“There is a tide in the affairs of men, which taken at the flood, leads on to fortune” so urges Brutus in telling Cassius to seize the day in Shakespeare’s “Julius Cesar.” Sun Tzu who in the “Art of War” states “opportunities multiply as they are seized” greatly influenced both Mao Zedong and Ho Chi Minh. These sentiments endure. Those whose endeavours prosper are those who see the opportunity for their cause and exploit it.
A history of global crises and opportunities
The One World Trust (OWT) has been seeking a better-governed world since its foundation, often seizing on the main issues of the time to explain why the current chaotic management of our common resources is not only inappropriate, but also dangerous for humanity and our delicate environment. In the 1960s and 1970s, it was the Cold War and the threat of nuclear weapons that could lead to annihilation: the first time in history that humanity had the power to destroy itself and our planet, couched in the chilling concept of Mutually Assured Destruction. (Arguably, this threat continues to increase today, despite not generating the same degree of mass concern.) Inequality, growing disparity between rich and poor (even if absolute poverty has been reduced), absence of access to meaningful education, clean water and sanitation and healthcare have been with us throughout that period and have captured global attention through the SDGs and other international processes. Just as the Geneva Conventions outlawed the previous impunity of belligerents in the treatment of opponents including their enslavement so the genocide and crimes against humanity first adjudicated at Nuremberg and Tokyo led finally to the creation of the International Criminal Court. WFM/IGP (of which OWT is a long-standing Member Organisation) played so vital a role in convening civil society in support of this by creating the Coalition for the International Criminal Court in the 1990s, some 2,500 NGOs worldwide, that academic lawyers have told me that without WFM/IGP there would not now be the ICC.
There is now a new imperative — the spread and impact of a deadly virus which has no respect for national borders, ethnicity or creed. Is the pandemic the catalyst to move to a better system — as has previously been stimulated in the aftermath of conflagration and massive bloodshed? Certainly, there is the common characteristic of the loss of life: the deaths from Covid-19 in the United States now exceed the losses of that country in the two world wars and Vietnam War combined. Will this be sufficient to prick the global conscience? How does a world whose both formal and informal governance mechanisms are based on the nation state (and especially the most powerful rather than the ones most in need) achieve a higher level of effective management to deal with transnational, global issues? The call by more than twenty world leaders and global agencies for an international treaty to deal with future pandemics may be an aspiration of hope over experience but, aided by civil society, it could become a reality. Should we seize the day?
Accountability as key
The consensus among like-minded non-profit organisations has been that we need transnational governance with accountability to the global commons: a form of federal structure (so misunderstood and misinterpreted by its opponents in certain countries like the United Kingdom where there is no tradition of this form of government but fully comprehended in existing federal states such as India and Germany). In a world dominated by nation-states (whose borders have often emanated historically from a legacy of territorial aggression, flawed treaty agreements and colonialism, which cut across linguistic, cultural and ethnic entities, and which cause so much current conflict and tension), the concepts of subsidiarity and greater local autonomy are important components for a more peaceful world. We have seen the success of the development of the European Union and the way in which the African Union has modelled itself on it, as well as many examples (some longstanding) of transnational parliamentary bodies which have enhanced regional solidarity. Many treaty-based groupings of states have their own parliamentary assemblies, both as a form of scrutiny and as catalysts for transnational debate: the Council of Europe and NATO are among the most prominent to act as guardians of human rights and collective security.
Therein lies the important aspect of any form of governance: accountability. All those with power must answer to a body representative of those on whose behalf they purport to act. Major bodies which have sprung up and which take globally significant decisions, such as the “Group of 7” (or “G7”) and “Group of 20” (or “G20”), and many other global governance bodies do not have that form of scrutiny.
The next step is up to us
We are privileged but also challenged at a time in history when there may be an opportunity greater than has occurred within a generation to take forward the goals of a better governed world. We have seen the imperative from the way in which a global pandemic has been handled and drugs distributed, the lack of public accountability of gatherings of global leaders in the G7 and G20, the continued abuse of minorities, and the climatic and environmental crises facing our planet — all matters that can only be dealt with at a supranational level. We should not forget that in the ashes of the Second World War, Churchill, Eisenhower, Einstein and others all called for a world government. We have come a significant way on the journey through the establishment of the ICC. Hopefully, more commitments on global environmental governance, at least, will emanate from the Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP26) this autumn. Nevertheless, we have a long way to go. With the UK hosting COP26 and now, post Brexit, looking to find a new place in the world as “Global Britain” there is every opportunity for OWT to seek to influence our own Government in taking a lead on some of these measures. The present time may not be as cataclysmic as the aftermath of war, but it may well be the moment to seize the day.
A policy instrument to create a world that works for everyone
Grand plans don’t need big bangs
Often we only notice things when they go wrong, such as a crisis, disaster or illness. Then we take urgent action to fix the problem and prevent it happening again. If we are clever, determined and lucky, it works. Things get better. But success can breed complacency. We may fail to deal with new problems properly until things suddenly spiral out of control and it’s too late to avert a catastrophe, as with the two world wars.
Global agreement to tackle global problems is a slow process, easily delayed by a few nations, particularly if they are large and powerful. But we don’t need to wait for complete agreement to solve problems. The best way to improve global governance is to recognise and improve the way it happens now.
We propose that coalitions of the willing can take Accelerate Global Action to make rapid progress on critical issues, within a framework of principles to prevent mistakes like the 2003 Iraq war.
At a global level we face critical risks now and increasingly in the future which could tip humanity into an existential crisis, such as runaway climate change, collapse of biodiversity, nuclear warfare, pandemic disease or the possible loss of control to a future AI. Unsustainable consumption, population growth, conflict in the Middle East or central Africa, trade wars or the fragmentation of global governance could also trigger a catastrophic chain reaction.
Our governments have learnt from past catastrophes. Since World War II, humanity has dramatically improved political systems and technology to make most peoples’ lives safer, longer and often happier. World population has grown by over a fifth since 2000, more than 1.4 billion people, without serious incident. Almost a billion people have been lifted out of absolute poverty. Contagious diseases are contained. Average global life expectancy is up, from 60 in 1960 to 72 years. Peaceful travel and trade have increased dramatically. The Iraq war was a disastrous mistake and too many people suffer from conflict, but fewer people are killed in war and natural disasters. The 2007/8 financial crash was more severe than in 1929, but lessons from the past meant its consequences were less savage, although mistakes were made and many still suffer as a result.
Global governance is fragmented and fragile
Our current system of global governance is highly sophisticated, involving more than seven thousand international agencies (note 1). They are not centralised or controlled by a single executive, but thousands of bodies accountable to myriad government departments, businesses and civil society groups as well as the UN. This system of global governance is complicated, uncoordinated and expensive. It struggles to cope with countless challenges and potentially catastrophic or existential risks (2, 3, 4, 5). We cannot afford to wait for everyone to agree to bring about major reforms.
Many sensible world leaders know about the problems but, as Jean Claude Junker said about economic reform in 2007, “We all know what to do, we just don't know how to get re-elected after we've done it”.
There is no shortage of ideas about how to run the world better, but little prospect that they will be adopted, except perhaps after another major catastrophe . In 2016 the Global Challenges Foundation (GCF) launched a Global Governance Prize for “a governance model able to effectively address the most pressing threats and risks to humanity.” It attracted 2,702 entries from 122 countries, drew up a long list of 14 and awarded $600,000 to each of the three winners. They join a growing library of reform proposals, including the Independent Commission on Multilateralism, The Leuven Centre for Global Governance Studies, the 1995 Commission on Global Governance, Our Global Neighbourhood, and many, many more.
However good these ideas, they will struggle to get a hearing from governments, let alone action. The inherent tensions between national sovereignty and global governance makes it difficult for governments to commit time and money to large scale reforms. Powerful countries which benefit from the current system want to keep their privileges, while countries which suffer don’t have the power to act.
Governments act on global issues in broadly three main circumstances:
The first is impossible. A big bang wake-up call would be too late, since an extreme environmental, nuclear war or other existential crisis could spread too fast to be contained. It is tempting to hope world leaders could recognise the benefits of reform to avert an existential crisis and work together to create a better system without a crisis. But they won’t. They have too many domestic problems and it is easier to blame others than to work together to solve global problems.
But the second two routes to reform - concerted action by a coalition of the willing in response to a threat or common problem – has already transformed global governance. Although “coalition of the willing” got a bad name in the illegal Iraq war of 2003, it is the main way in which global governance is reformed. The UN system itself was initiated by a coalition of just 26 nation states in 1942 and founded by a mere 51 nations.
How reform really happens
We don’t need to wait for consensus or a crisis to bring about radical reforms. All changes in global governance were pioneered by independent actors or small groups of states and agencies responding to need – such as the Red Cross (1863), the Bank of International Settlements (1930), the UN (1945) and Sustainable Development Goals (2015).
Many initiatives have made progress on difficult issues over the past century through concerted action by relatively small groups taking the initiative, including coalitions of civil society (Jubilee 2000, Landmines ban); corporate initiatives and codes of conduct such as the Sullivan Principles for South Africa; special Rapporteurs of the Secretary General; High Level Panels (HLPs); open working groups; “coalitions of the willing”; Contact Groups of states and agencies; and Track 2, and ‘Citizen diplomacy’.
More recently innovative deliberative processes, crowdsourcing and social media have engaged
diverse stakeholders in creating solutions and building consensus for change, such as the Sustainable Development Goals.
Initiatives like these should be recognised as the main way in which global governance develops, perhaps under the title of Accelerated Global Actions, with a framework of principles and flexible guidelines as outlined below.
Accelerated Global Action (AGA)
Global decision-making can harness initiatives for change by providing recognition, support and guidelines to build consent and ensure legitimacy for Accelerated Global Action. Any agency, state or even individual may initiate action to tackle a critical issue, often in the face of opposition, such as the campaigns on apartheid, climate change, landmines or smoking. Over time, they gain support and lead to changes in international policy or law. To ensure that they are legitimate as well as effective, it is worth drawing up principles and guidelines along the following lines.
Initiatives to tackle global issues should be transparent; consider evidence from all sides and impartial sources; seek to build trust and mutual understanding; be solution-focused, seeking mutual benefit and win-win solutions; keep stakeholders informed and engaged; and uphold the principles of the United Nations, human rights and the rule of law.
To make the most of global initiatives, we propose that:
First, the UN Department of Public Information (DPI) keeps a public register of initiatives by topic and keep the UN Secretary General (UNSG), GA and member governments informed.
Second, the UNSG, GA and other UN bodies has both the right of initiative and the authority to support
accelerated global action on critical issues in their area of competence.
Finally, initiatives should work towards a global consensus on priorities and a plan of action and aim to be endorsed by a recognised world conference or resolution of the UN General Assembly.
By supporting Accelerated Global Actions, the international community can harness people’s commitment to solve problems better and faster.
Priorities for Accelerated Global Action
Accelerated Global Actions in the following twelve areas can build on existing initiatives to create an equitable and effective system of global governance:
The first three areas aim to create the global consciousness, understanding and capabilities essential for effective global cooperation and decision-making, so it is worth outlining what Accelerated Global Action would mean in these areas (see A World that Works for Everyone for more detail).
Conclusion: making global governance work for all
The best way to bring about change and fulfil the ambitious vision of the Global Governance Prize is not to draft blue prints and try to persuade politicians to back them, but to seek “gateway reforms” in response to a threat or common problem and build a determined coalition to solve the problem, as for the Law of the Sea, Montreal Protocol, Landmines Convention, International Criminal Court, and climate change.
The first gateway reform is to get UN recognition for Accelerated Global Action (AGA) as a legitimate and effective way of making progress, by bringing the proposed Guidelines and Principles to the UN General Assembly.
At the same time, we need to encourage people to continue their own Accelerated Global Actions in the following priority areas:
These four areas are fundamental, because all humanity needs to understand how deeply connected we are, through our shared air, earth and water. Communications, education, finance, trade and shared decision-making through global institutions have a direct impact on our everyday lives, whether in Afghanistan, Beijing, Iowa, or Zimbabwe.
By taking Accelerated Global Action on critical issues, humanity can usher in a new era for humanity, to create a world that works for everyone.
UIA (annual) Yearbook of International Organizations, Union of International Associations, Brussels, http: //www.uia.org;Hurd, Ian (2010), International Organizations: Politics, Law, Practice, Cambridge University Press;
Rittberger, V., Zangl, B. and Kruck, A. (2012) International Organization, 2nd ed. Basingstoke: Palgrave.
AUTHORS: Titus Alexander and Robert Whitfield, Trustees
Humanity has evolved through groups of people cooperating amongst themselves and competing with others. In today’s world, violent competition with others can be catastrophic and a shared human identity is essential not only for survival but for a just and prosperous world for all. Public understanding of, and support for, global cooperation is therefore fundamental for global decision-making to be effective.
What is needed
There are many initiatives in this area, which could be harnessed through three strands of action:
Education and awareness
UN member states have pledged to promote education for human rights and global understanding[i], UNESCO and many other agencies seek to ‘nurture our common humanity and help learners become active global citizens’. But most of the world gets no education or information about human rights, global issues or the role of global institutions.
Accelerated Global Action is needed to ensure that:
Knowledge and Skills Sharing
The UN recognises knowledge as a strategic asset, and has a strategic vision and recommendations for action[ii], many of which have not yet been implemented. The development of the internet is greatly improving equitable access to knowledge, but Accelerated Global Action is needed to
Accelerated Global Action is needed to deepen civic engagement in global issues and the SDGs within and between countries and build on the Civic Charter’s global framework for people’s participation[iii].
These three strands of education, knowledge and civic engagement should be brought together in a new kind of networked global agency, the ‘People’s Knowledge Agency’. A networked international agency to coordinate and promote impartial knowledge-sharing, education and civic engagement in global issues, so that every community, education institution and government agency throughout the world can use their experience and intelligence to help solve global problems.
A question of timing
After the Second World War, there was for a few years an active movement towards World Government. Henry Usborne lead a crusade for World Government but despite significant support from a number of prominent people around the world the People’s Convention in 1950 ended in failure. It was acknowledged that not only had the World Federalists failed to sieze their moment (1942/3)[iv] but that the People’s Convention would have required extensive global citizenship education for many years preceding the Convention in order to enable to people to respond as desired.
For a radical strengthening of global governance in the 21st Century, the sooner a greater emphasis is placed upon the creation of a global consciousness, in the manner described above, the sooner the world’s citizens and their governments will be in a position to respond and support. As Baratta concludes, “clearly immense works of preparing world public opinion for new political leadership will be required.”[v]
[i] Declaration for Human Rights says signatories will “strive by teaching and education to promote respect for these rights and freedoms”; Convention on The Rights of The Child says signatories will provide “education in conditions of peace and security” ; See also World Plan of Action on Education for Human Rights and Democracy - Montréal, 1993)
[ii] Dumitriu, Petru (2016) Knowledge Management In The United Nations System, Joint Inspection Unit, Geneva: https: //www.unjiu.org/en/reports-notes/JIU%20Products/JIU_REP_2016_10_English.pdfSee also: The Knowledge for Development Partnership (K4D) (2014) Knowledge Development Goals
[iii] Civic Charter: The Global Framework for People’s Participation (2016), facilitated by the International Civil Society Centre, https: //civiccharter.org/about-the-civic-charter-how-it-came-about/
[iv] Baratta, J.P. (2004) p 528 The Politics of World Federation Praeger, Westport Connecticut
[v] ibid p 531