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Thursday, 30 October 2014

All For One

 
All For One

by Luis Cabrera

Nigel Farage, the leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), recently tried a new tack in his campaign to free Britain from the ‘shackles’ of European Union membership. The EU, he said, should not be viewed as a mutually beneficial economic and political union of 28 countries, but ‘as a prototype for those who would have us be part of one world government’.
One can imagine nods of affirmation from Farage’s mostly far-right, avowedly Euroskeptic supporters, and weary head-shaking from those more in the political mainstream. But actually, he’s not so far off.
As a longtime student of the world government ideal, I have given the EU close scrutiny. I don’t necessarily see it as a prototype or ‘baby world government’, but as an immensely valuable living laboratory for studying the challenges and potential of deep integration between nation-states. Mine is just one of many voices in what has become a remarkable resurgence of academic thought on the world government ideal, including many who look to Europe for a partial model. Not since the world government ‘heyday’ of 1945-50 have we seen so many political scientists, economists, and philosophers giving serious attention to a global government.
In 1945, it was the virtually instantaneous atomic annihilation of two major Japanese cities by the United States that led academics, prominent politicians, and social activists to call for a strong world government. The choice was clear, Albert Einstein said, as part of his consistent advocacy on the issue: create one world, or face the prospect of having no world at all. Social movements advocating for global integration soon claimed membership in the hundreds of thousands and, by the end of the decade, both houses of the US Congress had held hearings on whether the United Nations should be transformed into a world government.
The heyday ended abruptly, however. With the onset of the Cold War and ensuing popular anti-communist hysteria, world government became linked to presumed Soviet designs for global domination. Few political figures then dared breathe a word about it, and through the 1990s it was pushed mostly to the fringes of serious academia.
The renaissance in thinking about world governments can be traced in part to the acceleration of economic globalisation. The 1999 World Trade Organisation protests in Seattle were a watershed moment. More than 50,000 activists converged from around the world, shutting down the city’s central business district and locking the WTO delegates out of their own opening ceremonies. Many in the streets saw the WTO as a shadow global economic government, setting the rules of international trade for most of the world’s countries, but with little direct input from their peoples.
This point has been made in academic circles, too, but it isn’t the only rationale for a single world government. A second camp argues, we’re not nearly as frightened as we should be of nuclear weapons. It is true that both Russia and the US have reduced their stockpiles of nuclear weapons dramatically, from highs of around 27,000 and 25,000 respectively. Today, the global grand total, counting weapons known to be held by the US, Russia, France, China, the UK, Israel, Pakistan, India and North Korea, is believed to be around 17,000, with 10,000 of those actually in ready stockpiles, and the rest slated for dismantlement. But watchdog groups such as Ploughshares Fund in the US say that the number is still far too large in relation to any practical purpose the weapons have.
Those offering the nuclear security case for world government paint a starker picture: unless some bold, near-term steps are taken towards global union, the remaining arsenal is sure to blow up in humanity’s face. Campbell Craig, professor in international politics at Aberystwyth University and one of the leading security world government voices, offers probably the most unflinching recent version of this argument. ‘In the long term,’ he writes in Glimmer of a New Leviathan (2003), ‘deterrence is bound to fail… When it fails, the ensuing war is likely to kill hundreds of millions of people, and possibly exterminate the human race.’
Many in this camp echo the logic of Thomas Hobbes, the 17th-century English philosopher who described life in the state of nature as ‘nasty, brutish and short’. Hobbes prescribed powerful government as the only means of avoiding a perpetual state of civil war, and many think this applies to the international realm as well, especially since nuclear weapons have raised the stakes of conflict. Others offer milder prescriptions from the same threat analysis. Particularly notable here is the Johns Hopkins political scientist Daniel Deudney, whose book Bounding Power (2007) was awarded the highly prestigious ‘Book of the Decade’ prize from the US-based International Studies Association. Deudney argues that we should fear not only global anarchy – a condition that gives states dangerous incentives to enhance their own security capabilities – but also strong hierarchies, including in the form of a powerful global government.
Deudney says we should avoid both of these extremes and create a limited ‘union of mutual restraint’ between sovereign states. The nuclear peace would be kept not by a Hobbesian sword hanging over all, but through a dispersal of state powers to actually use their most destructive weapons. In one such scenario, nuclear states would surrender their launch codes to a global authority. This body would then assess the case for any nuclear strikes and release the codes only if it approved.
Whether it’s used to advocate for a strong world government, or a milder federation of states, I’m not so sure the nuclear case is persuasive. Undoubtedly, authors, politicians and social activists in the 1940s were right to sound the alarm about the atomic threat, and to do all they could to try to put the nuclear genie back into the bottle. And today’s commentators must be right that the threat is still severe and probably underappreciated. But there has long been a ‘cure worse than the disease’ feel to nuclear arguments.
    A hastily formed union might bring not global peace, but endless global insurgency and civil wars
In most accounts, the nuclear one-world would be rapidly constructed, given the urgency of the threat. It would also need to cover the entire globe, so that every country could be assured of its own safety. A hastily formed union might bring not global peace, but endless global insurgency and civil wars. You could imagine the emergence worldwide of political figures such as Britain’s Farage, demanding freedom from ‘foreign control’ for their own countries, and claiming sovereign rights of defence and armament against a rapidly imposed global Leviathan.
Most thinkers in the current nuclear camp are pessimistic that an enlightened self-interest will move us to take the necessary steps toward a world government. Deudney and Craig both suggest that it might take a limited nuclear war – some regional conflict such as India vs Pakistan – for us to wake up to our precariously balanced reality and move toward a global union. But even then, a second paradox arises, one that has long been lobbed at Hobbesian arguments: we are said to need a strong government before we can trust each other not to be nasty or brutish, but how can we create such a government without that level of trust already being in place?
In the global context, countries could not be assured of their own security until after a world government had eliminated the nuclear threat. Yet, it is hard to imagine any scenario – perhaps especially one after a regional nuclear war – where every nuclear-capable state would trust every other enough to simultaneously surrender all of its nuclear weapons capacity. This is why some have suggested that it might actually need some powerful state imposing its will on all others to save us from the nuclear threat, which brings us back to our earlier worries about too-quick integration triggering a global civil war.
And so, while it’s true that sovereign states armed with nuclear weapons pose serious threats, I’m not convinced that a global government is the solution to that problem in the near term. But what should we make of the case for global democracy? David Held, professor of politics at the University of Durham, is perhaps the most influential recent advocate of global democracy, though like most thinkers in this area, he does not willingly fly the world government flag. Held and his frequent collaborator, Daniele Archibugi, research director for the Italian National Research Council in Rome, joined forces in the glow of the New World Order-era at the end of the Cold War. They outlined a project of ‘cosmopolitan democracy’, which soon became the term of art for all broadly similar proposals seeking to push democracy above and beyond national boundaries.
Their arguments focus on the same concern voiced by the WTO protesters of 1999. Namely, thanks to globalisation and economic integration, people are increasingly affected by decisions in which they have no democratic input. For Held, this is a violation of a fundamental freedom. All persons should be permitted to have a say in the decisions that affect their lives and so, according to Held, global institutions that can make and enforce binding democratic decisions should be created.
Others have followed a similar logic in arguing for a less powerful global parliamentary assembly. Indeed, we have recently seen the emergence of the global social movement that resembles those of the 1940s heyday: the Campaign for a United Nations Parliamentary Assembly, which would create a directly elected advisory parliament meeting parallel to the UN General Assembly. More than 1,300 current and former parliamentarians have formally endorsed the project.
    It might be more important to address issues of poverty, inequality and global justice than to try to ensure a democratic say above the state
My primary concern with ‘cosmopolitan democracy’ stems from its presumption that democratic participation will indeed make us free. Of course, few of us that live in democracies would trade participation rights for some form of rule by the benevolent and wise – and rightly so. Strictly speaking, however, in majority decision-making, only the freedom of the winners is enabled. Those on the losing side, especially if they belong to a persistent democratic minority, might see their liberty routinely restricted. This point has important implications for global institution-building, in that cosmopolitan democracy could be putting the cart before the horse. In the near term, it might be more important to address issues of poverty, inequality and global justice than to try to ensure a democratic say above the state.
To see this objection most vividly, imagine how a global democracy would confront an issue such as climate change, which might affect a minority dramatically, and the global democratic majority to a lesser extent. Imagine our representatives follow majority will, and vote to let low-lying island countries sink under the waves, rather than make the sacrifices needed to address the root causes. Democracy will have been done, but what about justice?
This concern is at the root of my position that changes to our global political system should be motivated by global justice, and not by a focus on a particular form of government. Of course, what needs changing will depend a great deal on what we deserve. If we deserve only to see our most basic needs met – minimal food, shelter, health care – then relatively few institutional changes might be needed. If, however, all persons deserve a richer set of life opportunities and the means to pursue them, deep institutional change will be required.
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