A year ago a group called the Global Challenges Foundation issued a challenge – envision actionable ways to remake the United Nations in the short term into an effective organization. I was intrigued, and I decided to take up the task, which had very specific rules which I attempted to follow. Now, I am a writer, among other things – and as such, of course, I figured the best way to deliver my ideas would be in the form of a story. And we writers are to a certain extent utopians – seeing things how they could be instead of how they are. I did not win, of course. Block-Chain and AI are more interesting than a story well told – alas. Most people believe that things just need to be tweaked, that the problems of our world order are not existential, but ones of polishing and elbow grease. I disagree. Notwithstanding, it was a fun project, thought provoking and for that I am grateful. So, I share it with you, here, as I do many things I work on in my constant attempt to live as an active member of this world. I want to thank Oscar Arias, who I met once about six years ago. His words have always inspired me to think more deeply. So without further ado, I hope you enjoy my short story about the reorganization of our world, which needs it so.
Abstract and Introduction
President Oscar Arias sat at his desk nursing a tumbler of Venezuelan Cacique rum, from his own private barrel stored in a warehouse in the cane-fields in the west of that country, and looked across the valley of San Jose, Costa Rica to the volcano in the distance that billowed harmlessly. The birds chirped around him, a thunderstorm was moving in and Don Oscar could hear the rolling road of thunder as it approached. It had been a long year, but one of great significance; he was thoughtful, he was tired – but more than that he was, what was the right word to use? Optimistic? Hopeful. Yes, hopeful – hopeful for the fate of humanity after so long in despair. War, Don Oscar hated the wars above all – and that was what humankind had been unable to avoid.
He took a sip from his drink, thinking about the day not that long ago which nevertheless felt like the distant past when the greatest of all tasks had washed up on the doorstep of his humble home nestled in the cloud forests of his tropical homeland. He had not been expecting the call; of course he hadn’t, who could ever expect a call like that?
“Don Oscar,” the voice on the other line had said, upon answering it himself – Arias had never been one for great formality, and he hadn’t been in public life anyway since leaving the presidency in 2010.
“Si?” he’d thought he’d recognized the voice.
“This is Antonio Guterres,” the voice had said.
“Ah, Mr. Secretary General. It is good to hear your voice.” Arias said. He had met Guterres several times. Once on a heads of state visit to a refugee camp when Guterres had led the High Commission for Refugees; and they had also met during some of the periodic meetings of the Club de Madrid, of which they were both members. But he did not know Guterres well. “To what do I owe this unexpected pleasure?”
“Thank you. Don Oscar. How is Suzanne?”
“She is well, Antonio. Old age is a thief who enters grand houses as well as chozas. But we are coping,” he said jokingly.
“Yes, alas. Would for the days we were in our thirties and strong. Especially for the task for which I call. Allow me to get right to the point. I need your help.” Said Guterres.
“If it pleases you,” Oscar said.
“Don Oscar, we’re having trouble here at the United Nations. It doesn’t work anymore, not really. And it’s not a simple matter of reorganization. Sure we can cut some fat and make our operations leaner and our programs more efficient. We could probably eliminate some departments and commissions. And for sure many peacekeeping missions have extended; gone on too long, and unsuccessfully. Like Mali, where all we are doing is serving as a lightning rod to focus the terrorists’ bombs. It’s not that – it’s more that we have lost the confidence of the world. The great powers no longer respect us, our mission. The smaller powers see in us a petty-cash box or a platform for their own propaganda. Hell, we couldn’t even keep the devil at bay in Venezuela; didn’t even try really…”
“Yes,” Arias grimaced. “That has been a twenty year nightmare in the making that we should have seen coming. I told them repeatedly, the last time in my final speech in Cancun, that we were headed for destruction. Nobody was listening.”
“Indeed,” Guterres said. “The wars go on – Somalia and Yemen and Syria and Nigeria and Ukraine. And we are powerless, and increasingly irrelevant. And this is getting in the way of us carrying out other important missions like eliminating poverty and coming to a consensus on environmental protection or even technical things like trying to get small arms out of the hands of children – something I know you’ve been working on very hard forever.”
“Antonio, I wouldn’t be too hard on yourself. The world is a complicated place and humanity is a thorny lot. You are doing the best you can. These things are cyclical. Great breakthroughs are on the horizon; and we only make decisions as a species when the crisis is knocking down our door.” Arias responded.
“No, Don Oscar. Unfortunately we no longer have the time. Confidence, once lost, is difficult to recover. I won’t go into details, but we’ve been given an ultimatum by the Americans. In fact Ambassador Nikki Haley was just in my office not thirty minutes ago. She is lovely, and understanding – unlike her boss…”
“But she was also clear. ‘Fix it’ she said ‘or the United States will walk away’. And as much as I resent being bullied, I also know in my heart that they are right. We all do. The Westphalian political nation states have become an unstable foundation upon which a new world order cannot be built. The UN’s ability to keep these stitched together in an increasingly post-nation world has been ultimately unsuccessful.”
There was silence, and Oscar listened to the breathing on the other side of the phone as he waited, watching the rains obscure the volcano as they advanced on the city – his city. Finally he spoke, “Why are you telling me this?”
“Because I need your help. And it’s a job I think only you can do. Costa Rica has been on the forefront of innovations in world peace. The first to sign up to the International Criminal Court, the first to commit to carbon neutrality. Abolition of the army. Small arms bans. And you – standing up to both Reagan and Chavez and Ortega. Building a durable peace…” Guterres said.
“It has been a wild ride. I am tired, but not too tired to go one last round. Whatever you need, I will do my best to help out.”
“Thank you, Don Oscar. I knew we could count on you. What I would like to ask you to do is…”
Description of Model
“I want to thank you all for taking my call.” President Oscar Arias was seated at a round polished mahogany table in one of the small conference rooms at the Hotel des Bergues on the water in Geneva, Switzerland. The room was posh, an elegantly painted intrados hung suspended over paintings of Renoir and Rembrandt beside gold-leafed mirrors that reflected the grave visages of the participants of the early morning conclave back into infinity. The weather outside was snowy and cold; winter was upon the old city. Arias thought about all the monumental things that had happened in that city over the course of history, impressed that yet again she was playing host to something extraordinary. Just like historians and politicians had talked about Westphalia for four hundred years – so they might talk about the ‘Peace of Bergues’. “I know you are all extremely busy, but the time has come to bring together this extraordinary session of the World Summit of Nobel Prize Laureates to discuss, to debate and finally to decide. First, let me tell you all why we are here…” and Arias went to recount to the assembly his conversation with Guterres.
“And that is why I asked you all to come here. Because you are recognized the world over – because your word holds weight in the environments where you move – and because the lack of moral authority is what the United Nations has abdicated. Not everybody was able to make it. And only individuals were invited – institutions and organizations will have their role. But history is decided by men and women. And here, today we will decide the fate of the future.” Occupying the lavish leather chairs in a perfect circle behind the mahogany table were the group of elders who Arias hoped would lead the world into a new age. In no particular order and equal at the round table were Juan Manuel Santos, Muhammad Yunus, Kofin Annan, Al Gore, Malala, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Rigoberta Menchu, Aung San Suu Kyi, Carlos Filipe Ximenes Belo, Barack Obama, the Dalai Lama and David Trimble. Thirteen – a baker’s dozen. Men, women – black and white – Muslim and Christian and Buddhist and Hindu. Thirteen, who had found their way to this chilly old city to decide the fate of the world.
The silence extended, punctuated by the clinking of silver against china as the statesmen stirred their coffee – the smells wafted over the conclave.
“I will permit myself to speak first,” Malala stood, and bowed delicately to Arias. “It would seem to me that it is the children, girls and boys – the powerless who get trampled while the great powers debate and discuss. I know it’s always been like this – but maybe now we can change it. A Council of Action, of people who aren’t just looking for profit or power in this world, but who seek above all the wellbeing of others. It is the un-represented by their nations who suffer the most in a world of powerful men.”
“Yes, it is true,” Muhammad Yunus interjected, his chair scraping on the marble. “Children can be protected through the actions of those who care. But they are dependent upon money – wealth of nations. Poverty is the source of all vulnerability. So we here today must be honest with ourselves, at last, about the source of wealth. Because never in history has it been bureaucrats or activists that have ended poverty. Businesses, industries, corporations – only through invention and design and innovation is poverty ended. Though the world’s great companies have been reviled – the truth is they do no more damage than nations gone awry or faiths turned against each other. While adding immense value to the condition of humanity. They to deserve a voice, at last. Their own council, a Council of Industry.”
“We must also remember,” the Dalai Lama said. He did not stand, but thoughtfully and with eyes low continued, “That the greatest threat to humanity is war. Which is why the United Nations has failed. It did not protect Tibet, or Rwanda, or Kosovo because nation states work only towards their own individual interests, which too often are not even the interests of their citizens. And it is nation states who reserve the right to make wars. I do agree Muhammad that faiths when turned against each other can be brutal – and we certainly have a problem with totalitarian interpretations of Islam. But faiths can also bring out the best in us, when nurtured and encouraged, because we are all spiritual beings too and have a yearning in our hearts for the transcendental. We should invite them too, to participate finally – productively – in our new world. A Council of Faiths.”
Carlos Filipe Ximenes Belo seconded this with an enthusiastic grunt.
“Yes. But we must not forget about the nations,” said Barack Obama. “To be sure, it’s no surprise that the Security Council has become the source of the paralysis; Russia and China and America do not see eye to eye while problems escalate. Nevertheless legitimate government can be a force for great good. The United Nations can return to what it was in the beginning, a Council of Nations. To solve bilateral problems. To set agendas.”
They all chimed in, then – one by one, discussing and debating. Al Gore was concerned about the environment; Rigoberta Menchu about the indigenous communities and Aung San Suu Kyi voiced her concerns about dictatorship. The debate was lively; as each particular issue was brought back to the principles – the new institutions which would serve to resolve them and ones that had still not come to the fore.
“And we will have elders again,” said Arias quietly. “A Council of Elders. There will be thirteen of them, reflecting this initial thirteen. They will be men and women whose leadership comes from their recognition in the world of their unimpeachable moral authority. They will be selected by the council itself and serve for a term of ten years, each year the longest serving will retire and the council will bring in another. The first council will be we – the founding thirteen. I will be the first to retire – I am unwell, and this next year will require my greatest effort.
And so it was decided, five councils. The Council of Faiths; the Council of Industry; the Council of Action; and the Council of Nations. All around the beating heart, a great Council of Elders standing in solemn supervision over a world gone mad.
“Are we agreed?” Don Oscar said.
“We are,” the other twelve Elders said in unison.
“Good,” said Arias. “And thank you. Now the hard work begins.” And a new world order was born.
The Council of Nations
“The world is a world of nations,” Russia said. “Your proposal is unacceptable.” The Security Council had been called in an emergency session to discuss the proposal of the Elders. Around the table were the permanent representatives, all with their earphones on listening to the discussion which was being held in multiple languages.
Arias had known that the UN Security Council would be his hardest sell. Who gives up power willingly? But he had found an unlikely ally to strengthen his hand; the United States and the United Kingdom had not only been accepting of the initial idea but enthusiastic. The results of the last election cycles had laid bare a deep-seated frustration with the global body. France also was embroiled in bigger things – the growing terrorist problem, and leadership in a European Union which was itself fraying and crumbling. China, as always, was pragmatic and willing to discuss what they would get out of the arrangement. They were also enthusiastic to end what they saw as American bullying. The non-permanent members appeared relieved to be done with the charade.
The problem was Russia. Why was it always Russia these days?
“The paralysis within this organization has gone on for too long,” the United States defended Arias. “We can no longer end wars: look at Syria and Ukraine as an example, or Libya. We cannot solve the world’s great problems: refugees and environmental degradation. It all needs to go.”
“What will happen to the peacekeeping missions?” Liberia spoke up.
“The best examples of ending problems these days come not from Blue Helmets,” the United Kingdom stood. “Look at The Gambia and Mali as recent examples – it was not the UN or even the African Union that returned democratic order to those countries. In The Gambia it was the Union of West African States that overthrew the dictator. In Mali it was the French who defeated Al Qaida. All the UN is doing is racking up casualties and costing a fortune. Go back further, if you want. Kosovo’s ethnic cleansing was not ended by the peacekeepers – but by NATO. The principles are clear, local problems call for local solutions – where politics are less globalist and decisions not made by those who will not face the consequences of those decisions. In fact when the UN peacekeepers get involved, they end up either getting abducted, like the 370 abducted in Serbia or the 400 abducted in Sierra Leone; or worse, they do things like spread cholera in Haiti or set up prostitution rings. No, a global army isn’t the answer at all.”
“Then how do we end wars?” The Russians retorted.
“I hate war,” Oscar Arias said. “Costa Rica has no army; even during the difficult days in the 80s when we might easily have needed one. But I am also a realist. The specter of Rwanda will always haunt the UN. And we have not changed, look today at South Sudan if you want an example. People have been fighting for thousands of years, and will likely keep fighting. Instead of Blue Helmets keeping the world’s lost places in the stasis of chaos and misery, we must actually work to end the wars. Sometimes legitimate governments will hire private armies, like Sierra Leonne’s use of a mercenary army in ending that war. Sometimes foreign countries will be invited in – like the French in Central African Republic. Sometimes if it gets out of hand, regional bodies will move in to address the issues; the African Union or the Arab League will finally be held responsible. If nobody is willing to engage, the Council of Elders can force a discussion – with the joint pressure of the councils. Wars are of course the extreme cases, and genocide the worst case scenario – and as a result they are exactly the issues where the United Nations has failed time and again.”
The discussion had continued, and the Russians did not budge. But the support from the Americans and British and French was unwavering – and for a time Oscar Arias even began to warm up to the Trump Administration.
Finally Japan, annoyed at holding a non-permanent seat on the UNSC despite contributing almost 10% of the budget – second only to the United States – spoke up quietly but firmly, “The United Nations will return to be a diplomatic body where nation states are forced to meet and discuss the issues of the day. It will cease its administrative functions; the bloated bureaucracy will thin and those unneeded will fly home. Its ineffective programs will be dismantled. An Agora of Nations; that’s where the power lies, and that’s where the future is.”
The Council of Action
“But who will end poverty and disease and hunger?”
The conference room in La Mamounia hotel in Marrakech, Morocco was big, with several breakout rooms to accommodate the messy nature of global civil society. Arias thought about Winston Churchill, a few floors above painting; it seemed apropos, this hotel where the great man – the man who had ended a World War and ushered in a new world order – had come to seek solace and to paint. Arias was seated on a dais beside the representatives of Nobel Laureate organizations: the Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet, Doctors without Borders and the International Campaign to End Land mines. Around tables facing each other were representatives of NGOs, think tanks, human rights organizations and environmental groups. The collective assembly of global action. They had reserved the room for several weeks; they knew the discussion would be long – when do action groups ever agree on anything?
“The task of ending disease and poverty and hunger is one we have engaged in for decades,” said Dr. Joanne Liu, MSF’s International President. “And we do it well. We have all been frustrated with the failures over the last years – and we all love to complain about the UN’s systems. Well, the time has come for change; it had to happen and we must not fear it. But we must instead own it as we learn from the past mistakes in order to create the world that we want.”
Assembling this group had been difficult. Reaching out first to the Nobel winners they had traveled together to South Africa to meet with CIVICUS, obtaining Anabel Cruz’s buy in for the Marrakech Summit. From there to Germany to meet with Jose Carlos Ugaz of Transparency International; and on to visit the World Association of NGOs, InterAction in Washington DC. Direct calls were placed to World Vision International, CARE International, OXFAM International and Save the Children International – IFRC and ICRC. Human rights groups like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch and International Justice Group and others were also called – so many Oscar Arias lost count. Environmental groups like World Wildlife Foundation and Audubon Society and Greenpeace were invited. Think tanks like Council on Foreign Relations, Brookings and Chatham House. A web site had been set up for the summit; live-streamed for participation, and around the world groups rented hotel halls and met in church meeting rooms, watching the discussions for the local groups. Places were reserved for local NGOs to attend; and as only the global action movement can do – a messy and chaotic order had emerged.
“How will we respond to famines?” the representative of World Vision addressed the assembly.
“The same way we have been; but better. No longer will we wait for UN resolutions declaring famine. No longer will we seek permission to work from member-states anxious to face-save. No longer will we see the best minds and the most resources frittered away in expensive offices moving papers around for six-figure salaries. No longer is humanitarian work a career for foreign bureaucrats eager to save money for their children’s college funds. It will return to being a calling,” Dr. Anabel said.
“How will we be coordinated?” said the representative of Oxfam.
“How we are always coordinated, through meeting, setting up priorities, and dividing territories and technical skills. Through finding your manageable interests; through picking and choosing what you are good at – and working. A spontaneous order will emerge in humanitarian assistance that will be more flexible and yield greater results for less money.”
“And how will we be funded?” from International Alert.
“The same way we are always funded. Donor countries – USAID and ECHO and DFID and Cooperacion Espanola and JICA will continue to work. Except there will be more funding for us, because the expensive UN systems will not suck the resources.” This from the USAID representative, all the donor governments had been given observer status to the meeting.
“What about outbreaks?” Said the representative of MSF France.
“Do you remember Ebola – that disease that is easy to control? How long did it take the international community to finally push aside the UN’s World Health Organization when its incompetence ran up against a disease that did not care about politics?” Said Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. “Too long, before the Americans, the Brits and the French assumed responsibility – mobilized their own resources and their own armies and their own relief teams and ended the outbreak. 20,000 lives. And my country’s economy, growing slowly after so long at war, was again destroyed. That is how we will work in the future. We will no more suffer politics in our humanitarian responses, nor will we be intimidated into not saying the truth when the truth needs to be said. The UN failed us; but you did not,” and she gestured over the crowd.
“What about climate change?” Said Greenpeace. “What about protecting our environment?” Seconded by WWF and other groups there; and the virtual applause ticker that was projected on the wall – product of millions of people the world over who had been unable to attend but were participating through Twitter and Facebook and voting online via their clicks as to what issues mattered to them – spiked high into red.
Wangari Maathai, who had come especially for this event although she had opted to sit out Geneva spoke up, “That is an issue that I hold dear to my heart. As does Don Oscar here,” she gestured to her side to where the environmentalist president was sitting. “Costa Rica is set to be the first carbon neutral country in the world. The truth is that all our attempts to address this issue before it is a crisis are stymied by politics. The Americans care about only growth, the Russians about nationalism, the Chinese about preserving their nascent superpower status and the governments of poor countries are too keen on reaping the bounty of carbon redistribution to serve their corruption than they are to stop desertification in their own lands, to end the murder of animals, and to embrace what Indira Gandhi once said, ‘Poverty is the greatest polluter’. No longer. Now we will act of our own accord. We will move in unison – getting the support of the Council of Elders if we must, as we assemble the majority of the Councils to respond to this issue. We NGOs will pressure the Council of Industry; we will shame the Council of Nations and we will use all the power of the Council of Faiths to make a global movement to implement the Paris Climate Agreement from the ground up – which is the only way true change ever happens. No longer will we wait for the corrupt men in power to deign to sign a piece of paper, which they will then promptly ignore. We will make this an issue at every committee meeting, in every election in every country on the face of the earth – as only we can do.”
“Here here,” the Rotary Club stood to seize the microphone. “We, who ended polio – only to see it returned by government failure, incompetence and corruption will re-engage. And we will end environmental abuse forever.”
The meter again spiked high.
“But let’s not forget one last, important issue,” the representative of the Council on Foreign Relations said. “Knowledge itself has become increasingly politicized. So an issue like environmental protection – call it climate change if you want, it’s the same thing – is seized upon by groups of one ideology to promote redistribution to their own constituents, and by the other to sling mud. ‘Deniers’ has become a new moniker as another nasty little orthodoxy has emerged – one that stifles debate at the expense of knowledge. Not that private groups – think tanks and the like – don’t have their own agendas. Of course they do, and to say that they do not is naïve and foolish. But at very least they are not the same agendas as the politicians. That is to say they do not respond to the pursuit of coercive power. They are not seeking the gun – the right to legitimately force others to do as they wish. To have a platform such as this for non-partisan intellectual argument and debate will sharpen our understanding and lead to greater wellbeing.”
More limited applause this time – with some hissing from those backing Greenpeace. But the point was noted.
“Humanitarian work, too, has become politicized,” Kofi Annan lamented. He was seated in the audience, not on the dais, and had requested the microphone. “Aid agencies are seen by the terrorists as agents of western crusades, by the Russians as agents of western imperialism, and by the west as agents of third world greed. Politics – aid has become politicized, food has become a weapon, and assistance has become suspect. Today we are setting that free from the petty maneuvering of power politics of the nation states. Let the nation states worry about who wields armies – we will worry about who lifts high the bags of food.”
The global applause became immediately viral – on every social media site and through every Facebook portal the live feed of the debate, donated for free by Marc Zuckerburg, and placed on every google page in the world, ricocheted the lasting message of the long-awaited divorce of activism, and of free thought, from partisan political maneuvering. Oscar Arias sat back and basked in the powerful glow.
The Council of Faiths
Harder had been the Council of Faiths. Picking a location had been complicated and contentious. At first Arias had thought about attempting to stage the meeting in a neutral location, avoiding the trappings of any individual faith. Somewhere like Reykjavik, although that place had become associated with politics since the days of the cold war. But his instincts had instead taken him in the other direction. To get the faiths to a common platform – to agree to be inclusive, to work together to help solve problems that are religious while also political – Arias chose Jerusalem. What better place? – The city at the beating heart of three great faiths which have been in armed conflict with each other for thousands of years.
Selecting participants had also been a delicate process. The Popes of the Catholic and Coptic churches; the Patriarch of Constantinople of the Orthodox churches, the Dalai Lama of the Buddhists. Those invitations had been natural. Much more difficult were the more decentralized religions; and negotiations had ensued – but finally they had arrived at consensus. The Shintus were represented by Takatsukasa Naotake, Chief Priest of the Ise Jingu Shrine; the Hindus by Kashi Naresh, the chief officiating priest of the Kashi Vishvanath Temple. Protestantism, decentralized and messy, was represented by Reverend Billy Graham who despite his tremendous age and frail health agreed to bless the assembly with a short video. Reverend Luis Palau participated in person. The Lutherans were represented by Martin Junge, Secretary General of the Lutheran World Federation. The Presbyterians were represented by their moderators, Denise Anderson and Jan Edmiston while the Baptists by Steve Gaines, President of the Southern Baptist Convention. Islam was harder still, since that religion sees no dividing line between politics and faith. Arias had worked with the Organization of Islamic Cooperation to call a meeting together where that also-messy faith picked two or three of their faith leaders to represent them at the council summit – political leaders and monarchs were excluded. Some smaller faiths were also excluded – animists and Mormons and others who did not have a significant influence on the peace of nations. The summit was hosted by Israeli Sephardi Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef and Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau, of the Jewish faith. Unlike the summit of the Council of Action, this meeting was held in private. Religion was contentious enough as it is, without adding many people to the discussion.
“We have come here,” the Dalai Lama led the debate, “to come to a common understanding on the role of faith in the organization of world affairs. Just like as Westphalia, four hundred years ago removed faith from the global debate, ending the religious wars only to invigorate the political ones; so today we are returning it as part of the solution to the problems of peoples.”
“What would you have us do?” Asked the representative from the OIC.
“Religion drives identity just as much, if not more these days than does national identity – which no longer pulls on the heartstrings of people in our multi-cultural societies. And, in periods of economic and political stress, people turn to religion to understand the world around them and to justify their responses to what they see. This council will be a guide, based upon common principles of peace and the search for prosperity which are found to a certain measure in all religions, although they become warped when those same religions start to consider the political. The council will intervene in religious struggles, it will weigh in on issues that affect humanity such as environmental issues and diseases, it will mobilize resources for the fight against poverty and adversity, and it will initiate actions when faiths are threatened by war. Muslims by the monks in Burma; Coptics by the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt; Jews by the anti-Semites in Europe. We will be the voice for them all – because we represent them all.”
An expectant silence extended for a time. Outside the main hall of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem the sirens could be heard racing back and forth above the call to prayer.
Finally one of the clerics of the conclave spoke. “When our country threatened the world with nationalism and militarism,” Naotake said, “at the behest of our emperor who was also our god, there was nowhere to turn but to force and war. We learned the hard way – as did the Europeans four hundred years ago, that the fusion of political and military power with faith always causes strife. For us, I can confirm that we will commit to taking the cause of peace to the faiths of the world when the nations of the world want to fight.”
“What power will we have?” asked Pope Francis.
“The power will be that of our place in the imaginations of our people,” the Dalai Lama responded. “No longer are we dependent on financing of nation states for collective global action. We will mobilize ourselves, our people, and our money. The United Nations, as it stands, depends on the donations of member states which in turn depend on their capacity for taxation. This makes the biggest economies, with the biggest armies, also the biggest donors. Ah, but faiths – our faiths mobilize more money for our causes; not dependent upon the use of force through taxation, thereby making the giver a participant, not a victim, of a global cause. And that financing extends beyond to entities uncontrolled by politics and causes that do not respond to periodic elections or the whims of despots. America alone accounts for private donations of more than four hundred billion dollars to fight poverty and injustice. The power of coordinated action that compels the faithful to action – has the world ever seen such a force?”
“What if we do not agree?” said the Aga Khan.
“Let us focus on the things we do agree on,” said the Pope. “Poverty, human misery – these are the conditions of humanity that offend God. And these conditions know no religion or nationality; they occur just as naturally in Mali as in Mexico, and among the untouchables as commonly as the indigenous. Jesus said, ‘We have come to set the captives free’ and that is a mission we can all agree on.”
There were murmurs of affirmation, and the Council of Faiths was born.
The Council of Industry
Oscar Arias and his small team prepared for the final discussion. Beijing, the most natural place for a discussion about wealth – the fastest growing country, one that knew no religion or activism or democracy. Not even ideology anymore, Beijing’s idealistic Maoism had descended into a stale, brittle authoritarianism. Only money. The Council of Industry. A cross-cutting of industries, one hundred small, ten medium and ten of the enormous. The only excluding factor – not what they produce or their business model – they must never have taken money from any government, unless in the form of selling a service.
It is ironic that business, which had lifted the world from poverty and given the greatest tools to humanity to live in prosperity and peace, had never received a Nobel Peace Prize. It was time to rectify that, to at last give industry the representation it deserves. “Capital is a tool for the ingenious to change the world,” Muhammad Yunus said as he stood in front of the conclave in Beijing. Representatives from each continent and each sector were there, manufacturing and tourism. Technology and mass production.
“Yes, we know,” said the representative of Nike. “Truth is, only we know how to allocate scarce resources in a world where options are zero sum. The governments of the world are bankrupt. 200 trillion dollars in debt – that’s what the world’s ‘mixed economies’ and ‘social democracies’ have brought. But we, because of our balance sheets, know how sacred capital is and how best to invest it to yield maximum returns for our stakeholders. Not at the point of a gun, but because we produce things that make peoples’ lives better. Those who talk constantly about sustainability exist on stolen money but cannot ever fathom what sustainability really means – yet we have achieved it with our system of profit and loss which is the only measure to understand what diverse needs and wants are. And we, who are vilified, have pulled hundreds of millions from poverty over the last century while governments has on its toll only murder and destruction. And we are the enemy?”
“With all due respect, President Arias,” the owner of Riu Hotels and Resorts said, “you have come out against armies. Against guns. And that is good. But you forget that has nothing to do with us. We respond to the market forces – are we to blame for governments buying bullets and commissioning the creating of new bombs? If the United States chooses to pump public money into weapons technology, are we to blame if we do the work? Extra-market forces that pull scarce resources from the creation of space travel or driverless cars and push it towards the creation of weapons. Countries buy weapons – we should never forget that.”
“And religions,” said Jack Ma, president of Alibaba – directed at the Pope. “Though you vilify us, we who create wealth and jobs. All the religions do is squabble over the un-knowable – that is until they get fed up with the debate and mobilize into armies. What we ask is simple, people should respond to their natural instincts; self-interest – their own health, their own prosperity, their own property, their own families.” And he turned to Al Gore, “Indira Gandhi has said ‘Poverty is the greatest polluter’, yet we are blamed for global environmental problems. We who know that rich countries create parks and reforest barren hills. We who invented the technology – the internal combustion engine, the control and distribution of electricity, the deflation of prices bringing consumer goods into the hands of the masses, and who gave the world communications. We who created the technology to recycle; who increase efficiency and create green cities – we are vilified while all around us those who destroy the world point their fingers at us.”
“Yes, we agree,” Yunus retorted. “This is why, finally, those with the capacity to create wealth are given a voice and a vote. But we must give a voice to the small industries, tiny businesses as well. Even in America, the democracy has been built not by the corporations but by the small mom-and-pop companies sprinkled around the land. Managerialism, a result of our mixed economic systems which have co-mingled political power and economic might, has created a world of mega-wealthy individuals who are beyond the imagination of most of us, and who have placed their companies under the supervision of a managerial elite which is suffocating growth and creativity. The Council of Industry must not fall into this trap.” Muhammad Yunus had said in Geneva.
“But how do we avoid that?” Asked Rigoberta – wary of business, a product of too many years blaming the wrong villain for the plight of the Indians.
“Three working groups,” said Yunus. “One of the small businesses, one hundred small businesses under ten employees, another of ten medium sized businesses with under one hundred, and finally three so-called ‘fortune five hundred’ companies. Chosen by their peers, choosing leadership as you see fit and making decisions on what to focus on. Receiving buy in from your constituents.”
This meeting, too, was streamed on Facebook – with Marc Zuckerberg one of the important guests of the consultation. Small businesses had been invited to tweet and message their advice. At the end, Zuckerberg hardwired a poll onto every Facebook account in the world – with limited options for organization and for proposing initial membership, with an algorithm pushing up or down the nominees until a core group of diverse entities emerged, and the Council of Industry was born.
It had been a year of diplomacy, negotiations, and hard discussions. Popular rallies and closed-door sessions; deal making and compromises. Don Oscar wasn’t entirely happy with the result – but then again nobody had received all they wanted. Never mind, the skeleton of the new world order had come together. One that was not controlled solely by power politics, but was inclusive of the new way the world had become organized. A Council of Nations in New York, a Council of Faiths in Jerusalem, A Council of Action in Marrakech, and a Council of Industry in Beijing – held together by a return to the world of the Council of Elders based in San Jose, Costa Rica. At the old United Nations University for Peace, which had been converted into a library to rival Alexandria, the House of Wisdom, Timbuktu and the Library of Congress.
Arias sat back in his chair of his study back in San Jose, preparing himself for his final public appearance. A swan song that would live forever, a dream that – he hoped – would make the difference in a world that could no longer make collective decisions. The United Nations General Assembly was coming, the last UNGA. The end of a season, the beginning of a new one – a Council of Humanity. And Don Oscar was at peace.
President Oscar Arias stood in front of the dais at UNGA, in front of the backdrop of muted green where so much had happened that had defined the world for almost a hundred years. Where Hugo Chavez had invoked “The Devil”; where Che Guevara had blasted American Imperialism and where John F. Kennedy had stopped World War III. Behind him were the other twelve founding members of the Council of Elders – lending support by the gravity of their collective appearance. The entire event was live-streamed on YouTube and Facebook and Twitter and picked from there to CNN and Al Jazeera and Fox News and RT – reaching the world.
“Ladies and gentlemen, presidents and nations, I come to you today on the eve of something momentous. You all know why I am here. The old ways no longer work for us. The United Nations, as it has grown, has become disconnected from its mission: to be a marketplace of ideas and a forum for peace. Not a bureaucracy serving the whims of rich and powerful nations at the expense of those that cannot find their voice; or as a meeting place of old prejudices agglutinated by the collective resentment of petty tyrants. Politics – partisan politics that have become obstructed by enmity and hate as too many vie for power on a planet that is rapidly running out of resources. Our new Council of Humanity will take into account that the world is not just about pieces of land demarcated by borders, often times drawn arbitrarily by powers past and present. It is a recognition that issues of faith, of industry and information and action and liberty transcend borders – that poverty is not eliminated through stifling bureaucracies and that our climate will not be protected by politicians. All this our new structure will consider. It will be voluntary. A spontaneous order for peace – not a model of centralized governments like the planners proposed so long ago, and which failed. And we will bring back the guides. Elders who will hold the councils steadfastly to the orienting principles which the United Nations was founded on and which we have instilled in each and every one of us. Her enduring legacy on our hearts, even if she must pass away.”
Don Oscar paused to take a breath, and a collective silence engulfed the world. “First and foremost the issue of our values as a human race. The first article of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights reads, ‘All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood’. This is the enduring legacy gifted to us by the United Nations. It is the end of a march of history which down through the ages sought to give us kings and pawns, nobles and serfs, owners and slaves, dictators and the oppressed. It is the most important document in world history. The Council of Humanity will use that as her guiding light, assuring that decisions in each of the five councils correspond to the principles laid out in that charter.”
“But having the right ideas do not guarantee a world at peace, seeking development and prosperity. Those must come through the exercise of decisions in the advance of those values. The United Nations has been unable to make decisions for some time. The famous Security Council veto, which so often pits the United States against Russia – nation states which have perpetual, structural and visceral competing interests – has caused the organization to exist in a state of suspended animation for too long. All the while the General Assembly passes resolutions based on hate and bitterness and envy in a downward spiral. Our new Council of Humanity will allow issues to be brought to the global agenda without having to pass through nation states and their power-politics. As we speak the five councils are drawing up their charters, each making decisions as they see fit. Some by consensus, some by votes, others through rotating leadership. Those will be submitted for ratification to the Council of Elders by the end of the year. When a council decides on an action, they only have to obtain the agreement of one other council to elicit a discussion in each of the five. Four councils approving of a resolution makes it pass. And each council may act alone. The Council of Action may engage on climate change or slavery or any of the myriad of issues on their own, drawing up plans and enacting agendas even without the consent of others; not hampered by politicians in New York or Geneva; or bureaucrats dressed in blue the world over. Finally the Council of Elders alone will have the power to bring to the Council of Humanity together around an issue – compelling debate and discussion and resolution. But the Council of Elders will have no veto. In a world of equals, one man sitting in a big white house or in an old royal citadel can no longer hold the world hostage.”
Arias was looking into the camera as his face was beamed all over the world. Into private houses in poverty in Africa; on smart-phones beside old rivers in Europe.
“This will make the Council of Humanity more effective,” he went on. “Right now action depends on discussions, resolutions, that are then adopted and taken back by politicians to their home countries, where other laws must be passed – all the while with one eye on the calendar, knowing full well the next political leader will jettison all accomplishments and set the community back a decade. But worse than that, power politics – the right to wield a gun – is an enterprise naturally fraught with violence and abuse. I know, I was a two-time president and am well aware of the inebriating effect of power on the consciousness of even the gentlest spirit. But this isn’t how our world works anyway – and it isn’t effective. We all know that governance is most effective the closer it is to the people – that in fact the best form of government are homeowners associations and local village meetings. It was never the right approach to try and form a world government, regulating the behavior of people from Tibet to Timbuktu through central plans designed in New York or Vienna. As the Council of Action will tell you, local pressures produce results that trickle up to change nations; and as the Council of Industry will tell you a man opening a bakery in Tel Aviv will end the poverty of nations. And as the Council of Faith reminds us all, the end of sectarian wars begins with neighbors talking to each other in Karachi. Centralized power is what made the 20th century the most deadly in human history. However a spontaneous order – that’s what made the 20th century the most prosperous in human history. As Friedrich August von Hayek said ‘The curious task of economics is to demonstrate to men how little they really know about what they imagine they can design’.”
Murmurs of agreement and dissent. The applause-meter on Facebook silently entered green for a time as the world cheered at the end of the planning.
“That is all collective action for good – sponsored by individuals and sustainable because it involves changing the hearts of men and women. But that brings us to the main purpose of the old United Nations – and the one it failed at most dramatically. War – violence between nations; or even scarier, violence within nations. Too long have we watched the evil, from Rwanda to Bosnia to North Korea to the Soviet Union to Venezuela – to Syria – as it extended. Protected often by this organization which has become a cabal. The end of wars will not happen this way – a Pax Humana will not come about due to the exhaustion of the warmongers. Violence begets only more violence. In this – the Council of Elders will have the final say. Men and women of no political authority, holding no elected office and with no armies at their command will have the primary burden of attending to the wars. Cases may be brought to us, for armed responses are often required to end armed action. This is not a role we assume lightly – and our actions in this regard will be guided by the principle of ‘Responsibility to Protect’ as outlined by paragraphs 138-139 of the 2005 World Summit Outcome Document passed by the United Nations and subsequently ignored. We will make it our primary concern to work with the other Councils to find ways to end the wars and prevent future ones. Because war is an abomination. When I worked in the 1980s to end the Central American wars, I did so at great personal risk to my reputation and my country and against the wills of the great powers. But we did it because it was right. Ending war has been the primary calling of my life, and as such is the primary mission of the Council of Elders.”
Don Oscar stood for a time, flummoxed as, starting with the delegation from the Council of Action and rippling around the room and into the streets, an entire world stood to its feet and the applause that engulfed the globe was enough to make even the gods take notice.
“Of course,” Arias said after the ovation had died down, “all this must be paid for. First, and this must be said, the Council of Humanity will be leaner, more efficient. Cheaper. Gone are the days of shiny white cars careening around in impunity; of blue helmets fighting forgotten wars for profit, of expensive homes while people starve and exorbitant salaries while the charities do all the hard work. The operationalization of the United Nations has taken it from its core interests and has made it a mammoth bureaucracy catering to poor-country bureaucrats…”
Murmurs of dissent.
“No matter. Action will be paid for by interested parties. Peacekeeping missions will fall to regional bodies – like NATO or the African Union or ECOWAS or the Organization of American States, funded by those countries with interests in the fight, like the United States in Somalia. The costs of these missions will be transferred away from the massive DPKO bureaucracy and decision making placed closer to the people fighting – one of the principles of the new Council of Humanity. Feeding the poor and responding to emergencies will be coordinated spontaneously by the Council of Action and their charities, who already do all the work anyway and in a much more cost effective manner. Scientific inquiry will continue to be done by industries and action groups, depoliticized for credibility; the environment will be protected – all more efficiently. Of course, there will still need to be funding for the Council offices, the limited staffing needed to keep the work going, and the occasional special initiative. This will be paid for, as it is now, by the donations of the members – be they states, charities, faiths or what have you. Appeals will be made, budgets established, and the Council of Elders will also, alas, be fundraisers.”
“Which brings me to the nature of the United Nations’ failings. Trust. The 21th century will be defined by historians as an age of anti-globalism. Trust in global elites has evaporated. People are building walls, are shutting themselves away – and the echo chambers of all sides are resonating, exacerbated by the sharp narrowing of the mind in an age of information. The United Nations falls into this problem. Nobody believes the studies, nobody considers the research. The Council of Humanity will be trusted again, because the root of knowledge will not be nation state governments – the roots of knowledge will be debated among the council members, which are not vying for political power but seeking to advance causes. Take the issue of environmental protection, which has become a tool for poor countries to blackmail rich ones, and for nations to villainize industry. The Council of Humanity will commission research, which will be carried out by the Council of Action from their perspective; by the Council of Industry from theirs and the Council of Faith recognizing our divine responsibility to protect the planet. All these will prompt a vigorous debate – which will increase trust and understanding and result in action, by individual councils and eventually collective action as public pressure increases. Change promoted by the gun is fleeting and often backfires. That which comes from changes in the human heart and collective human consciousness is forever; and that is what we must strive for.”
Don Oscar received a standing ovation – started by the American and British delegations to the General Assembly; President Trump himself standing and applauding the longest.
“Our new union will be flexible – not waiting for sclerotic nation states governed by despots to advance principles that the people have known are right forever. Our Council of Humanity will move anyway; in ones and twos and finally all five charging fearlessly into our future. Similarly, because it is not focused on power politics of nation states – seizing and holding political office, lording it over neighbors near and far in humanity’s endless wars of significance – our new Council will hold humanity gently in an open palm, not an iron fist, and appeal to our better angels instead of always signaling our more malevolent demons. Because it will not have immense budgets; great armies; or the command of action it also will not attract those who seek their own meaning through their control over others. And the days of the despots on earth – the abiding problem of humanity – will finally begin to fade away. And we will be accountable – we will have public debates when necessary; we will put our budgets online; and we will highlight corruption through the steadfast work of the Council of Action. But more important than financial accountability, we will be accountable to the truth. Politics and truth are like oil and water. By creating a place free of petty power politics, where members do not fear arbitrary taxation or the violence of one against the other, we will create a place where debate is encouraged, knowledge is created and stored. Great online portals – libraries of the mind opened to people. No ideas will be excluded because they are inconvenient to those in power. Finally, at last, the human mind will be free.”
Instead of resounding applause, a solemn silence had seized the world.
“So let us go forth. Together, we will call for common action on issues affecting humanity. We will advocate for the rights of people when they are extinguished in violent civil wars or by oxygen-less dictatorships. We will finally protect our planet – a cause that I care about so much, but which has eluded us even while our population doubled and tripled. We will seek solutions to the problems of scarce resources through innovation and industry and science – all by lending our common voices to the common values that will make our causes most prescient. We will become the cheerleaders of the human race.”