Sunday, August 16, 2015

An Alternative Post-2015 Agenda

As noted in my last post, the draft of the post 2015 agenda that governments have agreed upon is the disastrous product of a dysfunctional UN. To show what a meaningful agenda could be, I’ve drafted the text below. If governments go ahead with their agreed text I invite civil society organizations to consider adapting and adopting the following.


We live at a time when the growth of global connectivity has ushered in a range of new political, economic and social realities and opened up unprecedented potentials for sustainable human development.

Within the next 15 years we can realistically look forward to ending poverty and war, the most formidable obstacles to sustainable development.

In the process we can eliminate also the interrelated scourges of drug trafficking, terrorism and organized crime which at present exact a huge cost in lives and treasure from the poorest countries of the world.

To realize these objectives there are two fundamental requirements.

One is the full partnership of men and women and nations large and small in repairing a world devastated by the poisonous processes of the industrial age.

The other is the fundamental reform of the United Nations system of agencies.

Progress towards these ends will be framed by the values set forth in the United Nations Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Within that framework we recognize that nations have a sovereign right to determine their own course of development.


We endorse the Goals set out below and will take action to achieve them within our nations and in sub-regional, regional and global frameworks. We urge international agencies to prioritize South-South and Triangular modalities of cooperation wherever possible. In listing the Goals below, we set out the rationale that will guide policies and programmes and note (in italics) the action that we will take.

1. Eliminate Poverty: The extreme poverty afflicting nearly a billion people who live on less than $1:25 a day is caused by systemic factors rooted in the colonial era and sustained by current socioeconomic arrangements, especially those noted below under other Goals. We expect that as those are addressed, the problem of extreme poverty will be greatly ameliorated. To accelerate the process, we will frame specific policies and field well-funded programs to end hunger, extend good quality education to all children and ensure that the poor have access to health care.

2. Promote Social Inclusion: Poverty is not just economic; everywhere, it is associated with forms of social exclusion and discrimination. Many who are not poor also suffer exclusion and discrimination on the basis of their gender, age and sexual preference. To counter this, we will formulate appropriate laws and policies, initiate media campaigns targeting discrimination and make social inclusion a high priority in housing, education and access to the Internet and the worldwide web.

3. Combat Organized Crime: Most of the violence visited on societies around the world is the work of criminals organized around a nexus of economic interests, especially drug trafficking. They are empowered by existing financial and legal arrangements at the global level that must be changed if we are to root out all forms of organized crime ranging from sexual exploitation of children and women to trade in counterfeit goods and environmental crimes. To that end, we pledge to:

  • Revoke the existing prohibitionist conventions on the manufacture, trade and use of so called “illicit drugs,” and replace them with one that will promote a medical and social approach to addiction and abuse. This will be done at the Special Session of the General Assembly that will convene in 2016 to deal comprehensively with the issue of “illicit drugs.” 
  • Declare illegal all “shell companies” that allow criminals to hide behind corporate identities, and subsequently, seize the assets of all entities whose beneficial ownership is not verified. To this end, the Sixth Committee of the current session of the General Assembly will inscribe a new item on its agenda and come to an agreement within a year.
  • Decree that banks caught laundering money will automatically lose their license to do business and that the individuals involved will be subject to mandatory prison sentences. 

4. Build Peace and Security: The action under 3 a, b and c above will eliminate organized crime as a major threat to international peace and security but state-sponsored terrorism and proxy wars for control of resources or strategic space will continue. To address those sources of violence a twin-pronged approach will be necessary. On the one hand, we must make a concerted effort to end the proliferation of small arms and light weapons and stop the illicit trafficking in arms. On the other hand, the defensive responses of victimized societies must change. Instead of relying on heavily militarized police and secretive agencies that conduct massively intrusive surveillance of their own citizens, the first line of defense should be community-level organizations working with lightly armed local police organizations. To these ends, we resolve to:

  • Work with corporations manufacturing weapons to create a clear, transparent and global registry of small arms and light weapons
  • End the illicit trade in weapons by putting brokers out of business and into prison. 
  • Explore and promote community-level networks supporting local police to ensure security.

5. Change Production/Consumption Patterns: Existing patterns of production and consumption are rooted in the realities of the industrial era that are now fading under the influence of the technologies of the Information Age. The Internet and the Worldwide Web now allow small and medium corporations to identify and sell to niche markets, in effect destroying the mass markets essential for the survival of giant corporations. The rapid evolution of 3-D printing is making it possible for the highest quality of industrial production on a very small scale, in effect, setting at naught the single greatest advantage of mega corporations. As networks of small producers emerge to maximize their efficiencies, the mega corporations with their top-down decision-making structures and concentrated production/service centers will become increasingly inefficient dinosaurs. This will inevitably affect patterns of trade and urbanization, especially as cheap off-grid renewable sources of energy become plentiful. In sum, these trends will change all the wasteful production and consumption patterns of the last few centuries. To accelerate the process, we will:

  • Review all policies based on industrial era assumptions of production and consumption, especially of fossil fuels.
  • Promote the evolution of 3-D printing to meet the requirements of small and remote communities.
  • Set in place educational systems capable of providing the highest quality of instruction in the remotest rural locations.
  • Encourage entrepreneurs to meet the cultural needs of remote or widely dispersed rural populations
  • Consider how best to adapt our nations to the reversal of long standing trends towards urbanization.

6. Reduce Social Inequalities: Growing inequalities within societies has been one of the most unsustainable of trends over the last decade, accentuating injustices that have been a characteristic of all civilizations. The most obvious difference between the haves and the have-nots, and historically the most irreducible, has been access to high quality housing. However, as the connectivity of the Information Age has made crowd-funding a new economic reality, that great divide can now be closed. A crowd-funded housing sector can not only eliminate the issue of homeless populations, it can, in the process, rapidly expand employment, build infrastructure and drive economic growth. To make this possible a range of monetary and environmental issues will have to be ironed out. We will initiate a global research effort to illuminate and address those issues with an eye to providing housing for all by 2030.

7. Reform the United Nations System: The system of international agencies set in place at the end of World War II 70 years ago continues to function with little change in its modalities. It adopts hundreds of resolutions every year phrased in arcane diplomatic jargon addressed mainly to governments. No one knows what actually happens to the resolutions, for there is no systematic feedback on their implementation To rectify this state of affairs, we will move to hook the operations of the UN System into the networked world of the 21st century. That will entail crisply action-oriented resolutions circulated on all public, expert and organizational networks worldwide, eliciting feedback and responses in a fluid interactive process.

In sum, the achievement of these goals will lead towards the long-standing UN goal of general and complete disarmament, anchoring sustainable development to deepening peace and security. It will result in a world transformed by 2030.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

A Verbose, Hollow Post-2015 Agenda

I have just finished reading the agreed draft of the "development agenda" the United Nations will put before world leaders next month.

It has every characteristic of what UN insiders call a “Second Committee text;” that is to say, without vision, guided entirely by precedent, and wholly unrealistic.

Usually negotiated by Second and Third Secretaries too low on the diplomatic totem pole to dare go beyond their written briefs, such texts are classic MEGOs (Mine Eyes Glazeth Over).

Words lose all meaning in Second Committee negotiations and exist only as pointers to previously agreed texts.

For instance, the Preamble to the document claims it is “a plan of action” that “also seeks to strengthen universal peace in larger freedom.”

The only “action” proposed in the text comes at the back end of its 29 dense pages and involves something dear to every Second Secretary’s heart, further committee meetings.

In this case, a great number of them, for the document will launch “a Technology Facilitation Mechanism” that will service “a multi-stakeholder collaboration between Member States, civil society, private sector, scientific community, United Nations entities and other stakeholders.”

How will that work?

A “United Nations Interagency Task Team on Science, Technology and Innovation (STI)” will “promote coordination, coherence, and cooperation … enhancing synergy and efficiency, in particular to enhance capacity-building initiatives.”

It will work with 10 UN appointed representatives from civil society, the private sector and the scientific community to operationalize an on-line clearing-house platform on STI initiatives, mechanisms and programmes “within and beyond the UN” and prepare for an annual two-day meeting of a “Multistakeholder Forum.”

And how does the document “also” seek “to strengthen universal peace in larger freedom”?

The matter is a complete mystery, for none of the 17 references to “peace” in the 91-paragraph Declaration says anything about issues normally related to “universal peace in larger freedom.”

In fact, every reference is narrowly phrased to avoid giving offence to those profiting from gargantuan military expenditures, the proliferation of ever more devilish arms, terrorism and proxy wars.

There is a promise to “foster peaceful, just and inclusive societies which are free from fear and violence,” but the text studiously avoids mentioning drug trafficking (the single largest money-maker for global organized crime), terrorists and proxy wars.

Nor is there any mention of money laundering, which siphons off trillions of dollars from poor countries.

The text does say governments will “combat” all forms of organized crime by 2030 but is silent on what is to be done.

There are three references to terrorism. The first says it is endangering development. The second notes the need to “strengthen support and meet the special needs of people living … in areas affected by terrorism.” The third calls for strengthening “relevant national institutions … to prevent violence and combat terrorism and crime.”

The “relevant” institutions are those currently engaged in massively intrusive surveillance, indiscriminate violations of human rights and torture. They are the antithesis of sustainable development.

Another grand goal is to facilitate “orderly, safe, regular and responsible migration and mobility of people, including through the implementation of planned and well-managed migration policies.”

How is that to be done?

There is not the vaguest indication.

The rotund pomposity of the text descends into the ridiculous when it claims to be guided not only by the UN Charter, full respect for international law and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, but also international human rights treaties, the Millennium Declaration, the 2005 World Summit Outcome Document, the Declaration on the Right to Development, “the outcomes of all major UN conferences and summits which have laid a solid foundation for sustainable development,” the “Rio Declaration on Environment and Development; the World Summit on Sustainable Development; the World Summit for Social Development, the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development, the Beijing Platform for Action; and the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+ 20).”

The text further reaffirms “the follow-up to these conferences, including the outcomes of the Fourth United Nations Conference on the Least Developed Countries, the Third International Conference on Small Island Developing States; the Second United Nations Conference on Landlocked Developing Countries; and the Third UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction.” 

It pauses for breath before reaffirming also “all the principles of the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, including, inter alia, the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities, as set out in principle 7 thereof.”

To make all this more entertaining, the text asserts that the “challenges and commitments contained in these major conferences and summits are interrelated and call for integrated solutions. To address them effectively, a new approach is needed.”

What “new approach” it does not say, but this follows immediately thereafter: “Sustainable development recognizes that eradicating poverty in all its forms and dimensions, combating inequality within and among countries, preserving the planet, creating sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth and fostering social inclusion are linked to each other and are interdependent."

Perhaps the Second Secretaries see that as a “new approach.”

If the General Assembly adopts this document at the summit level it will signal the organization’s terminal incapacity. 

I suggest that a committee of ambassadors and special envoys from capitals be convened immediately to shape an intellectually respectable new text.

If that does not happen, Civil Society organizations should put out their own document commenting on the official one and indicating what needs to be done.