Why is there no world government?
About the need for a democratic world government
Human civilization may not survive if we fail to establish a global government. This notion may seem inappropriate at a time of increasing international tension, nuclear instability, national populism, and so-called identity politics that fuel a crisis in multilateralism. But instead of contradicting the idea, these and many other problems are, on the contrary, deeply rooted in the fact that there is no world government.
Human civilization may not survive
One of the most important challenges of modern cultural evolution is the time lag between rapid technological development and slow political adjustment. The UN, which is the best model humanity has ever developed for managing global affairs, has frozen in time. Its basic principle of national sovereignty dates back to 1648, a hundred years before the industrial revolution even began. But today we live in the 21st century, the world population is approaching eight billion and technological development continues to accelerate. The need for global governance to keep pace with the accelerating pace of change is more urgent than ever.
Dealing with environmental threats
Humanity today shares a common fate. Like it or not, all human beings are now connected in a common civilization that spans the whole earth. The dangers posed by nuclear war, global pandemics, environmental degradation or climate change affect everyone. Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere knows no bounds.
Greenhouse gases know no borders
The human influence on global public goods such as the atmosphere must be regulated in such a way that the planetary boundaries are not exceeded and the stability of the earth's ecosystem is not endangered. In addition, the supply of important public goods such as food security or the stability of the financial and economic system depends on how well global structures function. The regulation of research and development in areas such as artificial intelligence, genetics, biotechnology or autonomous weapons must be on the global agenda. Based on the cooperation of 193 nominally sovereign states, global regulation will never work properly. Hence the need to arrive at a model of global government that transcends the boundaries of the nation-state.
Overcoming national sovereignty
States are free to decide whether or not to accede to an intergovernmental treaty. There is no way to set global rules except through intergovernmental negotiations. The more “states” that participate, the more difficult it is to get results. Since compromises have to be found, the content of contracts often represents only the lowest common denominator of the negotiating partners. In this process, it is the main purpose of governments to pursue goals that they see as national self-interest. There is no body that represents the interests of the world community as a whole. Even if a treaty is signed and ratified, a state can later withdraw. The international order does not recognize any higher authority over decisions or their execution. All in all, the international order lacks many of the features that characterize a functioning legal system, as we take it for granted domestically.
Socio-economic development and political action are no longer linked. The forces of acceleration have globalized and are forcing the states in a self-reinforcing dynamic to drive their own erosion forward. Capital flows and commercial corporations have no loyalty to any nation-state. The product development and manufacturing processes are globally networked. A transnational elite has emerged, made up of the owners and top management of transnational companies, both supported by high-ranking officials, politicians, academics and media representatives who are ready to share common economic interests in an environment of weak regulation and poor political processes follow. The concentration of wealth and global inequality has reached unprecedented levels. The gap between productivity and wages is increasing dramatically.
Capital flows have no loyalty to a nation state
We are witnessing the emergence of global social classes that lead to vertical social tensions. The dividing line will no longer be between rich and poor countries, but everywhere between the super-rich and the others. The transnational elite is very influential. If necessary, it can pit national governments against each other. National governments are facing serious constraints to face the race to the bottom. In the past, the creation of powerful nation-states was often top-down driven by the elites. In comparison, the notion of a global conspiracy to form a world government is far from valid. Today the elite are using the intergovernmental system to their advantage. In fact, it is opposed to the emergence of a global government that could restrict its actions.
In fiscal policy, for example, multinational corporations and the super-rich can avoid taxes through loopholes and weaknesses in the international tax system. Corporate tax rates and corporate tax revenues are falling continuously. This contributes to increasing inequality, higher relative taxation of the middle class and social tensions. Paradoxically, these problems are exacerbated by the nationalist policies that they feed. In the US, for example, the nominal corporate tax rate was drastically reduced after the election of Donald Trump.
Efforts to combat this trend through traditional intergovernmental cooperation have proven to be more or less ineffective. A Tobin tax on foreign exchange transactions or a progressive global tax on the fortunes of the billion dollar super-rich will not work with a piecemeal approach. Here are potential sources of funding for social measures such as a worldwide basic social security or a global basic income that cannot be used.
Challenges and pitfalls of the system
Citizenship is linked to individual states and thus the associated civil rights are exclusive. The promise of the global village only applies to the rich. In many countries you can even buy national passports. The carbon footprint of the wealthy is disproportionately higher than that of the poor. At the same time, the age of Westphalian territoriality is not over for the poorest. There is no freedom of movement for them. But on the contrary. The planet has never seen more border fences and walls used to control state borders. In fact, the nation-state system helps contain the population within state borders, pit workers against each other, and exploit illegal immigrants.
Economic, cultural and social insecurity seem to be a common factor behind the emergence of nationalist populism as well as illiberal and anti-democratic sentiments. With the increasing importance of global forces, the democratic institutions of the nation-state are being eroded and people are losing confidence in the ability of political decision-makers to represent their interests. Even if all the countries in the world were perfect democracies, they would still not be much better able to steer globalization in the right direction.
The democratic institutions of the nation state are being eroded
The security dilemma, according to which states are pushing each other towards military spending, military research and armaments in a self-reinforcing dynamic, is inherent in the Westphalian system and strong economic interests benefit from the fact that it remains that way. Just as the fossil fuel industry and its owners oppose the decarbonization of the economy, so the military-industrial complex opposes global pacification. You don't need a real war. Military equipment that is designed and manufactured at high cost does not even have to function properly. But what they need is the very possibility of war and a permanent feeling of insecurity. The opportunity costs are enormous.
War between nuclear armed opponents is potentially suicidal because of the risk of mutual destruction. Since conventional conflicts can spiral out of control, they are not an option to seriously consider in the power rivalries between nuclear-weapon states. Nevertheless, intentionally or unintentionally, such a situation can arise in a very short time. Even a limited nuclear war would have devastating effects on millions of people and today's complex world system.
After the invention and use of the atomic bomb, many nuclear scientists argued after the Second World War that a world government was necessary to establish a system of collective security with a monopoly of force in order to control nuclear technology and prevent a nuclear Third World War.
A world government to prevent nuclear war
The possibility of attacking any state anytime and anywhere with an atomic bomb or conventional missiles has made traditional concepts of sovereignty anachronistic, since even in theory states can no longer control the use of force on their territory and can possibly be wiped out. Securing a world free of nuclear weapons remains an important argument in favor of creating a global government.
It was once expected that the Internet would be a motor for democratic change and global understanding. Yes, it helped spark democratic revolutions. But it also provides the means for unprecedented state surveillance and systematic control of citizens. In Myanmar, social media has been used to incite genocidal violence and the internet is used by authoritarian states to increase their global influence. China's "Great Firewall" shows what governments can do to exclude their people from the free flow of global information.
On the way to political equality
The basic values on which the arguments for world government are based remain unchanged. The idea of the unity of mankind goes back to ancient Greek philosophy, the Hindu Upanishads, Tamil Sangam literature, Confucian teaching or the ancient Chinese concept of Tianxia. It is the recognition of the equality of every human being and that all human beings must respect and treat one another appropriately, which is at the center of the ideas of cosmopolitanism and cosmopolitanism. Morality that is exclusive because it is only accepted as valid for a certain group is not morality at all. In a coherent ethical system based on equality, the same standards must be applied to all.
The unity of humanity is an old universal idea
This was already understood at the time of the French Revolution. The French Revolution had a cosmopolitan moment for a short time. Freedom, equality, and fraternity were not ideas confined to a French nation that didn't even exist. It was not obvious why the sovereignty of the feudal lords should be transferred to individual states. At that time Anacharsis Cloots propagated the indivisible sovereignty of humanity and a universal world republic.
While a world republic would unite humanity as a whole, the constituent subjects are the individual people and the starting point is the respect and protection of their human rights as world citizens. Recognizing the equality of everyone means that everyone must have an equal opportunity in shaping the political affairs that affect them all. It follows that a directly elected world parliament must be at the center of the world republic. This representative body could at some point be supplemented by electronic direct democracy, which is open to all world citizens.
An elected world parliament must be at the center of the world republic
The establishment of a world republic with a global government does not mean that individual units will disappear. On the contrary, it would be a federal system of multilevel government. The states represent an indispensable level of government and decision-making. According to the principle of subsidiarity, the functions and powers would be distributed vertically to the various levels of government from the local to the global and always at the lowest possible level. In some cases, subcontinental or continental levels of government, which lie between the national and global levels, may also assume responsibility. In addition, states can perform administrative tasks on behalf of the world association and thus help avoid the creation of a large central bureaucracy.
While the world republic would lay down the rules for the legitimate use of force, it would not have a de facto monopoly, as certain military and police capacities would be vertically divided according to federal principles. In a system of global tax federalism, tax authority would also be distributed to different levels. A federal world republic and a system of multilevel government are based on a new understanding of sovereignty. Nobody has the right to unlimited self-determination or the unlimited exercise of power or even the ability to do so. All states, institutions, organs and actors are in one way or another accountable to others and linked to them. Nobody is sovereign over the others in the classical sense or can act as if they were. Sovereignty is always limited. In this sense, the term can still be used to describe core competencies of the respective levels of government.
Democratic participation and representation of citizens as well as the rule of law, separation of powers, control mechanisms and the protection of minority rights must be implemented at all levels. A world republic structured according to these principles would give the citizens of the world political control and reduce the influence of the transnational elite. This structure would help to protect diversity, pluralism, group identities, traditions and minorities in individual states and between states.
Put the idea into practice
The establishment of a world republic means a transition from today's system of international law to a world law system. The global government envisaged here may be the result of a consolidation of the current system of global governance (as suggested in this document). The aim is a coherent framework based on a global constitution. The legislative power could consist of a world parliamentary assembly elected by the citizens of the world (similar to a house of representatives) and a general assembly representing the member states (similar to a senate). In matters of global importance and on the basis of the principle of subsidiarity, this world legislature would be empowered to pass framework laws that would have to be transposed into national law, as well as to pass global regulations that would have direct and immediate application. The present United Nations Security Council could be replaced by a Joint Security Committee set up by the two chambers.
The United Nations Secretariat and the administrative structure of the UN system can be transformed into a world commission that acts as an executive branch with cabinet functions. A reformed International Court of Justice can be tasked with overseeing the World Commission and ensuring that global legislation complies with fundamental human rights and is applied equally in all member states. From a legal point of view, it will be necessary to amend the UN Charter and numerous intergovernmental treaties. The aim can be to draft a single comprehensive reform treaty that contains all the provisions necessary to amend all of the treaties concerned. Proposals to convene a conference to review the Charter or a global constitutional convention have been around for a long time.
We need to be prepared when a window of opportunity opens
Authoritarian government regimes are the greatest obstacle as they oppose any democratic self-determination of their people and the progress of democracy in the world. But it's not just them.Most governments, including those from democratic states, will only act if they feel that it is very popular. While many people actually internalize their identity as world citizens, others turn to the myth of nationalism and reject deeper global cooperation, let alone global government. Furthermore, the many immediate everyday problems distract attention from the need to tackle the world's structural problem. After all, a democratic global legal order with a world constitution, a clear structure and separation of powers, clear rules and democratic decision-making processes is something that a large part of the transnational elite will regard as being directed against their interests.
We don't know when the right time will come. However, there have been many surprises in history that even the best experts could not foresee. Therefore, we must stand up for a bold vision of our common future on this planet and be prepared when a window of opportunity opens.
Jo Leinen is a member of the European Parliament. Andreas Bummel is the founder and managing director of Democracy Without Borders. This article is based on their joint book The World Democratic Parliament: A Cosmopolitan Vision.
This article is a translation of the upcoming English initial publication in the May 2019 issue of Cadmus Journal, the magazine of the World Academy of Arts and Sciences.
Top picture: On March 15, 2019, schoolchildren worldwide took part in a climate strike. One of the slogans used was: "Change the System, not the Climate". (Image source)
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