On the eve of the United Nations’ 75th anniversary, experts told a worldwide Doha Debates audience that the UN and other global institutions must be radically reformed or replaced if they are to better address the world’s most daunting challenges.
The virtual debate - the first event in a series of solutions-focused sessions hosted by Qatar Foundation (QF) as part of 2020 Global Goals Week - brought together speakers from Turkey, Greece and Liberia, and an international panel of young debate judges, including QF students.
The debaters argued for varying degrees of transformational change, characterising present-day global institutions as well-intentioned but increasingly dysfunctional and impotent.
Leymah Gbowee, a Liberian women’s rights advocate and 2011 Nobel Peace Prize laureate, urged leaders to reform, rather than scrap and create, international institutions.
“We need to start building the UN from the foundation, not create a new UN,” she said. “The foundation the UN was created on was people. The value of the UN still stands.
“No new institution will function and do any better than any of the current institutions if the values of human life, the values of equality, and the values of justice are not front and centre.”
Turkish author and political commentator Ece Temelkuran said that global institutions have lost the moral high ground and credibility, leaving a void “now filled by global leaders with fascist inclinations who are making personal bargains for the destinies of the people.”
She said those leaders are “toying with the democratic institutions more easily and more dangerously than we could ever imagine”, and called for “an international alliance of grassroots movements.
“We need to assemble movements around the globe and make them occupy where big decisions are made. We must redefine power, so it is not easily corrupted.”
Yanis Varoufakis, Greece’s former finance minister and now a member of its parliament, argued that present-day global institutions are broken beyond repair and must be replaced.
“Every major challenge, humanity faces – from climate change and unbearable inequality, to unpayable debts and involuntary migration - is a global problem in need of an international solution. Never have we needed global governance more,” he said.
Varoufakis said the only logical solution is “a new plan and new institutions - any less cannot deliver humanity from unnecessary suffering and climate change.”
In the programme’s solutions-focused Majlis segment, Doha Debates connector Dr Govinda Clayton noted that “most of the consensus has been focused on the broad understanding that things have to change. Nobody is suggesting that the system we have now is functioning in a way in which we’d like it to, or that the status quo is acceptable in any way. Equally, we’ve seen consensus around the fact that we shouldn’t be ripping up the existing international order.”
At two points during the programme, a judging panel of dozens of young people around the world voted on the merits of the arguments of the debate speakers. During the first round of voting, Varoufakis’ position resonated the most with the virtual audience, with 39.67% of the vote, with Gbowee’s position not far behind at 36.87%, and Temelkuran coming in last with 23.47%. In the second round of voting, Gbowee swayed more of the judging panel to her position, gaining 40.77% of the vote, with Varoufakis and Temelkuran garnering 29.77% and 29.45% respectively.
Participants take part in the virtual Doha Debates event.