9.5.3 Implementing the Reforms

(This is a current page, from the Patterns of Power Edition 3 book contents.  An archived copy of this page is held at http://www.patternsofpower.org/edition03/953.htm)

Rules-based international governance would depend upon powerful countries obeying the rules.  A move to restructure the Security Council, by adding new members and reducing the applicability of vetoes, would attract wide support – even in some of the countries which currently have a veto.[1]

The main obstacle to implementing this vision is political.  De-politicisation of international law requires UN Security Council members to sign up to a reformed UN and to support the ICC, which would be greatly strengthened by their support.  The current UN structure gives a lot of power to each of the five Permanent Members (, and they would be reluctant to give that up.

There are several other impediments:

  • There is a lack of shared values among Security Council members. For example:

“China says its decisions on foreign policy questions derive from the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence: mutual respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity, mutual non-aggression, non-interference in each other’s internal affairs, equality and mutual benefit, and peaceful coexistence.” [2]

This list does not include the Western concern for the ‘Responsibility to Protect’ people from governments which abuse their power but China might be persuaded to agree to protect people from genocide, for example, if that were sufficiently tightly defined.

  • National politicians would need to relinquish some aspects of direct control, to change the subsidiarity of power ( Bearing in mind that a love of power is one of the factors that is likely to have propelled them into politics as a career choice, they may have difficulty in accepting the need to give it away.  But it is only the illusion of power that they are ceding; their role as representatives of their countries in multilevel governance is in reality both more effective and more important than strutting on a smaller stage.
  • National politicians would have to persuade their populations that collaborative action is preferable to Self-Protection. This should not be too difficult, as there are sound arguments against having a coercive foreign policy ( and 7.4.7).
  • It would take real leadership, particularly from the permanent members of the UN Security Council, to bring about these changes. Leaders will have to be able to persuade other leaders to collaborate in making progress in the suggested direction.  They will have to convince each other, and everybody else, that there is more national dignity and prestige in behaving responsibly than in trying to be the biggest bully in the playground.

What is described here as rules-based international governance would be collaborative not hierarchical, so it is not the same as world government – which has been opposed on grounds of feasibility, desirability and necessity.[3]   It would have to emerge slowly, as a succession of international agreements which would authorise collective action.  National governments would remain free to sign up to, adopt, or withdraw from, the agreements reached and they would need to adapt their legal systems to be complementary to the framework of international law (5.3.7).  National governments would empower the necessary institutions and control their composition, budgets and terms of reference.

Some of the foundations for collaborative international governance are already in place, but it will take a long time for the framework of law to become robust.  Although such a framework would deal with almost all security threats, it is very difficult to envisage the countries with nuclear weapons either completely disarming or handing control of their weapons to the UN.  These countries need a new treaty, which might contain incentives towards disarmament for some of them and might offer defence guarantees to non-nuclear powers.  This would be much less risky than the present tendency towards nuclear proliferation (7.4.2), but it would fall short of complete nuclear disarmament – at least for the foreseeable future.



[1] A BBC World Service poll of 23 countries showed “nearly universal support for dramatic reforms in the United Nations”.  The poll was conducted by GlobeScan together with the Program on International Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland in December 2004; it was published on 21 March 2005 and was available in April 2018 at http://www.bbc.co.uk/pressoffice/pressreleases/stories/2005/03_march/21/un.shtml.

[2] Columbia University has published a short paper entitled Principles of China’s Foreign Policy, which was available in April 2018 at http://afe.easia.columbia.edu/special/china_1950_forpol_principles.htm.

[3] An article by Catherine Lu, entitled “World Government”, was published by The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2008 Edition), Edward N.  Zalta (ed.).  It summarised arguments for and against the concept; it was available in April 2018 at http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/fall2008/entries/world-government/.