International Order & Conflict

UN 2.0: Ten Innovations for Global Governance 75 Years beyond San Francisco

Improving prospects for a global governance architecture that is more inclusive, effective, and just during and beyond UN75
By Banou Arjomand Co-Author ·  William Durch Editor ·  Joris Larik Co-Author ·  Cristina Petcu Co-Author ·  Richard Ponzio Author

The seventy-fifth anniversary of the founding of the United Nations (and the UN75 Declaration to be adopted by Member States) offers a unique opportunity to rethink how global affairs are managed, as the world recovers from the pandemic and its attendant financial, economic, and social consequences. As world leaders and global civil society together pursue the inextricably linked issues of “reform and recovery,” their interplay can generate political momentum for overhauling global governance on, heretofore, difficult and contested issues and renew a greater sense of shared global responsibility. This report aspires to inform and shape this important conversation.

Executive Summary

“The UN75 Declaration represents the start of a worldwide conversation and process, rather than an endpoint, for global governance innovation and renewal.”

— UN75 Declaration Co-Facilitators, H.E. Ambassador Alya Al-Thani, Permanent Representative of The State of Qatar to the United Nations, and H.E. Ambassador Anna Karin Eneström, Permanent Representative of Sweden to the United Nations (correspondence with the authors, June 17, 2020)

With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the United Nations and its Members States are facing one of the biggest challenges to con­front the world organization since its founding in 1945. Accompanying nearly half a million deaths and more than nine million people in­fected worldwide (at the time of writing) are the calamitous socioeconomic consequences felt by billions, with the heads of the International Monetary Fund and Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development predicting that the world is headed toward a recession at least as bad as that of 2008–9.

In the midst of a past period of global turmoil— the Second World War, on the heels of the 1930s Great Depression—leaders from the Republic of China, the Soviet Union, the United States, and the United Kingdom gathered, in 1944, at Dumbarton Oaks in Washington, D.C., to con­sider a new postwar international architecture to succeed the failed League of Nations. Six months later, a gathering of delegates from fifty nations convened in San Francisco to negotiate over two months and then sign, on June 26, the Charter of the United Nations.

This September, world leaders will mark the UN’s seventy-fifth anniversary. On this occa­sion, they will endorse, through the adoption of a Declaration, a renewed vision for collective global action and a set of commitments to re­spond to the pandemic, climate change, extreme poverty, armed conflict, disruptive technologies, and other global challenges. Can UN75 be an in­flexion point like Dumbarton Oaks, and catalyze a broader global conversation toward a new “San Francisco Moment” for a more inclusive, just, and effective global governance system?

Informed by research and policy dialogues un­dertaken since 2014, initially for the Albright- Gambari Commission on Global Security, Justice & Governance, this report’s ten main recommendations offer an approach to realizing the UN75 Declaration’s principal commitments for organizational renewal and are intended to encourage more ambitious, forward-looking thinking and deliberation on global governance renewal and innovation:

  1. Expand and ensure more coherent, inclu­sive, and collaborative participation of civil society and socially responsible businesses in shaping decision-making and support­ing programming across the United Nations system through the establishment of a UN Global Partnership.
  2. Define one or more global climate adap­tation goals and gauge their achievement in terms of measurable improvements for local human security; finance support for adaptation from revenues formerly directed to fossil fuel subsidies.
  3. Create a strong UN Peacebuilding Council to replace the current Peacebuilding Commission. Similar to the transformation of the Human Rights Commission in 2006, upgrading the Peacebuilding Commission to a Council—a subsidiary body to the Security Council and General Assembly— would give it enhanced powers, responsi­bilities, and a mandate to lead on conflict prevention and peacebuilding policy devel­opment, coordination, and resource mobili­zation, for situations not addressed directly by the Security Council.
  4. Create a G20+ to accelerate socioeconomic recovery from COVID-19 through enhanced coordination by G20 members with the UN system, Bretton Woods institutions, and related bodies, supported by a new, small, full-time secretariat. The global economic governance system should be strengthened to limit the socioeconomic dislocations pro­duced by the current global pandemic, to generate an equitable and broad-based re­covery, and to reduce, at large, the volatility of our hyperconnected global economy.
  5. Seek universal acceptance of interna­tional justice institutions, in particular the International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Court, while increasing their enforcement powers, pre­serving their independence, and enhancing their resilience against political pressures.
  6. Establish a Green Technology Licensing Facility within the Green Climate Fund. This facility would encourage licensing and transfer of technology to developing coun­tries, while protecting intellectual proper­ty rights to incentivize the development of green technology and increase its availabil­ity in developing countries.
  7. Give the UN’s recently consolidated Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs a central role in coordinating and compiling UN knowledge and analysis in conflict prevention, with special attention to averting mass atrocities, focusing on the Responsibility to Prevent principle.
  8. Strengthen cybersecurity through inter­national cybercrime centers, interna­tional cybercrime expert rosters, and a global campaign to promote end-user cyber hygiene.
  9. Establish standing and reserve capaci­ties to meet United Nations needs for rap­idly deployable civilian specialist skills in conflict prevention and peacebuilding efforts worldwide. Such a new civilian ca­pability, emphasizing gender parity, could be central to the early efficacy of future integrated UN peace operations and spe­cial political missions.
  10. Address the United Nations’ democracy and legitimacy deficits by establishing a United Nations Parliamentary Network as an ad­visory body to the UN General Assembly. Composed of individual members of na­tional and regional parliaments—as well as representatives of existing parliamen­tary networks, institutions, and possibly local authorities—the UN Parliamentary Network would act as a platform for direct participation, input, and accountability claims by the peoples of the world on gov­ernance matters pertaining to the UN.

Harnessing the ideas, networks, and capabili­ties of businesses and civil society groups can help to advance these recommendations, in service to the Declaration’s twelve principal commitments. By using technology in new, inventive ways, adopting creative financing models, and developing a shared language among partners for strategy, communica­tions, and project management, partnerships would seek to overcome obstacles to impact­ful public-private collaboration, including “forum-shopping,” competing preferences and goals, and absence of accountability for follow-through.

Humanity today has, in many ways, reached the proverbial “fork in the road.” Exclusionary-nationalistic undercurrents driven by populist, anti-multilateralist politicians are amplifying public anxieties to turn their societies inward and away from a sense of global solidarity and responsibility. We can either recognize that the economic, social, and even environmental impacts of COVID-19 and other transnational challenges require broadened and deepened forms of multilateral cooperation or fall back on narrowly focused solutions that fail to address these risks, learn little from others’ ideas, and instead erect short-sighted barriers to the cooperation that is essential to further human progress. That is the clear and stark choice of our times.

Today, our collective task is to rekindle the orig­inal spirit of the founding of the United Nations and to build the smart coalitions needed to overcome the growing bottlenecks (whether institutional, political, financial, or psycholog­ical) to solving humanity’s inextricably global problems. In support of like-minded countries and civil society networks, such as those affil­iated with the intergovernmental Alliance for Multilateralism and the civil society-led net­works UN2020 and Together First, this report offers a roadmap for strengthening global co­operation in the form of practical guidelines:

  • Orient near-term global governance innovation and strengthening agendas to the COVID-19 public health emergency and the broader socioeconomic recovery response.
  • Prioritize the adoption of and, if possible, augment the UN75 Declaration commitments made during the 75th Session of the UN General Assembly (September 2020–September 2021).
  • Support actively a new Expert Advisory Group on Inclusive Global Governance.
  • Design and advocate a World Summit on Inclusive Global Governance, to be held no later than September 2023.

The world’s governance institutions at all levels need to keep pace with growing global economic, social, political, technological, and environmental challenges and opportunities. If present crises and conflicts have created both the imperative and the conditions for a new “San Francisco Moment,” seizing this mo­ment will depend, in large part, on enlightened leaders who give equal weight to and pursue, simultaneously, both global security and jus­tice goals—or “just security”—when rethink­ing how humanity may best tackle 21st century global problems.

Fortunately, our leaders are not alone on this pivotal journey. Underpinned by a global civic ethic for a more just and peaceful world, civ­il society groups worldwide—from religious communities and volunteer associations to social movements, journalists, and business leaders—are poised to mobilize public pres­sure for progressive global change. Joining the ideas, partnerships, and legitimacy of both traditional national and increasingly power­ful transnational actors in common cause to address common goals will usher in a new, more inclusive era of global governance. The present breakdown in global governance can, in effect, be turned on its head. Inspired by our forebears in San Francisco, we can continue to pull through adversity and chart a more hope­ful course for all humanity.

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