This post is inspired by the bookchapter “Divided Nations” in the book Imaginal Cells: Visions of Transformation
The article discusses a very urgent topic related to government and “rules of the actions” on global issues. Many nations and regions are putting self-interest over larger long-term good, causing problems when nations are under pressure for action.
The chapter addresses the refugee crises in Europe in a very honest and direct way. The question in the beginning, “Is the UN in decline” is, in my opinion, a good one. An equally important one is what we mean by UN: are we referring to the United Nations institution or nations being united? As you read the chapter, you soon realize that in this context, it refers to the United Nations created at the end of WW2. The criticism toward the UN is if it has reached an impasse and has not been able to impact nations to foster long-term good through fairness, respect of agreement and procedures, and more respect of power distribution while being more inclusive. Hence it is fair to ask, are our nations united when dealing with a crisis more extensive than one or two nations?
According to the chapter by Mallroch-Brown (2020), we can learn about two significant events and the outcome of these that support that a restructuring of the UN is needed: Refugee crises and the poisonous relations between the world’s most powerful states. The criticism is related to the UN not adapting and understanding that countries now interact through their complex web of civil society, businesses, government, and non-state actors, hence saying that the world and its mechanisms moved on. But is this the case?
The refugee crises showed us that there is a need for international compassion and international cooperation. Many institutions have been founded by a “wish to avoid further human suffering” (Mallroch-Brown, 2020, p. 95). A robust, respected, and consistent framework is needed to restore and reinvent the compassion and long-term common good on a larger scale. From the refugee crises, we can learn that the division of responsibility and compassion for the refugees was unevenly distributed. According to Mallroch-Brown (2020), “five countries produce 50% of the world’s refugees, and 10 countries have 80% of the world’s refugees” (p. 97). How do we secure fair economic distribution and burden-sharing where others contribute economically, and others contribute through places depending on location and demographics. The suggestion is, it requires a strong institution who oversees that nations do not fall into self-interest and ‘false’ cause-effect events like the Brexit. Mallroch-Brown (2020) refers to Brexit as:
“a strangely perverse result. But it was not about Eritreans, or Afghans and Syrians. It was about Polish plumbers. It is of particular madness of Britain […] somehow seized on the idea that these refugees are a burden or a cost. Immigrants are a core to Britain’s economic competitiveness: populating every sector of the economy.” (p. 97).
One main learning point made by Mallroch-Brown is that we should aim to solve the problems in the states where refugees are coming from so that they would not be keen to leave in the first place. Secondly, he urges us to stop desperately funding social services in poorer countries and instead support in establishing long-term policies that prevent these events from happening in the first place.
Why do I quote this or write about this? It can be seen as a very provocative thing. I agree, it can be seen as it, and I know it will be seen as it for many. But maybe it is needed. From my standing point and experience, there is so much frustration piling up, that we urgently need a secure place to express the frustration that ia boiling up. But how can we create that? Was it or is that the role of the UN? Or someone else? Someone like Greta Thungberg? Or have we moved beyond a place where we can bring nations together on a journey of discovering and learning about eachother and finding solutions? Not working on one end of the solutions or the other, but creating new ones where we all are on the winning side. Is it a far fetch? I think we are not beyond a point of brining people together, I think there is a willingness to find eachother, to re-connect.
In the chapter by Mallroch-Brown (2020) the second point is that powerful nations relationships getting worse all the time. There is an urgent need for more effective political structures beyond the current United Nations General Assembly and Security Council. As Mallroch-Brown points out, “the world moves on and institutions won’t be held hostage to old power struggles” (p. 99). This is referring to the tensions between larger powerful nations and the unresolved issues between these nations. My question becomes why these power struggles exist in the first place, and over what. What are we trying to accomplish, and for whom? In my opinion, this is one of the strongest signs of self-interest and national short-term interest dominating over long-term international collaboration, and damage by powerful egos and misuse of power. But how is this possible? As Porritt (2020) well points out, maybe the ego or power positions is not the problem. It seems like politicians do not get elected for long-term development (Porritt, 2020).
Usually, similar cases are resolved by conversations over the UN platforms and leadership. For this to be possible in the current world state, Mallroch-Brown suggests a need to elevate the General Assembly’s power to tighten and sharpen the agenda to discuss the situation globally and in the long-term. This would also require a reform, where all voices, also the ones beyond the traditional state, would be heard. Hence, the UN would become a place for the world’s voices to meet, speak, and listen.
These learnings can and should be brought together by understanding how and where interactions between nations occur. Mallroch-Brown points out that “When different countries interact now, it is through a complex web of civil-society, businesses and non-state actors as well as governments.” (p. 99). Suppose the UN chooses to voice the different voices of needs, solutions, rules, policies, and actions in the world in the long run and take a more firm leadership role to secure putting immediate self-interest aside for the greater good. In that case, they have no choice but to get involved and comfortable with this complex web of interaction. To develop robust, respected, and consistent international frameworks, these different actors need to work together with respect for each other across borders. Without this, there is a risk the world will keep passing all of us by.
To my understanding, the chapter’s main takeaway is that the UN with the current structure is and will keep on failing, according to Mallroch-Brown (2020) The world has changed and the UN, as put together after WW2, seems to have served its agenda, but now, as we face new challenges, a change is needed. There is an urgent need to resolve global matters, hence putting pressure on the UN to reinvent itself to serve our modern changing world. This requires adding stakeholders and redefining the power structures and relationships of and within the UN. Only then will it again become a place to meet, speak, listen, but, most importantly, nurture an “empathetic civilization” (Porritt, 2020: p. 22).
I believe we all have a role to play. It is not only up to the UN or any other institution to resolve the issues of our current state. For me, it is easiest to start with myself. The more I discover a sustainable world, the more I get excited about it. As Anthony Bennett, CEO of Reboot the Future (2021) has put it:
“Who would not want clean air to breath, safe streats to walk, and wonders of nature to discover? A sustainable should be something we all want to run towards.”
My journey of discovery is much focused on understanding how to contest the current narrative on an unsustainable world and all problems related to it. I myself have started my run towards a sustainable world. Our team at Sustory will do our best to inspire as many as possible to join us in running towards a sustainable future. And we need all of your help in discovering that world.
Mallroch-Brown, M. (2020): Divided Nations. In Polman, K. & Vasconcellos-Sharpe, S. (curators) Imaginal Cells: Visions of Transformation (1st dition, p. 94-99). Reboot the Future.
Porritt, J. (2020): Beyond the Nation State – One World Awareness. In Polman, K. & Vasconcellos-Sharpe, S. (curators) Imaginal Cells: Visions of Transformation (1st dition, p. 16-23). Reboot the Future.