In September 2024 — 15 months from now — the United Nations’ 193 member states are expected to convene a Summit of the Future during the General Assembly’s annual high-level week in New York City. In addition to helping countries deliver on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the summit is meant to better equip the UN to address pressing global challenges. These include great-power tensions intensified by Russia’s aggression toward Ukraine, runaway climate change, unconstrained artificial intelligence and a growing global trust deficit.
The 2024 summit will produce a Pact for the Future and introduce several new instruments for enhancing collective action, such as a New Agenda for Peace, to be tabled for initial discussion by member states this July by Secretary-General António Guterres. As an effort to “rebuild the consensus for a more effective collective security system,” this new agenda for multilateral action may fall short if its “forward-looking vision of international peace and security” is pitched only at the “strategic” — head of state and diplomatic — level and fails to consider the serious limits of current global problem-solving operational machinery too.
Our new “Global Governance Innovation Report 2023: Redefining Approaches to Peace, Security & Humanitarian Action” addresses these limitations, arguing that the UN’s operational tools and concepts require urgent updating to keep pace with the changing nature of violent conflict and other global dangers.
With an eye toward raising the ambitions of the New Agenda for Peace and the broader goals for the Summit of the Future, the report recommends:
• A New Civilian Response Capability: The initiative could include a rapidly deployable cadre of 500 international staff possessing technical expertise, along with 50 senior mediators and special envoys/representatives of the secretary-general, emphasizing recruitment of women and youth leaders to support prevention, peacemaking, peacekeeping and post-conflict peace-building — the 4Ps — objectives. Ideally, these teams would be complemented by a standby component of highly skilled and periodically trained international civil servants, up to two thousand strong, drawn voluntarily from across the UN system.
• Early Warning and Action: Improving conflict analysis, early warning and early action capabilities means first designating responsibility within and equipping the UN Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs and Department of Peace Operations with the tools, resources and mandate to work out — with the Security Council, General Assembly and the Peacebuilding Commission — the signs and factors linked to mass atrocities. An upgraded early warning system could, in turn, support a new Peacebuilding Audit, modeled on the Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review.
• A New Treaty on Fully Autonomous Weapons: A legally binding treaty on autonomous weapons systems is urgently needed to maintain meaningful human control over the use of force and life-or-death decisions, as artificial intelligence and AI-controlled lethal autonomous weapons pose unique threats to peace and security by making warfare more deadly and efficient and autonomous.
The report also introduces ideas on long-overdue collective security structural reforms, including expanding the number of nonpermanent seats by six on the Security Council and enabling the immediate re-election of nonpermanent members, who are currently not allowed to serve consecutive terms, through a basic amendment of UN Charter Article 23; more use of the Uniting for Peace resolution of the General Assembly when the Security Council fails to act; and empowering the Peacebuilding Commission to lead on conflict prevention (through the Peacebuilding Audit tool) and peacebuilding policy development, coordination and resource mobilization for second- and third-order conflicts (e.g., post-peacekeeping or when preventive action is required, such as in Haiti).
The report also debuts a Global Governance Index and Global Governance Survey for measuring contributions to global cooperation, initially focusing on the Group of 7 and BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa). Developed with the Institute for Economics and Peace, a think tank, the index rates the 12 countries’ contributions across five themes of global leadership through multilateral institutions. Germany earned the highest overall score and Russia the lowest.
For the Global Governance Survey, pioneered with the Charney Research firm, citizens of the 12 countries were surveyed on five domains. Asked whether they thought the world was “going in the right [or wrong] direction,” the choice of “wrong” led by nearly two to one overall, although Chinese and Indian respondents saw a world moving in the “right” direction by large majorities. The primary reasons for the pessimism expressed by other countries’ citizens included war and conflict (flagged by 50 percent of respondents), worsening economy/jobs/inflation/poverty (noted by 38 percent) and increasing corruption (23 percent).
Maximizing the New Agenda for Peace and Summit of the Future
Five steps are needed to spur a smart coalition of governments, civil society, business groups and international organizations — against the challenging backdrop described above — to help ensure that the New Agenda for Peace and Summit of the Future realize their full potential:
Member States: Begin major negotiations immediately. A powerful, reframed narrative should underscore the high stakes and show how generating high-level political support, financial and technical assistance and clear concepts for improving global governance can positively reinforce both the Summit of the Future and this September’s SDG Summit.
The UN Secretary-General: Stand behind the best recommendations in “Our Common Agenda,” the High-Level Advisory Board report, the Executive Office of the Secretary-General’s Policy Brief series and July’s New Agenda for Peace initiative. The secretary-general must look to the moral compass that the UN Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights provide: a global civic ethic that empowers him to unapologetically speak for humanity and the planet.
Civil Society: Relentlessly try to convince UN ambassadors and their capitals that civil society’s thoughtful ideas on reinvigorating multilateralism can directly affect member states positively. Recently, civil society groups introduced a Summit of the Future Information Bulletin and an interim People’s Pact for the Future to provide both civil society and UN missions recent analysis and novel reform proposals for the various summit negotiation tracks.
The Pact for the Future and Related Tracks: Like the Agenda for Sustainable Development (creating individual targets and tracking indicators for all 17 individual goals), design a comprehensive monitoring and tracking mechanism to ensure accountability and manage course corrections in carrying out Summit of the Future outcomes.
Summit of the Future Follow-Up: Consider a comprehensive UN Charter review process through Article 109, culminating in 2026, to realize several anticipated Pact for the Future commitments requiring Charter amendment.
Through a combination of critical mass, quality ideas and deft multilateral diplomacy, civil society can team up with champion governments and dynamic leaders in global and regional institutions to ensure that the New Agenda for Peace and Summit of the Future produce an enormous difference in people’s lives worldwide. Together, they must work quickly to fully leverage this generational opportunity to realize the future we want and the UN we need for current and future generations.
This is an opinion essay.
We welcome your comments on this article. What are your thoughts on the UN reform agenda?