The Africa Company  

The Africa Company was founded for the sole purpose of carrying on the slave trade. By the time the trade ended, 14 million Africans had been taken across the Atlantic. A larger purpose had also been served: the world population was mixed as never before

Just to Keep Things in Perspective ...

UNDIPLOMATIC TIMES

INDEPENDENT NEWS AND COMMENT ON WORLD AFFAIRS

UN preparing for a world of Geospatial Information Management





















August 2016:​  On 27 July, in a little noted decision on "Cartography," the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) made a change that will have more impact on the future of Sustainable Development than all the meetings of its High Level Political Forum. 


Acting on  the report of its Committee of Experts on Global Geospatial Information Management  (GGIM) established just five years earlier, the Council decided to eliminate all its Regional Cartographic Conferences. In their stead, a much strengthened Expert Committee will streamline all UN work related to geospatial information management, especially in relation to the implementation of the 2030 Agenda, the 2015-2030 Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, the Paris Agreement on climate change and the Small Islands Accelerated Modalities of Action (SAMOA) Pathway. 

A prime area of focus will be the development of a global geodetic frame of reference necessary for the efficient use of all aspects of GGIM. The expert committee will oversee all UN System efforts to "strengthen coordination and coherence of global geospatial information management, in capacity-building, norm-setting, data collection, data dissemination and data sharing, among others." It will also help strengthen the integration of statistical and geospatial information management, especially in developing countries, in particular the least developed, landlocked and small island developing States. (Developments in 2017)

With these changes ECOSOC has set in place the integration and harmonization of fundamental geospatial data themes from the national to global levels, building on existing fundamental datasets and identifying strategic priorities.  The knowledge-base for geospatial information management will be continuously updated by all users and make critical and relevant information accessible on the Web. 


The Expert Committee sees land administration as a predominant theme in its future work. It has noted the increased location-based technological developments around the world that could have an impact on the consideration of legal and policy framework issues relevant to the development of authoritative data.  (A "Convention on Geoinformation" proposed by the International Bar Association has been deemed premature.) The framework issues will be important in the collection, use, storage and dissemination of geospatial information.


As usual, the UN has done practically nothing to tell the world about any of this. Young people, especially, should be avidly interested in the prospect that if we don't blow ourselves up in the next few years, the planet will have a living skin of location-specific data accessible from any smart phone. Every phone will also be able to link to the data skin and act as a sensor. We will be a giant step closer to the development of a "global brain" noted in our article on A United Nations for the 21st Century


The End of Mega-Corporations

We are looking at a future when all the economies of scale that favored mega corporations will be reversed.

.... to keep us humble ...  

The Age of Industry  

The early phase of industry in Europe was a harsh, grimy age with execrable human rights standards and poisonous to the world of Nature. But at its end humanity had learned a new role: planetary caretaker  

Note to readers. Despite repeated corrections, the piece below keeps being hacked to change the text in its section on The Divine Spur. The text should read, " revolutionizing of mathematics into the language of causality." 

East India Company  

The world's first joint-stock company was also the most famous of its age and perhaps the most influential one of all time. Unfortunately, almost everything it did was immoral and harmful to millions.

How little we can know ... 

Population Explosion  

Hundreds of millions were killed in the 5 centuries of European  global expansion, but instead of dropping the world population exploded more than seven-fold. The long term implication is worth thinking about, for it is quite wonderful.

Global Architects 

Christopher Columbus and Vasco da Gama opened the doors to the world economy six years apart, not knowing the enormous changes  they would let loose upon the world.

The Vedas

The Vedas were created before writing and were carried in memory for millennia. The earliest manuscripts are in Sanskrit, written on palm leaves with an iron stylus.

Islam as Historic Force

Islam was one of the seminal forces of the modern world not only by disrupting India and Europe violently but by serving as an invaluable transmitter of learning from one to the other

International Organizations  

The first international organizations were created to deal with the need for trans-border cooperation created by new technologies like the telegraph and railroads (which multiplied the volume of mail many times). But when European Powers went to war in their competition for colonies and it escalated into the First World War, it was necessary to create the League of Nations. It failed and the biggest European Powers  started up the Second World War, joined by Japan in Asia. It ended with nuclear bombs and the founding of the United Nations, now very much like the League when it failed. 

A  First Century  map telling of the sea route from Mediterranean Europe to India is one of the earliest examples of the use of geospatial information. It puts in perspective the dramatic new uses of such information in a digitally connected world (see article).

Scientific Rebellion

None of the early European rationalists who rebelled against the rigidities of scholasticism thought they were giving birth to the primary force driving modern civilization.

Plummeting Solar Prices Will Transform All Economies  

The sharp drop in the price of solar energy in recent years means more than the end of Big Oil. Because solar allows decentralized production, it also means the end of industry-driven urbanization. Without a steadily growing demand for new housing, the real estate market will undergo an unprecedented transformation. Without factory-scale production, world commodities trade will fall into different regional patterns.



Below: There will also be a range of beneficial effects as heavy industry becomes a thing of the past and programs caring for the planet gain momentum. 

Modern Islamist Violence

The travails of the Islamic world are analogous to those of medieval Christianity and will hopefully resolve itself in a shedding of anachronistic attitudes and expectations. Until then the ride is likely to be rough. 

... consider the brain and the universe ... 

3D Printing & Off Grid Renewable Energy Spell Revolution  

The technology for 3D printing evolved from the ink-jet printers of the 1980s. They layer not paint but structural materials that can be made to harden. This means that once the technology is advanced, it will be able to produce the highest quality of industrial product on the smallest scale. When powered by off-grid renewable energy, 3D printing should be able to print anything anywhere -- including outer space, where it can run off the replacement for a damaged part or create a new one.   

Learning  That War is Bad  

It took the nuclear bomb to teach European statesman that war is not diplomacy by other means. But not everyone has learned yet, and everyone could end up paying the price: going the way of the dinosaurs

in the end, there is only one true guide ... 

HOW do we RECONCILE human HISTORY WITH A COMPASSIONATE GOD? 


16 September 2017: All of us have heard people complain about God. Most of us probably know some who don’t believe in God at all. If challenged, they are likely to roll out a long list of reasons why God must be a figment of our imaginations because surely, if one did exist, there would be no war, or opioid crisis, or rape.

The usual problem in reconciling the bitter trail of human experience with the existence of a compassionate God is in how we envisage divinity. If we think of God as magically all-powerful there can be no reconciliation. However, as that idea of God cannot be reconciled with the world of Science either, it is no great loss.

God Acceptable to Science
An idea of God acceptable to Science would have to fit into the concept of causality, the fundamental element of the scientific method. In short, it cannot be magical. That is a perspective conveyed to children in an Indian fable about the inviolability of Karma (causality).

Shiva and Parvati are looking down from Kailas at a poor old man trudging along a desert road, hungry, thirsty and wretched.

“Why don’t you help him?” Parvati asks.

“I can’t” says Shiva. “It’s his karma.”

“You are almighty God. Surely, you can bend the laws of karma to give him some food and water and money.”

“Watch this,” says Shiva waving his hand.

On the road directly in front of the man a table appears with a pot of gold and a feast.

Just then the old man thinks to himself, ‘All my life I’ve walked with my eyes open. Here I am on this straight desert road with nothing to see. Let me walk with my eyes closed.’ He closes his eyes and walks past the table.

God in that perspective can only work through karma, as the essence of beneficial causality in a universe of laws.


part i: history red in tooth & claw


Does History Make Sense?
The first step in reconciling the diverse evils of human history with the concept of a compassionate God is to see how the negative can be part of a positive narrative. Fortunately, this is not difficult to do at a time when the terrible experience of industrialization resulted in a growing awareness of the need for people to engage in reversing the damage done to the Earth. The harsh experiences of our history are clearly meant to teach us.

If we look with that perspective at humanity’s progress from its African exodus to the world of the Internet and the Worldwide Web we find that it has been a purposeful evolutionary process. Little in it is without meaning and much that seems irreconcilable with the idea of a compassionate God can be seen as the Life Force negotiating its karmic passage away from our savage animal ancestry.

The Divine Spur
Ideas of divinity have been a major spur to history. They have driven pacific, cohesive and violently disruptive conceptualizations of reality that have rippled down the millennia with unexpected results. Some examples:


  • The Vedas in India were compiled under the guidance of the Seven Rishis who have been memorialized for millennia as the stars that point North. They are valued for creating a holy compendium revered by all the tribes of India who could thus stop fighting and settle into interdependent castes, creating Hindu civilization. When that civilization became encrusted with superstition and division among the castes the Buddha's atheist movement swept clean with its concept of “Sunyatta” (emptiness) at the core of Creation. After his death, Sunyatta came to be represented by a circle, and that led to the invention of the Zero and the revolutionizing of mathematics into the language of causality.  Many millennia later, when the Europeans discovered the Scientific Method, the essence of which is the inviolability of the causal chain, that mathematics became the language of all modern science.


  • Europe came to the Scientific method in its rational rebellion against centuries of religious wars, oppression and scholastic rigidity. The same rigors shaped the hard-edged states that pushed European power around the globe in a hugely bloody process. That set in motion the flow of wealth necessary for for the Industrial Revolution, which was the primary spring that drove the complex social changes that shaped the modern world. Repeatedly in history we see how deeply negative occurrences drove far-reaching changes 


  • Islam’s hugely violent explosion out of Arabia in the 8th Century was a wrecking ball to the civilizations of Europe and India that led them into new cycles of growth and renewal. In India, the renascence took up movements against caste and Hindu-Muslim divisions by the “Bhakti poets,” Kabir and Guru Nanak most prominently. Their teachings prepared the ground for Rammohun Roy centuries later, and he in turn cultivated the spirit that Gandhi mobilized against British rule. In Europe, Islamic conquest of the Middle East pushed classical learning from Byzantium into Italy, setting off the Renaissance.


  • Modern Islamic violence is rooted in post-World War I British-French manipulation of the Middle East and an unregenerate medievalist response feeding on a violent tribal culture. The flow of vast oil wealth to a backward-looking Arab elite, Cold War jihadism in Afghanistan and the use of Muslim terrorist movements to foster the opium/heroin trade have all fed into a witch’s brew of distemper and barbarism. That multi-generational tragedy is analogous to the relentless religious violence that led Europe into a rationalist rebellion. Peace and progress in the Muslim world must await a similar challenge to the ghosts of its past.


A World Economy
The emergence of a world economy in the wake of the ocean crossings of Christopher Columbus and Vasco da Gama at the end of the 15th Century was a brutal, soul-killing affair of enslavement, genocide and colonization that a Christian Europe could not have engaged in but for the new economic mechanism of the joint-stock company and the stock market. The first joint-stock corporation, the East India Company, was formed in 1600; as such organizations multiplied, stock market developed as the go-to place for raising and managing capital.

That arrangement distanced investors and corporate managers alike from the murderous activities necessary for profit. The man-made famines of the East India Company killed hundreds of millions of Indians and its two “Opium Wars” spread drug addiction to millions of Chinese. The Africa Company was established for the sole purpose of capturing and transporting slaves across the Atlantic to the Americas.


When Christian pressure in the United States eventually ended the slave trade, some 14 million had been taken from Africa to the Americas and an equal number killed in their capture and transportation. The flow of slaves was then replaced by that of indentured labor from China and India, a process that killed as many or more. The workers supplied by Africa and Asia replaced many uncounted millions of Native Americans wiped out by settler colonists. In Australia and New Zealand, the indigenous peoples gave way to Europeans.

Bloody and greed-driven as these processes were, they served an epochal purpose: for the first time, all segments of the dispersed and differentiated human family were brought into contact, intermixed, and engaged in one economic system. All the great variety of human genes flowed into one pool.

Shaping the Modern World

The industrialization into which Europe led the world was also a grim and oppressive process that produced great wealth on the backs of exploited workers, including millions of children; mines and factories poisoned earth, water and air across the planet, sullying everything natural. While that was happening the greedy competition for resources and markets also engaged the leading Powers of the world in continuous war, their weapons growing exponentially in destructive scale and horror.  

Under such depredations the human race should have dwindled in numbers, but instead it multiplied at an explosive rate. The five centuries over which the world economy expanded and industrialized saw the human race grow from a few hundred million to over seven billion. That growth is projected to continue for another century, raising the world population to over 10 billion by the end of the 21st Century, unless we reduce the pace of growth by rapid economic development.  

Learning to Behave
What is the meaning of those five centuries of ravening greed and gore? What is the significance of industrialization?    

The answers are obvious. The bloodiest, most tumultuous and oppressive period of human history unified the species and focused its attention on stark evolutionary choices. Three World Wars (I, II and Cold), a spiking extinction rate of species and the prospect of climate change have shown the need for self-control.

Unlike a century ago, it is now widely recognized that all-out war among major Powers is no longer an option of statecraft, for it can send humanity the way of the dinosaurs in a few minutes. The continued utility of armed conflict is now restricted only against and among the poor. Industrialization has provided a complex instruction in human planetary responsibility. As with war, it has been an abject lesson in good behavior.

Setting the Rules
Setting the specific rules of human behavior has been taken up through international organizations. The first organizations were responses to the need for cooperation imposed by the trans-border use of standardized technologies like the telegraph, railways and shipping. In the face of the problems described above they evolved into an effort to prevent war and deal with a range of global security, developmental and environmental issues.

The League of Nations and the United Nations represent that broadening scope of cooperation. Although stymied in their primary tasks by elite international power struggles the two organizations have laid the legal foundations for a peaceful world and established the framework of values necessary to sustain it. The global connectivity of the Information Age now offers international organizations the opportunity to network around the elite quarrels that block the path to peace.


Part II: The Path Ahead


End of the Industrial Age
Two trends that have picked up speed in the last decade will accelerate the demise of the industrial age.

One is 3D printing, a layering technology that can produce any shape of product in a growing number of materials; those now in use include plastics, polymers, resins, titanium, concrete, food and human tissue. Since the first 3D printer debuted in 1992, there has been astonishingly rapid progress.

  • In 1999, a 3D printed frame coated with a layer of cells taken from a patient was used for an organ implant that faced little chance of rejection.
  • In 2002 a 3D printer made a fully functional miniature kidney. In 2008 an open source program produced self-replicating printers. The same year, a human leg complete with knee and ankle joints was printed out as a single prosthetic.
  • In 2009 the first blood vessel was printed out, the first robotic aircraft and drivable car were produced, and gold and silver used to print jewelry.
  • In 2017 an entire house was printed using concrete in sub-zero weather.
  • Developers are aiming at a 3D “desktop factory” capable of printing out any and all industrial products of the finest quality.


The second trend is the increase in the use of renewable energy at historically unprecedented rates despite a dramatic decline in global fossil fuel prices. Renewable sources are now a mainstream source of energy, accounting in 2014 (excluding hydropower) for 48 per cent of newly added electricity generating capacity. By 2030, the use of clean energy will probably be double the level of 2014, with solar energy accounting for the largest share.

Other Radical Changes

The plummeting price of off-grid renewable energy and increasingly sophisticated 3-D printing portend the capacity to produce the highest quality of industrial product off grid and in the remotest locations. Coinciding with the decreasing economic viability of mega-corporations, it will quicken the end of centralized factory-scale production and cause a range of other radical changes:

Without mass production, there will be no need to concentrate labor, energy and other commodities at particular locations. That means the trade and industry-driven urbanization of the last four centuries will cease and large cities will experience major changes in real estate use and valuation.


As decentralized small scale production replaces centralized factories the need for long distance movement of goods and commodities will fall dramatically, transforming the economics of the entire transportation infrastructure from railroads and roads to airlines and pipelines.
The predominance of small and medium manufacturing will revive the historical dependence on locally available raw materials; global commodities trade will be reoriented into regional patterns.

These broad changes will reduce all forms of industrial environmental damage, especially emissions of greenhouse gases and other pollutants. Meanwhile, small and medium enterprises rooted in their own communities are likely to be far more sensitive to pollution issues than mega-corporations. In sum, not only will industrial scale activity end, the legacy damage of the last century will be able to heal. 

The Information Age

Towards the end of the 20th Century, swift advances in computerized information processing and satellite communications enabled revolutionary changes in economic and social interactions. The most stunning progress has been in global connectivity: by 2016, basic mobile telephone service was accessible to almost the entire world population. Over 3.5 billion people – half the world population – now have broadband access to the Internet. The world’s largest data processor, Google, was dealing in 2016 with 3.5 billion search requests per day and storing 10 exabytes (10 billion gigabytes) of data.

Total Internet traffic grew from approximately 100 GB of traffic per day in 1992 to 100 gigabytes per second (GBps) in 2002 and to more than 20,000 GBps in 2015. Global IP traffic in 2015 was an estimated 2.5 quintillion bytes of data (2.5 followed by 18 zeros); by 2020, that is projected to increase to 2.3 Zetabytes (add another three zeros) per year. To put those figures in more comprehensible terms, by 2020, the gigabyte equivalent of all movies ever made will cross the global Internet every two minutes and it would take more than 5 million years to watch all the video shared in a month.

To deal with the enormous flow of information governments have made a rapidly accelerating effort in the last six years to create a system for global geospatial information management (GGIM). They envisage a global geodetic frame of reference to manage data through a network of location-specific centers integrating all available economic, social, environmental and cultural information (see article at top right of page).


It will give the planet a skin of information accessible to any smart phone in perspectives ranging from Big Data visuals to weather forecasts and local entertainment listings. Smart phones could also be programed to report automatically to the nearest database on a variety of variables, including environmental conditions; that would make the analogy to “skin” exact.

A New Capitalism
The rapid onset of global connectivity, the age of Big Data brought in by the Information and Communications Revolutions, and the decentralized world economy point to the need for a new system to govern the use of capital. The joint-stock company and the stock market, the core of the free market system since the mercantile era, face unprecedented challenges in a period of global connectivity.


As growing numbers of small and medium enterprises locate and cater to niche clusters of demand, they will disaggregate markets shaped by advertising to sustain mass production of branded goods. That will deprive mega-corporations of the economies of scale and make their own size a factor of inefficiency in adjusting to changes in market conditions. Stock markets will also face a secular challenge from new mechanisms that enable Web-based crowd-funding.  

These developments do not signify an end to the need to raise and manage massive amounts of capital. On the contrary, the infrastructural changes that will be necessary in the scenario outlined above and the multi-trillion dollar cost of erasing poverty under the United Nations Agenda 2030 plan will require both functions to be efficiently performed; but it will require new instruments.


Part III: The Leap We Face


Globalization as Evolution
Globalization is a phenomenon as old as the temperature gradients that circled the cooling planet and created its atmosphere and oceans. It has been driven by a great diversity of forces, from unicellular life to plants and animals. If the entire history of life on earth were reduced to a single 24 hour day, humanity would enter the stage a few seconds before midnight. In those few second, Homo sapiens left Africa driven by changing climate, spread around the world impelled by every kind of trouble and tribulation, yet managed to share its advances towards civilization across continents and oceans. Traders, missionaries of every cause, adventurers, writers, teachers, imperial monarchs, all played their part.

Now, as we face a world increasingly frenzied in its interactions, with the stakes of nuclear war and environmental devastation higher than ever but also with the promise of the future brighter than at any time, we must ask about the meaning of it all. It is time to ask who we are as a species and what we have learned in our global passages. We must raise again the question that has haunted us from the earliest days, the issue of God.

The Nature of Life
The Upanishads of ancient India set out the world’s most comprehensive explanation of universal reality. Scientists have provided factual statements paralleling parts of it, especially the Big Bang that sets the universe on its multi-billion-year life. In Sanskrit the Big Bang is Hiranyagharba, the Golden Egg that bursts from the utter darkness of Brahma’s night and in a flash manifests Creation.


Scientists have not touched parts of the Hindu schema closer to humanity stating the identity of the human soul and the Universal Self; it is that sameness of substance that allows the individual to be reborn in an endless succession of bodies.

Two scientific advances of the 20th Century allow that phenomenon to be presented in factual terms. One is the discovery that matter and energy exist in an unbreakable continuum of particle and wave, that neither can be destroyed, only transformed into the other.


The second discovery is that the genetic code embedded in the human cell determines at the moment of conception every aspect of the body that will grow from it.


In combination, those concepts can be read as scientific endorsement of the idea that when the material human body dies its genetic code will float free in its energy form. As a radio wave can carry the human voice and replicate it exactly on meeting an antenna tuned to receive it, so the code/soul of an individual will come to life upon contact with a cell at the moment of conception that is perfectly in karmic tune.

Unavoidable Conclusions

Looking back at history and keeping in mind that the force we call God must work through causality, every human trial and tragedy can be chalked down to karma. Violence, greed, rage and every ill-considered emotion we feel are the price we pay to separate from our animal ancestors. The vast difference among individuals in how they handle emotions points to the nature of their own karma.

What about war? No animal fights wars.

War can be seen as a means to discipline our monkey brains, the most fecund source of technological innovation, and now the only way violent tribal societies learn the need for peace. If they do not learn, if the tribal instincts of the Middle East or North Korea should unleash nuclear war, the world economy will collapse, nuclear winter will set in, and the current phase of the human experiment will come to an abrupt end.

On the bright side, what can we expect from a firm sense that God exists, that each individual soul is divine and immortal? I would expect the following:

  • Educated, intelligent people will stop wasting their time in frivolous pursuits and see what they can do to prepare the world for a massive and fundamental transformation.


  • Enlightened countries – and that does not mean just the industrially developed – will move towards networking all forms of governance.


  • Businesses will network all their own activities and participate in a variety of global networks necessary to accommodate their interests. (As indicated above, transnational mega-corporations will be extinct.)


  • Education and library services will be global and uniform in their high quality.


  • The market system that Adam Smith described so brilliantly in the 18th Century will undergo a fundamental transformation as global connectivity allows community networks to raise and manage funds without the intercession of familiar market mechanisms. 
  • That will allow equality of human development in all countries, paid for through crowd-funding, by 2030.


A fourth-generation international organization (see
UN/Globenet) will be able to wind up the world drug trade, end terrorism, promote disarmament and negotiate an end to all the tribal conflicts now plaguing the planet.

And Then What?
The consonance between the universal and individual souls suggests an answer to the question by physicist Erwin Schrodinger: is human thought individually generated or do we get it preformatted?

If thought is individually generated it would be virtually impossible to envisage broad movements like the Industrial and Technological Revolutions or the Information and Communications Revolutions.


If our thoughts are preformatted, such movements would be easy to explain.


The latter would also firm up the scientific expectation that at some point the density of digital activity surrounding the planet will generate an autonomous awareness in much the same way that the development of a baby’s neural network in the womb makes it conscious.


The global brain humanity is growing will be supported by an enormous ancillary presence of Artificial Intelligence and the Internet of Things. God alone knows what altogether new chapter of human evolution we will embark upon


united nations is like league of nations in 1930s, before world war says new study 


​2 May 2017: The United Nations is now in the situation of the League of Nations in the 1930s when the world was slipping from the Great Depression into the Second World War, says a new study. In the wake of the Great Recession, national leaders fixated on their own interests are now ignoring vivid signs of a serious breakdown in world order.

 The problem is not that the United Nations has suddenly become useless. It continues to do an enormous amount of good. But in the critical area of international peace and security it has no traction, and that is extremely dangerous.

In the case of the League, many people saw the war coming but did nothing. Planning for the United Nations did not begin until after the killing had begun. Some 60 million were dead in countries around the world by the time the United Nations was established in 1945. An unrestricted conflict today could have far more disastrous results.

UN/Globenet
With that in mind, the new 34-page study by veteran journalist and former UN staff member Bhaskar Menon proposes that planning for a successor organization to the United Nations begin now. It suggests that UN member States move to transform the United Nations System into a network that can be the central node of global networks (UN/Globenet).

 It is not just the prospect of war that requires such a transformation. The global spread of digital connectivity is causing a fundamental shift in economic realities as it enables small and medium enterprises to find and serve niche markets. That will inevitably disaggregate the mass markets essential for the survival of mega-corporations. As mass production becomes uneconomic, a host of other changes will kick in, and unless they are firmly taken in hand the result could be market turmoil.

 Mainstream economists have reported on this evolving scene in fragmentary ways, but no one has yet provided an overview. The rapid job loss afflicting traditional American retail is probably a clear indication of what waits in the wings for big corporations in most sectors of the economy.

 
Decentralization a Major Trend
As the trends towards off-grid renewable energy and 3D printing mature they will revive traditional community-level production but unless precautionary policies are put in place it will be at enormous cost to the legacy cities of the industrial era.

 The trend towards decentralization will make life easier for poor countries for they will not need to build the big infrastructure now considered essential to development. Another major benefit of the digital economy will be the possibility for poor countries to crowd-fund their own development and create the jobs needed to employ the 1.5 billion youth bulge that will turn 15 before 2030.

 
About the Author
Bhaskar Menon is a writer and editor who was a United Nations staff member in New York for two decades before quitting in 1990 to return to journalism. He published the weekly International Documents Review for a decade, then The Undiplomatic Times, now a widely-read web magazine. For a decade, he edited Disarmament Times published by the UN NGO Committee on Disarmament. He is the author of several books, including the seminal “Bridges Across the South” (Pergamon) on cooperation among developing countries. For most of the last 15 years he has been a consultant to the United Nations, drafting reports on South-South Cooperation.

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Contact
bhaskarpmenon@gmail.com   1-646-918-9730

Fort George, 4558 Broadway #177 New York, NY 10040 


​With UN as ineffective as the League of Nations IT IS TIME TO PLAN successor



21 October 2016: The United Nations is now in the same situation as the League of Nations was in the 1930s when power struggles among major nations began to push the world towards the Second World War. Its Charter is badly out of date, its decisions and commands have no real traction and its member States do not engage in cooperative action on anywhwere near the scale necessary to deal with the challenges they face. The Organization's leadership over the past decade has shown no inclination to grapple with any of those issues; worse, in the face of some of the most lurid scandals and corruptions of UN history the Secretary-General has been unresponsive and unaccountable.

That state of affairs is comparable to that of the League of Nations in the lead-up World War II.  Although it was widely obvious that the League had become worse than useless under Joseph Avenol, its fascist toady Secretary-General, no one sounded the alarm or did anything effective to turn things around. Talk of reforming the League continued even after the war had begun. It was not until the Allies were confident of victory that Franklin Roosevelt initiated plans for the United Nations. 

In 2016, with nuclear arsenals distributed around the world, we cannot expect to repeat that experience. Once power struggles develop to the point of direct conflict among major countries – Syria being a perilous case in point – it will be too late to plan anything. If there is to be an effective successor organization to the UN planning must begin now, urgently.

Can’t the UN be reformed? Can’t a new and energetic Secretary-General remedy its faults?

That prospect is unrealistic. The UN’s problems, as with the League in its day, are related to tectonic changes in international relations and the failure of elite groups to deal creatively with critical issues. The following points summarize the situation:

The Charter: Two months after the UN Charter was agreed to in San Francisco in June 1945, the nuclear bombs over Hiroshima and Nagasaki upended the strategic paradigm underlying the Security Council. The Cold War that began in 1946 completely nullified the Council and by the time it became operational in 1989, the proliferation of nuclear weapons and the rise of new Powers had made its capacities largely fictional. There is no way those factors can be remedied; we need a new concept of security and a new way of reaching for it.


International Security: The UN’s primary aim is to maintain international peace and security by minimizing use of armaments. Not only has that been impossible, military expenditures today are about 70 per cent higher than at the peak of the Cold War and the permanent members of the Security Council are the world’s largest arms producers and exporters. The UN has been unable to even report on that situation. Its Conference on Disarmament in Geneva has been in a state of suspended animation for two decades. None of this is even on the UN reform agenda.


Economic and Social: Cooperation in solving economic, social, cultural and humanitarian problems, and promoting respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms are primary aims of the UN. Efforts to those ends have been so problematic for 70 years that nations have grown cynical; the annual debates on those issues are not geared to any meaningful action. The situation now is extreme. There are over 60 million refugees and displaced people in the world today, set adrift by conflict and unbearable economic and social distress. The going price to “buy” a human being from a trafficker is $90. Some of the worst abusers of human rights sit on the UN Human Rights Council for purely defensive reasons. None of this can be “reformed.”


Environmental: The legacy of the industrial era has been a poisoned planet with a growing fever that is projected to melt the polar ice caps and raise sea levels, drowning the coastal areas where most of humanity lives. Current plans to deal with this critical situation are grossly inadequate and deeply conflicted. Even as governments pledge action to transform global production and consumption patterns they are engaged in desperate efforts to revive the world economy in its most destructive configurations. The UN Environment Program cannot even bring this overall picture into perspective, much less mobilize action on the requisite scale.


Institutional: International institutions to deal with this complexity of interrelated problems are relics of a past age. At a time when the greed of a handful of bankers can throw the world economy into crisis, when social media can mobilize public opinion globally, the United Nations System is wedded structurally and procedurally to 19th Century diplomatic traditions. The elite groups in charge of the UN seem to be entirely unaware of this situation even though it is obvious that the Organization has very little traction on world events. In all the talk of “revitalizing” the General Assembly there has been no talk of measuring the effectiveness of its actions outside UN walls. The UN’s idea of outreach to billions of young people is to appoint a “representative” on the issue and occasionally invite a token “youth” into its meetings. In selecting a new Secretary-General this year, the UN did not conduct an active search for someone with the requisite expertise and vision to engage with a newly networked and connected world; it asked the very governments responsible for the current mess to nominate candidates. At the “informal” meeting of the General Assembly at which the S-G designate heard of the concerns of member States, few of the points above found voice. It is clear the UN membership is not adequately cognizant of the dire situation of the Organization.

The Next United Nations


The common problem underlying all the disabilities of the UN is the incapacity of national elites to update their expectations and behavior during a period of transformative change in global realities. A successor organization must be able to deal with that by bringing to life the visionary Preamble to the Charter that begins with the words “We the Peoples of the United Nations;” to that end it must engage a global public and mobilize a supportive democratic groundswell. The existing forums and framework of the UN must be incorporated into the networks of that mobilization.


As the UN itself is incapable of directing this process it must be taken in hand by an independent body led by someone with unquestioned political ability and wide credibility. President Barack Obama should consider heading this effort after he quits the White House.