The states are one of the fundamental political entities and it makes sense that they are represented in any global governing body. So, we propose to retain the UN General Assembly but in a somewhat modified form (hence the change of name to the House of States). This chamber would consist of member states, as is now the case, but would not be based on the one-country, one-vote principle. Such a principle may be right where people are concerned, but countries are different – they vary greatly in size and population, as well as in economic, military and other powers. There is little hope that any resolution from an assembly in which, for example, the US and Nauru have an equal vote can be accepted as binding. In his book Transforming the United Nations System, Joseph E. Schwartzberg rightly pointed out that “until such time as the United Nations adopts a system of weighted voting that realistically reflects the actual global distribution of power, it seems doubtful that any major state will willingly grant the GA, the most representative organ within the UN system, the authority to make binding decisions.” (2013, p.17). And yet, global governance needs to move in that direction if it is to make a real impact. But, if not one-state, one-vote, how can we ensure a meaningful distribution of votes? Geographical size would be too crude and population size would lead to an unhealthy overlap with the House of Representatives. Instead, we suggest that states could be represented in proportion to their financial contributions. This may raise a few eyebrows, but we need to recognise that such contributions matter and have to be taken into account. To make that point, let’s compare first of all possible options for financing the global institutions: self-financing, voluntary contributions, financing by corporations and financing by nation states.
Self-financing is not a viable option, as it would distract the organisation from its primary tasks as well as possibly compromise its presumed impartiality. Contributions by individuals would, of course, be welcome but would never be nearly sufficient. The main responsibility of corporations is to make profit for their shareholders, so even if some of them may see the value of such an organisation, their contributions are unlikely to be adequate and can negatively affect the perception of neutrality, to say the least (it is hard to imagine that private companies would make donations without wanting something in return). Thus, funding by nation states remains the best option. However, considering that their primary concern is their own national interest, it would be naïve to expect that a disparity between voting power and financial contributions would ever be fully accepted. Furthermore, states would be likely to fulfil their financial obligations more regularly than they do now if their voting power in the House of States was linked to their contributions. Consider the current funding arrangements for the UN: each country is allocated a proportion of contribution based on their GDP and population (in principle, this practice could be retained as the most affordable and equitable option for all members, but in somewhat simplified form – the present calculations are unnecessarily complicated). Under the current system, the US is supposed to pay 22%, much more than any other country. But the US has either not paid or paid only around 20% of what it should, undermining the UN and more or less ignoring its resolutions (except those initiated by itself). If its voting power were linked to its contributions, the US and other member states may be more willing to pay their share. That would, in turn, allow more effective responses to crises and other events (e.g. distributing humanitarian aid, dealing with pandemics, peace keeping, and even, if necessary, military interventions and subsequent regeneration). Weighted voting according to contributions would also make sense considering that the House of States’ main role would be approving various proposals and the associated costs – essentially, deciding how their contributions are spent. This is not dissimilar to how companies with shareholders operate, but with one important difference. While shareholders are often remote (not a part of the company in any other way), the member states are part of the world – so it would be more accurate to describe the above system as a cooperative in which those who have stakes in it also work (and live) there. Something along these lines was already on the cards in the UN in the mid-eighties (although if realised, it would have had a quite different flavour without the other two chambers).
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Just to make it clear, states would not pay separately for each action, as that could open the door to manipulation, but annually according to the agreed budget. If actions taken require going over the budget for that year, the budget would be increased the following year to balance the books (this may require issuing short-term bonds that can be bought by states themselves or by private investors and banks, but there could be other options too). A state that did not pay its due in full would not be excluded, but its voting power would be proportionally reduced (e.g. if they pay only 20%, their voting power is reduced to 20%) until the bill is repaid. It should be also possible for one state to ‘buy off’ a part of another state’s contribution (and thereby increase its voting power) but only in one direction. A state with less voting power could take over a part of the contribution from another state with more voting power, but not the other way around, and only as much as makes them equal – it could not buy so much that it overtook the other state. This would be another way for small countries to increase their influence if they wish to do so.
As national governments control their fiscal policy and therefore financial contributions, the members of the House of States would be government delegates (as is the case now with the General Assembly). A state may choose to have one delegate who would have the whole percentage of the vote, or more than one, with the vote split between them (coalition governments, for example, may prefer the latter option).
The House of States would have several roles:
- To approve, with the House of Representatives, proposals from the Council of Global Affairs (if approved, these proposals become a part of the general guiding framework, but they do not have to lead to any immediate action).
- In conjunction with the Council, to sanction, reject or make a conditional approval of a proposal coming from the House of Representatives (approving these proposals may lead to immediate action).
- To consider suggestions from the Secretariat to be debated (see below).
- To initiate proposals (but not act upon these if both other chambers object).