We need a Great Upshift in 2024 and beyond!

Published : 10 Dec 2023 09:44 PM
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It is with optimism that I welcome the publication of a new book by Erwin Laszlo and David Lorimer, The Great Upshift[1], a collective work by 35 international scholars, including myself. The book offers not only a diagnosis of our current problems of governance, but also formulates a realistic prognosis accompanied by concrete, pragmatic and implementable proposals.

Doubtless the world is in flux and the Global Majority is gradually taking distance from the unipolar world that we knew following the end of the cold war and the collapse of the Soviet Union.  We are witnessing a growing reluctance on the part of many countries in Latin America, Africa and Asia to follow the “leadership” of the “collective West”, whose policies have been proven to be counter-productive and incompatible with the legitimate interests of the majority of UN member states.

A slow process of de-dollarization of international trade is in progress, and it will no doubt continue for as long as the United States insists on weaponizing the dollar and using it as an instrument of pressure and blackmail.  The long-term consequences for the value of the dollar and for the prospects of the US economy will be considerable.

From Seneca we know the maxim calamitas virtutis occasio[3].  A calamity, catastrophe or major event is an good opportunity to show one’s mettle.  Thus it is up to us to be the change that we want, to depart from old imperialist and colonialist paradigms and embrace a new multipolar world order, where multilateralism and international solidarity are the rule and not the exception.  This is not mere rhetoric, it is our duty to make sure that the wars in Ukraine, Palestine and elsewhere end through diplomatic negotiation and that a modus vivendi is crafted that will be sustainable. The goal is to achieve justice for all parties, not to strive for “victory” and “winner takes all”.  What is necessary is to break the vicious circle of violence and counter-violence.

A better world is possible, as we know from the World Social Forum, Porto Alegre, Agenda 21, ILO, UNESCO and WHO conventions, from the universal commitment to save the environment, from the many initiatives of inter-governmental and non-governmental organizations like the Geneva International Peace Research Institute[4] to tackle the problems of peace and war, global warming and pandemics.

We already have a generous world constitution in the form of the UN Charter, and it is imperative, today more than ever, that we should recommit to the overarching principle of peace among nations and cultures.  It is up to us to reject the concept of a “clash of civilizations” and embrace instead the concept of an alliance of civilizations.  We must reaffirm the right of self-determination of all peoples, and not just those “peoples” who are likely to be our vassals.  We must reject interference in the internal affairs of other nations.  We must rediscover the spirituality of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the 75th anniversary of which we celebrate on 10 December.

Obstacles to the Upshift

At the same time, we should not be naive.  We must all be aware of the considerable obstacles to any kind of change.  Entrenched economic interests demonstrate an enormous inertia.  Corporations and financial institutions are reluctant to entertain adventures that might endanger their profits.  Meanwhile I do not think that there is added value in the so-called “great reset” announced by the World Economic Forum in Davos.  I tend to agree with Elon Musk that “the World Economic Forum is increasingly becoming an unelected world government that the people never asked for and don’t want.”

We would have thought that the many books by Noam Chomsky would have impacted Washington and Brussels and persuaded the leaders that they were pursuing destructive and often criminal policies.  We would have thought that Stephen Kinzer’s book “Overthrow” would have dissuaded Washington from its policies of financing so-called colour revolutions and “regime change”. 

My UN reports

In my function as a UN Independent Expert on International Order in the years 2012 to 2018 I produced 14 reports for the UN General Assembly and Human Rights Council, I issued more than one hundred media statements, press releases and info-notes, participated in conferences and consultations in many countries[13].  I came to understand that we UN rapporteurs are little more than an assembly of Cassandras and that our reports are politely received, but then very quickly filed away and forgotten.  There is no follow-up mechanism to monitor whether any of our recommendations are ever implemented.

My 25 Principles of International Order, which I presented to the Human Rights Council in March 2018 and further developed in chapter 25 of my book “Building a Just World Order”[14] did not have any immediate effect.  

In fact, they were largely ignored.  Only some progressive ngo’s like the Geneva International Peace Research Institute, TFF, CETIM, South Centre and my own students at the Geneva School of Diplomacy and at the University of Geneva have found interest in them.

In the second and third books of my “human rights trilogy” — Countering Mainstream Narratives[15]and The Human Rights Industry[16]— I elaborate on multiple problems that threaten the survival of humankind, including the danger of nuclear war, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction including bio- and chemical weapons, artificial intelligence, global warming, ecocide, pandemics, natural disasters.

On a different plane I address the root causes of many man-made problems, notably the dis-information campaigns driven by governments and the private sector, the Western focus on short-term profits at the expense of future generations, the impunity of transnational corporations and monopolies, deliberate deforestation, pollution of oceans and rivers.  There is a pattern of anti-ecological exploitation of natural resources that prevents the economic development of many nations in Asia, Africa and Latin America, many under the yoke of monstrous foreign debt, and facilitated by official corruption, tax havens, privilege, structural violence, and often characterized by the narcissism of power, cynicism,  greed and plain human stupidity. There is continuing exploitation of indigenous peoples in North and South America, in South-East Asia, in Australia, etc.  The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples[17] is not being implemented, and the chimera of “free, prior and informed consent” is an illusion.  There are sequels of imperialism and colonialism that are only now being addressed in the UN Human Rights Council as illustrated in Council Resolution 48/7 and the follow-up meetings.

Priorities for 2024 and beyond

What should our priorities be?  Pax optima rerum – peace is the highest good – was the motto of the Peace of Westphalia of 1648, which ended the murderous Thirty Years’ War, an insane catastrophe that killed an estimated eight million Europeans. The First and Second World Wars together killed more than 60 million human beings. Where are the lessons learned? Did we learn any?  A nuclear war would most likely destroy the planet, and there would be no victors.  I am not sure that even Albert Einstein perceived the existential danger to all of humanity – even though in 1947 at a dinner party he is reported to have acknowledged his respect for the might of the atom — “I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.” This quotation may be apocryphal, but se non è vero, è molto ben trovato. 

Back in 1933 Einstein and Sigmund Freud had exchanged letters on the thorny issue of why intelligent men start wars instead of sitting down and discussing possible options of peaceful coexistence.  The League of Nations published the exchange in a famous book entitled “Why War”[18]

Doubtless, peace must be our priority, and in order to achieve peace, we must address in a timely fashion the root causes of wars, we must resolve grievances in good faith.  We must understand and internalize that a “culture of cheating”[19] is counter-productive, that provocation is not an innocent act[20], that refusal to negotiate, intransigence and escalation constitute a violation of articles 2(3) and 2(4) of the UN Charter, that not only the use of force is prohibited, but also the threat of the use of force.

Moreover, a global compact on education for peace and empathy, which I promoted in a number of my UN reports, must be negotiated and agreed upon.  A paradigm shift away from military-first economies to human security economies, away from the military-industrial-digital-financial complex, and a conversion into constructive social policies, job creation, healthcare is necessary.

Drawing hope from hope

There are plenty of diagnoses of the many ills that plague humanity.  We draw hope – from hope.  We have faith in ourselves and in the capacity of humans to solve man-made problems. 

We are still surrounded by Nature in its glory – the mountains and lakes, rivers and oceans, forests and orchards, birds and butterflies, endless wheatfields, the ineffable beauty of sunrise and sunset.  If we would only open our eyes, we could discover the logic of Creation.  This mindset can be ours, if we want it.  It is up to us to see the positive in things and to remain positive and optimistic, notwithstanding the incompetence and corruption of the politicians who govern over us.


Like everywhere in human affairs, peace and progress depend on identifying the right priorities and pursuing coherent policies to achieve them. Principles of Global Order alone will not succeed in saving the world from Apocalypse.  

We must win the information war, formulate a plan of action with concrete, pragmatic measures, and we must reclaim our democracy, day by day, step by step.

Alfred de Zayas is a law professor at the Geneva School of Diplomacy and served as a UN 

Independent Expert on International 

Order 2012-18. 

Source: CounterPunch