There is little doubt that we badly need a functional international body that can help us deal with growing global issues. The reality, though, is that much resistance on all fronts will need to be overcome to achieve this, so we must consider how we can facilitate the process of getting all players on board for such reform.

Getting nation states on board

We can expect that those countries that have a dominant or privileged position on the world scene now would want to preserve their status and would be reluctant to accept some of the changes proposed. A design of the model takes this into account and tries to reduce resistance by, for example, limiting the mandate of global governance to make clear that it is not a threat to national sovereignty and giving states the power to finalise decisions. However, this may not be enough. More needs to be and can be done to encourage countries to accept a model along these lines. We propose the following:

  • Fostering internal support by encouraging debates that would challenge common misconceptions, such as that global governance would restrict human liberty, as well as inconsistencies in valuing equality and emancipation for example, and rejecting a global institution that would uphold and advance these values.
  • Encouraging external support by enlisting backing from countries and other entities that are sympathetic to the idea.
  • Capitalising on the awareness that existing structures need to change in order to meet growing global challenges and that it is in the interest of all countries, big and small, to accept reform.
  • Adopting a simultaneous approach: making changes on a global level is difficult because of the so-called ‘prisoners’ dilemma’ effect. Let us take agricultural subsidies as an example: they badly harm producers in developing countries, but no Western country would cut its own farmers’ subsidies, because the market would be immediately flooded by subsidised products from other countries, quickly bankrupting some of their own farmers, small ones especially. So, the change needs to be initiated simultaneously in many countries. This is supposed to take place at G7 and G20 summits, but they simply do not deliver, at least not anymore. However, there are more promising grass-root initiatives (see below).

It may also seem that a model based on contributions and population disadvantages small countries, as they usually have lower populations and make smaller contributions. However, the disproportional distribution of votes under the present ‘one-state-one-vote’ system leads to big powers simply circumventing the UN, so the smaller nations have no real influence at all. Under this system, there is no hope that General Assembly resolutions will ever become more than non-binding recommendations. It makes more sense to have proportional power than none at all. Prof Joseph Schwartzberg believed that most countries “would soon recognise that 40% of something – an empowered (General Assembly) that can respond effectively to the needs of the weak – would be a great deal more favourable to their long-term interests than their present 84% of the votes in what might, in practical terms, be regarded as virtually nothing.” (2013, p.29). Small countries could also make powerful coalitions and in that way increase their influence further (and potentially way beyond what they have now).

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Getting people on board

Getting governments on board would be a big step in the right direction, but would not in itself be sufficient. Substantial popular support is also necessary. Here are some suggestions as to how such support can be secured:

  • Nationalist populism is likely to resist any notion of global governance, and it is well known for spreading disinformation. So, it is crucial to inform people before they are disinformed. Doing so afterwards may require far more effort and be too late. It is particularly important to make clear that global governance would not be a threat to individual liberties and cultural identities. Quite the opposite, one of the reasons for its existence would be to protect individual freedom when it is threatened by state or corporate powers, and this is how it should be presented.
  • Publicising the proposal to introduce people’s representatives for the first time in history and to provide the general public with an opportunity to directly engage and contribute could also help getting people on board.
  • Making it clear that those who are behind this initiative are not a part of some kind of elite with ulterior motives, would also be of great importance.
  • The help of grass-roots, social media-savvy individuals and groups who are sympathetic to the idea can be enlisted.

Getting the world of commerce on board

The private sector is likely to be a mixed bag. Some elements will recognise the long-term value of global governance, as it will not only help address pressing issues that threaten businesses, but is also likely to create greater stability that is beneficial to trade and the economy. However, the project may also have formidable enemies from this sector, who could see greater political unity as a threat to their ‘freedom’ to make profit. Those keen on economic and financial globalisation are often wary of greater international political coordination and collaboration, as it can lead to better control and scrutiny of economic and financial activities. Money can go far towards making a good idea live, but it can equally go a long way towards ruining it. There are ways, though, to mitigate this:

  • Providing a sound analysis that explains how the commercial world can benefit from global governance.
  • Locating and seeking the support of corporations and other businesses sympathetic to the idea and exposing the real motives behind the hostility of those who are not.
  • Engaging with the so-called ‘third sector’ (charities, co-ops, and social enterprises); they are more likely to be sympathetic to this idea.

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Starting the process

The model described here can be further developed and many details refined. Indeed, it is important to keep working on new models, but this does not mean implementation should be delayed. After all, practice informs theory best. There are two roads that can be taken: we can start building on existing structures and, in parallel, developing new ones. If there is too much resistance for the former, we can place more emphasis on the latter; if the latter is too slow, we can rely more on the former.

Reforming existing structures: there are already initiatives seeking reform of the UN and other international bodies, and alternatives have been forged at all levels. These reforms need to be gradual, seeking the points of least resistance. For example, the House of Representatives can be established as a subsidiary organ under Article 22 of the UN Charter by a resolution of the UN General Assembly. This would avoid the need for the Charter to be revised, which would require the approval of two-thirds of all members states and of all five of the Security Council members with the power of veto – a difficult hurdle (Leinen & Bummel, 2018, p. 370-1). In a similar vein, the Council of Global Affairs can evolve, for example, from the UN Economic and Social Council or even the UN Human Rights Council Advisory Committee, and, as suggested, incorporate the present International Court of Justice. Regarding the legal hurdles, Article 109 Paragraph 3 could offer a pathway to reform of the UN Charter and to bypass the threat of veto. The five permanent seats and rights of veto on the Security Council were not initially intended to be a lasting situation: Article 109 of the UN Charter established that a complete review would happen after ten years. A UN Charter Review, made possible by this process, could thus be the first step towards a fully constitutionalised UN. The committee for Charter review was never officially disbanded, meaning that it remains legally in existence and that the Review (already approved by the General Assembly and Security Council) is still on the table.

Working on the creation of parallel structures to the existing ones:  there is no reason why the creation of new bodies (such as the House of Representatives) cannot already commence, at least on a small scale. After all, the EU was built on the proto-unification of just three small countries (Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg, known collectively as Benelux). Of course, such structures would not have much power to begin with, but in time they could create enough momentum to be taken seriously and eventually join, merge or replace elements of the existing structures. In fact, as the value of US economic and political dominance is increasingly questioned, some countries have started creating their own parallel structures (such as alternatives to the World Bank’s system in order to counter the overreliance on the American dollar).

In addition, the model also needs to be flexible and able to adapt to changing circumstances and the prevailing mood, which is why it may be best to introduce new elements in stages (as some already suggest for similar models[1]).

What we can do now

Most politicians are generally more interested in perpetuating the status quo than rocking the boat by making substantial changes. So, it is up to us to start the process and there are things that we can do now.

  • A good starting point to get involved with the UN reform and other similar projects is the Center for UN Reform Education. The mission of the Center is to encourage, generate and sustain discussion of various specific proposals to reform and restructure the United Nations and it contains a huge number of publications and resources. The Useful Links page on their website has many valuable resources.
  • The International Simultaneous Policy Organization (Simpol) was founded by a British businessman, John Bunzi, in 2000. It has since expanded to Australia, Brazil, Canada, India and several European and African countries. Anybody can join. Its aim is to pressurise political representatives to pledge that they will support certain policies if other countries do the same. ISPO’s partners include the Canadian Action Partyand the Global Justice Movement. The International Labour Organization and Global Greens (the international network of Green parties) also recommend certain simultaneous policy initiatives, and closer co-ordination of their members in many nations. An initiative for global governance would greatly benefit from engaging with and support from these and similar organisations.
  • We can all contribute to the bottom-up development of the sense of a global community with a shared fate and values. We have come a long way in respecting and valuing individual and cultural differences. It is time do balance this by respecting and valuing what we share and what can bring us all together – there are some hopes, meanings, visions and goals that very few would disagree with.
  • Among existing coalitions of civil organisations, three merit special notice: Parliamentarians for Global Action and the World Federalist Movement, both with headquarters in New York and The Hague, and the World Federation of United Nations Associations, based in New York and Geneva, are particularly well connected for assuming positions of leadership (Schwartzberg, 2013, p.328). It is arguably only a matter of time before a multitude of actors coalesce into a powerful global governance reform movement (Schwartzberg, 2013, p.333).
  • Supporting existing initiatives such as the Great Transition Initiative(GTI), a global network of several hundred scholars, intellectuals, civil society leaders, and activists working to develop visions and pathways for a “Great Transition” to a future of equity, solidarity and ecological sustainability. The Initiative was re-launched as an online journal and discussion network in 2014.

[1] See, for example, Schwartzberg, J. (2013). Transforming the United Nations System. New York, Paris: United Nations University press. Chapter 3.

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