Is AI Upending Geopolitics? with Angela Kane

Jun 22, 2022 74 min listen

In this Artificial Intelligence & Equality podcast, Carnegie-Uehiro Fellow Wendell Wallach is joined by Angela Kane, a chair of the United Nations University Governing Council, to discuss how AI is likely to upend geopolitics. Kane, a former UN under-secretary-general, also shares some of her concerns about the role of the UN and the many ways AI could undermine international peace and security. Without proper guardrails, the development and deployment of AI systems could accelerate the pace of armed conflict and risk loosening control over the means of war.

WENDELL WALLACH: Hello. I'm Wendell Wallach. With us today we have Angela Kane, who has had an incredible 37-year career at the United Nations. For the last 13 of those years she was an undersecretary-general with at various times responsibilities for peacekeeping, management, political issues, and disarmament. She left the United Nations in 2015 but has continued to be in demand as an expert in international affairs. She is vice president of the International Institute for Peace and a distinguished fellow at the Nuclear Threat Initiative, which was founded by Sam Nunn and Ted Turner.

For those of you who want a little extra titillation you may have caught during the pandemic the BBC One/Netflix miniseries The Serpent. Angela is a leading character in that historical reenactment of the capture of a serial killer, Charles Sobhraj, who not only murdered but functioned as a con man throughout Asia in 1975 and 1976. Angela and her then-diplomat husband, stationed in Bangkok, did all the groundwork for Charles' capture.

Angela and I have been colleagues and friends for many years. Most recently we wrote together a TechCrunch opinion piece entitled "Artificial Intelligence is Already Upending Geopolitics." If you are interested, you can find that on either the TechCrunch website or the Artificial Intelligence & Equality Initiative (AIEI) website at Carnegie Council.

That already gives you a sense of some of what we will be talking about, but I would like to open just by talking with Angela a little bit about how artificial intelligence (AI) has upended the United Nations.

Angela, you have said that the UN's focus on people and their wellbeing has been disturbed by the rapid and unanticipated development of AI and other emerging technologies. Do you want to tell us a little bit more?

ANGELA KANE: Yes. Thank you very much, Wendell. It is a great pleasure to be here with you on this podcast. I appreciate your asking me for it.

I think what we have seen is that AI has really rattled people. They have been very upset about not being able to control this. They feel that this is a development that has really overtaken them. It has gone so rapidly. While the younger generation has taken very quickly to this new technology I think the more settled and older generation has had a very hard time settling with this.

We have seen that also in our interactions in the diplomatic field. A lot of people are not very well aware of it. I think also when you consider how AI and technology have taken hold, particularly in the developed countries—in the developing countries it is still lagging behind a bit. Everyone seems to have a cellphone these days, but on the other hand there are other technologies that leave those countries behind. When you talk about what is happening in the United Nations, then you ask: "How does that influence the work of the United Nations? How does it actually resonate in the United Nations?"

I must tell you that it does not resonate very well. I was very amused because when the pandemic hit and all of a sudden no meetings were possible at the United Nations, and the Security Council had to meet via Zoom and via other technologies. That was something that was quite a fiasco in the beginning because some of the delegates did not handle this very well, they didn't quite understand, and some of these sessions were broadcast and it showed basically how far behind the United Nations and the diplomatic community were in a way and had to catch up with this.

That of course was remedied very quickly, so that was not an issue after a couple of weeks, but on the other hand, how are we dealing with AI and technology development in the United Nations? I don't think we are dealing with it very well. There was a report that was done by the secretary-general. He asked a group of eminent persons—I think it was headed by Jack Ma and Melinda Gates—and they talked about technology, but it was all very general. It was all like, "We have to foster inclusion, we have to be transparent, we have to basically build on existing capabilities, we have to support the developing world in getting this," but there was nothing that was very concrete about what the United Nations was going to do. That to my mind is something that the United Nations still needs to sharpen its focus on. Maybe it is now happening because there is an envoy who was just appointed by the secretary-general who is for technology, but on the other hand we will have to see how he handles the portfolio he has been given by the secretary-general.

Let me add something else. I find it interesting because when you think about how the international system developed you have the Universal Postal Union—I think founded in 1874. What happened was, the postal union basically set the rates and set the conditions. You have the International Telecommunications Union, so there are always attempts by the international system to basically set standards. For example, civil aviation sets standards. We don't have standards at all either in the United Nations or anywhere else. Some countries are trying it. The European Union is trying it. But I think as a general rule we are lagging behind in looking at this issue and actually setting some standards, rules, and regulations.

WENDELL WALLACH: You have clearly witnessed the advent of digital technologies coming into the UN system. In fact in 1995 you started the UN website and for many years you were head of the UN Internet Technology (IT) Board. Tell us a little bit about how successful the United Nations has been in integrating these digital technologies and what that may tell us about its ability to be effective in terms of setting international standards or at least leading the way towards setting international standards?

ANGELA KANE: Thank you for referring also to the 1995 effort, which was quite amazing because I had taken over a rather large division in the Information Department, and my then-boss was extremely proud. This was in 1995. He had just launched a website. In 1995 this was cutting-edge as far as everyone was concerned. They had a couple of pages. There was basic information on the United Nations in English only.

After I had been there about a month I said to him: "Look, when are the next pages going to come? Where is the new content?"

He said: "New content? What do you mean? We've done it already."

I said: "No, we have to put more material up. We have to be more informative."

Then he said: "Do you know something about it?"

I said: "Well, I'm very interested in it because I think this really needs to be developed and put out there, and this is where the United Nations should go."

He asked me to take it over for the next two years. It was extremely time-consuming. We had to code. We basically did it from the library. We had this little pod of people who were working on this. Everything had to be coded separately. It wasn't as easy as it is now. We were very successful with it.

Again what was interesting is because then demands came from Member States and they said: "Not only English. It has to be in other UN languages." There are six of them. You have English and French as the working languages.

I said: "Fine. We'll start with French."

The other ones said: "Oh, no, no, no, we have four additional languages, Russian, Chinese, Arabic, and Spanish, and we need those too."

Then the missions said: "We don't have access to the Internet. You have to give us access to the Internet." So then we basically came up with a plan where we would give computers to missions so the missions could have access to it. It was really the beginning of a technology revolution but it was within the Secretariat. It was with the diplomatic circles in New York and Geneva as well, but on the other hand it was not making standards and setting standards for the whole world, or let's say to develop standards.

Let me share with you the example that I had. When you started a website, you had a sitemap of where everyone went, and everyone wanted to be the first one when you click on the United Nations. This is what we needed. I spent basically two years chairing a group that put together rules for the United Nations. Wendell, that taught me that rules for the United Nations even internally failed dismally because by the time that we had elaborated those rules they were already outdated, and that basically made it look like it was impossible to set this for the wider world because everyone had their own pet subject and their own pet interests that they wanted to launch. That was very, very difficult.

I will give you another example which does not make me very hopeful about the United Nations being able to come up with a blueprint for the world. We started using more and more technology in the United Nations, for translation for example. Now we have excellent translation software. At the time it was still a little bit in its infancy, but we decided that was where we were going to put our money and do this because it would be of assistance to people.

This was very much resisted by the translators because they felt they were going to be out of a job. They felt that no software could be good enough to do what they actually could do. That gives you also a sense that you have to involve people when you are trying to actually make progress and you are using technology in a way that you think is helpful, but if you don't have the people with you and they don't think it is helpful to them but they feel threatened by it, they are going to resist you and they are not going to implement it very well.

What was difficult about it was that we had decided in New York we would have software X, and Geneva, which also has a very large translation service, decided they wanted to have software Y. Would you believe it? We were unable to combine the two and say, "We will have one standard." That to my mind was something that was incomprehensible, but on the other hand there was too much internal opposition to that, so it continued on two tracks. It was not interchangeable.

WENDELL WALLACH: This lack of interoperability between departments, to your knowledge has that continued since you left the United Nations, or have any significant measures been taken to ensure that the United Nations at least has some standard internally for that or for cybersecurity, for example?

ANGELA KANE: Cybersecurity is a different issue because that is basically handled centrally, so it is not handled in each department but it is handled by one department. There is a chief intelligence officer who basically handles that, so there is much more of a push to make it more coherent and also to make it more centrally organized and centrally regulated.

But when it comes to the various IT standards, if you ask someone from the United Nations, they will probably tell you, "Yes, we do that now." They are probably going to say that you are behind the times and don't really follow this.

But I will give you an example. I was head for three years of the Internet Technology Board of the whole UN system. We would meet twice a year and basically sit together and say: "What has worked in your case, what has worked in my case, how can we be more cohesive, how can we exchange information, is there a way that we could cooperate maybe also by software, etc., together, so you get a group discount or something, and train each other?"

That was something that I very strongly supported. It was something that I wanted to make work, but again every entity of the United Nations has its own budget, has its own rules and regulations, and they are not very flexible. Another reason why they are not very flexible is because Member States watch very carefully what you are doing because it is their money. They feel that you cannot join this money with another source even if it is within the UN system because how are you going to sort out what are the benefits, where is the money going, etc.? That was very, very difficult.

There was a lot of secrecy about hacking at the time. It was like a year later that we found out one of the major entities of the United Nations was hacked, and they didn't even share this with us. You would think they would tell us and say: "Look, this has happened to us. Be careful what happens. You have to watch for any other similar hacking that could take place in your institution." That to me was very disappointing. I think there was a lot of goodwill, but in terms of coming out of it, it was more of an exchange of information rather than activating joint efforts to better deal with IT and also the purchases of software and other material.

WENDELL WALLACH: As you know, Anja Kaspersen and I started the AI & Equality Initiative because we were particularly concerned about the ways in which artificial intelligence could exacerbate existing structural inequalities and exacerbate insecurity. The exacerbation of insecurity can be evidenced in different ways, some directed at those who have less access, for example, to IT tools, but also in terms of the major issue of whether there will be employment for them in the future, whether tech unemployment is going to overwhelm the Global South, for example.

Can you share with us some of your concerns around both how AI might exacerbate insecurity in terms of, for example, work and international security?

ANGELA KANE: What has happened, Wendell, in my opinion is that certain users of AI could really undermine international peace and security and they could raise concerns about the security and safety of technology. They could accelerate the pace of armed conflict. They could also loosen control over the means of war. We can talk about that a little bit later.

But I think it is exacerbating insecurity because people are afraid of what is coming down the pike: What is their future going to be like? There is a lot of insecurity about: "Will technology, will algorithms eliminate the job that I am doing right now? What is the future of work for me?"

When you work for the United Nations you have a pretty good safety cushion in terms of not being laid off from one minute to another, but that is of course something that is unusual in this world. When it also comes to harvesting the benefits of AI you wonder about it because if you really want to harness the benefits of AI, you need huge amounts of data and huge amounts of computer capacity. The more computing power you have the better, and that leaves the benefits and the power concentrated in very few hands, primarily in the United States, China, the European Union, and maybe Russia.

On the other hand, what about the rest of the world? That is something where a lot of countries in the United Nations that are saying that that they feel that they are disadvantaged because they are latecomers to this. They don't have the capacity. They don't have the computing power. What does that mean for them? Why are some of these companies—the "big five," so to say—worth billions of dollars? Who can actually equal that in the developing world? You cannot, and is there any hope for any latecomers to come to that level?

So what you now have is more and more look to say, "If these companies have all of these commercial activities [inaudible]"—and the European Union has tried very hard, for example, to say: "Well, this exists in space somehow, on the computing cloud, but on the other hand you also have to pay taxes to that." That has been a tremendous effort that has happened in the European Union.

I wonder, for example, why hasn't that happened in the United Nations? This is something that should also be regulated globally so that some of the benefits are distributed equally, and that is simply not happening. I think it's not happening because multilateralism has really taken a hit lately. It is not a good word anymore, "multilateralism." Seventy-seven years ago the United Nations was created, and there was a lot of goodwill to work together. Then we had the Cold War. Then in the late 1980s or early 1990s, when the Soviet Union broke up, we again had a high point of cooperation, but right now that is lacking.

I think that the geopolitical climate is simply not there to make progress on these issues. So it is being put on hold. It is basically being looked at in terms of having some exhortative words, some encouragement, but there aren't really any measures being implemented or even being proposed, and that to my mind is very, very sad.

WENDELL WALLACH: We have been very interested at the failure analysis of the multilateral system. That has been a big theme for the Artificial Intelligence & Equality Initiative with leaders like yourself who have had the experience. You have been in these multilateral institutions for years, and we think you can be particularly helpful in our understanding of why they have failed and whether there might be creative initiatives we can take that could rewrite that course.

You just talked about how the multilateral system seems to be very weak at the moment. I wonder if you have any thoughts about how the multilateral system might become more robust or begin to address issues around to whom the benefits of emerging technologies accrue and whether we can direct the distribution crisis in a way where the rewards of emerging technologies are spread much more broadly.

ANGELA KANE: I think that is what is needed, to spread the benefits more broadly, because they are not. They are very concentrated.

When you ask me what is the way forward, what proposals can we think of, to my mind the best attempt that you have at looking at this is basically within the European Union right now. I know there has also been a group in the United States, but again I think the political body in the United States is so conflicted right now that I do not see there is a lot of way forward because it is not the right political climate to make headway on issues that are important.

What I would like to see is that the European Union, which started with the General Data Protection Regulation, has basically started to make rules and regulations. Is it perfect? No, it's not perfect, but there is some thinking about this. They put together a group I think in 2018—I was a reserve member of that group—to write some regulations for it, which I thought was a good start.

What they are talking about is having some kind of responsible stewardship of trustworthy AI. One issue is trustworthy AI because people are so reluctant to trust whatever comes out of an algorithm, to trust whatever comes out of these daily measures that are affecting us. For example, it's a chatbot, you can't get a human on the line, or someone decides that you have transgressed in driving—something that affects our daily lives. So trustworthy AI is one of them, and they have made headway with that.

The other ways is also: How should the benefits of AI be harnessed and how can we actually support that so that the benefits are being distributed more equally? That is where the European Union has started, and I think that is very good.

The United Kingdom and the United States have also started, but the European Union needs to find more partners in this. They need to find more like-minded States. That does not only mean like-minded States that already have good computing and IT power, but it also means countries in the South who are saying: "We also want access. We also want to see something that basically benefits us. We don't want to be left out of this important technology and left out of this important market."

They could actually move forward on this if they find like-minded States to actually push this through in the United Nations. Is it going to be successful and we will have regulations in a couple of years' time, maybe next year, maybe five years? I don't know. That is going to be very difficult because the decision of what is my part of this, what do I own, and what do others get of this pie is going to be very, very difficult to negotiate. That is where the lack of "multilateral sentiment," if I can call it that, would be difficult to achieve. On the other hand, it can be done and frankly it should be done.

At this particular point in time, with the war in Ukraine, for example, people have other worries right now—the energy crisis, climate change. So it is not the main preoccupation, but it should be coming up higher on the agenda.

WENDELL WALLACH: What would it take for it to come up higher on the agenda?

ANGELA KANE: I will give you one example. The secretary-general has just appointed an IT envoy. He could basically say to the IT envoy: "I want you to talk to the Member States who have already expressed an interest. I want you to look at this special group that was put together by Jack Ma and Melinda Gates"—by the way, the IT envoy was the secretary of this group, so he knows it very well. He could basically go around and stimulate that, and then the secretary-general could support that. He could call a meeting or he could go to the president of the General Assembly and say, "I would like to have a meeting, and I would like to discuss this."

The secretary-general is his own agent. He can basically suggest things and can get Member States together and find out what is the appetite for a discussion like that, for moving ahead on that? That has not happened. It has been very piecemeal and has been very, very limited, and it has not been with the Member States. It has basically been outside the Member States, like with this expert group that he put together, now with the IT envoy.

The IT envoy reports directly to him, and I think there is a lot that he can do. That is something that needs to be socialized as an idea, if you so want, but it also needs to be pushed. If you do that, I am not saying it is going to be blessed with victory right away, but it will get traction simply because he is the one putting it forward and he is the one asking the General Assembly president to put it together into the General Assembly, and you will hear what Member States respond that they want out of this; or it could be just pretty words, one meeting, and then that's it. But you will have to test the temperature.

WENDELL WALLACH: I know that you played a role in directing some attention to lethal autonomous weapon systems (LAWS) within the UN system. I am, for example, among those outside of the United Nations who was very interested in precipitating attention to how we might limit, restrict, or put in place a treaty around ensuring that lethal autonomous weapons systems do not get deployed, but you have that concern within the United Nations. Perhaps you can share with our listeners a little bit about what you did in regards to that.

ANGELA KANE: Sometimes you have serendipitous meetings in the United Nations. I remember when there was a United Nations Special rapporteur, Christof Heyns from South Africa. He wrote a report that was published in 2013. He came to see me, and subsequently I learned that you, Wendell, were actually very instrumental in advising him as to what could be and should be in the report. That was one way of showing how one can actually—

WENDELL WALLACH: Let me correct you a little bit. I was not involved in advising him on the report itself, but after the report he was a guest of mine at the Yale Interdisciplinary Center for Bioethics, and we talked about some of these ideas and how they might be promoted and some of the concerns that would arise around it. So my influence was certainly not in the report itself.

ANGELA KANE: On the other hand, it had influence. Maybe this is why he came to see me at the United Nations, and he told me about this report, gave me a copy of it, and briefed me on it. I find it funny because at the time he called it "lethal autonomous robotics." Who uses the word "robotics" these days? It is not very often used.

Anyway, I was interested in that. I thought it was an amazing subject that he picked up, and it was something I had not focused on, particularly not in terms of a human rights issue, but this became very, very important. This was in 2013. So what is it, nine years, and I tried very hard to interest Member States in picking up this topic. The ambassadors of Member States don't read all of the reports, so you have to basically pique their interest and say: "This is something that is becoming important, this is in development, it is not yet developed, so how can we deal with it?"

I did find interest among Member States, happily so, and then in 2014 the first meeting was called in Geneva because we needed to find a home for it. How do we discuss it? Beforehand I had talked about the General Assembly. That was too small a topic at that time for the General Assembly, but we needed to find a home. How could it be discussed? It wasn't something in disarmament. There is the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW). This is something like a grab bag of a number of protocols. There was one protocol that dealt with outlawing blinding laser weapons, basically lasers focused on your eyes and then you can go blind from them. They were outlawed before they were fully developed.

Everyone thought this was great, that we had found a home for this, we could discuss it at the CCW, so a meeting was called in 2014. For three years, 2014, 2015, and 2016, a group of interested Member States ambassadors came together and discussed it and said: "What are we going to do about this? Can we deal with this? Can we put it under the CCW and develop an additional protocol before these weapons actually become released on the battlefield or what have you?"

Then a big change came. The big change was that there was a lot more commercial interest I should say in these weapons because they are very effective on the battlefield. They could save a lot of nukes on the ground. They are probably cost-effective.

There was also a group of international scientists and robotic specialists who sent a letter to the secretary-general—I think there were 1,200 of them—but actually they didn't send it to the secretary-general. They sent it the head ambassador who chaired these meetings. They told me about this, and I said: "No, that's wrong, because what is he going to do with it? You have to send it to the secretary general." Then they sent it to the secretary-general.

But in 2016 as interest became much more strongly focused on these weapons but also on their commercial potential and the usability of these weapons, things changed. While beforehand you had a meeting of minds of the Member States, they could get together, they could discuss ideas, they could put forward reports, all of a sudden it was decided it had to be a group of governmental experts, a so-called "GGE."

That probably doesn't mean much to people who are not in the UN system, but what it means is that all of a sudden it becomes a governmental enterprise that is formalized to the extent that nothing can be done unless everyone agrees to it. It is a consensus rule that is insurmountable. If you disagree with a word in a report, if you disagree with a sentence in a paper that is being published by this group of governmental experts, it is not going to go.

So since 2016, in six years, there have been meetings of this group of governmental experts, where they say, "Let us discuss, let us see." They still haven't agreed on a definition, they are still "dancing around the pole," so to say, in terms of not coming to the nitty-gritty of this, namely, can we outlaw these weapons or not?

Some are saying they don't even exist yet. Some of them are saying, well, there has to be a human in the loop, there has to be human accountability. The International Committee of the Red Cross has basically focused their definitions very strongly around this, and Secretary-General Guterres has called it "morally reprehensible." The pope has weighed into it, but it is not making progress to the extent that you would think after already nine years of discussing it, when there might be a way forward to a convention or a treaty that would actually outlaw these weapons. I think we are further away from this now than we were nine years ago.

WENDELL WALLACH: The sad part is that we are actually seeing not only non-State actors but State actors—even in the United States we have companies—using the Ukrainian invasion by Putin as an excuse to start building lethal autonomous weapons that they would like to send to Ukraine to help Ukraine in targeting the Russians.

All of this does seem to suggest that the movement to restrict the deployment of LAWS has more or less failed. I wonder what you think the implications of that are. What does that portend for other security issues that emerging technologies pose for us?

ANGELA KANE: What we have seen is that an increasing number of States are voicing openly their opposition to these weapons, but that is not enough. What we really need is an effort that says: "Fine. Can we negotiate a treaty? Can we go outside the United Nations? Can we go outside this group of governmental experts and push something?" It could be pushed in the General Assembly. That is one way of dealing with it. That happened for example on the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, where we did have an agreement, and that came into force within a relatively short time.

You could also go outside the UN system, like happened for the mine ban treaty and some other instruments that basically failed in the international community and the UN community. It just didn't go forward. So you could do that too.

But the difficulty that is always there when you go outside the United Nations is that it is not really adhered to, negotiated, or entered into by those countries that have a significant stake in wanting to see those weapons and wanting to sell those weapons, and that to my mind is a significant drawback. It remains then a treaty that is somehow—I don't want to call it "incomplete," but the relevant actors, the relevant possessors of this technology, the relevant commercial sellers of this need to be there, but also the buyers, and that is something that I don't know how to solve. It's a Gordian Knot because you can have it and have the ethical and moral high ground when you have such a treaty, but it has to be effective too. If it is not effective, there is no point in having it.

WENDELL WALLACH: It does seem that the LAWS campaign did succeed in terms of establishing the moral high ground and I think even in convincing the broad public that this kind of weaponry should be restricted, but clearly those who lead the security establishments within the great powers do not want to give up the ability to deploy these weapons. Of course, as we are now seeing in Ukraine, even if we had a treaty to restrict them, there is no guarantee that countries would actually follow that when they are in a wartime situation.

ANGELA KANE: That is very true, Wendell. It's very sad. But to your point about convincing the public, there is a tremendous groundswell of opinion that does not want to see that, that does not want to see this happening where people press a button. You have two ways. You either have action by a human who directs that weapon, or you have a system where the algorithm can basically learn on its own and can on its own identify targets. The sad part is that it is very often not the military targets but civilian targets or civilian infrastructure. There is a lot of damage that can be done. As you said, we have seen that in Ukraine, but I think we have also seen it when Armenia and Azerbaijan were fighting about Nagomo-Karabakh and used very efficient drones at the time.

Warfare has changed, and there is a sentiment in the public that is becoming stronger and that has been voiced in opinion polls that people do not want to see this type of weapon. That is something that I have hoped for because it means also it can change.

I am remembering when the mine ban treaty was negotiated. First there was tremendous opposition, particularly from the United States: "Mines are cheap. They are effective." They are also horrible. I have served in peacekeeping operations where I was in charge of mine clearance. You have a whole office and a group of people who are doing that. It's very expensive, but mines cause loss of lives, livestock, and limbs. People step on mines and lose either parts of their body or they get killed.

But that basically changed the opinion of mines from something that was seen as effective to now as something that is reprehensible and you shouldn't use it. That to my mind didn't take that long. Maybe it took 15 to 18 years. So there is hope in my mind. We have been dealing with autonomous weapons for nine years, ten years. There is hope in my mind that this will swing around at some point and that there will be action taken to say, "We need to outlaw these damn things."

WENDELL WALLACH: Has multilateralism evolved in ways that undermine international cooperation now, or is this how it has always been, and it is just very difficult to get everyone to the table?

ANGELA KANE: It has not been like that always. I remember during the Cold War you had a very strong bipolar system, which basically undermined the sentiment of setting up the United Nations, but the United Nations is a product of the Second World War. It is no longer adequate to deal with what is happening now. You cannot have 15 countries in the Security Council with a veto. The victors of the Second World War are the ones that have the veto, and they have to agree to any change in the veto powers in order to make it effective. They are not going to give that up.

What we have seen with the whole geopolitical tensions, particularly this year and even last year building up, the goodwill to cooperate has largely evaporated. You have seen Russia having a very independent voting part in the United Nations in the Security Council, China very often abstaining on issues that should be overarchingly binding people together like climate change. You had a climate change resolution that was tabled in the Security Council in December, and basically Russia voted against it, India voted against it, and China abstained.

What was the problem? Basically they said: "You are making the Security Council entirely responsible for climate change, meaning that you have to take action. You are taking it from a technical subject to a political subject, and that is why we are not supporting it." I think that is incomprehensible, but on the other hand there are a lot of initiatives that are stymied.

Then you have something that is also happening. There have been so many vetoes in the last couple of years. It was something that was used very rarely, but you now have General Assembly Resolutions supported by something like 130 countries, which is a lot, an overwhelming majority, to say if there is a country that gives a veto of the five who have it in the Security Council they have to come and explain to us why they vetoed this. That happened for the first time a couple of days ago when there was a veto that was cast, and basically Russia explained and said: "You've got it all wrong. We didn't agree with this, our objections were not heard, and our comments on this resolution were not taken into account, so we had no choice but to veto it."

I find it incredibly sad that it has come to that, that basically there has to be a justification, there has to be a reason for this veto in the first place, and the reason for the veto is just a total breaking apart of the will to cooperate and to do things jointly, which is the basis of why we have the United Nations and why it was established. How do we knit it back together again? How do we create this sense of enthusiasm about what the United Nations does?

The United Nations does a lot of good things that never get into the headlines. They never get reported on. You hear a lot about humanitarian action, you hear a lot about peacekeeping or peace missions, but on the other hand there are a lot of issues on the ground that are taking place and you never hear about them, but you do hear about the disagreements on the geopolitical stage.

WENDELL WALLACH: Yes. I think it is always very sad that the focus is so much on the difficult areas where the United Nations seems to be failing and there is a lack of appreciation for the efforts on the ground with immigrants, food security, and so many different subject areas where we would be truly damned if we didn't have the United Nations.

ANGELA KANE: Yes, and setting standards. What I think is also very often forgotten—and let's come back to looking at autonomous weapons systems—is standard-setting and treaties. You have had an enormously large body of treaties that were adopted under UN auspices and also outside UN auspices and then brought into the United Nations, and that is something that is extremely valuable because it sets standards of behavior. It regulates basically parts of international life.

What I mentioned to you is when you think about even labor standards, the International Labour Organization (ILO), everyone forgets about the ILO now, but they do actually very good work in terms of labor standards, or the World Meteorological Organization. What do they actually do? The International Maritime Organization, regulating ship traffic and navigation on the seas. Who can mine the oceans? Antarctica (CCAMLR), World Heritage. It is something that is important and there has been a lot of good work, but no one talks about that anymore because it is taken for granted.

But we should look at that again and say, "Some of these treaties maybe need to be updated, we need new ones in some cases, like the IT one," but can you actually get a meeting of minds right now among the Member States, and can you get something done that has effect? That is something that I see right now as being very difficult.

WENDELL WALLACH: Let's talk a little about what is probably the most critical issue right now, which is climate change, and how poor the multilateral system has been at addressing it. Yet we seem to be getting an increasing awareness around the world that climate change is already devastating us. I think presently there is something like 170 million people who experience extreme weather events in a year, and that is expected over the next decade or two to go up to 1 billion people experiencing extreme weather events. That is refugee crises, economic crises, all kinds of issues that are going to be daunting for humanity. I wonder if you have any thoughts on what we should be doing to put in place more cooperation around climate change because it does seem to be the one issue that has the potential to at least precipitate some degree of cooperation internationally.

ANGELA KANE: You are right, Wendell. It does have the probability of working together. What has happened in the last couple of years is that there has been this growing awareness that climate change is no longer something that is abstract. Climate change is something that affects all of us now. We are seeing the effects, and that has galvanized more people to become advocates as to what we can do. I am hoping that that will actually push people, propel people to be a lot more cooperative at the local level, at the regional level, and also at the global level.

What I see right now is that there are commitments that were made—and let's not forget, the first climate conference was in 1972 in Stockholm—50 years ago. That is just an amazingly long timespan to be dealing with this issue. Even though it has accelerated—the science has gotten a lot better, the predictions have gotten a lot better—what is very often overlooked is the tremendous economic cost. What is the cost of flooding, the burning of huge swaths of land, the arid nature where you cannot plant anymore because there is no rainfall?

That is particularly prevalent in the South. What happens as a result is that you have conflicts that are deepening, you have conflicts that are erupting over maybe arable land or grazing land, you have people who are basically not able to feed themselves anymore. That is a source of instability that is very, very profound.

We are not dealing with this very well. You have people who say, "I don't want to recycle my bottle or I don't want to eat less beef just because it's environmentally better for the planet." There is too little of that thinking. There is thinking about that among the younger population, but I think the rest of us in our age group simply have lived the good life. The Anthropocene has really changed everything in this world, and we are not catching up fast enough to actually remedy it.

But what is overlooked is the conflict potential that is explosive about climate change, and that is something that is going to be seen also because more people are going to be fighting. We see that already very strongly now. We are going to see more migration to the North, where people are going to migrate because they can't feed themselves, because they don't have a decent life, and that is something where it really needs to be looked at a lot more cohesively. That is why this topic came into the Security Council, and it is incomprehensible to me that it is now being pushed back and so said, "Well, it's not a political topic."

The Security Council is the master of its own agenda. They can deal with whatever they want, and they have. There are no rules and regulations. They are all provisional. The first time this was mentioned in the Council was I think in 2007. That is 15 years ago, and it has come up every so often, but it has intensified in the last eight or nine years. Now there is a stop to it. It is going to be very hard to talk about Security Council action on climate change.

So where is it going to go? We have an Environment Programme. It shouldn't go to the Environment Programme alone. It should be a much broader effort, and that's why you have also these Conferences of Parties (COP)—the last one was last year in the United Kingdom—but what is important is not only to set goals but to make sure that they are being implemented. Everyone has the best intentions—"I will do this and set this goal"—but on the other end if it is not implemented it is not worth the paper it is written on or it is not worth the speech that was made on it.

We also have the issue that you have countries that are saying: "We came late to this Party. We didn't use the resources that you in the developed countries used and became wealthy for, but we should not be paying the price for this. You should be the ones paying a higher price." So it is an equity issue, and it is very strongly held. It is the developed countries also who are pushing back on that and saying, "We can't do it all ourselves."

It is exacerbated by the energy crisis now it is exacerbated by the war in Ukraine, it is exacerbated, and we are seeing it in Europe where there is a doubling of the energy cost, heating, whatever. It is going to be a crisis, and how do you deal with that? You have to deal with it individually in your country, but you should also deal with it on a larger basis. In the European Union they are trying it on a larger basis, but it is not being done other than in once-yearly COP meetings, which always turn out to be somewhat disappointing.

WENDELL WALLACH: The litany of challenges that you have just recited I think has led a lot of people to feel that the international order may be disintegrating at the moment. I don't know whether that is true or not, but I wonder what your thoughts on that might be and whether we can revitalize it with examples such as the one you just gave with the Security Council, which if it wanted to could take up climate change in a serious way, as to whether we are going to need new institutions, or whether the international climate is so bad at the moment that, yes, disintegration is a real possibility.

ANGELA KANE: Wendell, my first thought is that the Security Council is not the right body to deal with climate change. They can say something in support, they can advocate, but they are not experts in this topic, and to my mind, yes, it is good that it is being mentioned and that it is seen as the nexus between security, climate change, and instability in countries that should be recognized, and that is what the Security Council should do.

But what I really see is that very often what you need is a charismatic leader who can pull people together and who can say: "Look, not everyone can participate meaningfully in this debate. Let's have some thoughts here as to how we can actually do this."

I will give you one example. Very often this work is being done outside the United Nations but with somehow a sponsorship. There was a group that worked on water, for example, and they made a long report, a very good report, that came out with recommendations. What are the thoughts that could be addressed? Then it got a public hearing in the General Assembly and then it was over, but there was no follow up.

What you really need is some people or some person or a small group of people who can say, "This is what is needed." A new institution isn't going to solve this issue because we have institutions, but a new institution is just going to be another mechanism that needs to be fed, that needs to be financed, that needs to be serviced, but it's not going to do it. You have all the mechanisms that you want and you basically sometimes have to also go outside of a mechanism to say, "You need to have new ideas."

There are very few people—and I have found this consistently in my career—who have good ideas, come forward with them, and say, "This is what we really need to do." But, boy, if you have some of them, if you find some of them, grab them, and make them work and basically say to them, "What can be done?" There are people who can make a difference here, but I don't see anyone coming forward. As I said, I am disappointed that there isn't more leadership on this issue because there ought to be.

That's where I think it has to be an existing institution, not a new one. It has to be something that could be created in an ad hoc manner but not in a serviced manner to the extent that it is like a structured institution that somehow takes on secretariat functions, etc. What we really need are ideas.

Look, there is a lot of global catastrophic risk talk now. You have books that are written on global catastrophic risks. There are philosophers thinking about it. I attended a meeting just two months ago on global catastrophic risk, and that is from nuclear war to environment to disease. There are lots of things. Global catastrophic risk is boundless. Disease is one of them.

You talk about the pandemic that we are still suffering from, you talk about SARS, you talk about H1N1, Ebola —these are diseases that didn't exist before, or if they existed they were small and we never heard about them, but all of them have come up in the last 15 to 20 years. It has been ratcheting up. It has been faster and faster.

This is another global catastrophic risk. How do we deal with that? I think we really need to put good heads together to say: "How do we find solutions for this? How do we deal with this?" Because we have to deal with it. Otherwise it is just going to swallow us all up.

WENDELL WALLACH: It sounds like you think there is too much focus on what can go wrong and not enough focus on creative ideas on how we can address what goes wrong. But if I heard you correctly, I think you're also saying it's not just ideas. We actually need perhaps even relatively young charismatic leadership with the right intentions to mobilize the younger generations to take up the cudgel and push aside the sloth that has gotten in the way.

ANGELA KANE: I do. I do, Wendell. You are at Yale, you are a professor, you are teaching young people. I am teaching young people too, and I am amazed at the creativity sometimes, the ideas that they come up with. That's what I like about teaching because all of a sudden you are energized by this enthusiasm that they have. Do these ideas all work? No, I don't think so. But it doesn't matter. The fact that they are willing to put them forward, to fight for it, to try to make a difference is what I think is really what is needed, and I don't see enough of it in my generation, but I am energized by the fact that this is happening among the younger people.

Maybe some of it is not in the right direction or maybe some of it is a little bit fantastic, but it is so fabulous that they are thinking about this, they want to make a difference, and they are actually convinced that they can make a difference. That to my mind is also something that is important, that you don't give up easily. You have to believe in something, and they do believe in it, at least the ones that I see. Not every student is that way, but there is a good number of them who are, and that is what I really enjoy about my interactions with younger people because that's where I see the hope.

The secretary-general, coming back to the United Nations, he wants to have a youth envoy. Well, one person isn't going to do it. That is going to be something that has to be a lot more focused from the ground up, so to say, and needs to be energized. But I am not pooh-poohing it because it's a good start. Let's just hope that there is more activism in a good sense that is also supported by the structures that already exist.

WENDELL WALLACH: Yes, I think one thing that so many of us share, particularly the older advisers to the AI & Equality Initiative, is how can we find and mentor members of the younger generation who have the potential to truly take leadership on these issues? Like you I am heartened by the enthusiasm I see. Sometimes it gets lost in tech solutions that are more fanciful than likely to be realized soon, but that doesn't alter the fact that there is a lot of creativity out there thinking about what we can do.

Before we finish up I would like to go through a couple of other topics with you because it has not just been IT and climate change and lethal autonomous weapons that you have focused on, but you actually have been deeply concerned about biosecurity, particularly in the area of disease outbreaks. Even before we had COVID-19, you had some recommendations for managing disease outbreaks where the origins are unknown, such as H1N1, SARS, Zika, so many different diseases that could explode into being crises comparable if not worse than what we have witnessed with COVID-19 over the last couple of years.

Can you share some of your thoughts on that?

ANGELA KANE: I first became involved and interested in it when H1N1 broke out. I was at the UN Secretariat at the time, and there was a whole effort to basically say: "Here we are, UN Secretariat, responsible for all these people who are out in the fields, serving in peacekeeping missions, from the United Nations Development Programme, the United Nations Children's Fund, whatever—what do we do with them if there is an outbreak of a disease that cannot be handled locally and what do we do with our people? Do we leave them in the field?"

We basically worked for about a year to set up protocols—what needed to be activated, what needed to be done. It was a lot of work, and I realized that this was something that if we were confronted with not even a pandemic but with an outbreak of disease that was uncontrollable we had to take care of our people—the UN system staff, peacekeeping troops, and everything. This wasn't even the whole world. But I found that this was an amazing effort that we did. Then basically we had other diseases coming up—Ebola, for example. I was at the United Nations, and we were like: "What do we do now?"

I mentioned that we had this H1N1 exercise and surely the blueprint still existed. I was one of the old-timers so I remembered it. They said "Oh, that's very helpful," but other people didn't know that. But that showed me that we were really helpless if we were not prepared. What do you do in terms of preparation?

I participated in a conference a couple of years ago to basically say: "What do we do in this case? This was based on the Ebola experience. We're not only thinking about whoever works for us, but we are thinking about safeguarding populations, preparing populations. What do we need to do?"

I participated in a conference that was organized by the Nuclear Threat Initiative and found it extremely interesting. There were more conferences, and then I gave a presentation. They liked the fact that I came from a governance standpoint, not from a biosecurity or health expertise but basically from the governance sector.

In one of these workshops we said: "Fine. If you have a natural health outbreak, then it is basically an issue for the World Health Organization (WHO). They are going to look at this, they are going to determine it, and they are going to deal with and tell the world what needs to be done. If it is a weapon, a bioweapon or a chemical weapon, you have a mechanism that is under the secretary-general that was used very infrequently. The last time it was used was in 2013, and I was responsible for the investigation of the bioweapons in Syria, so I knew that very intimately.

But if there is an outbreak of some bio event, some bio disease, and you don't know—Is it a weapon? It is a natural outbreak?—it is somewhere that is undetermined and you have to find out, what do you do then? This is how we came up with what we provisionally call the "joint assessment mechanism," which basically would be some experts who would work together to establish some baselines.

Biotech is now very sophisticated—talking about tech again; it has evolved tremendously over the last decades—and basically if there is an incident you could actually dispatch such a team that could use some existing trained people already from WHO and from the secretary-general's mechanism. They could go, be very transparent, and say: "This is what we found. If it's natural, follow-up action goes to the WHO. If it's an issue about a possible weapon, then it goes to the secretary-general's mechanism.

But this biomechanism in the secretary general's mechanism has never been used, so it is something that now with the pandemic has gotten a lot of attention. That is good to my mind because we need to be prepared for the next outbreak. Where is it going to come from? We don't know, but we're pretty sure we know there is going to be one.

WENDELL WALLACH: Wonderful.

I think our listeners would probably hold me at fault if I didn't ask you to talk a little bit more about the events that are illustrated in the miniseries The Serpent. As I understand it, in the actual events you played a significant role, but perhaps your role, if it has not been diminished, a lot of what you do has been attributed to your partner, your husband, within the miniseries. You don't need to necessarily talk about that, but just tell us a little bit about how you experienced/feel about the series, what you think they got right, and whether you enjoyed it even.

ANGELA KANE: Wendell, I was 26 at the time when I went to Bangkok. I had been in the United States. I had done my studies. I had been to college and graduate school there. I had lived in France. I had lived in the Netherlands. So basically why not live in Bangkok? So I went along with my first husband.

You go to a country like that and particularly in the mid-1970s it was very exotic. I had never been confronted with anything like that. What you do is just take it in stride. I enjoyed it. I learned the language because there wasn't that much English spoken at the time. Some people did speak English because don't forget this was right at the end of the Vietnam War, so you had a lot of American troops who were in Vietnam who came to Bangkok for rest and recreation at the time, so that was a particular number of people.

I gave guided tours of the national museum because they wanted people who spoke English for tourists who were coming in droves. I traveled. I drove in Bangkok. I was enchanted by all of this. It was great.

Then came this case of Sobhraj. Those of you who have watched the series know that it happened when a young Dutch couple went missing and it came to the in-basket of my husband, who was at that time third secretary, the lowest of the totem pole, dealing with consular matters. He had the habit of basically turning to me to solve problems. He would come home and I would say, "You need to do this and you need to do that," because I am very practically oriented. I can do these things. I get them done. And he wasn't; he basically liked to read a book or whatever.

So I did a lot of that background work which—you are right—did not get captured in the movie at all. I think what they did is they focused on one person, and that was he. He was the main character.

But anyway, what happened was that we did establish contact with a woman who lived in the same apartment building, and that again is very interesting because she didn't speak very good English, and neither did her husband, who was the sous-chef at the Oriental Hotel, who wanted nothing to do with this. In any case, since she didn't speak very good English and I spoke fluent French, having lived in France, I was the go-between there. That's what one did. You get a problem and you basically get confronted with something, and it becomes very interesting. You just need to solve it.

And we did solve it to the extent that we knew exactly what had happened, and it was proven that this Dutch couple was killed very sadly and very tragically, and that basically ended the case as far as the embassy was concerned. That's it. You don't do anything for it.

But I must say that I fully shared the view that we needed to do more because this was not an isolated incident; there were more people who were killed, and we discovered they were killed not only in Bangkok but in Kathmandu, in India, and in other places, so that needed to be stopped.

The first attempt to arrest Sobhraj went awry. He was able to leave the country. Basically we looked at all of the ways and gave emphasis to the police to say this is where he could be because we had good knowledge as to what his contacts were and where he would go. In the end he was arrested. It took a long time. He has been in prison in Kathmandu, and he still is there. I have been to Kathmandu repeatedly simply because I ran a mission there and got my political portfolio there, and people said, "Well, don't you want to go and visit him in prison?"

I said, "I have no intention to. This is an evil person. I don't really want to go and see him, no." He is still manipulating people to the extent that he married the 30-year-old daughter of his Nepalese lawyer fairly recently. How can you possibly do that?

In any case, what does not come through in the movie because it goes back and forth all the time is that it was a really short interval. The whole nightmare lasted about three months and that is not seen in the movie because you always have this flash back and forth and future, etc., but it really was fairly concentrated.

Someone said, "Well, weren't you afraid?"

I said, "Well, no." We lived in a house that was all open; we had no security if you think about it. I didn't think this guy was going to come after us. We were not his targets. I don't think that he really knew that we were accumulating all of this evidence, but it had a profound impact on me because I felt also that people were very vulnerable if they were out there and were a hippie. There were no cellphones at the time. It was a very different world.

WENDELL WALLACH: Yes. Sometime we should talk with some of my generation who also lived in that world, what they experienced and the degree of vulnerability or the degree of naïveté we all had about being out there because as I understand "the serpent" particularly preyed upon hippie girls and couples and so forth that he could exploit in one form or another.

Let's turn to what is traditionally our final topic here. You have already talked about how heartened you are as you deal with young students and their enthusiasm and intelligence in trying to address the challenges we're dealing with today. I wonder if there is anything else that you are witnessing that gives you hope.

ANGELA KANE: About a month ago I was in the Netherlands for a conference. In the Netherlands every ten years they have something they call the Floriade. It is organized once every ten years. I had never made it there for that purpose, and I was determined that this time I was going to go.

I had thought it was going to be all flowers, but boy was I wrong. It was not at all. It was flowers, yes, but what was really important was that it was a showcase for new technology on how to deal with climate change, how to deal with waste, and how to build.

It was fascinating, Wendell. I had never imagined that there could be so many good ideas forthcoming. Maybe they are not all scaleable, but on the other hand they are people just like the younger generation, and maybe they are already the younger generation, thinking about the solutions.

I spent the entire day there. I was exhausted at the end of it because it's a very large area, but on the other hand it gives you solutions. Yes, they can be scaled. Also, of course, the Netherlands has this tremendous experience of having too much water, and where it took place was actually four or five meters below the water level. This is a new province that they have created out of nothing, out of water basically.

But what I found surprising is that there are solutions out there that I certainly was not aware of, and that makes me hopeful that there is thinking about it, that there is a way forward, that we can actually deal with this if we put enough of our minds to it, if we put enough action to it, and maybe also if we put enough money to it, but there are solutions for this.

That was a showcase for what already exists. I found that fascinating. I don't necessarily want to be a plug for the Floriade in the Netherlands, but it was an example of what can be done, and there must be other examples in other countries and in other areas, but that made me very hopeful that we can find solutions and we can apply them, but they need political will.

WENDELL WALLACH: That is the challenge, isn't it? There are definitely some tech solutions out there. For us, how are we going to reap their benefits without falling into the technological forms that lead to insecurity?

Thank you ever so much, Angela, for sharing your time, your insights, and your expertise with us. As anticipated this has truly been a rich and thought-provoking discussion. If there is one thing I take away from this—and I actually take it away every time I talk with you—it is that one person can really make a difference. Sometimes it's slow, sometimes it's very laborious, and the results are not always sufficient, but you can set forces in motion that address some of the challenges that we all need to collectively address.

And thank you to our listeners for tuning in and a special thanks to the team at the Carnegie Council for hosting and producing this podcast. For the latest content on ethics and international affairs be sure to follow us on social media @carnegiecouncil. My name is Wendell Wallach, and I hope we earned the privilege of your time.

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