Last week, Barack Obama delivered one of the most brilliant speeches of his
presidency at his yearly address to the UN General Assembly. He displayed a deep
understanding of the world we live in – one of new opportunities and new
A world more interconnected than ever by the Internet and
tourism, reaping the fruits of globalization; a world in which traditional wars
are part of the past and the dangers stem from sectarianism, poverty, civil war,
terrorism and the proliferation of nonconventional weapons.
before the General Assembly as a proud leader of his nation and an empathetic
citizen of the world; a man who knows, with rare intellectual brilliance, how to
combine, with rare intellectual brilliance, a humanitarian, liberal worldview
with the strength of the United States. Under Obama, America is regaining its
position of world leadership.
He outlined the ways in which the United
States, together with the international community, should contend with the
opportunities and dangers: a new strategy of collective diplomacy, security and
economics using a diversity of power assets to reach international security,
development and peace.
It is up to the international community to meet
the challenge posed by Obama and join him on his journey for a better, more
secure and more fair world. The American president rightly said that the world
should not worry about American intervention, but the isolationism favored by
many Americans. The world indeed needs the American power for its economic
development, for confronting nonconventional threats and for
Obama doesn’t ask the world to become “Yankees” and create
Jeffersonian democracies, he offers partnerships. The center of attention for
American diplomacy is the Middle East: stopping the Iranian military nuclear
buildup and making peace between Israel and Palestine. To reach these goals he
calls for a collective effort – the 5P+1 for Iran and the Quartet for our
America is reforming its foreign policy and adapting it to a
changing world. The world must follow, which is probably well understood by
Russia, as expressed in the cooperation on Syria and, with time, in the
difficult negotiations on Iran. A new world order is being shaped – problems and
threats cannot no longer be eliminated by military force, but only collectively,
mostly by diplomacy, with greater mutual understanding among nations and
cultures and greater social empathy for the weaker and poorer
In this international activity, the military is more for
deterrence than for making actual use, replaced by economic ties (or sanctions),
educational exchanges, democratic encouragement and social empathy. This
profound reform, from its outset, must be matched by a reform of the world’s
foremost institution, the United Nations.
The UN was created after World
War II, as a result of the horrendous war and genocide. It was to be the “never
again” institution and has succeeded in some ways and failed in others. It
succeeded in its main aim, the prevention of a third world war, through greater
dialogue between among the leading powers. It succeeded in part because of its
charter when colonialism came to an end and self-determination was granted the
world over. It succeeded in reaching some of its goals, as in the gradual and
partial reduction of poverty through the Millennium Development Goals it set for
its members and for the specialized agencies.
It failed in many important
ways, especially in the prevention of wars and resolution of conflicts, as it
could not reconcile conflicting interests of the superpowers.
in the prevention of genocide, as in Rwanda, the former Yugoslavia and Darfur.
It must be reformed, learning from mistakes and adapting to the new
The foundations of such a reform should reflect the changing
nature of international relations.
We live in a multipolar world; power
is no longer defined just in terms of military might and nuclear capacity, but
also in economic terms (such as Germany and Japan), population (China and
India), scientific advancement (South Korea and Israel), moral example (South
Africa) and regional power (Brazil).
There is a growing recognition of a
greater equality among states, as none can dictate policies or political
ideology to another. Colonialism is dead.
The global vox populi is of
greater relevance than ever before. People have been empowered the world over by
their ability to express their views on social networks and in mass protest.
Leaders must follow Facebook and listen to the voices of the squares in order to
seek legitimacy for their policies, even in nondemocratic countries. Civil
society is part of national and international decision-making
Conflict resolution must therefore take into account the
growing empowerment of societies the world over. Leaders in postconflict regions
must listen to their young constituencies who prefer good education and
employment to military battle. Peacemaking needs international legitimacy, as
certain core values are gradually becoming global consensus, such as respect for
human rights, self-determination, and prevention of genocide and ethnic
The “hunting season” is over, and people almost the world over
aspire to a better life and more freedom.
The nature of globalization has
Initially it was mostly about trade, financial markets,
multilateral companies, labor opportunities – an economic
Today we witness a parallel process of social
globalization, mainly through the growing penetration of the Internet (40
percent globally). People interconnect all over the world on common interests
and values. Facebook has become the globalization of the individual.
parallel, there is a process of growing urbanization. Cities are becoming
megametropolises with up to 20 million inhabitants.
This has created a
growing local patriotism. People are at the same time citizens of their city,
country and the world.
Moreover, the futility of war has become more
obvious. Military victory in the age of ballistic weapons and international
terror has become virtually impossible as even the United States found out in
Iraq and Afghanistan. The aim of military campaigns now possible is to deter,
not to conquer, change regimes or acquire natural resources. Yet deterrence can
also be achieved through diplomacy and sanctions.
The threats to security
do not stem anymore from regular armies, but from the proliferation of
nonconventional weapons, international terror, sectarianism and civil wars. The
answer to these threats needs to be, by definition, collective.
today’s world, we face more common dangers than military threats and the
problems that plague the world can, with time, lead to greater instability:
poverty, malnutrition and disease which affect all corners of the globe, but
above all sub- Saharan Africa. AIDS and malaria are mass killers and the world
cannot look away anymore. Global warming also brings many new dangers in its
wake. Since 1980 the average global temperature has risen by 0.6 degrees Celsius
and it continues to increase, threatening to bring more drought, floods and
other natural disasters.
In this new era, with problems that threaten
global stability and with a more interconnected citizenry, diplomacy, security
and economics have to be to a large degree collective. This has to be reflected
in a reform of the United Nations, possibly as follows:
• A change in the powers
of the Security Council – the veto that has often paralyzed the international
decision-making process should be restricted to use with regard to international
force and international sanctions.
• A change in the composition of the
Security Council, with the addition of five permanent members (without any veto
right) – medium powers such as Germany, Japan, India, Brazil and South Africa.
The five nonpermanent members should rotate on a regional representation basis.
This would reflect better the multipolar world.
• The General Assembly
should be split into two bodies – the existing assembly of countries and a
second assembly (a kind of a lower house) representing the growing
social-economic civil society. In this second assembly, 600 NGOs active in peace
building and development (approximately three per country) and 600 mayors of the
biggest cities in the world should be represented.
This body would
recommend policies and projects to the specialized agencies.
• UN organs
and specialized agencies dealing with development should be relocated to Africa,
mainly the United Nations Development Program and the Food and Agriculture
Organization. There needs to be a decentralization of all UN specialized
agencies, giving more power and resources to their local
• A specialized agency should be created in parallel to
the peacekeeping apparatus dealing with peace-building activities and projects
in post-conflict areas, also in cooperation with civil society.
Economic and Social Council of the UN (ECOSOC), dealing with policies on
sustainable development, the introduction of information technologies and the
attainment of the Millennium Development Goals, which currently is composed by
of 54 countries and 3,200 NGOs, should have representatives from all countries,
meet throughout the year, and include an additional group of social network
groups active in the areas of peacebuilding and development. Social networking
has become a central part of active civil society and this should be reflected
in the UN.
With such reforms, the United Nations would be more
representative of today’s world as it would become not only the United Nations
of governments, but also the United Nations of peoples.
Nations would become more effective in its security policies, allowing for
greater collective diplomacy at the Security Council, as well as in its
developmental policies through a greater role of the world’s civil societies at
the General Assembly. A more representative and effective UN would revive the
core values of the UN as represented in its charter, especially in the
protection of human rights and freedoms.
As to Israel, which was
established on the basis of a 1947 General Assembly resolution, it is high time
for us to improve our attitude to the United Nations, in an age where collective
diplomacy and security supersedes isolationist policies and
attitudes.The writer is president of the Peres Center for Peace and
served as Israel’s chief negotiator for the Oslo Accords.
edited this column.