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Cyber-tech opportunity for global governance
Efforts to develop a Pact for the Future and a Global Digital Compact offer reason to hope for real progress on peacebuilding and AI governance this year. But, beyond adopting these instruments, United Nations member states must build upon them by pursuing ambitious innovations in global governance
Mubarak Al-Kuwari, Richard Ponzio and Sultan Barakat 28 Mar 2024

Cyber-technologies, especially artificial intelligence (AI), make possible powerful new tools for problem-solving. But they also raise serious governance challenges. In fact, unbridled competition for cyber-primacy could leave everyone worse off – a kind of “tragedy of the commons”. It might even lead to confrontation.

Mitigating such risks is more urgent than ever. Cyber-tech is becoming faster, better, cheaper and more widely used at a time when there are more violent conflicts underway than at any point since World War II. Moreover, existing peacebuilding tools seem to be losing their efficacy. The United Nations’ well-known shortcomings – such as insufficient resources, lack of formal authority and incapacity to address the underlying causes of violent conflicts – are particularly glaring in Gaza, Ukraine and Sudan.

The good news is that this year will bring important opportunities to confront the challenges we face. In September, global leaders will gather in New York for the UN’s Summit of the Future, where they will seek to restore mutual trust, address gaps in global governance and strengthen multilateral institutions’ ability to cope with current and future challenges. The summit is expected to deliver agreement on a Pact for the Future, laying out a clear path forward for the international system.

Efforts are also underway to develop a Global Digital Compact, which was proposed in UN secretary-general António Guterres’s Our Common Agenda as a means of establishing a “shared vision of an open, free, secure and human-centred digital future”. Together, these initiatives offer reason to hope for real progress on AI governance and international peacebuilding.

Success, however, will require the UN’s 193 member states not only to adopt these instruments but also to build upon them by pursuing ambitious innovations in global governance. In the Future of International Cooperation Report 2023, produced by the Doha Forum, the Stimson Center, and the Global Institute for Strategic Research, we call for one such innovation: an International Artificial Intelligence Agency (IA2).

The establishment of IA2 would boost visibility, advocacy and resource mobilization for global AI regulation, and provide expert advice on cyber-tech agreements pursued by the UN General Assembly and Security Council. The agency would also monitor, evaluate and report on AI industry safeguards, in compliance with an agreed international regulatory framework. And it would coordinate initiatives and frameworks on AI governance transnationally to facilitate the sharing of best practices and lessons learnt.

IA2 should be underpinned by the principles of safety, sustainability and inclusiveness, and supported by an expert Intergovernmental Panel on Cyber and AI, modelled on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The agency’s design should reflect any relevant recommendations from the UN secretary-general’s AI Advisory Body, which will release its final report ahead of the Summit of the Future.

To bolster international conflict management capabilities, we also propose transforming the UN Peacebuilding Commission into an empowered Peacebuilding Council, much as the then-enfeebled Human Rights Commission was transformed in 2005 into a more capable Human Rights Council with an expanded mandate.

The Peacebuilding Council would have greater authority and responsibility to lead on conflict prevention, policy development and coordination, and resource mobilization for second- and third-order conflicts (such as Myanmar). This would enable the Security Council to focus squarely on first-order conflicts (such as Ukraine-Russia), which pose the greatest threat to international peace and security.

The Peacebuilding Council’s efforts would be aided by a Peacebuilding Audit tool, modelled on the Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review, which tracks UN member states’ human rights records. At the same time, the Peacebuilding Fund – the UN’s main instrument for investing in conflict prevention – must receive adequate, predictable, and sustained funding, including from assessed dues.

Pushback is to be expected, from both state and non-state actors. After all, we are living in a time of renewed great-power rivalries and rising mistrust among influential groupings of countries in the Global North and South.

But recent achievements – in particular, the G20 New Delhi Leaders’ Declaration, which emerged from last September’s G20 Summit, and the Bletchley Declaration, which was adopted at the AI Safety Summit in November – suggest that political momentum can be marshalled to advance shared goals. It helps that both the Pact for the Future and the Global Digital Compact aim to fill global-governance gaps that were identified as priorities in the Political Declaration adopted at last September’s Sustainable Development Goals Summit.

Cutting-edge technologies are vital to progress on no less than 25 SDG (Social Development Goals) indicators, and the entire 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development depends on world peace. If we are to have any chance of achieving the 17 SDGs by the 2030 target date, we must mobilize such technologies to meet the governance and peacebuilding challenges of a rapidly changing geopolitical order.

Mubarak Al-Kuwari is an executive director of the Doha Forum; Richard Ponzio is the director of the global governance, justice and security programme and a senior fellow at the Stimson Center; and Sultan Barakat is a director of the Global Institute for Strategic Research and a professor of public policy at Hamad Bin Khalifa University.

Copyright: Project Syndicate

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