Brad Smith: 'there's room for innovation when it comes to governance'

Microsoft President Brad Smith. Source: Swissnex.

The world will remember year 2020. It will remember its worse health crisis in history. But it will also remember the dialogues initiated within and across borders by the United Nations to reach and connect as many people as possible to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the organisation.

Seventy-five years ago, the United Nations was born, starting to bring the world back together in the aftermath of World War II.

To commemorate the signing of the UN Charter in San Fransisco, and discuss multilateralism, cyber peace and digital governance, the Swiss innovation outpost in San Francisco, swissnex, and the Consulate General of Switzerland in San Francisco, organised a high level dialogue with Brad Smith. Microsoft President reflected on the past, the challenges arising today and the importance of joining efforts to build a better tomorrow.

A 2.0 San Francisco Charter. The United Nations remains the most successful example of a multilateral governance system in history today. But 75 years of history does reveal the challenges that have emerged over the years as well. Smith insists on the importance of considering the problems that need to be solved to imagine what the San Francisco Charter would look like today.

“The spirit of multilateralism was really born through a series of changes. I would go back to the 1860s, when the nature of technology just made warfare far more horrendous for combatants and non combatants alike. That's what gave birth to the International Committee of the Red Cross. It was from a recognition that it was the type of problem that could not be solved by a single country or two countries working bilaterally. It really required a multilateral approach.”

Considering 2020 and the challenges in terms of climate and health that lie ahead, if the United Nations were to be created today, it would perhaps include a broader set of issues than in 1945.

“I also think that it might well have more that we already see in the UN today than something that's different. Because there's a lot that the founders of the UN created in 1945, that is every bit as essential today as it was 75 years ago.”

The right people in the room. Climate change, digital divide, cybersecurity, new challenges require to include all actors and stakeholders to the discussion and the global governance. The world envisioned in 1945 has changed and non-state actors, such as NGOs but not only, have become essential. Smith continues :

“I think the other non state actors that have become more important are from the private sector. There is a global business community today. You have a number of companies that in many ways, are as global as the international institutions in the UN.”

In other words, companies should be in the room to join the discussion and help to solve pressing problems in a more efficient way.

“There's room for innovation when it comes to governance, at least in a way that more formally creates opportunities for different voices to be heard.”

Sustainable digital structures. Although Smith recognises the efforts that are made in terms of digital trust and the necessity of the safeguards that are in place today, he feels the initiatives need to be pushed harder and faster, and gaps to be filled.

“To me, one of the best steps of the last 18 months or so has been the creation of the Cyber Peace Institute. Microsoft is one of the institutions that helped stand it up. I thought it was important that it be based in Geneva, and I'm glad that it is because I think it then connects with the ICRC, with the UN, and with the other institutions that are there. Ultimately, I do think that the preservation of a cyber peace in any real form will require that we recognize that we live in a world that sort of is between conventional peace and conventional war. We have this constant array of attacks. And I think it will require more collective defense, you know, by countries, not just to focus on governments, governance and rules, but also on deterrence.”