The emergence of COVID-19 global pandemic has once again highlighted a huge void in global leadership. In its 70 years, the United Nations may have been hailed as the great hope for the future of mankind – but it has also been dismissed as a shameful set of organizations. It has infuriated with its numbing bureaucracy, its institutional cover-ups of corruption and the undemocratic politics of its security council. It goes to war in the name of peace but has been a bystander through genocide. It has spent more than half a trillion dollars in 70 years and accomplished nothing.
The political institutions that manage transborder problems need to change and offer new avenues around the inadequacies of the existing multilateral order. Several trends in global politics – for example the emergence of new powers, the growing challenge of collective action problems and the complexity of institutions that seek to address them – have made it increasingly difficult to govern transnational problems through multilateral cooperation. Global priorities ranging from climate change, to trade, to financial stability are faced with gridlock.
Traditional intergovernmental institutions have stalled, and new kinds of transborder institutions need to emerge. New institutions can bring new kinds of actors, public and private, into global governance, and deploy innovative governance ‘technologies’ to make rules and provide public goods.
Accounting for inflation, annual UN expenditure is 40 times higher than it was in the early 1950s. The organization now encompasses 17 specialized agencies, 14 funds and a secretariat with 17 departments employing 41,000 people. And there are also 120,000 peacekeepers deployed mostly in Africa.
There are about 1,200 country offices of the UN around the world. There are 100 countries with more than 10 UN country offices in each country. You have country offices with a budget of eight or nine million [dollars] and a staff of five people. Half the money goes for the operational expenses of the office, leaving what is a minuscule amount of money for programming or key activities.
The UN budget has risen six-fold over the past 25 years to $28.8bn. And yet even at that level, some agencies are warning that they are operating on the brink of bankruptcy. So much time, and resources are wasted in the name of nothingness. There is no impetus for innovation, or change. Year-after-year, bureaucrats, in cushy offices push paper and accomplish nothing. Something must give. Something must change.
There hasn’t been a UN entity shut down or established since the 90’s. It seems we are totally paralyzed. If you look at the chronology of new global institutions, there was a big push to create global institutions after the second world war, and then some sporadic effort – culminating to the world trade organization formed in 1995. There has been no significant change in global governance. We are living with impotent dinosaurs – enshrined in structures and systems that are sub-optimal and in effective.
Gridlock in many international negotiations and multinational institutions can hobble intergovernmental agreements. New kinds of governance arrangements may help meet some of the governance gaps that current multilateral institutions are failing to fill.
We need a completely new system of global governance. Global governance and global institutions need to be designed i.e. structured for rapid responsiveness, constant innovation and change. Their structures are too rigid and antiquated.
Innovation is complex and difficult. There are some fundamental concepts that promote innovation that can be applied to any organization. Far from being rigid, the United Nations can take on a more ‘federal’ structure allowing ‘sub-groups’ to innovate and even compete to promote the welfare of their members. Smaller groupings can better aspire, discover, evolve, choose, accelerate, scale, and extend ideas or innovative concepts.
In my view, there is only one way to reform the UN. – break it up into equal groupings that can better meet inter-state needs! Let me explain. It is much easier to change the direction of a small boat versus an aircraft carrier.
As we search the globe for better functioning inter-state organizations, Regional groupings, appear to be much more effective. Regionalism is a daily reality. With sports tournaments, tourism and trade; we see far more interactions on a regional level that on a global level. Regional communities of nations are getting stuff done.
Indeed, the creation of the European Union and the African Union are providing some indications of ‘what can be done’! Regionalism can provide an expression of a common sense of identity and purpose combined with the creation and implementation of institutions that can more effectively shape collective action within a geographical region…without the US or UN!
The world can be divided into several ‘regions’ that can effectively pool resources and provide essential services that international organizations provide through UN agencies such as WHO, FAO, WIPO, IMF…
The European example is especially valid in this light, as the European Union as a political body grew out of more than 40 years of economic integration within Europe. Today, Europe boasts a directly elected central legislative body, a common currency, a central bank, a ‘superior’ court and of course free flow of goods, services, and labor! I would venture to say, that one-day NATO will be replaced by a European Defense Organization with assistance from the United States. Contrary to the tabloid press, Europe is strong and growing; and boasts more global F500 companies than U.S., India and Russia combined.
My proposal is very simple. The UN should be hollowed out; and much of its role should be shifted to regional institutions. In fact, UN should merely become a coordinating body for regional unions…. A sort of Union of Unions… i.e. United Unions not a United Nations!
The security council should be replaced with ambassadors from the Unions. All activity and global meetings should be coordinated through Unions!
So, what are these ‘Unions’? Are they clearly mapped out, and organized so that a migration or transformation of the UN can happen?
Well we already have a few, right? The United States, the European Union, China, India … but going forward how do we ‘split’ all nations into regional groupings that make sense?
Much like any other resource allocation effort, you must consider the three key building blocks of ‘strategy’: Men, Money and Materials! By the way, this is a long-standing, common means of strategic consideration … Here’s Hemingway, and Kenichi Ohmae!
“The sinews of war are five – men, money, materials, maintenance (food) and morale.”
“Starting point for strategic analysis in Japan: Men, money & Materials”.
Kenichi Ohmae, McKinsey Consulting, Mind of a Strategist
Or put another way, population, wealth and resources. If you want to get anything done you need all three, and the world should be divided into groupings (regional unions) that have critical proportions of these elements i.e. the regions should be balanced, and roughly equal in some way. Also, if the regions (unions) as a group make a ‘decision’ and want to implement it, then the regions themselves need to be ‘effective’ and able to ‘execute’… and have the tools to do so i.e. have resources at their disposal (unlike the U.N. today)!
To help illustrate this issue, we should consider a case where the ‘world’ for example, need to quickly manage the effects of a fast spreading, deadly, new virus strain! A global epidemic. Or the world needs to handle the onslaught of a giant asteroid, as an emergency measure! Or another case where perhaps, there is catastrophic risk of flooding globally, via the melting of a giant area of the Antarctica due to global warming. How might situations like this be handled effectively – with speed, with precision, without conflict?
The answer is – there is a huge loss in effectiveness if there are too many people in a room to discuss a difficult issue. You simply don’t want too many people in the room. You need a critical mass of people, that can get to a decision reasonably quickly, and then come out of the room and make things happen relatively quickly.
One of the richest people in the world, Jeff Bezos, says he limits meetings at Amazon.com via the pizza rule. There should never be more people in the room than slices of one large pizza. Is that 8 or 12? Let’s go with a maximum of 12 for the sake of this article.
So how would you divide the world into 12 ‘equal’ unions? Well its easy, you want groupings that share common historical, cultural, linguistic, and geographic elements; and, at the same time each bring critical mass of resources to bear in addressing a global issue. In other words, groupings should be large enough rank within say the top 6 in terms of each major resource category – like population, wealth and resources (which roughly translates to land mass along with ‘sea’ claims (since the bulk of the earth is water).
A small population that is highly productive can supplant a larger population that is not. A nation that controls critical natural resources needed for war, can trump any nation without those resources. We cannot prance around the world believing that we (human beings) are the only natural resource that has value. Nature, animals, the living oceans are all fundamental to our existence as a species and as a planet.
Very fundamentally, if we want to be able to address global problems, we need to recognize that population (i.e. men or women), GDP (i.e. money or output), and Natural Resources (i.e. materials or land) are interchangeable assets that must be respected.
I therefore believe that handling global issues requires primary participation from groups of nations that control large portions of population, GDP and/or natural resources (as reflected by the land mass they control)
What might be some regional groupings where there are common cultural, linguistic and geographic elements?
Regionalism can be defined as an international region with a limited number of states linked by a geographical relationship and by a degree of mutual interdependence and (international) regionalism.
Besides the United State, European Union, China, India and Russia … we have a long list of other newly formed supra-national unions:
The only union generally recognized as having achieved the status of a supranational union is the European Union.
There are several other regional organizations that, while not supranational unions, have adopted or intend to adopt policies that may lead to a similar sort of integration in some respects.
African Union (AU)
Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)
Central American Integration System (SICA)
Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf (CCASG)
Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS)
Eurasian Economic Community (EurAsEC)
South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC)
Union of South American Nations (UNASUR)
Other organizations that have also discussed greater integration include:
Arab League into an “Arab Union“
North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) into the “North American Union“
Pacific Islands Forum into the “Pacific Union“
More specifically, I believe that if a Regional Union holds a claim on either one 6th of the world’s population or one 6th of its GDP or one 6th of the world’s land area or a combination.
The World’s population is 6.8 Billion; the World’s Economy (wealth) is approximately 57 Trillion, and the World’s land area is 149 Million sq km (roughly 30% of the planet). Under international law, countries that touch oceans have a claim on the body of water they touch. Since a very large portion of the planet is water, and the United Nations inevitably must take responsibility for the whole planet, it is assumed that member regions (or Unions) will assume some degree of responsibility for international waters (thus land areas should be multiplied by 3 to establish a rough sense of the burden imposed on regions (or Unions). Or put another way, unions will also assume responsibility for international waters roughly in accordance with their size and access to waters.
Also, although no country currently owns the North Pole or the region of the Arctic Ocean surrounding it, the five surrounding Arctic states, Russia, the United States (via Alaska), Canada, Norway and Denmark (via Greenland), are limited to an exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of 200 nautical miles (370 km; 230 mi) adjacent to their coasts.
Ranking the unions by key parameter (Men, Money, Materials or Population, Wealth and (natural) Resources)
Thus, China and India with their large populations (1 Bn+) lead the pack demographically; the United States, China and the European Union with their substantial economies (20trillion, 15 trillion and 18 Trillion respectively) lead the pack in terms of wealth. Russia and Canada with their substantial land areas (16.7 Million sq. km + part of North Pole, and 9.1 Million sq. km + part of North Pole) lead the pack in terms of natural resources. 6 regional unions, China, India, U.S., EU, Russia and Canada are evident. But how do we balance out the table? What are the other 6 Unions?
Here are some proposals for additional Regional Unions:
Arab League (AL): Capital Cairo
On one level, Al Qaeda does in fact represent successful regionalism … an expression of a common identity (through religion) for a ‘purpose’. It is fascinating to note the various nationalities of its leadership: Egyptian, Saudi Arabian, Jordanian, Moroccans… basically almost every Sunni Islamic nation, that speaks Arabic, in North Africa and the Middle East, has a ‘branch’ in AQ’s common purpose. But, perhaps this is a silly example!
It is clear however, that there are common cultural, historical, linguistic and religious bonds that bring all these nations together. One announcement to a group of nations in Arabic, could be easily understood and executed without confusion!
The creation of such a Union, would also help promote democracy in the Arab world, for example, would be the reinforcement of organizations such as the Arab League to create similar Arabian institutions…such as ‘directly’ elected legislative body, a central bank, a common currency etc. In fact, dare I say, even the creation of an Arab Football (or Soccer) Federation (removing all Arab nations from the African Federation or the Asian Federation) would serve an important role in creating a new basis for a common identity and purpose …and provide an alternative to vision to Al Qaeda’s vision.
UNASUR (Latin American Union): Capital: Quito
The seeds for such a Union have already been planted and many countries are cooperating in unprecedented ways. It is a simple matter of leadership, and commitment …before this becomes a reality. GDP 2.9 Trillion, Population 388 Million, Land 17.7 Mill sq. Km.
Central Asian Union (CAU) or Median Union: Capital Mashad
The ‘Stans’ united with Iran, Turkey and Azerbaijan. Common heritage, common linguistic traditions (Persian and Turkish base), common culture (no-ruz, kebabs, etc. And geographically centered around the Caspian Sea, all the way down to the Persian Gulf, including Afghanistan and Pakistan.
South East Asian Union (ASEAN)
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is a regional intergovernmental organization comprising ten Southeast Asian states which promotes Pan-Asianism and intergovernmental cooperation and facilitates economic, political, military, educational and cultural integration amongst its members and Asian states. Since its formation on 8 August 1967 by Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand, the organization’s membership has expanded to include Brunei, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam. Its principal aims include accelerating economic growth, social progress, and sociocultural evolution among its members, alongside the protection of regional stability and the provision of a mechanism for member countries to resolve differences peacefully. ASEAN is an official United Nations Observer. Communication by members across nations takes place in English.
ASEAN covers a land area of 4.4 million square kilometers, 3% of the total land area of Earth. ASEAN territorial waters cover an area about three times larger than its land counterpart, making it particularly important in terms of sea lanes and fisheries. Member countries have a combined population of approximately 640 million people, 8.8% of the world’s population, more than EU28, though in terms of land, a bit smaller. In 2015, the organization’s combined nominal GDP had grown to more than USD $2.8 trillion. If ASEAN were a single entity, it would rank as the sixth largest economy in the world, behind the USA, China, Japan, France and Germany. ASEAN shares land borders with India, China, Bangladesh, East Timor and Papua New Guinea, and maritime borders with India, China, Palau and Australia. Both East Timor and Papua New Guinea are backed by certain ASEAN members for their membership in the organization.
African Union (AU)
The African Union (AU) is a continental union consisting of all 55 countries on the African continent. It is head quartered in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The current African Union includes a norther region (the Maghreb) which in my opinion should more realistically be combined with other Arab speaking, Arab cultural nations in the middle east. Having said that, the current African Union has a nominal GDP of 1.5 Trillion USD, a population of 1.3 Billion and a land area of 30 million sq. km which together place it on par with many other unions proposed.
Anglo Sphere (Oceania (OC) + UK + Caribbean)
Oceania is a geographic region comprising Melanesia, Micronesia, Polynesia and Australasia. Spanning the eastern and western hemispheres, Oceania covers an area of 8,525,989 square kilometres and has a population of 40 million, However, due the geographic extremes of Oceania, it could for example encompass other nations in its union such as for example Japan or Korea. Note that Oceania includes the Bonin Islands, which is a politically integral part of Japan; Hawaii, a state of the United States; Clipperton Island, a possession of France; the Juan Fernández Islands, belonging to Chile; the Campbell Islands, belonging to New Zealand; and the Cocos (Keeling) Islands, belonging to Australia. Add to this group, the UK, and the Caribbean Islands that it protects, and we have a nominal GDP for the region of $5 Trillion USD. Taken with its vast area it is placed at par with many other unions.
Non-Aligned Nations (NAN): Capital: Geneva
No country or nation should be forced into a regional union that it does not feel that the Union adds value to its nation. Examples may include: Israel, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Faroe Islands … thus they can join the non-aligned grouping and provide representatives as appropriate through the “Chairmanship” seat of the U.N security council.
Once these Unions are established the whole UN System can be transformed.
The General Assembly could then be replaced by regional assemblies where policies and programs will be discussed and approved by majority vote. Membership of the Security Council and global operating councils or boards for all agencies would then be modified to maintain the following members’ representatives:
European Union (EU)
Arab League (AL) (In global companies this is referred to as Middle East, North Africa [MENA])
Median Union (or Central Asian Union) (MU)
UNASUR (LATIN AMERICA, LA)
African Union (AU) (Sub-Saharan AFRICA)
Anglo Sphere (AN)
The Regions (Unions) are: CH, IN, US, EU, CA, RU, AL, MU, LA, AU, AS, AN
The problem of course is that there are many forces that will impede or retard such a global transformation. On the one side, certain vulnerable nations such as Israel have always seen the formation of a strong Arab Union as a security risk. Such a change would also potentially threaten the current global power structure and could undermine American dominance or the power structures inside global institutions. But I see the creation of these Unions as being inevitable.
If clearly this can more effectively promote peace and prosperity, then in the long run it cannot be a threat to anyone. The key is to use our resources more effectively and maximize our effectiveness in dealing with global crises when they occur. One common tenet of ‘good management’ is that resources should be managed closest to where they are used i.e. it makes infinite sense for regional offices to manage (and make decisions) about issues and crises within their own regions, rather than having those decisions made far away by people who don’t know or understand the impact and consequences of their decisions.
It’s time for regionalism, the UN is a failure. The time has come, It’s Time for Regionalism Let’s solve the world’s problems