Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Fixing the United Nations

Over at Angry Bear, contributor Stormy wrote a post about a British attempt to empower the United Nations Security Council to act on issues relating to global climate change. The logic is that changes to climate can affect the security of nation states, with war among the possible consequences.

I think this is a commendable effort to create credible international action in an area where other efforts have failed. Despite the limits to its power, particularly its inability to prevent member nations with a veto from acting without UN consent as in the case of Iraq, the Security Council is nevertheless one of the few parts of the UN capable of producing effective action that would not be possible otherwise.

The British effort to create novel powers for the Security Council demonstrates many of the deficiencies of the UN, among them:

  • The UN's powers are focused around narrow security issues, and larger global problems such as climate change, global pollution, poverty and underdevelopment, disease and natural disaster management, immigration, and trade are pushed to the margins.
  • The Security Council is the only part of the UN with some teeth to its decisions, but only if no permanent members use a veto.
  • The countries that can exercise a veto do not represent the balance of power, economics, or population around the world.
  • UN funding is inconsistent and largely voluntary, and there are few consequences for failing to pay dues in a timely fashion. Overall funding is too low to effectively make a difference on most international issues, even those closely related to the core security functions of the organization.
  • There is no popular accountability. Governments appoint UN ambassadors with no public input, and UN decisions are not subject to popular approval. Thus, the UN is an organization of government elites.
  • The UN is largely disconnected from theoretically related international organizations and treaties, and has no power to enforce them. The lack of a central enforcement mechanism for international law weakens the ability to deal with international problems.
I think the seriousness of global problems and the failure of nations to deal with those problems alone or through ad hoc agreements argues strongly in favor of fundamental reform of the UN. Here's what I would like to see:

First, the UN should be given explicit powers to address global issues other than security. Real power requires more than a change in the UN articles stating the new priorities. It requires money, popular accountability, legislative power, a singular international legal framework to interpret that power, and a credible enforcement mechanism. In short, the UN needs to become a limited global government, with the primary responsibility for acting on international issues.

All of these changes ultimately depend upon the consent of the global population, as well as the consent of member states. So any serious effort at fundamental reform starts with a UN constitution that describes its powers as well as the rights retained by individuals and nations. This should not be a global version of national constitutions. It should focus on the international mandate of the UN. Rights critical at the national level in representative democracy, such as the individual right to free speech or social rights such as guaranteed housing and medical care, would not be appropriate. What is appropriate is a description of the rights that exist in the absence of these national rights. What rights are so fundamental that they transcend cultures, and should be protected internationally?

Here are the rights I think should be recognized:

  • Citizenship. Every person is a citizen of the planet, and of the United Nations, separate from their national citizenship, not revokable by any nation state, and regardless of whether their nation is a member of the UN. This citizenship entitles everyone to a vote in any popular election by the UN.
  • National Citizenship. Each nation has the right to define its rights of national citizenship, and what privileges extend only to citizens, including access to government services, so long as UN rights are respected.
  • Travel. Every person has the right to travel, within his or her means, to any member nation, for a temporary period that is the same duration for all travelers.
  • Border Security. Each nation has the right to limit travel by criminals, citizens of countries from hostile nations, and any individuals reasonably suspected of substantial association with criminal or hostile agents. Each nation has the right to limit the duration of travel visas, except in the case of refugees.
  • Refuge. Each person has the right to enter the territory of any member nation to flee from war, repression, or genocide, or when deprived of national citizenship. Each refugee has the right to stay for the duration of the event that led to his or her refuge. Each refugee has full rights of return to his or her country of origin.

    To preserve these rights, member nations are compelled to accept a portion of the global refugee population proportional to each nation's population compared to the global population. Member nations are also compelled to accept refugees returning to their country or region of origin, regardless of national citizenship or changes in the national government.
  • Selective Refuge. Each nation has the right to refuse admission to specific individuals or groups of refugees, but the total number of admitted refugees must meet or exceed their proportional quota.
  • Work. Each person has the right to seek and accept work in any member nation, and may remain in the nation for the duration of his or her work permit. Each person who loses his or her job in another nation has the right to a full-length travel visa, and can stay in a foreign country until the travel visa expires. Every person with a travel visa can seek employment, at which time they are eligible for a work visa.
  • Employment Security. Each nation can limit the length of work visas, so long as the duration is the same for all foreign workers. Each nation can require foreign workers to leave at the expiration of all work and travel visas for a period not to exceed the combined length of such visas.
  • Legal rights. Each person has the right to legal redress at the UN to protect their other stated rights. Specific legal rights include a right to counsel, a right against self-incrimination, and a right to a hearing. Each nation has a similar right to legal redress before UN courts, with the same legal rights as individuals.
  • Freedom from prosecution. The UN has no power to enforce criminal actions against individuals, except to return individuals to face legitimate criminal charges in a member nation. The UN can only enforce the compliance of member nations, by assessing penalties, limiting national voting rights, or suspending or revoking membership for the duration of non-compliance.

To protect these rights, the UN needs power and funding corresponding to each right:

  • Global Citizenship. The UN will establish full diplomatic missions in every member nation. The UN will offer passport services to anyone who prefers to travel under an international passport. The UN will administer popular UN elections through agreements between its embassies and each national government.
  • Refugees. The UN will pay to transport and house refugees for the duration of the precipitating crisis for each group of refugees.
  • Travel and work. The UN will monitor travel and work visas by each member nation, to ensure that the rights of each traveler and worker are respected.
  • Legal system. The UN will create and adminster a legal framework for defending global citizen rights, and for defending the international treaty rights of member nations, acting as an impartial mediator and arbitrator. Member nations must abide by legal decisions to remain in good standing and retain full member rights.

After establishing rights of individuals and nations, and creating a legal system, the next step would be planning for legislation and administration. The legislative function of the UN would have powers both to raise money and to define international standards and regulations for all member nations. The scale of what the UN can accomplish and how much power it can wield is in large part determined by its funding. To acknowledge the scope of global problems, its budget should at least be on par with the typical nation state. I'd like to see the UN funded relative to member GDP, and fixed at 1% of global GDP, so that each member nation would direct 1% of its GDP to the UN. With current global GDP of over $60 trillion (using PPP figures, for those who care), that would work out to a budget of $600 billion per year, some 30 times the current budget. Jeffrey Sachs has estimated that .7% of world GDP would be sufficient to eliminate global poverty by 2025, leaving some $120 billion for other UN projects.

The structure of the decision-making bodies of the UN is the next big question. Currently, there is a General Assembly of UN ambassadors from each country that has little formal power at all, and a Security Council that can act on security matters alone with the consent of all permanent, veto-wielding nations, and a clear majority of the whole Security Council, which also includes 10 rotating members.

I do think the power of the UN should remain limited by allowing vetoes. However, I think the vetoes should be balanced by population, by wealth, and by regional distribution, and that each veto should be exercised regionally and not by a specific member nation. Each region would then decide how to select a representative to wield its regional veto (or affirmative vote), through a process of discussion and election among the UN ambassadors for each nation in the region. So the Security Council of today would be superseded by Regional Councils of Nations and an Executive Council. Each member of the Executive Council could propose resolutions suggested by members of his or her Regional Council.

To counter the power of the councils, the General Assembly would be made up of popularly elected representatives, each representing a similar number of people (say, 1% of the population, or currently about 70 million people.) The General Assembly could submit resolutions to the Executive Council, and ratify the election of UN officials including the UN President. It could also override one or more Executive vetoes by a margin representing double the population represented by the vetoing regional councilors.

The exact implementation details are not important, though the apportionment should consider both population and GDP of regions and attempt to roughly balance them. Here's one quick take on the Executive Council:

Americas (Currently the US slot): One position, over 850 million people, $16-17 trillion GDP.

Europe (Currently the French slot): One position, almost 500 million people, $12-13 trillion GDP.

Asia, including Australia (Currently the Chinese and Russian slots): Two positions, 4 billion people, $18 trillion GDP.

Africa (Currently the UK slot): One position, 900 million people, $1.6 trillion GDP.

Another approach would be to add more veto slots, with some representing combined national populations in a region, and other representing combined economic zones.

Another alternative would be to grant vetos to the highest population and/or wealthiest countries, enable each veto-holder to form a voting coalition with other nations including other veto-wielding nations, and then weight the vetoes or votes according to the combined population and/or weight of each coalition. Because veto overrides would require a number of General Assembly members representing twice the population and wealth of the nations represented by the veto, it's OK if the weight of each voting coalition is different.

Top five countries by GDP, representing over 68% of the world's production:

  • EU: $13.1 trillion (separately Germany at 2.4 is the only European country in the top 5)
  • USA: $12.2 trillion
  • China: $8.8 trillion
  • Japan: $3.9 trillion
  • India: $3.7 trillion

Top countries by population, representing over 52% of the world's people:

  • China: 1.3 billion
  • India: 1.1 billion
  • EU: 500 million (no European country alone is in the top 13, unless you include Russia @ #8)
  • USA: 300 million
  • Indonesia: 230 million

That's six countries, four of which are on both lists. If an even ten was preferred, the next countries on the list would be Brazil, Russia, and two of the following: Pakistan, Bangladesh (by population), Canada, Mexico, South Korea (by GDP).

If we start with the current veto holders and then expand based on these stats, we'd have something like:

  • Europe (previously France): 1
  • USA: 1
  • China: 1
  • Russia: 1
  • (UK: 1, surrenders veto)
  • India (takes UK's veto): 1
  • Japan: 1
  • Indonesia: 1

Final three to make 10, based on population:

  • Brazil: 1
  • Pakistan: 1
  • Bangladesh: 1

And finally, selecting next on the population list so that Africa is represented:

  • Nigeria: 1

Interestingly, this same list of eleven countries can be generated by considering the top eleven nations by population alone, as Japan is the 11th most populous nation. These ten nations represent the top ten nations by both GDP (European nations considered separately) and top eleven by population (EU considered as one), and every continent on Earth. They represent 73% of GDP and almost 65% of the world's population. On every vote, each of these countries could wield its veto or affirmative vote alone, or with the added weight of other countries. Because each nation would tend to have more ties with regional neighbors, regions would often join together in a bloc. By continent, then, including only the ten veto-wielding countries, the regions would be:

  • Asia, six vetos: China, India, Indonesia, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Japan; 47.3% population and 29.5% GDP.
  • Europe, two vetos: EU and Russia; 9.7% population and 23.9% GDP.
  • North America, one veto: USA, 4.6% population and 19.9% GDP (23.5% with Canada & Mexico).
  • South America, one veto: Brazil, 2.8% population and 2.6% GDP.
  • Africa, one veto: Nigeria, 2% population.

In practice, the countries in the first three regions would be able to wield their vetoes as a group and even individually in some cases without soliciting the help of smaller nations. South America and Africa would be better off forming semi-permanent continental blocs, or even a combined bloc. South America as a whole has 5.6% of the population and 4.3% of GDP. Africa as a whole has 13.7% of the population and 2.7% of GDP. Together, at 19.3% population and 7% GDP, they represent a formidable force, particularly if GDP is removed from the equation.

In terms of people on the ground, each nation should be responsible for committing a percentage of the overall effort proportional to the percentage of its population. This would be true both for peacekeepers, and for non-soldier employees in the field.

Getting from here to there is the hard part. I think it actually makes sense to start with reworking the veto, and then once the balance of power is changed, work on increasing funding and the scope of operations. In short, these are the steps:

  1. Britain transfers its veto to India, but retains veto influence within the EU.
  2. France transfers its veto to the European Union as a whole.
  3. Six more vetos are created for the six most populous nations without a current veto: Indonesia, Brazil, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nigeria, Japan. (The elected, rotating members of the Security Council are reduced to four, two for Africa, one for Latin America, and one for the Arab or Persian Middle East.)
  4. The Security Council weights votes by population as a symbolic first step, and allows the elected SC members to add their population weight to any vote or veto by a permanent member.
  5. The Security Council allows General Assembly members to add their weight to any vote by a permanent member, effectively replacing the elected members of the SC.
  6. The Security Council introduces a Security Council override, where the population-weighted votes of the nations voting yes must be at least twice the weighted vote of the vetoing countries.
  7. The Security Council votes to broaden the charter language on security to explicitly include other global issues.
  8. The Security Council submits a new charter with an article of rights, a popularly elected General Assembly, and a taxation system built into trading measures, designed to collect 1% of world GDP for UN projects. As part of this charter, the Security Council becomes the Executive Council. To give legitimacy, the charter must be approved by a majority of all global citizens worldwide, and a veto-proof majority of nations. Any nation that disagrees has the option of leaving the UN and negotiating unilateral agreements with other nations.

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