Cognitive Third Force: The Case for Building a Supranational Public Opinion to Enhance the UN’s Moral Influence

April 10, 2024 Dr. Jacob Udo-Udo Jacob
Cognitive Third Force: The Case for Building a Supranational Public Opinion to Enhance the UN’s Moral Influence

In my recent essay, “Cognitive Third Force: The Case for Building a Supranational Public Opinion to Enhance the UN’s Moral Influence” published in Global Governance: A Review of Multilateralism and International Organizations (a journal of the Academic Council on the United Nations System), I argue that the United Nations must evolve new strategic pathways to maintain its influence and moral authority in a rapidly changing world. The article opens by highlighting the increasing weakness of the UN, including its inability to protect less powerful countries from the obsessions of more powerful ones, as exemplified by the Russian invasion of Ukraine.  It observes the changing dynamics of global power and how the UN can adapt to these changes. Here are the key points and actionable recommendations from the article:  

Appealing to Global Citizenship 

  • The concept of global citizenship is central to the UN’s mission and the Sustainable Development Goals, yet it lacks a robust advocacy framework. The UN’s efforts through its Academic Impact program and the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations are steps in the right direction but they lack the needed strategic mobilizing structures.  
  • To advance  global citizenship, the UN must forge new strategic partnerships with academic institutions and tech companies. The article references the Peer-to-Peer (P2P): Global Digital Challenge initiative – a global inter-university competition implemented between 2015 and 2018 by EdVenture Partners for the US State Department and Facebook. As part of the initiative, university students work with their professors to develop tools, initiatives, and products, as part of coursework, to challenge extremist ideology in their societies. Such collaborations mobilize the creativity, scholarship and networks of educational institutions and tech companies to address global challenges at the local, but networked, level.  
  • The rise of social media influencers (SMIs) represents the emergence of new geographies of networked power, with enormous potentials for the advancement of global digital citizenship. SMIs can amplify and localize the UN’s message to their audiences.  

Building a Cognitive Third Force 

  • The article describes an emerging global environment where national interests are increasingly fractured, while power is increasingly diffused. This requires the UN to construct new pathways of influence, outside conventional diplomatic channels 
  • If power is the ability to get others to do what you want, the essay argues, it then means that with increasingly diffused power, many more actors can influence and elicit outcomes outside conventional structures of state power.To survive these times, therefore, the UN must mobilize new actors, including academic institutions, to build a people-centered internationalism. 
  • The UN should ethically leverage data, social media and creative digital tools to connect influencers with global audiences around themes of human solidarity and global citizenship – themes that transcend national and ideological interests.  

Actionable Recommendations for the United Nations 

  • Embrace strategic communications and influence operations as core competencies. These are validly needed capabilities for the international organization of our time.   
  • Deploy an assertive communication strategy that is aligned with the moral principles embedded in the UN Charter.  
  • Build mechanisms for a new kind of international relations focused on global citizenship; leveraging digital tools and new strategic collaborations to mobilize a supranational public opinion behind global human solidarity.  

Actionable Recommendations for Key Stakeholders 

  1. Policymakers: Support initiatives that promote global citizenship education and engage with civil society and academic institutions to foster a new global civic identity.  
  2. Civil Society Organizations: Collaborate to create campaigns and initiatives that support for global citizenship and a new multilateralism.  
  3. Higher Education Institutions: Integrate global citizenship into curricula and provide students with opportunities, as part of coursework, to work on real-world problems that promote global solidarity.  
  4. Social Media Influencers and Tech Giants: Support campaign initiatives that promote global citizenship to reach and engage global audiences.  


Beyond the conventional control systems and institutions of states, new configurations of power are emerging and waiting to be strategically harnessed and deployed.… [P]ower is more fluid.  It is shifting determinedly from state actors to more diffused non-state actors and from centralized institutions to networks.  The cost of participating in international affairs for good or ill has significantly declined. The global interconnections and knowledge capabilities previously held exclusively by states and colossal transnational organizations are now available to individuals. It is only natural that the mechanisms of engagement with states should shift to where the new power resides: the people. Conversely, however, the global configurations of power at the UN are still fashioned after post-War conformations of sovereign state power. (p.266)

Explore the crucial intersections of information, democracy, and citizenship in the digital age

Call for contribution