Reforming the United Nations

EDITORIAL, 10 Oct 2022

#766 | John Scales Avery, Ph.D. – TRANSCEND Media Service

Strengthening the UN

It is becoming increasingly clear that the concept of the absolutely sovereign nation-state is a dangerous anachronism in a world of thermonuclear weapons, instantaneous communication, and economic interdependence. Probably our best hope for the future lies in developing the United Nations into a World Federation. The strengthened United Nations should have a legislature with the power to make laws that are binding on individuals, and the ability to arrest and try individual political leaders for violations of these laws. The world federation should also have the power of taxation, and the military and legal powers necessary to guarantee the human rights of ethnic minorities within nations.

In 1945, the victors of World War II gathered in San Francisco to draft the United Nations Charter. The tragic experiences of two world wars, during which the lives of 26 million soldiers and 64 million civilians were lost, had convinced them that security based on national military forces must be replaced by a system of collective security. The first paragraph of the Charter states that the primary purpose of the organization is “to maintain international peace and security, and to that end to take effective measures for the prevention and removal of threats to the peace, and for the suppression of acts of aggression and other breaches of the peace, and to bring about by peaceful means, and in conformity with the principles of justice and international law, adjustment or settlement of international disputes or situations which might lead to a breach of the peace.”

In practice, the United Nations has developed several effective modes of action – peacekeeping, peacemaking, peacebuilding, preventive diplomacy and peace enforcement. Even though the organization has been hampered by Cold War tensions and frequently paralyzed by vetoes in the Security Council, it nevertheless has made substantial contributions to global peace by resolving small-scale conflicts and by preventing large-scale ones.

The term peacekeeping, in its narrow sense, is applied to operations where U.N. Military personnel, often unarmed or only lightly armed, form a buffer between hostile forces in order to maintain a cease-fire. Peacemaking refers to U.N. assistance in the settlement of disputes or the resolution of conflicts.

International Law

We can clearly see that in the long run, security can only be achieved by an effective system of international law. The United Nations is the only institution whose authority and structure are suited to constructing and enforcing such a system of law at the global level. U.N. membership includes all nations; and the U.N. has had half a century of experience in addressing global problems.

The impartiality and neutrality of the Secretary-General are accepted and recognized, whereas regional organizations such as NATO cannot claim the same degree of impartiality. Thus it is urgent that the present U.N. Charter be made to function more justly and more effectively; and in the long run, the weaknesses of the present U.N. Charter must be corrected.

The need for international law must be balanced against the desirability of local self-government. Like biological diversity, the cultural diversity of humankind is a treasure to be carefully guarded. A balance or compromise between these two desirable goals could be achieved by granting only a few carefully chosen powers to a strengthened United Nations with sovereignty over all other issues retained by the member states.

The Social and Economic Institution of War Must Be Abolished

There are numerous reasons why war must be abolished as a social institution; and a few of these reasons are as follows: It is extremely important that research funds be used to develop renewable energy sources and to solve other urgent problems now facing humankind, rather than for developing new and more dangerous weapons systems. In spite of the end of the Cold War, the world still spends roughly 2 trillion U.S. dollars per year on armaments, and the total amount spent on war is even greater. Thus, very many people make their living from war, and this is the reason why it is correct to call war a social and economic institution.

The indirect effects of war and the threat of war are also enormous. For example, the World Health Organization lacks funds to carry through an antimalarial programme on as large a scale as would be desirable; but the entire programme could be financed for less than the world spends on armaments in a single day. Five hours of world arms spending is equivalent to the total cost of the 20-year WHO programme which resulted, in 1979, in the eradication of smallpox. With a diversion of funds consumed by three weeks of the military expenditures, the world could create a sanitary water supply for all peoples, thus eliminating the cause of more than half of all human illness.

As bad as conventional arms and conventional weapons may be, it is the possibility of a nuclear war that still poses the greatest threat to humanity. One argument that has been used in favor of nuclear weapons is that no sane political leader would employ them. However, the concept of deterrence ignores the possibility of war by accident or miscalculation, a danger that has been increased by nuclear proliferation

The UN Needs the Power to Make Laws That Are Binding on Individuals

Because of the terrible weapons which have been produced through the misuse of science, and because of the even more destructive weapons which are likely to be devised in the future, the only way that we can insure the survival of civilization is to abolish war as an institution. It seems likely that achievement of this goal will require revision and strengthening of the United Nations Charter. The Charter should not be thought of as cast in concrete for all time. It needs instead to grow with the requirements of our increasingly interdependent global society. We should remember that the Charter was drafted and signed before the first nuclear bomb was dropped on Hiroshima; and it also could not anticipate the extraordinary development of international trade and communication which characterizes the world today.

Among the weaknesses of the present U.N. Charter is the fact that it does not give the United Nations the power to make laws which are binding on individuals. At present, in international law, we treat nations as though they were persons: We punish entire nations by sanctions when the law is broken, even when only the leaders are guilty, even though the burdens of the sanctions fall most heavily on the poorest and least guilty of the citizens, and even though sanctions often have the effect of uniting the citizens of a country behind the guilty leaders. To be effective, the United Nations needs a legislature with the power to make laws which are binding on individuals, and the power to arrest individual political leaders for flagrant violations of international law. The International Criminal Court is an important step in the right direction, and it deserves our wholehearted support; but today the ICC operates very imperfectly because of vehement opposition from powerful nations, such as the United States.

The UN Needs a Reliable and Greatly Enlarged Source of Income

The United Nations has a number of agencies, such as the World Health Organization, the Food and Agricultural Organization, and UNESCO, whose global services give the UN considerable prestige and de facto power. The effectiveness of the UN as a global authority could be further increased by giving these agencies much larger budgets. In order to do this, and at the same time to promote the shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources, it has been proposed that the U.N. be given the power to tax CO2 emissions. The amount of money which could thus be made available for constructive purposes is very large; and a slight increase in the prices of fossil fuels could make a number of renewable energy technologies economically competitive.

It has also been proposed that the United Nations should be given the power to impose a small tax on international currency transactions (the “Tobin Tax”). The amount of money involved in these transactions is so large that even a few hundredths of a percent in tax on each transaction would be sufficient to solve the financial problems of the United Nations. A United Nations tax on air travel has also been proposed.

The provision of a reliable income for the United Nations would have the effect of freeing it from undue influence by any nation, making it more impartial. Impartiality may prove to be the key factor required to give the U.N. the moral authority needed to settle disputes and to maintain peace with a minimum use of force.

The Security Council Must Be Abolished

At the end of World War II, when the present UN Charter was drafted, the victorious nations visualized a world in which the most important of the victors would cooperate to maintain peace. The Security Council, with its veto power for individual members, then seemed like a good idea. However, World War II was followed immediately by the Cold War, and the Security Council became a hindrance to effective UN action. In a reformed United Nations, strengthened and given the powers of a federation, the Security Council should be abolished.

The Success of Federations

Historically, the federal form of government has proved to be extremely robust and successful. Many of today’s nations are federations of smaller, partially autonomous, member states. Among these nations are Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Germany, India, Mexico, Russia, Spain, South Africa and the United States.

Lessons from the European Union

The successes and problems of the European Union provide invaluable experience as we consider the measures that will be needed to make the United Nations into a federation. On the whole, the EU has been an enormous success, demonstrating beyond question that it is possible to begin with a very limited special-purpose federation and to gradually expand it, judging at each stage whether the cautiously taken steps have been successful.

The European Union has today made war between its member states virtually impossible. This goal, now achieved, was in fact the vision that inspired the leaders who initiated the European Coal and Steel Community in 1950.

The European Union is by no means without its critics or without problems, but, as we try to think of what is needed for United Nations reform, these criticisms and problems are just as valuable to us as are the successes of the EU.

Governments of Large Nations Achieve Internal Peace

The problem of achieving internal peace over a large geographical area is not insoluble. It has already been solved. There exist today many countries or regions within each of which there is internal peace. Some of these are so large that they are almost worlds in themselves. One thinks of China, India, Brazil, Australia, the Russian Federation, the United States, and the European Union. Many of these enormous societies contain a variety of ethnic groups, a variety of religions and a variety of languages, as well as striking contrasts between wealth and poverty. If these great land areas have been forged into peaceful and cooperative societies, cannot the same methods of government be applied globally?


John Scales Avery, Ph.D., who was part of a group that shared the 1995 Nobel Peace Prize for their work in organizing the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs, is a member of the TRANSCEND Network and Associate Professor Emeritus at the H.C. Ørsted Institute, University of Copenhagen, Denmark. He is chairman of both the Danish National Pugwash Group and the Danish Peace Academy and received his training in theoretical physics and theoretical chemistry at M.I.T., the University of Chicago and the University of London. He is the author of numerous books and articles both on scientific topics and on broader social questions. His most recent books are Information Theory and Evolution and Civilization’s Crisis in the 21st Century (pdf). Website:

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This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 10 Oct 2022.

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4 Responses to “Reforming the United Nations”

  1. Grand Design for Universal Peace Education for Global Good Governance through the New UN
    By Surya Nath Prasad, Ph.D. –TRANSCEND Media Service

  2. With all the respect I have for John Scales Avery’s knowledge, I could noy disagree more with his proposal. I have been in correspondence for years with Roger Kotila, Vice-President of the Democratic World Federation (DWF) who’ve been proposing the decades the changes to the UN advocated by Prof. Avery.

    I say ‘nothing will change’, especially after reading “The world federation should also have the ……military and legal powers necessary”. This means the UN Secretary General, instead of agreeing to all wars in the world organized by the UN Executive War Committee called ‘Security Council’ (I call it Insecurity Council) will organize his own wars, as he finds fit.

    The Secretary General will then choose which War Industries he wants to favor or damage. He’ll organise wars in the countries of ‘his’ choice, rather than accept the wars concocted and negotiated by the independent UN countries. In short, the UN boss will have to organize a permanent inter-federalists Civil War.

    Militarism or War Industry is a business. Who orders the war, who kills, who gets killed, matters a fig to manufacturers. All they need is to sell their killing toys and for people to plsy war so that new sales occur. If a war is civil, like in Colombia, Syria, Libya, Congo, Somalia, Ethiopia, etc or international is not their concern. All they want to see is SALES

    For a safe world there is ONE move only. The disappearance from our planet of the war industry, militarism, Armed Forces. Only once this happens and only then, we will be able to live in Peace and security.

  3. PanatomicX says:

    We all wish, hope and pray for World Peace. But to institute an extreme United Nations is as foolhardy as dreaming of peace, equality and prosperity through world communism. (In fact, it appears to be the same nightmare.) The larger and stronger the institution, the greater the temptation for the ruthless; if there is crack to be found for purchase of a lever, it will be exploited.

    And what would be the institution to save us from an extreme United Nations run amok? How does one escape the oppression of a World Government fallen into the grips of tyrannical monsters? And when historically have individual rights ever been considered by unchecked power?

    Homogeneity imposed through large, overpowering institutions is another problem. Good faith decisions designed to be beneficial may result in devastation. Suppose this World Government makes an excessively lethal blunder, say, by the misguided, mandatory application of a genetically-engineered vaccine that kills instead of saves? Such a mistake on a local level could be horrible, but on a global level it would be catastrophic, worse than any war.

    To discourage a greater United Nations is not to suggest a lesser one, however. But be clear, any solution to the World Peace problem requires consent of an aggregate of power, not increased centralization. But it may be efficacious to review the original Charter and perhaps pare down the current UN into a more streamlined, functional institution as originally designed.

  4. Paul says:

    Avery’s job is apparently to promote public misdirection and officialdom propaganda.

    Anyone who faces what the world is we live in understands that “reform” is the same as re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

    Real permanent solutions entail the eradication of the UN because it’s an instrument of power and control by the ruling class of psychopaths (“The 2 Married Pink Elephants In The Historical Room” … serving their interests and agenda.

    “Separate what you know from what you THINK you know.” — Unknown