. My retort is that that would have been the reaction too in 1938. Fifteen years later we had the UN, the IMF, the Council of Europe and the beginnings of the European Community.

Let us work on it. There’s is no reason why the same timescale (all in place by 2039, the anniversary of the start of World War II) cannot be good enough for us.

In the meantime, let’s outlaw people over 70 leading governments – which soon, you will be pleased to know, rules me out of contention along with Trump, Putin, Biden, Xi, Netanyahu, Erdogan etc.

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Radix is the radical centre think tank. We welcome all contributions which promote system change, challenge established notions and re-imagine our societies. The views expressed here are those of the individual contributor and not necessarily shared by Radix.

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