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28 January 2017 | Draft

Build the Wall -- Move the UN HQ?

United Nations principles are not consistent with "America First"

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Arguments for movement to other locations
Moving the UN HQ to Baghdad
Earlier proposals for relocation
Moving the United Nations to cyberspace and into virtual reality

Revisiting the argument previously presented in Merits of Moving the UN HQ to Baghdad (April 2003)


Much has been made by the newly elected President of the United States of America regarding the absolute necessity of construction of a wall along the border between the USA and Mexico. This is a campaign promise made to those who voted for Donald Trump. The diplomatic controversy is already resulting in protests to the United Nations.

A presidential executive order has already been signed restricting travel from certain Muslim countries to the USA. Irrespective of how such restrictions may not be held to be applicable to diplomats and UN personnel from those countries, the question is how appropriate it is for the Headquarters of the United Nations to continue to be located in New York.

In the earlier argument, made prior to the full implications of the UN-sanctioned intervention in Iraq, it was speculatively suggested that the HQ of the UN should be moved to the Green Zone in Baghdad (Merits of Moving the UN HQ to Baghdad (April 2003). The text of that argument has been included below, since some of the associated arguments remain of relevance.

With the new policy position being taken by the USA, it can now be asked whether the strongly made declaration of "America First" is consistent with the continued location of the UN HQ in New York. It is appropriate to recall that "America First", was a slogan used by President Woodrow Wilson during the United States presidential election, 1916. The possibility of reorienting the UN to better reflect the interests of the USA has been raised (Time to Get the U.N. Back in Line With U.S. Interests, Restore American Glory, 5 January 2017)

The possibility of cutting back funding of the UN and other multilateral agencies is currently under consideration (New whistleblower policy could give move to defund the UN a boost, Fox News, 6 January 2017; Republicans make a move on U.N. funding, SperoNews, 6 January 2017; Concerned About Anti-Israel Bias, Republicans Introduce Another Bill Targeting U.N. Funding, CNSNews, 19 January 2017; Donald Trump’s new Congress looks to STOP funding UN in ‘herculean’ leap, eHeadlines, 6 January 2017). This extends to proposals to withdraw from membership of the UN (Trump’s Plan to Kill UN Begins with Withdrawal Bill, Veterans Today, 23 January 2017; Will the US leave the United Nations? New Statesman, 26 January 2017).

Where might the UN HQ be more appropriately located -- given that the Green Zone argument is no longer relevant? Should it be reintegrated with the HQ of its predecessor in Geneva -- the Palace of Nations of the League of Nations? It has served as the home of the United Nations Office at Geneva since 1946. The UN continues to hold meetings there and has a range of secretariat functions there. In 2012 alone, the Palace of Nations hosted more than 10,000 intergovernmental meetings .

Another possibility is to make use of the facilities of the European Parliament in Strasbourg, as a means of resolving the highly controversial waste of resources in holding its assemblies in Brussels and Strasbourg alternatively. Should the UN HQ be located in another region entirely? Or should consideration be given to the more outrageous possibility of using a cruise ship or an aircraft carrier -- with the flexibility which either would imply?

Whilst any suggestion to move the UN HQ is in many respects "outrageous", it should not be forgotten that the current period is one of outrage -- whether as articulated by Donald Trump, by those who oppose him. Thus for Time Magazine: The Old Washington adage of "Watch what we do, not what we say" is hard to apply to someone as serially outrageous as Donald Trump (6 February 2017).

Similar concerns have been articulated by the Occupy Movement -- as an international socio-political movement against social inequality and lack of "real democracy" around the world, with the primary goal being to advance social and economic justice and new forms of democracy. Its preoccupations were remarkably framed by Stéphane Hessel (Time for Outrage! 2010).

It could be said that Donald Trump has succeeded to date through being "outrageous". The Occupy Movement could be accused of "not being outrageous enough" -- as with the massive "movement of resistance" in opposition to the policies he has articulated. Moving the UN could be one example of appropriate initiatives in response to those in process of implementation by the USA. Others could be considered, as discussed separately (Responding outrageously to the outrageous, 2017).

Arguments for movement to other locations

Wikipedia offers an extensively referenced summary of UN relocalization proposals. This notes that due to the significance of the organization, proposals have occasionally been discussed to relocate its headquarters. Complaints about its current location include diplomats who find it difficult to obtain visas from the United States and local residents complaining of inconveniences whenever the surrounding roads are closed due to visiting dignitaries as well as the high costs to the city. A telephone survey in 2001 found that 67% of respondents favor moving the United Nations headquarters out of the country. Countries critical to the USA, such as Iran and Russia, are especially important in questioning the current location of the United Nations. Arguing that the United States government could manipulate the work of the General Assembly through selective access to politicians from other countries, with the aim of having an advantage over rival countries.

Among the cities that have been proposed to house the headquarters of the United Nations are:

Due to accusations of espionage by the United States, the subject of the relocation of the UN headquarters has also been discussed in the light of security considerations (Alleged Breach of UN Treaty Obligations by US: press coverage and commentary following WikiLeaks cable dissemination, 2010). Critics of the relocation say that the idea, while not unfeasible, would be expensive and useless and would also involve the withdrawal of the United States from the organization, and with it much of the agency's funding. Likewise, they affirm that the proposals have never gone from being mere declarations.

Arguments have been advanced that a move is required to a more neutral country:

Clearly discussion of any move to a Middle Eastern location has become increasingly credible in the light of the new executive order of Donald Trump banning the travel of people to the USA from a select list of Muslim countries.

An argument which could appeal to Trump has been provocatively made (Krauthammer Says Trump Should Turn UN Into Condos With His Name On It, The Political Insider, 27 December 2016). This follows an earlier argument in that regard (Developer Wants U.N. for His Proposed Tower, The New York Times, 6 March 2008). There is even the strange prospect of the site being purchased from the current owner by Trump business interests.

Moving the UN HQ to Baghdad

The following argument is reproduced from Merits of Moving the UN HQ to Baghdad (April 2003).

A very strong case has been made by Simon Jenkins to Keep the UN well away from Iraq - for now (The Times, 9 April 2003). That argument focuses on immediate humanitarian intervention and nation-building programmes. There is however a medium-term argument with respect to the relocation of the UN Secretariat itself -- an operation that extends far beyond the time horizon addressed by Simon Jenkins and is relevant to current issues of renovating the existing UN Secretariat building already constrained for space.

The following points would appear to strongly justify active planning for such a move to Baghdad at this time:

Earlier proposals for relocation

Earlier proposals have been most recently brought to a focus by the state of the UN Secretariat building and the traffic issues that the presence of that building creates in Manhattan. Other proposals have been put forward as a result of the negligence of the USA with respect to its membership arrears. Clearly there are wider concerns with respect to the questionable degree of association with the USA as it takes on its role of sole superpower and sets aside major international treaty provisions that the UN has struggled so hard to articulate.

Recent items relating to such proposals include:

2002: Under the co-chairmanship of Lawrence C. Moss, the Association of the Bar of the City of New York produced an excellent, multi-facetted and well-documented report discussing the challenges of the UN Secretariat building in relation to the UN's Capital Master Plan (New York City and the United Nations: Towards a Renewed Relationship: A Report by the Special Committee on the United Nations of the Association of the Bar of the City of New York). The report notes:

2001: St Petersburg: Dmitrii Rogozin, the chairman of the Duma International Relations Committee, told Interfax on 14 May that Moscow may propose moving the headquarters of the United Nations from New York to St. Petersburg because of America's failure to pay its dues. "If the position of the Americans does not change and if as a result the international civil servants working in New York feel ever more uncomfortable, I think we will raise the question of moving the central UN headquarters to the 'Venice of the North,' St. Petersburg," Rogozin said. [more]

2001: A US telephone poll concluded that 67% of callers were in favour of moving the UN out of the USA.

1997: Continuing friction between the United Nations and New York City has focused on the issue of parking. Tough enforcement programmes in relation to the many abuses of diplomatic privilege over parking resulted in one French legal expert recommending that the Secretariat be moved out of New York.

Moving the United Nations to cyberspace and into virtual reality

Denial of the relevance of cyberspace? Consideration of any movement of the HQ of the UN to another physical location on the globe may now be seen as a denial of the global nature of that organization -- given the remarkable developments in information technology fundamental to a knowledge-based civilization.

There is clearly a case for a new approach to the issues of physical location in relation to the issues of physical access -- especially in the light of controversial issues of travel bans, visas, security, and the associated costs. In addition to those considerations there is a strong case for a review of the efficiencies and inefficiencies of assembly for both statutory purposes and for debate on substantive issues -- especially those relating to communication between representatives of large numbers of countries. At what stage do the inefficiencies outweigh the value of such events -- as is frequently asked with respect to UN and other "summits"?

Necessity of face-to-face interaction? Of further concern are the highly sensitive issues associated with protocol, precedence and status, and the value variously attached to face-to-face contact -- especially by some cultures and as an essential feature of diplomacy. These issues are compounded by those of participation by those recognized as observers, of non-UN bodies, or by representatives of civil society bodies (or their exclusion). The situation and the possibilities have been extensively reframed by the role of social media in bypassing procedures previously required by the United Nations.

Reform of the UN reframed by developments in information technology: Clearly there is a case for exploring the feasibility of relocating many UN functions into cyberspace, since many already depend to a high degree on internet communication and web conferencing, notably as a means of reducing the cost of access and increasing the feasibility of participation of remote parties. It is far from clear how assiduously such possibilities have been explored in relation to the decades-long, fruitless debate on reform of the United Nations (General Analysis on UN Reform: key documents, articles, Global Policy Forum; Security Council Reform, Center for UN Reform Education; The United States Doesn't Want to Reform the U.N. Security Council, Foreign Policy, 29 September 2015).

Over that period the use of information technology within meetings, including statutory meetings, has increased to the point at which it would be unusual for participants not to be making use of such facilities -- if only for voting.

With respect to the problematic issue of statutory meetings, many aspects were previously highlighted (The Challenge of Cyber-Parliaments and Statutory Virtual Assemblies, 1998). Curiously the central issue relates to the perceived need for physical co-presence, however this is rationalised. The question is how to balance that need -- to see and be seen -- against the highly problematic inefficiencies of such gatherings in an increasingly problematic socio-political environment.

Clearly the technology enabling virtual gatherings in cyberspace has developed considerably over the past decade with respect to:

Transformation: The last of these suggests that "reform" of the UN might be better explored as a "transformation" with implications for variable geometry involving alternation between a variety of variously comprehensible forms. Indications of possibilities include:

However these are enabled in cyberspace and virtual reality, they constitute a transition from the planar thinking associated with architecture on 2D real estate to an embodiment of multidimensionality consistent with global thinking, as may be variously argued (Irresponsible Dependence on a Flat Earth Mentality -- in response to global governance challenges, 2008; Adhering to God's Plan in a Global Society, 2014). Arguably it is such a transformation which would enable the UN to engage meaningfully and comprehensibly with the complexities and paradoxes of increasingly surreality epitomized by the strategic changes heralded by Donald Trump.

Key issues: Given such developments, the questions are:

Lack of critical self-reference: In considering such possibilities, it is appropriate to note how they are neglected in relation to the active involvement of the UN in discussions of cybersecurity (most notably under pressure from the USA):

There would seem to be an extensive effort to apply modalities of the past to cyberspace governance, without considering how global governance might itself be informed by the technologies in question (Vigorous Application of Derivative Thinking to Derivative Problems, 2013). Such failure may be central to the process whereby the UN renders itself irrelevant to the future. Other possibilities are implied by such as:

The latter notes:

That politics have been moved from closed rooms and assemblies to social media is a challenge not just for states but also for the UN and other multilateral organizations (p. 155)

By contrast no mention is made of the enabling possibilities of cyberspace for the UN in the argument of Jeffrey Sachs (3 reforms the UN needs as it turns 70, World Economic Forum, 24 August 2015).

Relocating the UN to Jerusalem? The cyberspace possibilities of United Nations "relocation" acquire considerable relevance following the recent executive order of Donald Trump banning the travel of citizens of some Muslim countries to the USA and his declared intention to transfer the US embassy to Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem -- a holy city for Muslims. Both measures are recognized as likely to provoke a mobilization of Arab countries (Pinhas Inbari, Can the Palestinians Mobilize the Arab World on the U.S. Embassy Issue? Jerusalem Issue Brief, 1 February 2017; Muslim-majority countries show anger at Trump travel ban, The Guardian, 30 January 2017).

Given the nature of the controversy and the associated symbolism, there is then a case for a cyberspace reframing of the proposals for the relocation of the United Nations HQ to Jerusalem, as indicated above (Eugene Bird, The UN can bring peace to Jerusalem by moving its headquarters there Mondoweiss, 3 November 2014; Paco Underhill, A Modest Proposal: Move the UN from NY to Jerusalem, WritersReps; Americans Thrilled as United Nations Headquarters to be Moved to Israel, The MidEast Beast, 2017).

Clearly any such "relocation" in cyberspace terms would be quite distinct from that which might be imagined with respect to physical architecture and real estate. There are however multiple possibilities to be explored in terms of distributed institutional, communication and knowledge "architectures" -- irrespective of the physical implications which could well be of a purely symbolic nature.

There is the further possibility that the structural dynamics and flexibility rendered possible would offer new ways of reframing the constrained territorial thinking with regard to the complex Israel-Palestine issue, most notably from space-time rather than purely space perspectives (And When the Bombing Stops? Territorial conflict as a challenge to mathematicians, 2000; Strategic Embodiment of Time, 2010).

Transcending the limitations of binary thinking, how might UN location be understood within a timesharing framework given its fundamental role in the organization of cyberspace and distributed computing? Time for the UN to be relocated "into the cloud" ?

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