In light of the opening of the 62nd session of the United Nations General Assembly on September 18, I argue it needs a transformation of purpose and strategies. The United Nations views conflicts in two forms: one nation against another, or one nation against its own people.
This was a fine way to see the world when people had so little access to weapons. During the World Wars, people were equipped with state-issued nation-crumbling weapons. And then the weapons were taken away. Since then, weapons have been subsidized and widely distributed by the most powerful members of the UN, the very body created to sustain peace. Since the American industrial dominance, corporate shares have become a tool to extract value from man and natural resources without having to invade the nation with them. On the other hand, this tool, like weapons, have been heavily subsidized. Both nation-crumbling weapons and corporate shares are available across borders more freely than ever. As long as the UN resists changing its inflexible view of the world and accept subsidies as the norm, it will fail to keep peace. And nations will play a supporting role.
Man has always been highly tribal and nations grew to become the ultimate tribal formations in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. They were so powerful, most of the tribes of men fought in a devastating World War. To avoid such atrocities, the most powerful tribes on earth convinced the rest of the other tribes to join a peace-keeping discussion group, which is the essence of the UN. Having convinced most of the tribes to join, the same elite group developed more weapons. In order to beat out competition, governments subsidized the sale of weapons by commissioning new weapons and giving money to other governments to buy them. As a result, the world has more weapons now than at the inception of the UN. This is one prima facie measure of the UN’s failure. Theoretically, there is a quick and easy fix: stop financing the sale of weapons. Practically, the fix is unrealistic: there are no willing nations. At least the optimists have the theoretical possibility.
Both theoretically and practically impossible, the UN will never regain the role as the keeper of peace as long as it doesn’t invite non-state actors to the discussion group. Non-state actors like ISIL or Boko Haram want recognition and legitimacy. They want to be heard. Say what you will about not negotiating with terrorists, as long as diplomacy is off the table, they will take up arms and form new tribes, even if these new tribes have no land to call their own. They understand that nations are not dirt on the ground; nations are people. If the world won’t listen, they will make themselves heard. The UN cannot succeed without sharing the light of peace with everyone.
The UN is failing to keep peace by not dealing with the non-state actor commonly known as the corporation.
The corporation is often defined as the legal entity that exists to economically benefit its owners. What such definitions fail to capture is the essence of the concept. Some people (shareholders) own a share of the productivity of other people (employees) in exchange for gambling on ideas that could not find financing in other ways. This is an exchange of money for work. Work is an activity, not an asset. Still, governments insist on removing humanity in the corporation in order to subsidize it with lower taxes.
Unfairness through subsidies were more apparent when the UN was conceived because such distinctions on income didn’t exist. Now, one need not live in a shareholder-less nation to see their lives being left in the dust of the few. The divide has made clear how we have perverted capitalism. It is a political economy Adam Smith would be ashamed to be associated with.
Governments either promote or succumb to this definition of capitalism. And by doing so, non-state actors will remain in demand, both the corporate-kind and the terrorist-kind. The whole raison d’etre of non-state actors is to reject governments in great part because of this subjugation.
The UN doesn’t involve itself in philosophical discussions of fairness, but shouldn’t it? Isn’t the lack of fairness fueling terrorism and creating non-state actors, the same non-state actors with whom the UN is not willing to engage?
The most powerful UN members are those that have been subsidizing shareholders for a very long time. These members have been in denial for too long. Free market capitalism has brought incredible prosperity to the world but it passed its optimal free-ness a long time ago.
Plus, the definition of “free,” as in liberty, no longer seems to include “fair,” or “just,” or “moral.” How fair are different tax rates for the economic benefit from the work of others? How just is it to hear the concerns of some people but not others because they don’t have land of their own? How moral are subsidies for equipment designed to kill over things that bring happiness? Imagine a United States that gives money to Egypt to purchase massages from US masseurs rather than weapons from US defense firms. Wouldn’t financing shoulder rubs better relieve tensions and keep peace than grenade launchers?
The evidence keep mounting. More and more nations lower tax rates on the sale of shares rather than making them equal to income. More and more non-state actors are being created to represent values and interests of people rather than an elite few. More and more dissatisfaction is communicated using weapons rather than words.
In order to be the true representative of peace, a transformation is necessary. The United Nations will have to advocate weapon-less peace, engage with land-less people and promote subsidy-less free markets. The United Nations will have to go beyond uniting nations. The United Nations will have to unite people.
Marcus Maltempo is a compliance professional with more than a decade of experience helping banks, law firms and clients manage investigations and regulatory responses. He is a member of ACAMS and ACFE.