Reforming and Building Effective International Institutions

What existing or new international institutions or mechanisms are needed to support an alternative global security system?

  • Approximately 1 hour per discussion (up to 2 hours)
relevant sections of “a global security system: an alternative to war”
  • Explore possibilities for effective global democratic governance, international law, and accountability
introducing study and action partner: Peter weiss

Study and Action Partner Peter Weiss has had a long legal career that has included significant work in constitutional and international law and human rights. He served as Vice President of the Center for Constitutional Rights, Chair of the Board of the Institute for Policy Studies, President of the American Committee on Africa, and President of the International Association of Lawyers Against Nuclear Arms. He has also long been active in organizations promoting peace with justice between Israelis and Palestinians. You can read Peter’s full bio here.

Discussion Guides

Two discussion topics/guides are presented below. Each discussion should take approximately 1 hour. You are invited to do both and follow any sequence relevant to your purposes. If you are to choose one discussion we strongly encourage you to start with “Discussion 1 (Essential).”

Discussion 1 (Essential):  Reforming and/or establishing new Institutions for Humane Global Governance

In preparation for this discussion read the corresponding sections of AGSS. (Total 60 min)

“Instead of requiring disarmament, the UN requires the nation states to maintain military force that they can loan to the UN on demand.”  – (AGSS 2017, p. 62)


Current systems of collective security and global governance are built upon assumptions deeply rooted in the war system and militarized responses to conflict. International law and the UN system are furthered hampered by the assumptions of sovereignty that are implied in the nation-state global order. A global peace system cannot emerge without addressing these problems. Given these challenges, explore the following questions:

  • Do you think it is possible to reform the United Nations to serve as an effective institution of global governance?       Why or why not?
  • Assuming for a moment that it is possible to reform the UN, the most promising institution we have at present, what changes would need to be made? And, perhaps more important, how might these changes be strategically pursued?
  • Do you think an alternative institution should be established to replace the UN, such as “The Earth Federation” movement? If so, what should it comprise and how would it function differently than the current UN? How might this institution be established? Consider the arguments that could be made to encourage sovereign nations to join such an institution that challenges almost all current global norms. (See additional resources below.)
  • Communicate your concerns to your elected officials about the need to fully participate in global governance; suggest UN reforms; or design a new global system of governance. Write a letter based on key points that come from your discussion of the questions above.
Additional Resources

Discussion 2 (Going Deeper): International Law

In preparation for this discussion watch the extended interview with Peter Weiss (below) and the sections of AGSS that correspond to international law, the ICC and the ICJ.

“The world desperately needs a working system of governance and the closest we have to that is international law.”  – Peter Weiss

“Laws are like cobwebs, which may catch small flies, but let wasps and hornets break through.”  
– Jonathan Swift

Extended Interview: Peter Weiss

( 19 min)


Peter Weiss argues, and his career has demonstrated that international law may be the closest thing we have to a working system of global governance. International law as a mechanism for assuring justice between and among nation states is an essential component of a global peace system. The following questions explore present options, challenges and future potential for international law.

  • Three significant limitations to international law need to be addressed. 1) It has no governing body; 2) is based on a piecemeal collection of international precedents (treaties, protocols, memorandums, the UN Charter, etc); and 3) lacks enforceability. Many of these problems are rooted in the dilemma of national sovereignty. Peter Weiss argues that there is not enough enforcement of the norms of international law. So, how might we make international law “real”? If some states won’t participate in or actively circumnavigate international law, how might we get government leaders to take it seriously? What role might or can civil society in strengthening international law?
  • Explore the pros, cons, and possibilities for strengthening the International Court of Justice (ICJ) and the International Criminal Court (ICC).
  • Much international law is based upon existing treaties. World Beyond War proposes establishing new treaties such as a treaty to control greenhouse gases and a treaty to support climate refugees. What other treaties might be established that might establish precedent for a more robust system of international law?
  • Peter Weiss shares an anecdote in which he encountered a leader of a state Bar Association who described international law as “a kind of confused morality.” Weiss argues that we need to get away from this and show people what international law can do. Few are aware of the impacts the application of international law has had around the world. Take time to investigate some of the organizations involved in supporting international law and the significant case studies that can be found in the “additional resources” section below.
Additional Resources
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What did you learn from this discussion? Please share with others so we can build a global security system together...