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Revisiting an argument variously presented previously
(Merits of Moving the UN HQ to Baghdad, April 2003;
Build the Wall -- Move the UN HQ? United Nations principles are not consistent with "America First", January 2017).
Aspects of the argument have subsequently been further developed (Jerusalem as a Symbolic Singularity, 2017).
The recently elected President of the United States of America, Donald Trump, has made the historic decision to move the US Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. This highly controversial initiative offers an unprecedented opportunity to reframe the Middle East peace process and the highly problematic relations between Israel and Palestine, originally engendered by the United Nations in envisaging its own administration of Jerusalem as a corpus separatum. These relations have a particular focus in the symbolic status of Jerusalem for the Abrahamic religions. Provision for such a relocation had originally been made by the Jerusalem Embassy Act passed by the 104th Congress of the US (23 October 1995).
The controversial implications of the Judeo-Christian recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel -- highly contested by those of Muslim faith around the world -- can be fruitfully reframed by a counter-intuitive balancing strategy with its own symbolic significance. It is of course impractical to move the United Nations Headquarters to Jerusalem itself. The spatial, political and logistic issues are already far too complex.
It is however possible to move the UN Secretariat to a location in the immediate vicinity of Jerusalem -- effectively to a "suburb" on its periphery in the West Bank, or even in Jordan -- enabling various access corridors consistent with the geopolitical situation. Much of that area is now under Israeli control, or else under joint Israeli-Palestinian Authority control -- with the final status yet to be determined by the parties concerned. Although seemingly with their own challenges, any such location would have particular advantages as variously perceived by Israelis, Palestinians or Jordanians -- whether or not these perceptions are in contradiction with one another. For the Abrahamic religions, for example, it is through the promise of the land to Abraham that "all the nations of the earth shall be blessed" (Genesis 22:18). Given the symbolic role claimed for Jerusalem, the association of such a relocation of the UN with "Next year in Jerusalem" (L'Shana Haba'ah) is consistent with a common theme in Jewish culture -- the desire to return to a rebuilt Jerusalem.
In contrast with the rapidly escalating security and logistical challenges of reaching the UN via New York airports, the new Amman Airport has been recognized by the Airport Council as the best airport in the Middle East. The distance between Jerusalem and Amman is only 72 km. The proposed location of the UN HQ could well be closer to the centre of Jerusalem than will prove to be feasible for the relocation of the US Embassy to "Jerusalem". Monorail links could be readily envisaged in order to reframe territorial issues.
For the United Nations, as a symbol of world peace, where does the UN HQ need to be? Where does it need not to be? Where does it need to be in the light of what it stands for -- now and in the future? Can the UN afford to be perceived as a "back-seat driver" when the challenges are elsewhere? Is the UN Security Council to be seen as cultivating the legitimacy and resolution of drone pilots courageously directing their social transformation projects from afar -- irrespective of any collateral damage?
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). With minor amendments, the text of that argument has been included below, since many of the associated points remain of relevance.
It has been alleged that the United Nations could be asked to move its headquarters out of New York within two years if the new Republican-dominated Congress has its way (Masood Haider, US Congress bill proposes relocation of UN HQ, Dawn, 25 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? This 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. However the UN may also choose to move from there (Aliyah Esmail, The UN in Geneva: will they stay or will they go? Devex, 25 August 2015).
A number of advantages of relocating the UN HQ are noted below. Beyond the symbolic advantage, matching the Judeo-Christian recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, is the particular advantage of the location on the outskirts of Jerusalem given the relatively soluble logistic and political issues. Insights have been provided by experience in other divided cities. The fact that a proportion of the personnel of the UN Regional HQ in Geneva travel daily from France is an indication of possibilities.
Especially interesting would be exploring feasibility for those living in Israel, Jordan or Palestine in travelling to offices located in the West Bank or Jordan -- however close to Jerusalem proves feasible. There is even the symbolically significant possibility of locating UN offices on a contested border with entrances from several sides. Located where the Swiss, French and German borders meet, the city of Basel also has suburbs in France and Germany. The organization of the central railway station addresses a number of issues relevant to 3-way travel and border control.
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. Similar concerns have been articulated by the Occupy Movement -- as an international sociopolitical 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" -- as with the proposal to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel . 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. Ironically the US Ambassador to the UN declared during an emergency meeting of the Security Council following the decision to move the US embassy to Jerusalem that that organization "has outrageously been one of the world's foremost centres of hostility towards Israel" (Jerusalem: Trump's envoy Haley berates 'outrageous UN hostility', BBC News, 8 December 2017). 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).
In terms of political credibility, those critical of the current US proposal to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel are likely to favour relocation of the UN to its immediate neighbourhood -- despite having been previously indifferent to any such move at all.
For the USA, promotion of the shift of the UN HQ out of New York would be consistent with the increasing criticism of the UN within the USA -- and notably by Donald Trump, as elected president. As variously indicated, the UN is no longer considered to be fit for the purpose for which it was conceived, especially when constrained by the consequences of the disaffection of one of the Permanent Members of its Security Council. Funding has already been cut and further cuts are expected. A similar case can be made for relocation of UN-related agencies, notably those based in Washington DC (World Bank, IMF, etc) and of other UN agencies increasingly constrained by US budgetary policies and disaffection (Li Yan, Experts think IMF headquarters' relocation to China likely, People's Daily Online, 27 July 2017; Ian Williams, United Nations Report: UNRWA moving its Headquarters to Gaza).
Member states who continue to believe in the role of the UN are increasingly irritated by the progressive disassociation of the USA from international initiatives -- despite cultivating the elusive "international community" as its implied extension (International Community as God or Sorcerer's Apprentice? 2015).
It should not be forgotten that the USA has a pattern of avoidance of collective responsibility for the adequate implementation of UN-sponsored treaties (List of treaties unsigned or unratified by the United States). Most recently, these include: Paris Agreement (2017); Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (2011); Convention on Cluster Munitions (2008); Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (2007); International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (2006); Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture (2002); Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture (1999); Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (1998); Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (1996).
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; New Bill seeks to end US membership of the United Nations, relocation of UN headquarters, News Express, 23 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).
The security issues associated with travel to those bodies in the US are increasingly problematic, especially for those without diplomatic passports recognized by US border control authorities. This is especially the case with regard to representatives of international nongovernmental organizations. Various efforts have been made by the President of the United States to restrict travel from certain Muslim countries to the USA -- increasingly extended to those sympathetic with policies critical of those of the US. Irrespective of how such restrictions may 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. Such issues would be framed quite otherwise were the UN HQ to be located in Jordan.
Much has also been made of the absolute necessity of construction of a wall along the border between the USA and Mexico. 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). These factors merit recognition as strategically fundamental to the intensifying degree of collaboration between the USA and Israel -- with the latter also deeply committed to maintaining a defensive wall separating it from any Palestinian encroachment.
In addition to its clarification of the nature status of the UN Headquarters in New York. Wikipedia offers an extensively referenced summary of UN relocation 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. Due to accusations of espionage by the USA, the subject of the relocation of the UN headquarters has been discussed for security reasons (Morales says UN headquarters must move from 'bully' US, Inside Costa Rica. 26 September 2013; Alleged Breach of UN Treaty Obligations by US, 2010).
Various recent summaries of the issue have been made:
Among the cities that have been proposed to house the headquarters of the United Nations are:
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. Is the same to be said of the declaration of the Islamic Summit of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (Muslim nations urge recognition of East Jerusalem as Palestinian capital, BBC, 13 December 2017; East Jerusalem capital of Palestine, OIC states declare at Istanbul summit, Daily Sabah, 13 December 2017; Why the Istanbul Declaration Must Succeed: "The Whole World to Recognize East Jerusalem as the Occupied Capital of Palestine", Global Research, 18 December 2017).
Would establishing multiple embassies there increase the credibility of relocating the United Nations to that vicinity? Will those nations dismayed at the destabilizing consequences of the US decision now prove to be sympathetic to such a move? Now that the proposed embassy move has been rejected by all the members of the UN Security Council (with the exception of the US), will the USA be even more inclined to seek the relocation of the UN HQ?
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 -- and preceding the decision to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem. Relocating UN HQ could be explored in the light of the merits of counter-intuitive strategies cultivated in the eastern martial arts. In that light how would any move to North Korea reframe the build up in tension on that peninsula?
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.
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? How could any decision be reframed by the delocalization of offices enabled by electronic communications? Should the primary HQ be in the closest proximity to Jerusalem with only a secondary facility maintained in New York?
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 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.
There is a case for recognizing the opportunities offered by augmented reality and virtual reality now that widespread release of virtual reality headsets and smartglasses is expected within a year or so, if not in the coming months. The technology is predicted to develop very rapidly thereafter and will naturally be integrated into the so-called internet of things (Blake J. Harris, How the United Nations is using Virtual Reality to tackle Real-World Problems, Fast Company, December 2015)
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 rationalized. 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 sociopolitical 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 increasing 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)
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.
Time for the UN to be relocated "into the cloud" ? "Virtual reality" may indeed enable unsuspected "virtues" in engaging with the dynamics of geopolitical "reality".
Following the decisions by the UN Security Council and the UN General Assembly (December 2017) regarding the status of Jerusalem, this section has been transferred to a separate document where the argument has been further developed (Jerusalem as a Symbolic Singularity: comprehending the dynamics of hyperreality as a challenge to conventional two-state reality, 2017).
As noted above, the argument has been further developed (Jerusalem as a Symbolic Singularity: comprehending the dynamics of hyperreality as a challenge to conventional two-state reality, 2017).
As noted above, the references are presented separately (Jerusalem as a Symbolic Singularity: comprehending the dynamics of hyperreality as a challenge to conventional two-state reality, 2017).
|Move the UN HQ from New York to a much less expensive location
-- to reduce costs for all concerned
The recent UN budget cuts by the US (with more expected) make it even more credible that the UN HQ should be moved from New York, which is costly for all, including the USA:
It is time for a feasibility study to demonstrate how such a move could quickly cut costs and increase efficiency
Proposals for the relocation of the UN have been made in relation to proposed withdrawal of the US from the United Nations:
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