Published on 12-08-2008
"In general, the Union has progressed fastest when far-reaching deals have been agreed by technocrats and politicians – and then pushed through without direct reference to the voters. International governance tends to be effective, only when it is anti-democratic."
-a quote from the article...
By Gideon Rachman
I have never believed that there is a secret United Nations plot to take over the US. I have never seen black helicopters hovering in the sky above Montana. But, for the first time in my life, I think the formation of some sort of world government is plausible.
A “world government” would involve much more than co-operation between nations. It would be an entity with state-like characteristics, backed by a body of laws. The European Union has already set up a continental government for 27 countries, which could be a model. The EU has a supreme court, a currency, thousands of pages of law, a large civil service and the ability to deploy military force.
So could the European model go global? There are three reasons for thinking that it might.
First, it is increasingly clear that the most difficult issues facing national governments are international in nature: there is global warming, a global financial crisis and a “global war on terror”.
Second, it could be done. The transport and communications revolutions have shrunk the world so that, as Geoffrey Blainey, an eminent Australian historian, has written: “For the first time in human history, world government of some sort is now possible.” Mr Blainey foresees an attempt to form a world government at some point in the next two centuries, which is an unusually long time horizon for the average newspaper column.
But – the third point – a change in the political atmosphere suggests that “global governance” could come much sooner than that. The financial crisis and climate change are pushing national governments towards global solutions, even in countries such as China and the US that are traditionally fierce guardians of national sovereignty.
Barack Obama, America’s president-in-waiting, does not share the Bush administration’s disdain for international agreements and treaties. In his book, The Audacity of Hope, he argued that: “When the world’s sole superpower willingly restrains its power and abides by internationally agreed-upon standards of conduct, it sends a message that these are rules worth following.” The importance that Mr Obama attaches to the UN is shown by the fact that he has appointed Susan Rice, one of his closest aides, as America’s ambassador to the UN, and given her a seat in the cabinet.
A taste of the ideas doing the rounds in Obama circles is offered by a recent report from the Managing Global Insecurity project, whose small US advisory group includes John Podesta, the man heading Mr Obama’s transition team and Strobe Talbott, the president of the Brookings Institution, from which Ms Rice has just emerged.
The MGI report argues for the creation of a UN high commissioner for counter-terrorist activity, a legally binding climate-change agreement negotiated under the auspices of the UN and the creation of a 50,000-strong UN peacekeeping force. Once countries had pledged troops to this reserve army, the UN would have first call upon them.
These are the kind of ideas that get people reaching for their rifles in America’s talk-radio heartland. Aware of the political sensitivity of its ideas, the MGI report opts for soothing language. It emphasises the need for American leadership and uses the term, “responsible sovereignty” – when calling for international co-operation – rather than the more radical-sounding phrase favoured in Europe, “shared sovereignty”. It also talks about “global governance” rather than world government.
But some European thinkers think that they recognise what is going on. Jacques Attali, an adviser to President Nicolas Sarkozy of France, argues that: “Global governance is just a euphemism for global government.” As far as he is concerned, some form of global government cannot come too soon. Mr Attali believes that the “core of the international financial crisis is that we have global financial markets and no global rule of law”.
So, it seems, everything is in place. For the first time since homo sapiens began to doodle on cave walls, there is an argument, an opportunity and a means to make serious steps towards a world government.
But let us not get carried away. While it seems feasible that some sort of world government might emerge over the next century, any push for “global governance” in the here and now will be a painful, slow process.
There are good and bad reasons for this. The bad reason is a lack of will and determination on the part of national, political leaders who – while they might like to talk about “a planet in peril” – are ultimately still much more focused on their next election, at home.
But this “problem” also hints at a more welcome reason why making progress on global governance will be slow sledding. Even in the EU – the heartland of law-based international government – the idea remains unpopular. The EU has suffered a series of humiliating defeats in referendums, when plans for “ever closer union” have been referred to the voters. In general, the Union has progressed fastest when far-reaching deals have been agreed by technocrats and politicians – and then pushed through without direct reference to the voters. International governance tends to be effective, only when it is anti-democratic.
The world’s most pressing political problems may indeed be international in nature, but the average citizen’s political identity remains stubbornly local. Until somebody cracks this problem, that plan for world government may have to stay locked away in a safe at the UN.
Comment by the blogger:
This article brings up some interesting points and I think the the most interesting is that "International governance tends to be effective only when it is anti-democratic."
It does not address the question which immediately comes to my mind when discussing "A World Government". That question is: What would induce the people of The United States of America to willfully surrender their sovereignty to any international body, especially one so flawed as the UNO? I can think of several reasons why it would not be a good idea for us or for humanity.
Abiding by international treaties lawfully ratified under the constitution of the United States is one thing - and it is a problem in itself when those treaties are not carefully vetted to be sure that they do not compromise our national sovereignty - but surrendering sovereignty and allowing some external agency to meddle in (indeed, to dictate) how we run our country, decide if we are treating our populace in a correct manner and impose regulations from outside the country telling us how to live and who may do what inside our country is another matter entirely.
International relations are a different thing, though. Should any country take it upon itself to bomb or to invade a separate nation? I am not referring to the present US involvement in Afghanistan or Iraq as both were legitimate acts, possibly ill-advised in the case of Iraq - but legitimate. I am not so sure about Panama or Grenada and question our interference in Nicaragua and other American nations in the past.
There are many crying needs for outside intervention in todays world - several countries in sub-Saharan Africa as well as The Sudan are in a state of genocidal upheaval for reasons which are not clear to me. There is no international body which can - legally - intervene to save the people of Darfur or to help the people of Somalia or Zimbabwe out of the hopeless situations imposed by their governments. In East Asia there are a couple of other countries in similar straits. I do not think that even these obvious needs are justification for a "World Government". As nice as it would seem to be able to help all those suffering people I think that the long-term cost to all the rest of the people of the world, in accepting a "World Government," would be far too high and I doubt that their needs would be addressed anyway by such a body.
Here in the United States we have seen a constitutional government created which guaranteed equality before the law to all citizens and from the very start excluded those people who were held in chattel slavery and Native Americans from considerations of that equality, by the simple act of failing to accord to them recognition of their humanity or citizenship. It boggles the mind to consider the hypocrisy inherent in the Bill Of Rights and The Constitution when it made such elegant and general statements of equality and right only to deny both to a large population of men and women who, by accident of birth or "condition of servitude", were simply left out.
Beyond that we have watched the slow but accelerating usurpation of the rights reserved to the states by the national government since the beginning of the republic. It is true that some were made for the best of reasons: to free and enfranchise the slaves for example in the 1860s, and much later to again free and enfranchise their descendents in the 1960s. To strike down legal impediments which prevented some from voting is another example. Beyond that it is often done by threatening to withhold money for construction or maintenance unless certain changes are made in the laws of the states, such as speed limits and other seemingly small matters. The net result, though, is control by the national government beyond the legal authority constitutionally given. It is not likely that it would be very different with a "World Government" except - probably - far more oppressive.
There will always be "unusual circumstances" calling for emergency extralegal actions somewhere in the world. Unfortunately, it is likely that those circumstances would be used - repeatedly - to draw the bonds ever tighter around personal liberty everywhere if there were a "World Government" in charge. Where would be the off-setting power which would check the aspirations of the rulers? Even a country as large as the US or Russia or India or China, once having surrendered its sovereignty and having been disarmed - including the private citizens, would be unlikely to be able to stand against a government which had the weight of the entire world behind it.
Here in the US our "representatives" are held in check - to an extent - by the knowledge that we are not disarmed and that we can revolt if motivated to do so by sufficient malfeasance on their part. We have seen that a lot will be allowed of them, but they can't be sure when the limit might be exceeded. While that might seem pretty far-fetched reasoning to some, I assure you that it is not. It is inherent in the composition of the human animal that a free people can only remain free by retaining the power to oust those who would force them to conform unwillingly to some master-plan. Human history has shown us that there will always be a "master" waiting in the wings to exploit any weakness we manifest. Allowing any "World Government", in my opinion, would be manifest weakness of the first order. It would be akin to shouting, "Beat me, beat me," at a sadist convention...