7 Billion People, 1 United Nations,Hand in Hands

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Vol. XLVIII No. 4 2011

Issue Number 4, 2011 offers expert debate on the set of priorities for action, as well as other major issues and opportunities, that Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has enunciated. Meant to stimulate discussion,"7 billion people, 1 United Nations, Hand in Hands"looks at the challenges in issues as diverse as climate change, empowering women, human rights and accountability, and nuclear disarmament.

Conventional thinking juxtaposes democracy and dictatorship as mutually exclusive systems. It is often assumed that when one system collapses, it is replaced by the other, as if this was the natural order of things. Some theorists, such as Francis Fukuyama, argued that liberal democracy had decisively defeated tyranny with the collapse of the Soviet Union, which marked the "end of history". Indeed, since then, while there have been setbacks in countries such as Ukraine and Zimbabwe, dictatorship has been in retreat.

The global health agenda brings together two critical action spheres of our time: managing interdependence and globalization, and addressing the growing inequalities within and between nations through development strategies. It also lies at the intersection of many policy arenas and is subject to a special dynamic. On the one hand, poor health is frequently a consequence of other global crises such as finance, food insecurity, or climate change, while on the other hand, the whole of society bears the impact if health challenges are not well managed.

According to recent UN reports, 1 out of 10 persons is now aged 60 or over; by 2050, that ratio will be 1 out of 5, with older persons outnumbering children under the age of 14. As we enter the second decade of the twenty-first century, the number of persons aged 60 and over is growing so rapidly that a 30 per cent increase is expected, reaching one billion by the end of this decade, and perhaps another billion by the middle of the century.

Which Ban Ki-moon -- the criticized early version, or the latest, emboldened edition -- will be seen during his second term leading the world body in pursuit of international peace and security? Although an in-depth treatment is beyond the scope of this article, in the hope of stimulating further analysis a few words can be said on the pivotal functions of the Secretary-General. In the area of peace and security, the Secretary-General wears several hats: he is the general of peacekeeping, the political prince of world diplomacy, the secular pope of the values of the Charter, and the global CEO of a complex, international bureaucracy. All of these roles are intertwined and complementary, but for the sake of analytical clarity, this article addresses each one separately.

Criticism of the Secretary-General's own performance in relation to human rights tended to focus on his perceived failure to denounce violations, especially in Myanmar, Sri Lanka, and China. Such criticism runs counter to recent academic research which has shown that isolating states is a relatively ineffective way of responding to chronic human rights problems. And, for the record, the Secretary-General has repeatedly voiced concern about human rights in Myanmar, Sri Lanka, and elsewhere. The dispute, though, is more about tactics than substance. Each individual case is different, and what might work in one place might not in another. Sometimes the Secretary-General has taken considerable political risks to protect human rights, most notably in the case of Côte d'Ivoire, in early 2011. Such tactics are not likely to work often.

The proliferation of small arms and light weapons (SALW) in various parts of the globe continues to pose a systemic and pervasive threat to the long-term social and economic development of many nations, particularly in small developing states.

No nation, region, or sub-region is immune from the dangers posed by the illicit trade in and the proliferation of SALW. As we have witnessed time and again, events in one localized area can have far-reaching implications in many areas throughout the global community. The wide circulation of these weapons is oftentimes the catalyst that transforms localized incidents into global events.

Nuclear weapons are strategic equalizers for weaker sides in conflict relationships, but they do not buy defence on the cheap. They can lead to the creation of a national security state with a premium on governmental secretiveness, reduced public account- ability, and increased distance between citizens and Governments. There is the added risk of proliferation to extremist elements through leakage, theft, state collapse, and state capture. In terms of opportunity costs, heavy military expenditure amounts to stealing from the poor. Nuclear weapons do not help to combat today's real threats of insurgency, terrorism, poverty, illiteracy, malnutrition and corruption. As they said in the streets of Delhi in 1998: "No food, no clothing, no shelter? No worry, we have the bomb."

Over the last year, largely unbeknownst to the public, Governments from countries rich and poor were busy working on the design of the Green Climate Fund, aimed at mobilizing $100 billion a year by 2020 for mitigation and adaptation to climate change. However, do we really need and can we afford a new global fund, particularly in today's distressed financial environment?

In the aftermath of the Second World War, the creation of the United Nations and documents such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Genocide Convention, the four Geneva Conventions of 1949, and their Additional Protocols, as well as concepts such as responsibility to protect (R2P), have transformed international law and the basis for how states must conduct international relations. Yet, as David Rieff, who has covered several wars and humanitarian emergencies, remarks in his book A Bed for the Night: Humanitarianism in Crisis, the "murderous twentieth century remained just as murderous".

Developing countries and vulnerable communities must shift away from a classic development model to one that creates an enabling environment, not only to solve domestic challenges of inequity and social injustice, but to establish truly multilateral and mutually beneficial relationships to address pressing global issues, secure competitive advantages, and build stable economies. In other words, just like established and emerging economies, developing nations must create an infrastructure for ensuring sustainability. To do this, they need partnerships for quality higher education, advanced research, and an integrated innovations agenda.

Since the adoption of Agenda 21 in 1992, the United Nations has been pursuing sustainable development in the economic, social, and environmental fields, and at the local, national, and international levels. Due to efforts of the past two decades, the United Nations has been successful in spreading the concept of sustainable development far and wide, carrying out various forms of relevant activities on a regular basis, and establishing numerous international political commitments. As countries become increasingly interdependent, the desire for sustainable development has become stronger in a concerted way. It would be fair to say that an era of sustainable development is being ushered in right now.