Savir's Corner: United Nations reform

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.

Obama speaks to the UN on September 24, 2013 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Obama speaks to the UN on September 24, 2013 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
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 dangers.
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.
Obama stood 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 peacemaking.
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 region.
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 countries.
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.
It failed 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 world.
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 processes.
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 cleansing.
The “hunting season” is over, and people almost the world over aspire to a better life and more freedom.
The nature of globalization has changed.
Initially it was mostly about trade, financial markets, multilateral companies, labor opportunities – an economic globalization.
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.
In 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.
In 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 representations.
• 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.
• The 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.
The United 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.
Barbara Hurwitz edited this column.