United Nations 2.0
In the next few years, the United Nations can and should transition from being a ‘maker of non-binding resolutions’ to a ‘global regulator and enforcer of regulations’.
As explained below, both the power and the need for it to do this is emergent.
It is further explained here that there is a way for the UN to adapt to this new role without changing its Charter. This is vitally important, as no present member of the UN Security Council has an interest in accepting any change to the current Charter. Such would risk diminishing their power.
It is further pointed out in this paper that the UN can not only transition to become a powerhouse of global governance without amending its Charter, it can do so without contradicting existing international laws or norms, and without losing any of its present functions, agencies or people.
Here is how:
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. That is to say, it must recognize a new truth, which is that that enforceable regulation to support a habitable planet is as necessary for all our survival as not warring with each other.
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 necessity. We live in a world where we know the existential threats to our futures, and we even know what we need to do to resolve them. We just can’t seem to ameliorate them. It is like we just seem to accept that we presently don’t have the global political structures or administrative processes to address so many issues that affect us all: from cutting pollution in the atmosphere to controlling contagious diseases; from effective management of the oceans to putting controls on the development of artificial intelligence.
The need for global regulation is emergent and is associated with our security. It is not just required for the security of the people of today, it is essential for the lives of the people of tomorrow. It is not just necessary for humanity; it is critical for the future of so many species.
So, one might ask, why has the United Nations – our preeminent body for global administration – seemingly been sitting on its hands all this time, as the need for global regulation has been growing and growing, bubbling away to near boiling point?
Well, the UN was set up in 1945. When it was being formed, the big ticket item was developing processes for resolving international conflicts by common resolve. Back then, bequeathing some limited powers to the winners of the Second World War to promote security was thought appropriate, but another layer of government regulation – 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 2023. The global population is 8 billion. The capacity for people to affect each other’s interests from one side of the planet to the other, either on purpose (eg cyber), or by accident (eg pollution), is exponentially greater. Global resources are no longer plentiful. Our local and national governments simply can no longer protect us from the burgeoning risks that other countries and people from afar present to us. Common resolve, or ‘resolutions’, are not enough.
Managing our security is no longer a transactional pursuit. Our security has recently become a regulatory matter. We, the people, need global regulation. It is the only way we can keep those who can harm us in check.
A World Parliament, or other new governance structure of some kind, is completely out of the question. The permanent members of the Security Council happen to be some of the most powerful countries in the world, and they will without question veto/decline to be involved in any change to the present power/UN structure, at least, any time soon. Such could only diminish their power, and so would be unacceptable to them. They would simply choose not to be involved. But also, to be fair, there is no broad appetite for it. Global governance is not on the radar of 99% of the people of the world. Finally, there is no new global governance structure that is contemplatable that would be so uncontroversial as to happen within a decade, in any event. This is not to say there should not be a Citizens Assembly, or similar, that could be developed to help make recommendations to the General Assembly. But that is another cause.
The cause about which I am writing here is for the UN itself to transition to become a maker and enforcer of global regulations in the interests of all our security.
So, I will take you on a very short trip through the relevant current UN powers, before explaining further:
In order to ensure prompt and effective action by the United Nations, its Members confer on the Security Council primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security, and agree that in carrying out its duties under this responsibility the Security Council acts on their behalf.
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.
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.
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.
The Charter also provides for the General Assembly to establish such subsidiary organs as it deems necessary for the performance of its functions (Article 22).
OK, so, having regard to these powers, to humanity’s needs, and to the geopolitical challenges of today, what to do?
On analysis, the way forward is clear:
By reference to the above powers, the time has come for the UN to make and enforce such global regulations as are necessary to preserve the security of mankind.
To the existing agenda of the General Assembly – which is full of talking points and not action points – needs to be added a list of new items in the nature of proposed enforceable world regulations that are, according to experts (see below), necessary for all our security.
The General Assembly will then need to consider and vote on such regulations, and, if they are agreed to by two thirds vote, send them to the Security Council with recommendations for their adoption.
Once there, it is up to the member countries of the Security Council to adopt those recommendations, or not, as they deem fit. If the enactment of certain regulations and implementation of measures for their enforceability are accepted by them as being in the best interests of the security of all humanity – which would, by definition, include their own constituents – then there is absolutely no reason to think they would not be adopted.
Now, in order to implement these new regulations and enforce them, the UN will need to set up new administration and enforcement agencies. As the UN is already 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.
So, such regulations and their enforcement will not only be lawful by reference to Article 24 of the UN Charter that provides the Security Council has a mandate to provide security to the world, they will also be completely doable.
Think of it: The UN creating and enforcing actual regulations: saving the Amazon; saving the forests of the Congo and New Guinea; requiring and enforcing the limitation of pollutants into the atmosphere; drawing up rules around the development of Artificial Intelligence and enforcing them.
These things can be done.
The point is that the UN does have power to regulate these things, and to enforce those regulations.
As mentioned above, in order for the UN to do these things in all our interests, it is integral to the process that the General Assembly be provided with an expert panel on everything that comes before it for regulation. The time has passed for political actors to bring their own agendas to the UN table. It must be agreed at the outset, if United Nations 2.0 is to proceed, that the General Assembly will inform itself by expert panels on what exactly needs to be done for the security of humanity before voting on any proposed regulations.
If the UN General Assembly needs an expert panel on AI regulation to make recommendations to the Security Council for AI regulation, give it to them. On climate regulation, give it to them. On disease control, on protection of oceans, on space regulation, give it to them. Expertise resides in the wider world. It does not reside in UN delegates. Where the General Assembly needs expertise to make a recommendation to the Security Council to make a rule that might affect everybody, give it to them by establishing expert panels.
It is true that certain permanent members of the Security Council may not agree to all regulations that end up before it, and that once at the Security Council, one country may well torpedo a regulation that everyone else wants. But sobeit. For now, that is the way of the world.
The world signed on to a system in 1945 that made it virtually impossible for the UN to change, and one that deliberately made it hard for the UN to regulate.
But these are hard times. And because these are hard times, it does have the power to regulate.
The time has now come for the UN to make and enforce global regulations.