This is a very personal account of the history and current state when it comes to the role of the current global governance system, and UN in particular. Parts of the book reads like a self-congratulatory speech, more like an American book than a British, but the subject is important and the journey is interesting so I do not see this as a problem.
After all Brown is someone who looks at the major challenges of our time (although more looking back than forward) and want to do something about them. With a refreshing global perspective Brown provides an insight to how it is to see bad things happen and have administration (and focus on one’s career) tie your hand so you can only watch. (The book “Shake hand with the devil” is a good example of what happens if you refuse to let structures tie your hands down).
There are many things that makes me frustrated, e.g. where I think there are better ways to approach certain challenges (and I like that with a book). But there are also a number of things that got me frustrated in a bad way, as I think they are spreading a perspective that makes it harder to understand what is happening as they have little to do with reality. How Brown describes historic events like the WTO meeting in Seattle is one example where so much happened before, during and after that would benefit from an inside perspective instead of a simplistic perspective.
But for all its weaknesses/challenging parts it is hard to not be happy when you read a book where the author in the very first chapter writes: “We must demonstrate that global governance can deliver economic fairness between nations; security for people from overbearing states; and agreed rules for sharing our finite natural resources, and above all the processes to manage global changes”.
There were so much that I learned, that I felt I should already know. From the creation of NIEO to many of the intrapreneurs in the UN system and I really really like that in a book.
Part of me feels sad as the books does not really include any analytical thinking, Brown is a PR person, he knows how to spin things. That is what he has done in all his different positions. This is no critique it is just something I did not know when I started reading the book. The difference is that most people writing similar books, politicians/business leaders/academics/etc, are also PR people not visionaries that actually know anything, the difference is that many people want to presented that they are something more, so the open admission from Brown is refreshing.
As a PR person parts of the book becomes a sales pitch for Brown himself and not only is everything he does written as if he thinks it has been very successful, but also very exciting. Still compared with his friends at the Economist and their book “the fourth revolution” he has actually been engaged in actual global issues, far from a desk in London, and he has also he himself been doing work. He also seems to have a genuine interest to help support a better global governance system.
Unfortunately he writes in a way that I think many academics and civil servants can interpret as it is not possible to have an ambition to actually change the system, and that the best you can do is to just comment and react to things and pretend that it is meaningful (illustrated by this short and sad note in Foreign Affairs, by a tired academic who I guess have not thought much about the world from any perspective than an incremental US perspective)
I’m not sure what Brown himself wanted, but I think the book is very inspiring as it clearly talks about the need for a very different UN, but also acknowledges that it will require a unique situation. He highlights two things that will “bring matters to a head”: 1. The gap between what is needed and what the global governance system/UN can deliver will continue to grow and create frustration. 2. As more events will happen that require global governance the world will turn to the UN.
He concludes, rightfully I think, that “a fresh try at reform remains inevitable. The question remains when, not if.”
PS In one part of the book the tone changes, and I would love to have seen the first drafts. It is when he talks about John Bolton, the former US ambassador to the UN. It is very seldom where you see PR people on this level write with passion and rage. Brown really thinks that Bolton has made the world a worse place. Brown pulls no punches when he writes about how destructive Bolton has been and the fact that one individual (supported by people like Dick Chaney) could destroy so much.
It is hard not to agree with Brown as Bolton probably is one of the most bizarre people the US has ever put in an international organization. Bolton is one of these persons that make you wonder if there is any hope for humanity. Not the fact that he exists, there will always be crazy people around, but the fact that this kind of person can be given platforms to disseminate his confused and hateful messages, that is almost as far away from empathy as you can get.