The Annapurna Express, November 29, 2019
The UN was set up after WWII with good intentions. Fifty-one countries got together and entered a network whose aim was “maintaining international peace and security, developing friendly relations among nations and promoting social progress, better living standards and human rights” (UN website.) Nobody could disagree with such a mandate.
But then cracks began to show in this ideal utopian vision. While the rhetoric assured the world that the unique international character of the UN meant it was open to all 193 member nations, it also stated:
“The Organization can take action on a wide range of issues, and provide a forum for its 193 Member States to express their views, through the General Assembly, the Security Council, the Economic and Social Council and other bodies and committees.”
The Security Council is made up of 15 wealthy countries which have used their muscle power to dominate and invade small countries. They also apply sanctions to nations who they deem rogue—although the criteria for rogue nation appears subjective, at best. At worst, an objective observer may argue that the wealthiest nations have ganged up on regional powers because they don’t want them to dominate some capitalistic sector (energy, military, or otherwise) in which they themselves have an interest to monopolize.
The workings of the UN is neo-colonial. A monied bureaucratic class dominated by Europeans, North Americans, Australians and Japanese are posted to various outposts in the world. Through these postings, they tell the governments of various nations how to conduct themselves on all sorts of internal issues like governance, finance, justice, and security. Interference of this sort which would never be accepted by Western nations is meted out to Third World nations on a daily basis. These nations are seen to be intransigent if they refuse these favors.
No questions are accepted on why a skewed economic system which allows Western nations to dominate financially continues to operate in the 21st century.
If we are to truly follow the spirit of the UN, we need to dismantle the current system and set up an alternate system of global governance. This new UN—let’s call it the United Planet --would prioritize environmental health of the planet over military, economic or demographic superiority of nation-states. It would not see military might as the arbiter of authority, but would follow the spirit of liberalism, in which the equality of all human beings would be the touchstone to creating a just and ethical economic policy.
The patchwork of work done by the UN has been exemplary in many regards. But in no way has it brought social change fast enough for the 7 billion who are suffering from lack of basic needs (food, housing, education, health, and a living, sustainable environment.) Urban poverty besets Western nations, despite talks of great wealth. Financial and monetary policy continue to favor the rich, with certain layers of society getting the crème de la crème access to credit and cash, while those at the bottom do all the work and get very little.
None of this is working, for either rich or poor. It was working well for the rich till the environment started to collapse and excessive exploitation of resources led to a planetary crisis. Even the very wealthy become subject to climate change, air pollution and water shortages. There are expensive bunkers to retreat into, but in the end there is no escape as the collapse of biodiversity may wipe all humans out of existence.
Our world is more unequal than ever, despite glowing optimism. Technology, including AI, rears its ugly head as a means of surveillance and state control. One war, one natural disaster, and millions of people can be displaced, starving, bonded to labor, trafficked, enslaved, with no oversight or system in place to stop such an event. We’ve seen such events in our lifetime—the Rohingya genocide, migrants drowning to reach Europe, the slavery of African immigrants in Libya, detention of children of Latin American families in America’s borders, the cultural erasure of Uighurs in China.
Technology has gotten a free pass for too long. It needs to be regulated with great oversight (although we have already opened Pandora’s Box.) Covert military programs will continue to misuse technology, on a scale we cannot imagine now. Any international organization that replaces the UN must be alert to this possibility. It must constantly seek to find and delete these fascist impulses.
What we need now is a radical new system to replace the old and outdated. The new union of governments will govern in a just and ethical manner, treating all nationals of Planet Earth with equal dignity. The new union will ensure fair distribution of money and resources, prioritize environmental protection over capitalistic gain, and reward simple living over excessive consumption. All of this will happen through a system of global governance which will replace entrenched systems of racial and gender inequality, nation-state dominance, and exploitation of capital and labor.
The MeToo Movement from women, Extinction Rebellion, Greta Thunberg and all the children of the world who call for an ethical deal on sustainability—all these movements point to a time in history when change is inevitable. Governance can no longer be left to the hands of a group of elderly men. We need to ask for, and get, a radical rehaul in the way governance is imagined, and conducted, on this planet.