Reimagining the United Nations: A 2020 Vision

By Tad Daley
Tad Daley
Tad Daley is the author of "Apocalypse Never: Forging the Path to a Nuclear Weapon-Free World" from Rutgers University Press. He serves today as Director of Policy Analysis at Citizens for Global Solutions.…
Tad Daley

In 2020: A World Summit on Global Governance

Fortunately, however, the Commission atones for any of its hesitancies with one overarching recommendation. It calls for convening in 2020 — the 75th anniversary of the birth of the United Nations – a formal global summit, of both governments and non-governmental actors, called a “World Summit on Global Security, Justice, and Governance.”

The Commission report emphasizes that most of what it proposes could be accomplished in 2020 without revising the 1945 U.N. Charter. But it does acknowledge that to advance the broad overall agenda, “consideration could be given … to Articles 108 or 109.” That first is the provision in the Charter for making individual Charter amendments, while the second provides for summoning “A General Conference of the Members of the United Nations for the purpose of reviewing the present Charter.” Indeed, Article 109(3) indicates that the framers intended for such a conference to be held no later than “the 10th annual session” — 1955! Today the U.N. is into its 71st annual session. But no such formal Charter review process has ever been launched.

A world summit on global governance during the U.N.’s 75th anniversary year could provide a once-in-our-lifetime opportunity to reinvent humanity’s architectures of world order. It would allow many to suggest that a redesigned United Nations might tackle not just the bloody upheavals inside “fragile states” that the Commission identifies, but the ancient and omnipresent danger of military confrontations between nations — and actually find a way to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war. Civil society activists on a vast variety of other issues – climate, human rights, the education of girls, migration, poverty and inequality and ever-increasing economic globalization – all could pursue global institutional reforms to advance their issues through the vehicle of such a 2020 world summit. NGOs could engage their constituencies on a large menu of imaginative global governance proposals focused upon their own agendas. (The Commission to its credit urges nongovernmental participation and civil society agitation on nearly every page.) Indeed, the American NGO Citizens for Global Solutions (founded in 1947 as the “United World Federalists for World Government with Limited Powers Adequate to Prevent War”) is already laying plans to mobilize a broad coalition — of multiple actors who might possess a great many different issue priorities and world order visions — behind the singular call for governments to commit now to convening in the year 2020 a world summit on global governance.

Humanity’s “Ultimate Aims”

On November 12, 1946, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Clement Attlee, announced to the House of Commons that nothing less than a world government could serve as “the ultimate aim of Great Britain’s foreign policy.” (Attlee succeeded one Winston Churchill in that post – who repeatedly suggested much the same thing.) What strikes one about this utterly forgotten vision is not just how few world leaders would say anything like it today, but how rarely they speak about any sort of “ultimate aims” in the realm of world order at all.

As we approach the year 2020, our agenda should not be limited solely to what we might practically try to achieve in the year 2020. We also ought to begin to talk about the kinds of structures of global governance we might hope to enact by, oh, the U.N.’s 100th anniversary year, in 2045. And, perhaps too, about the world political structure and the nature of the human condition that we might hope for at the very end of the present century, in 2099. That last might seem inconceivably remote and distant — far too much so to utter any kind of meaningful predictions or prescriptions. And yet a child 6 years old today will be 89 years old in 2099. Surely, we ought not hesitate to express our hopes regarding how future history might unfold during the space of a single human lifetime.

That leads to some Very Big Questions.

What kind of United Nations would we create if we were designing it from scratch today? If the League of Nations was the first and the United Nations the second, can we begin to envision a “Third Generation World Organization” – Version 3.0? Might the modest “UN Parliamentary Network” proposed by the Commission evolve someday into a true world legislature – what Alfred Lord Tennyson called in 1835 “The Parliament of Man?” Can we dream that some distant day the human race might eliminate both permanent national military establishments and endless international arms races, through the establishment of what the University of Chicago’s Committee to Frame a World Constitution in 1948 called a “Federal Republic of the World?”

That idea, of something like a world state, has been repeatedly advanced over the course of many centuries, by geniuses like Albert Einstein, H.G. Wells, Victor Hugo, Immanuel Kant, Jean Jacques Rousseau, William Penn … dating as far back as Dante! But is a world state in fact a desirable destination, or might its costs and risks exceed its benefits? If desirable, could it ever be achievable? If not desirable or not achievable, what are the likely costs, benefits, and risks of the contemporary state sovereignty system enduring indefinitely, on and on into the dim mists of perpetuity? Can we envision any hypothetical models of world order beyond tribes with clubs, Thomas Hobbes’s “bellum omnium contra omnes,” the war of all against all? If we are going to put a message in a bottle and dispatch it to the Earthlings of the 22nd Century – containing our hopes and dreams for them — what do we want it to say?

Almost certainly, the kinds of next steps in the social evolution of the human species suggested in these questions will not be accomplished in the year 2020. Politics, after all, as every freshman learns, is “the art of the possible.” But we profoundly constrain our ability to imagine a brighter human future if we insist that every single proposal be weighed down by the ball and chain of “PPP” – present political possibility. Nothing will ever become a realistic goal unless someone first declares it a desirable goal – and proclaims it, however distantly, as humanity’s eventual historical aspiration.

So civil society needs to begin working right now to persuade national governments to convene the world summit on global governance proposed by the Albright/Gambari Commission in 2020. Then it needs to endeavor to move those governments to push the edges of the envelope as far outward as possible during the U.N.’s 75th anniversary year. But perhaps more than anything else, campaigns for human progress ought to set out to shatter the limitations – the ones that so many so often so completely take for granted – on humanity’s collective political imagination, the future potential of our single global civilization, and the infinite historical possibility of One World.

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