Gordon Brown has called for the wholesale reform of the world’s most powerful bodies, including the World Bank and United Nations, claiming they are unable to cope with the challenges of the 21st century.
The former prime minister said these institutions were designed for another era, in the post-war years and the Cold War, making them ill-equipped to tackle modern crises. Existing bodies, he said, had specifically failed to meet the new challenge of climate change.
“They were built for another age and need to be rebuilt for the new age,” Brown said on Tuesday, amid intensifying speculation about his interest in heading the International Monetary Fund.
He called for a new “global ethic” and international institutions capable of tackling climate change, African poverty and economic restructuring with a greater democratic mandate from the world’s 192 nations.
Existing institutions were failing to adapt to meet the needs of the internet age, which was creating parallel and trans-border popular movements, and a new form of “global citizenship” which was revolutionising politics.
Brown, making a keynote lecture at Edinburgh university, where he studied and lectured in the 1970s, deflected a question about his widely-touted ambitions to head the IMF, an institution he included in his criticisms.
Earlier on Tuesday Brown’s candidacy had been openly questioned by David Cameron, who said it would be wrong for the IMF to choose Brown to succeed its current director general, Dominque Strauss Kahn, given the vast national debt left by his government.
Asked about Brown and the IMF on Radio 4’s Today programme, Cameron said the former premier “might not be the most appropriate person to work out whether other countries around the world have debt and deficit problems.”
Brown would not deny he was interested, but said: “I’m pretty busy at the moment; I have had my period of reflection. I’m actually chairing the global initiative for education. We’re about to produce a report about how far short we are of reaching the millennium development goals.”
In his Edinburgh university lecture, part of the long-established Gifford series on moral philosophy, Brown was allowed a platform to sidestep Cameron’s criticisms by staking out his claim to have already played a significant role in stabilising the world economy and tackling African poverty.
Speaking for about 35 minutes without notes, he told the audience that he had played the pivotal role in organising the G20 bloc of nations’ response to the global economic crisis; had previously helped set aside African debt and create the millennium development goals on tackling poverty.
But these measures and current institutions were not suited for solving the over-arching problems of global poverty, state protectionism and nationalism and underdevelopment in Africa that threatened to lead to mass emigration and a feeding ground for terrorists among the unemployed young.
“I’m actually saying we need the institutions reformed for a new age, which is a global age and not simply the age of separate nationalities, which haven’t been able to come together to recognise that there are global problems,” he said.
“Yes, I would reform the World Bank, yes I would reform the IMF, yes I would reform the United Nations and the security council arrangements and yes I would reform the G20. But the important thing is that there a number of institutions that are capable of solving these problems, [but] they were built for another age; they’ve got to be rebuilt for this age.”
Brown was not specific on his solutions, nor did he offer a concrete example of an existing body failing in its mandate. He added, however, that world religions need to collaborate together on this new ethical movement. They all “subscribed to a global rule: do to others as you would be done to yourself.”
He said: “These are global problems that need global solutions; these can’t be solved as problems without building capable and effective global institutions for the future. The institutions we built in the 1940s won’t solve the next crisis. The institutions we built in the 1940s couldn’t solve this crisis.”