New Thinking on an Old Dream: Federal World Government
Posted: 12 July 2015
James Yunker, Western Illinois University
While it is clear that a federal world government would considerably reduce the threat of nuclear war and facilitate international action against various global problems such as runaway population growth and environmental degradation, the overwhelming majority of the contemporary world population believes that these advantages are outweighed by countervailing disadvantages, the most important of which is that such a concentration of political and military power might set the stage for global tyranny. But this danger would be much reduced if the prospective world government—although a significant advance beyond the United Nations of today—were to be much less centralized and powerful than is normally envisioned. It is argued here that a properly designed, limited world government would be likely to make a valuable, albeit gradual and evolutionary, contribution to the furtherance of effective global governance.
“Is world government inevitable?” With little doubt, the great majority of people confronting this question today, whether they be government officials or business leaders, teachers or journalists, or rank-and-file citizens of whatever nationality, occupation, age, sex, religion, or political inclination, would answer this question most definitely in the negative. Nevertheless, Alexander Wendt, a well-known international relations authority at Ohio State University, published an article in the European Journal of International Relations several years ago under the highly provocative title: “Why a World State is Inevitable.” The boldness of the title, in conjunction with the lofty professional status of the author, has caused something of a stir among IR specialists. In the years since the publication of the article in 2003, there have been dozens of citations of it in mainstream IR periodicals.1
This is not to suggest, however, that “Why a World State is Inevitable” has elicited universal approbation from the IR profession. The fact is that none of the many authors who have cited the somewhat notorious “inevitability” article have explicitly endorsed it. On the other hand, thus far only one author has directly challenged Wendt’s argument on its own terms.2 Most of the citations fall into the noncommittal “see also” category. Many of them amount to little more than a shrug of the shoulders. For example, in a 2006 essay on international law in the University of Chicago Law Review, Eric Posner wrote: “Wendt is in a very small minority, and as he puts off the creation of world government for at least another century, the possibility has no relevant short-term implications even if he is correct.”3
Even so, the very fact that the article was published in a reputable, mainstream international relations periodical may be significant. Campbell Craig and Luis Cabrera separately cite Wendt’s article as prime evidence of resurgent interest in the idea of world government.4 Certainly the conditions for world government seem far more favorable now than they did thirty years ago—when the Cold War between East and West was still raging, and both sides categorically rejected the possibility of world government on grounds that such a government might be subverted and taken over by the other side. But even though the collapse and dissolution of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s greatly mitigated the ideological impediment, many other obstacles remain to the formation of an effective yet benign world government: nationalism, culture, religion, race, language, historical grievances, and so on. Thus it is still widely believed that any attempt to establish a world government would likely lead to warfare, and even if that particular threat did not materialize, the established world government would soon devolve into a horrific dystopia involving some awful combination of global tyranny, bureaucratic suffocation, and cultural homogenization. A succinct expression of the prevalent conventional wisdom against world government has been provided by Anne-Marie Slaughter:
Yet world government is both infeasible and undesirable. The size and scope of such a government presents an unavoidable and dangerous threat to individual liberty. Further, the diversity of peoples to be governed makes it almost impossible to conceive of a global demos. No form of democracy within the current global repertoire seems capable of overcoming these obstacles.5
Inasmuch as the question of inevitability is only sensibly considered with reference to existent reality, and as world government is not yet part of existent reality, Wendt’s proposition that world government is inevitable clearly is not meant to be taken literally. Rather it is deliberately provocative: intended merely to elicit additional serious thought about the world government possibility. But one need not subscribe to the inevitability thesis to believe that a stronger case can be made in favor of world government than most people today realize. The real issue, after all, is not whether world government is inevitable or not—virtually everyone believes it is not—but whether or not it would be desirable.
The reason why almost all people today believe strongly that world government is not inevitable, and that Wendt’s inevitability proposition verges on the preposterous, is that almost all people today believe that world government would be extremely undesirable. Assuming a modicum of rationality in human judgment, the more undesirable a certain proposed future innovation is perceived to be by a great many people, the more unlikely it is that that proposed innovation will be adopted and come to pass in the real world. By the same token, the more desirable it is perceived to be by a great many people, the more likely it is to come to pass. If the current strongly negative consensus opinion on world government were to change 180 degrees into a strongly positive consensus opinion on world government, then the establishment of an actual world government would become more likely, and it would seem less preposterous to propose that its establishment was “inevitable.”
The time may be at hand for a serious re-examination of the contemporary conventional wisdom that it would be premature for the present generation of humanity to consider establishing a supernational federation open to all the nations of the world. But a clear distinction must be drawn at the outset between idea of unlimited world government, and the idea of limited world government. It is almost certainly true that the traditional world federalist ideal of an omnipotent world state, encompassing the entire world and monopolizing all nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction in the interest of enforcing perfect and permanent peace, would represent an unacceptable risk of degenerating into totalitarian tyranny. But the unacceptability of unlimited world government does not necessarily imply the unacceptability of limited world government.
Possible World Governments
There is a wide range of possible world government structures. In fact, if we were to allow a very generous interpretation of the term “government,” the existent United Nations could qualify as such. This, however, would be at the very low end of the authority-effectiveness spectrum. At the very high end of this spectrum would be the traditional world federalist ideal: an extremely centralized and powerful world government that would stand in the same relationship to its component nations that the federal government of the
As a shock reaction to the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in the final days of World War II, during the immediate postwar period there occurred a brief but intense “world government boom.”6 For many people, it seemed that the only truly effective safeguard against a catastrophic nuclear world war would be the immediate formation of a very powerful and centralized world government. Clearly the United Nations established in 1945 would not suffice to avert this dire perceived threat to the survival of global human civilization. Although post-World War II world government proposals are highly diverse, most of them adhere in general terms to the Declaration of the first World Congress of the World Movement for World Federal Government (WMWFG), held in 1947 at Montreux, Switzerland. The Declaration proclaims six essential characteristics of an effective world government, as follows:
1. Universal membership: The world federal government must be open to all peoples and nations.
2. Limitations of national sovereignty, and the transfer to the world federal government of such legislative, executive and judicial powers as relate to world affairs.
3. Enforcement of world law directly on the individual whoever or wherever he may be, within the jurisdiction of the world federal government: guarantee of the rights of man and suppression of all attempts against the security of the federation.
4. Creation of supranational armed forces capable of guaranteeing the security of the world federal government and of its member states. Disarmament of member nations to the level of their internal policing requirements.
5. Ownership and control by the world federal government of atomic development and of other scientific discoveries capable of mass destruction.
6. Power to raise adequate revenues directly and independently of state taxes.
Point 1 specifies that there be “universal membership” in the sense that membership would be “open” to all the nations of the world. Nothing is specified, however, with respect to nations that join the world federation and then decide at a later date to withdraw. However, a phrase included in point 3 (“suppression of all attempts against the security of the federation”) may well be directed against such nations. This would be consistent with the well-remembered fact (in 1947) that one of the first indications of the aggressive intentions of Nazi Germany and the other fascist nations was their withdrawal from the League of Nations in the 1930s. At any rate, a “right of withdrawal” would be essentially meaningless if nations had no armed forces with which to back up their decision to withdraw from the world federation. And in points 4 and 5, it is clearly specified that the member nations of the world federation would be deprived of all heavy weaponry (i.e., weaponry beyond the requirements of “internal policing”), both nuclear and conventional.
Of the many proposals for world government developed after World War II, two stand out as especially significant, primarily because of their exposition in books published by prestigious university presses. Giuseppe Borgese was the secretary of a committee of influential concerned citizens (the Committee to Frame a World Constitution, active from 1946 through 1948) chaired by Robert M. Hutchins, at that time Chancellor of the University of Chicago. Borgese’s book Foundations of the World Republic, published by the University of Chicago Press in 1953, reflected the committee’s deliberations on the urgent need for world government, and contained as an appendix the “Preliminary Draft of a World Constitution” developed by the committee. Grenville Clark, a well-known public servant, and Louis B. Sohn, a well-known international lawyer, took upon themselves the task of proposing a revised United Nations charter which would have effectively transformed that organization into a legitimate world government. All three editions of their magisterial tome, World Peace through World Law (1958, 1960 and 1966), were published by Harvard University Press.7
Both Borgese and Clark-Sohn were unambiguous that the world government must possess dominant, unchallengeable military power. Giuseppe Borgese puts it as follows:
If the World Republic is defective in power, it will disintegrate as did the Roman unity when it grew weak. Or it will be an empty name from the beginning, as were, more or less, the Christian empire in the Middle Ages and the League or United Nations in our years. Against this danger the World Republic as we see it claims the monopoly of weapons, wields all the sanctions and forces that are needed to repress insurrection and separation.8
Grenville Clark and Louis Sohn state:
The complete disarmament of all the nations (rather than the mere “reduction” or “limitation” of armaments) is essential for any solid and lasting peace, this disarmament to be accomplished in a simultaneous and proportionate manner by carefully verified stages and subject to a well-organized system of inspection. It is now generally accepted that disarmament must be universal and enforceable. That it must also be complete is no less necessary, since: (a) in the nuclear age no mere reduction in the new means of mass destruction could be effective to remove fear and tension; and (b) if any substantial national armaments were to remain, even if only ten per cent of the armaments of 1960, it would be impracticable to maintain a sufficiently strong world police force to deal with any possible aggression or revolt against the authority of the world organization. We should face the fact that until there is complete disarmament of every nation without exception there can be no assurance of genuine peace.9
A relatively recent (2005) restatement of this principle is found in a work by Errol E. Harris, a long-time advocate for the World Constitution and Parliament Association:
Non-military sanctions, as we have already insisted, are unlikely to be successful without at least the threat of forcible backing. It is, therefore, necessary that the Federation of Earth should have at its disposal some force, under the control of the World Parliament and its Executive, that is unchallengeable by any other power. This is a matter to which the World Constituent Assembly needs to pay attention, as it could prove crucial for the success of the Federation.10
The intractable, ideologically fueled, geopolitical conflict between the Soviet Union and the Western powers severely hobbled the United Nations from the beginning, and also quickly brought the postwar world government boom to an end. By the time the Korean War commenced in the summer of 1950, it was clear to all but the most diehard world federalist optimists that there was no immediate prospect for a world government along the lines envisioned by Borgese, Clark-Sohn, and many others. It soon became clear that fear of nuclear war would not be sufficient to stampede humanity into an omnipotent world state. It was (and still is) widely assumed that the “balance of terror” will suffice to prevent nuclear wars, thus world government is unnecessary for this purpose. With the decline of the Cold War in the aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the nuclear war threat receded still further, thus further weakening, to most minds, the case for world government.
Nevertheless, the threat of nuclear war has not been entirely abrogated. The great powers, especially the United States and the Russian Federation, still find it necessary to maintain nuclear arsenals of such dimensions that if they were ever unleashed, the damage to human civilization would be unimaginable. A properly designed world government might ameliorate this threat, as well as serving other useful purposes aside from the preservation of peace. Even though unlimited world government is ruled out owing to concerns about global tyranny, the question persists: Might there be a role for limited world government?
In fact, the idea of limited world government has been coming into increasingly clear focus in various recent sympathetic contributions on world government by authors such as Luis Cabrera, Louis Pojman, Torbjörn Tännsjö, Daniel Deudney, and James Yunker.11 The discussion herein will therefore be based on the notion of a “happy medium” point along the authority-effectiveness spectrum separating the United Nations at one extreme from the omnipotent world state at the other extreme. If the analysis of the world government possibility is founded upon this limited world government concept, as opposed to the unlimited world government concept espoused by traditional world federalists, it is easier to see that the case to be made for federal world government is significantly stronger than most people currently realize.
During the bad old days of the Cold War, Kenneth Waltz dismissed the possibility of world government with the following proclamation: “And were world government attempted, we might find ourselves dying in the attempt, or uniting and living a life worse than death.”12 Waltz had in mind the
In any event, in the early 1990s the Cold War was dealt a devastating and hopefully fatal blow by the renunciation of communism by the
Nevertheless, aside from ideology there remain several other divisive factors operative within global human civilization that constitute severe impediments to global political unification: religion, race, language, historical grievances, cultural differences, and economic inequality, to name only the most obvious. The conventional viewpoint is that these many and varied components of heterogeneity add up to an insuperable obstacle to world government, even if (as is certainly not the case as yet) there were absolutely no ideological controversy among the nations concerning the optimal social order. According to Mark Amstutz, for example: “The dilemma of world government is this: the international system needs world government to reduce the threat of war, but the precondition for world government is world community, which can only be solidified through the political transformation of the anarchic world system.”15 Presuming that “world community” is an impossibility into the foreseeable future, this is a classic Catch 22-style logical elimination of the world government possibility. However, the argument is based squarely upon the misapprehension that no world government short of an omnipotent world government would be capable of making a significant positive contribution toward the improvement of global governance.
Richard Falk has accused some world federalists, exemplified specifically by Grenville Clark and Louis Sohn, of the error of “premature specificity.”16 In their magisterial yet ultimately ineffectual tome World Peace through World Law, Clark and Sohn provided explicit language for a revised United Nations Charter that would have effectively transformed that institution from an assemblage of speechifying ambassadors into a full-fledged world state. While “premature specificity” clearly must be avoided, at the same time it is important that people have at least a reasonably clear understanding of what is meant by “limited world government.” The most detailed and explicit institutional blueprint for limited world government currently available in the published literature is that of James Yunker, and for convenience this will be used as an example.
An important difference between Yunker’s advocacy of limited world government and that of other advocates is his clear and unambiguous insistence on the principles of freedom of national secession and independent national military forces. Other advocates tend toward more nuanced and ambiguous statements on these central issues. For example, on the question of whether or not the world state should hold a monopoly on armed force, Luis Cabrera writes as follows:
Just as governing power need not be concentrated at the top, we should not presume that the highest-level governing bodies must have a monopoly on the legitimate use of force. Assuming again that something approaching a fully global governing system could eventually emerge, the application of subsidiarity to the question of armed forces, both police and military, likely would result in a dispersal of forces among the regions, where each supra-state region maintained forces capable of responding to armed violence in its region or as needed elsewhere. The global-level governing bodies also could maintain a military force to be deployed in crises, to augment regional forces in actions involving aggressive states or sub-state units, or to help oppose aggressive or expansive supra-state regions. In fact, what might be seen as an antecedent to such a global-level force has been proposed at various times in context of the UN’s peacekeeping mandate.17
On nuclear weapons specifically, Daniel Deudney writes as follows:
The classical and modified remedies are even more divergent than their diagnoses. Classical nuclear one worlders proposed to solve the security crisis of the state system by creating an omnistate in which nuclear capability was to be concentrated and then employed to maintain peace between the disarmed or dismantled states. In contrast, the modified approach envisions an arrangement in which the territorial state system is not replaced, but rather is complemented with a nuclear containment and restraint system. The classical remedies are essentially the application of prenuclear images of a world state to the nuclear problem, while the modified remedies are an extrapolation from the theory and practice of nuclear era arms control. The classical diagnosis saw states as perilously vulnerable in anarchy, and the classical remedy saw the states as obstacles and wanted to weaken them. In contrast the modified diagnosis identifies acute security problems as arising from the interplay of external anarchy and internal hierarchy, and the remedy aims to reconfigure states with mutual restraints, both internally and externally.18
A typical example of Yunker’s more straightforward exposition of these matters is the following:
Key restraints on the supernational state would include the following: (1) member nations would retain the right to raise and maintain military forces; (2) member nations would retain the right to withdraw (secede) from the supernational federation at their own unilateral discretion; (3) a dual voting principle would be employed in the legislative assembly; and (4) special budgetary provisions would be enacted to prevent legislative deadlocks from freezing the operations of the federation… The single most fundamental proposal which would militate against the world state becoming an instrument of oppression is the right of secession. This right would be reinforced by the right of member nations to maintain independent military forces. It is proposed that all military forces of the Union, whether maintained by the member nations or by the Union itself, wear the same uniform, have similar weaponry, and be considered formally as components of the overall Union Security Force. But in the event of fundamental and irreconcilable conflict between the Union and a particular member nation, the nation would have both the formal authority and informal means (i.e., its own military) of resuming its independence from the Union.19
As a starting point for the ensuing evaluative discussion, a brief outline will now be provided of the basic political proposal for a supernational federation tentatively designated the Federal Union of Democratic Nations, and of its complementary economic proposal for a global Marshall Plan tentatively designated the World Economic Equalization Program (WEEP). Needless to emphasize, the various specifics of nomenclature and so on set forth in the following (e.g., the names of the supernational federation and the global Marshall Plan) are merely suggestions.
The Basic Political Proposal
The proposed Federal Union of Democratic Nations, founded on the basis of a Federal Union Constitution, would be a full-fledged, genuine, legitimate state entity with clearly defined geographical boundaries (assuming some non-member nations), a permanent and continuous governmental structure comprised of legislative, executive and judicial branches, and the power to levy taxes and enact binding legislation.20 It would have a capital city, and would directly control a standing armed force, with a nuclear capability, designated the Union Security Force. This standing armed force might be comparable in size to that of one of today’s mid-level nuclear powers, such as France or the United Kingdom.
As the name implies, the
The tentative name of the federation also implies that the member nations would all be democratic in nature. A fairly generous interpretation of the term “democratic” may be necessary, lest too many nations be denied membership on the basis that they are not sufficiently democratic. In a general sense, “democracy” implies that the government is responsive to the preferences of the people. But more specifically, it implies that high government officials are elected by the citizens in regular, open, and contested elections (accountability of the leadership), and that the citizens enjoy strong and effective rights of free speech, free press, and free political organization.
A substantial number of nations in the world today—even some that proclaim themselves to be democratic—do not exhibit these characteristics. For example, the People’s Republic of
The long-run objective would be to have every nation maintaining very high domestic standards of democratic accountability of the government—but this long-run objective will be better served if considerable flexibility is practiced in the short run. In the short run, the only requirement for membership should be that the national government undertakes to establish fully democratic institutions (assuming these institutions are not already in place) once its citizens have been properly prepared for their responsibilities. No time frame for this would be specified.21
The Federal Union Constitution would comprise five principal sections: (1) nature and purposes of the
These two provisions suggest strongly that membership in the
Another obvious objection to these provisions is that they are inconsistent with the usual understanding of a “state,” a term which implies the possession of dominant, unchallengeable armed power within the territory encompassed by the polity, together with a firm resolve to maintain permanent control over all parts of that territory. However, a more flexible and realistic definition of a state is a political organization with a defined territorial extent, possessed of sufficient armed power to maintain peace within the polity and command respect from polities outside the territory, and firmly resolved to maintain control over all parts of its territory by all means—short of civil war. By this definition, the Federal Union of Democratic Nations would be a state.
Elections for high positions in the Federal Union government would be on a quinquennial basis (once every five years). The legislature would be a unicameral body, designated the Union Chamber of Representatives, consisting of approximately 200 Union Representatives, directly elected by the populations of their respective districts for terms of five years. The head of the executive branch would be designated the Union Chief Executive, an individual elected by popular vote of the entire Union population for a term of ten years. The judicial branch of the Federal Union would be known as the Union High Court, composed of 25 Union Justices, five of whom would be elected in each quinquennial election for terms of 25 years.
Although a unicameral form is envisioned for the world government legislature, some of the virtues of bicameralism would be captured by a proposed “dual voting system.” Whenever a vote is taken in the Union Chamber of Representatives, the measure being considered would have to be approved by a majority, possibly a 60 percent majority, on two different bases: the population basis and the material basis. In the population vote, the weight given to the vote of each particular Union Representative would be proportional to the population of his/her Union district, relative to the total population of the Federal Union. In the material vote, the weight given to the vote of each particular Union Representative would be proportional to the financial revenues derived from his/her Union district, relative to the total financial revenues of the Federal Union.
In computing revenues derived from specific Union districts, the general tax revenues from each district would be combined with “directed contributions” made on a voluntary basis by the nation or nations within that district. Directed contributions would be allocated to specific programs of the Federal Union at the direction of the contributing nations: such specific programs might include space exploration, pollution abatement, or the World Economic Equalization Program. Representatives from the rich nations would be disproportionately represented in the material vote, while representatives from populous poorer nations would be disproportionately represented in the population vote. Since measures would have to be approved on both the material basis and the population basis, only measures on which rich nations and poor nations could achieve a reasonable degree of consensus would have a chance of being approved by the Union Chamber of Representatives.
This would prevent the passage of legislation aimed at a drastic redistribution of current world income (which would be opposed by the rich nations), and also it would prevent the passage of legislation that might be viewed as re-establishing conditions of colonial exploitation (which would be opposed by the poor nations). Note that the practical relevance of the distinction between the population vote and the material vote would be obviated were all nations of the world to have approximately equal per capita income. This condition would be the long-term objective of the “complementary economic proposal” described below. Dual voting, and other institutional proposals designed to cope with the North-South economic gap, are intended as a short-run solution to the problem. The long-run solution would be to eliminate the gap.
Skeptics might be inclined to argue that the proposed dual voting system in the Federal Union legislature will inevitably result in a “gridlock” condition preventing the passage of any useful and effective world legislation. One might ask how the current international regime, based on the sovereign nation-state system, can possibly avoid analogous gridlock. The fact is that we cannot know in advance just how much—or little—this proposed supernational federation will be able to accomplish. At least there would be a chance that it will accomplish more than the international regime that preceded it. If the experiment is indeed a failure, the provision for free exit provides a natural means for peaceful dissolution of the federation.
Federal Union revenues would be used to finance the operations of the several components of the executive branch. A Ministry of Security would direct the operations of the Union Security Force. A Ministry of the Interior would assume a number of functional operations such as the collection and reporting of statistics currently handled by the World Bank, and would take responsibility for such specialized agencies of the United Nations as the Universal Postal Union. A Ministry of External Development would direct the space exploration program. A Ministry of Non-Union Affairs would handle relations with non-member nations. Especially important in the initial decades of the Federal Union of Democratic Nations would be the World Development Authority, the Union agency responsible for the World Economic Equalization Program.
The Complementary Economic Proposal
A global Marshall Plan, tentatively designated the World Economic Equalization Program, is envisioned as a complementary economic initiative to the basic political initiative of the Federal Union of Democratic Nations.22 These are logically separate initiatives, but are very closely related in a practical sense. The World Economic Equalization Program would transfer large quantities of new investment resources from the rich contributing nations to the poorer recipient nations, for purposes of building up the productive capabilities of the latter. This is not “redistribution” in the usual economic sense of the term. In other words, the transfers would definitely not consist of any final consumption commodities such as food, clothing, consumer electronics, and suchlike. They would be strictly confined to augmentation of generalized capital stocks in the recipient nations: (1) purchase and installation of physical plant and machinery; (2) training and education of the labor force; and (3) augmentation of social overhead capital such as roads, railways, harbors, airports, schools and hospitals.
Financial resources provided by the rich nations would be far more substantial than their economic development assistance expenditures of the past; however, they would be not so substantial as to reduce living standards in the rich nations, nor would they even be so substantial as to cause a significant decrease in the rate of rise of living standards in the rich nations. The program would be initiated and conducted on an explicitly experimental basis. That is to say, if after a reasonable period of time, say 10 to 15 years, it became evident that the program was not dramatically increasing living standards in the poor nations, and/or that it was significantly decreasing living standards in the rich nations, then the program would be terminated.
Self-reliance is a virtue, and most people in the rich nations today feel that it is the sole responsibility of the poor nations to provide their own generalized capital through saving and investment. Unfortunately, world economic history up to the present time has generated a situation whereby it is extremely unlikely that the economic gap will ever be eliminated, or even appreciably narrowed within the foreseeable future, unless the rich nations convey very large amounts of investment resources to the poor nations. The special conditions which in the past led to dramatic economic progress in the rich nations (e.g., the opening up of the North American landmass to Western European colonization) no longer exist, nor will they ever again exist. The economic gap is likely to be virtually permanent unless the rich nations make a conscious policy decision to provide the productive resources to the poor nations necessary to close it.
A fundamental component of the overall argument for federal world government resides in the proposition that, despite the very formidable size of the current economic gap, it could in fact be overcome within a relatively brief period of historical time (something on the order of 50 years), by a sufficiently massive and coordinated economic development assistance effort. The discipline of economics, as is the case with other social scientific disciplines that aspire to scientific status, prefers to analyze the world as it is (positive analysis) rather than the world as it might be (normative analysis). Since nothing like a global Marshall Plan has ever been attempted in the real world, evaluation of the possibility is virtually absent from the professional economic literature.
It happens, however, that James Yunker, an economist by profession, has in fact done some preliminary research on the potential performance of a global Marshall Plan. The research, based on computer simulations of a model of the world economy, suggests that a dramatic acceleration in the rate of growth of living standards in the poor nations could be achieved at the very minor cost of a slight retardation in the rate of growth of living standards in the rich nations. The cost to the rich nations would not be a decline in their living standards, nor even a noticeable decline in the rate of growth of their living standards. In other words, it could be that the direct material cost would be virtually unnoticeable.23
Yunker is careful to add, however, that these positive results are obtained using benchmark assumptions regarding model parameter values. Of course the benchmark assumptions might be too optimistic. The same research indicates that if certain critical parameters take on sufficiently adverse values, the outcome would be just as pessimists would forecast: despite huge investments, very little improvement in average living standards within the recipient nations will be realized. Clearly the results of the computer simulations using benchmark parameter values do not prove, in either the mathematical or the legal sense, that the outcome of a global Marshall Plan would be favorable. Rather they merely demonstrate the possibility that the outcome would be favorable.
Aside from its intrinsic humanitarian value, the elimination of the economic gap between rich and poor nations would doubtless assist the cause of international harmony in the absence of a world government, and it would similarly improve the political stability of a world government should one be established. While the precise degree of improvement might be debated, it seems obvious that there would be at least an appreciable amount of improvement.24 Thus there would be a benefit. Of course, benefits must be weighed against costs. Even very large benefits might not be desirable if the costs of achieving them are very large. On the other hand, even rather modest benefits might be desirable if the costs of achieving them are very small. What the above-described research suggests is that the costs to the rich nations of achieving a high degree of economic equalization over the entire world might be very minor.
An important question might occur to the reader at this point, assuming it has not already done so. Would it not be wiser, it might be asked, to undertake the World Economic Equalization Program prior to the formation of a Federal Union of Democratic Nations, with the intention of establishing the latter only if the former proves to be successful. That way, worldwide political unity would be established if and only if a solid basis were laid for it in the form of worldwide economic equality. This would be a safer, more cautious, more conservative approach.25
Arguably a global Marshall Plan, on the sufficiently massive scale necessary to achieve success, would be very desirable in its own right, without any reference to the possibility of world government. Such a program might be undertaken even if there is no simultaneous move to establish a world government. But it could also be plausibly argued that it would be even better if both the global Marshall Plan and the supernational federation were simultaneously launched. These two initiatives are extremely complementary, in the sense that initiation of a world government would greatly increase the probability that the world economic development effort would be pursued long enough and vigorously enough to achieve success, while at the same time initiation and pursuit of the world economic development effort would greatly increase the stability and survival probability of the world government.
Although most advocates of world government list the possibility of a more vigorous and effective global economic development effort among the benefits that might flow from the greater sense of global citizenship fostered by the existence of an operational global government, Yunker is unique among these proponents in having personally developed significant scientific evidence that such a program might achieve its goals within a relatively brief period of historical time. Yunker’s economic training might also be a factor in his unusually pragmatic and realistic attitude toward the world government possibility itself. In some quarters economists are notorious for their reigning assumption that self-interest is the primary—if not the only—human motivation.
In contrast to other advocates, there is very little reference in Yunker’s writings to moral or philosophical arguments for either global economic development or global government. Rather these possibilities are advocated on the basis of utilitarian benefit-cost calculations. With respect to the economic situation, for example, it is a plausible proposition that if all nations enjoyed high living standards, the world would be a safer place—quite aside from the equity issue. Greater security would benefit the citizens of all nations, rich and poor. Among other things, unproductive military expenditures could be reduced. Most people in the rich nations are skeptical of proposals for an expanded global economic development effort not so much because they doubt the benefits, but because they fear that the costs would be too high: that in order to significantly raise living standards in the poor nations, their own living standards would have to significantly decline. Frequently this viewpoint is supplemented by the self-serving rationalization that an expanded global economic development effort would be futile because the transferred resources would be misallocated and wasted.
Yunker’s position is that the people in the rich nations are over-estimating the costs to themselves of an expanded global economic development program: that such a program would very likely have an insignificant effect on living standards in the rich nations. If a known benefit can be achieved at a lower cost, then according to the principle of rational self-interest, there is a greater incentive to pursue the benefit. Similarly with respect to the political issue of world government, Yunker’s position is that the people of all nations are over-estimating the risks to themselves (a perceived cost) of pursuing the recognized benefits of such a government. This is because they are erroneously imagining that the only feasible form that world government can assume is that of the omnipotent world state, and thereby are failing to take adequate account of the possibility of limited world government.
Practicality of Federal World Government
The fundamental motivation for world government throughout modern history has been a desire to halt the prodigious amount of premature death, bodily injury, physical destruction and mental anguish imposed upon humanity by our innate propensity toward hostility and violence toward one another. The final stage of World War II witnessed the detonation of atomic bombs over the unfortunate Japanese cities of
Dozens of world government proposals were put forward throughout the course of the twentieth century. Most of them repose in profound obscurity. However, as mentioned earlier the highly ephemeral post-World War II world government boom produced two proposals that achieved a modest level of general recognition: those of Giuseppe Borgese, and Grenville Clark and Louis Sohn. The Borgese and Clark-Sohn proposals are exemplary of the typical postwar world government proposal in three critical respects. First, the world legislature follows commendably democratic principles, with the inevitable result that representatives from the relatively poor nations of the world would dominate the voting. The possibility would exist that a substantial majority of the legislature would have a predisposition toward the establishment of a global welfare state whereby the citizens of the rich nations would be heavily taxed in order to finance generous welfare entitlements benefiting the citizens of the poor nations. Second, the typical twentieth century world government proposal stipulates that membership in the world federation would be universal, permanent and irreversible. Any movement by a member nation toward withdrawing from the world federation would be viewed as treasonous and met by force. Therefore, rich nations unwilling to participate in a radical global income redistribution project undertaken by the world federation would not be able to legally and peacefully leave the federation. The third critical characteristic is that the member nations would be fully disarmed, and all large-scale military forces and heavy armament would be concentrated under the authority of the world federation. What this means is that if the world federation were to undertake a radical global income redistribution project, rich nations unwilling to participate in this project and desirous of leaving the federation, would possess no military power with which to enforce this desire.
The typical post-World War II world government proposal, motivated as it is by the overriding purpose of reducing the threat of nuclear war, is basically oblivious of this problem. The traditional world government advocate would respond to objections based on this problem with the assertion that the threat of nuclear holocaust without world government is far greater than the threat of global tyranny with world government, whether this tyranny comes about owing to radical global income redistribution or anything else. The impotence of the world federalist movement throughout the Cold War, at a time when instantaneous nuclear disaster was a far greater danger than it is today, is sufficient testimony to the unpersuasiveness of this assertion.
However, it does not require great genius, but only a modicum of mental flexibility, to perceive that there are practical alternatives to the typical omnipotent world government proposal, alternatives that would respond plausibly to the problem outlined, as well as to others of a similar nature. The proposal for a Federal Union of Democratic Nations, described above, envisions a limited world government very much distinct from the typical world government proposal—yet that would represent an authentic global government entity a quantum leap beyond the United Nations.
To reiterate, the three critical characteristics enumerated above of the typical world government proposal are as follows: (1) the voting principle in the world government legislature would place dominant voting power in the hands of representatives from poor nations; (2) member nations could not legally and peacefully withdraw from the world federation; (3) member nations could not maintain large-scale military forces and heavy armament under their own control. The three critical characteristics of the alternative world government proposal for a Federal Union of Democratic Nations are respectively as follows: (1) the “dual voting” principle in the world government legislature would preclude the passage of any legislation on which the rich nations and the poor nations could not achieve consensus; (2) member nations would have a permanent and inalienable right to withdraw from the Federal Union at any time; (3) member nations would have a permanent and inalienable right to maintain whatever military forces and heavy armament (including nuclear weapons) they desire.
Obviously these limitations on the world government, which are necessary to evade the possibility of global tyranny and to permit its foundation in a world still very much under the influence of nationalistic pride and prejudice, would constrain its effectiveness in the short run. But limited effectiveness does not mean no effectiveness. The existence and operation of the Federal Union of Democratic Nations would slowly but steadily enhance that positive spirit of cosmopolitan toleration which facilitates international cooperation and coordination. In this innovative view of federal world government, such worthwhile goals as economic equalization and general disarmament are not viewed as short-term objectives to be accomplished immediately upon the formation of the world government. They are viewed rather as long-term goals which probably would not be fully accomplished for many decades. In other words, the foundation of a world government would not be the end of political evolution; rather it would be the next step in the long-term political evolutionary process leading from the tens of thousands of small tribal groupings of prehistory to the 200-odd nation-states of today.
Advisability of Federal World Government
Few people doubt that the world is currently a much safer place than it was forty years ago. The abandonment of Marxist ideology by the components and satellites of the ex-Soviet
During the Cold War, it was routinely asserted that world government was no longer necessary to alleviate the threat of nuclear world war, because nuclear weapons had made such a war so immensely destructive that the rationality of mankind would forever preclude one from happening. Now that the Cold War is over, it is routinely asserted that world government is even more unnecessary because voluntary cooperation among the nations will accomplish anything worthwhile that a world government would have accomplished. In other words, informal “global governance” is just as efficacious as formal “global government.”26
Advocates of world government are typically dismissed as “utopian dreamers.” But what may in fact be a “utopian dream” is that the development of cosmopolitan tolerance and mutual respect among sovereign and independent nations, subject to no higher political authority than themselves, will forever spare human civilization from a nuclear war for which the weapons are ready and waiting. Skeptics allege that humanity is not sufficiently rational to establish a world government. On what basis, however, do these skeptics also imply that humanity is sufficiently rational to forever avoid nuclear war under the sovereign nation-state system?
That the collapse and dissolution of the
That certain terrorist organizations would happily carry out such an action—were they in possession of a nuclear device—was incontrovertibly established by the horrific events of
Meanwhile, there is unease in the rest of the world over what some perceive as unrestrained
Looking beyond today’s headlines, which are focused mainly on Iraq and Afghanistan, some analysts view apprehensively the “undemocratic”
Other analysts view the “rise of China” with misgivings (even though its current nuclear arsenal is only a fraction of
In Number 6 of The Federalist Papers, Alexander Hamilton, in response to the argument that there was no need for a closer political union among the thirteen original states because there was no foreseeable basis for future conflicts among them, wrote as follows:
A man must be far gone in Utopian speculation who can seriously doubt that, if these states should either be wholly disunited, or only united in partial confederacies, the subdivisions into which they might be thrown would have frequent and violent contests with each other. To presume a want of motives for such contests as an argument against their existence, would be to forget that men are ambitious, vindictive, and rapacious. To look for a continuation of harmony between a number of independent, unconnected sovereignties in the same neighborhood, would be to disregard the uniform course of human events, and to set at defiance the accumulated experience of the ages.
Although the ideological impediment to world government has been decisively weakened by the decline of the Cold War since 1991, and the economic impediment to world government could and should be tackled by means of a global Marshall Plan, even if we imagined a world perfectly homogeneous in ideological and economic terms, world government skeptics can cite several other “heterogeneities” in the world that represent both practical and psychological impediments to federal world government. These include racial differences, religious differences, linguistic differences, cultural differences, historical grievances, and so on. But these factors do not necessarily preclude political union. There are many large and successful nations in the world today that are dealing with these kinds of heterogeneity within their populations.
With respect to race, for example, the minority of African-Americans in the
As a matter of fact, the existence of heterogeneity within global human society is a strong reason for establishing as much political unification as possible. Political unification enables these sources of potential conflict and violence to be kept under better control. Under the sovereign nation-state system, irresponsible and misguided demagogues sometimes come to power by exploiting and inflaming such heterogeneities. For example, Adolf Hitler came to power by means of exploiting the historical grievance of the German people that (in their view) they had been mistreated by the victors in World War I. In that case, a little less than seven years elapsed—a split-second in historical perspective—between Hitler’s accession to power in January 1933 and the outbreak of World War II in September 1939. If we now wait around for one of Hitler’s reincarnations to come to power within a major nation, we will have waited too long.
The opportunities that we possess today to move forward toward global political unity are unparalleled in history. Continuing technological progress in transportation and communications have rendered the coordination problems of state entities in earlier eras effectively null and void. International commerce and investment, for the first time in history, have risen to such levels as to justify the term “world economy.” Especially now that the most controversial elements of Marxist ideology are in abeyance, there exists a remarkably high consensus, throughout the world, on some key and critical components of “the good and just society.” With
But at the same time, there are very serious problems, even leaving aside the persistence of large stockpiles of operational nuclear weapons: most significantly, the interrelated problems of runaway population growth and environmental degradation. A world government might greatly assist and facilitate humanity’s efforts to ameliorate these kinds of problems, which if not adequately checked could lead eventually to the downfall of human civilization.
It is not alleged by advocates of limited federal world government along the lines of Yunker’s proposed Federal Union of Democratic Nations that such a federation would instantly solve all the problems of the world, ranging from the threat of instantaneous nuclear holocaust to the possibility of gradual environmental collapse. The argument is rather that such a federation would provide firmer institutional support for long-term efforts to reduce these threats. In this view, world government is not perceived as the “end of history,” but rather simply as a tool for the more effective furtherance of the fundamental goal of global governance: that the human species survive and thrive on planet Earth into the indefinite future.
1 Alexander Wendt, “Why a World State Is Inevitable,” European Journal of International Relations 9(4), October 2003, pp. 491-542. A sampling of recent contributions to the IR literature that cite this article is as follows: Rosa Ehrenreich Brooks, “Failed States, or the State as Failure?” University of Chicago Law Review, 72(4), Autumn 2005, pp. 1159-1196; Raffeale Marchetti, “Global Governance or World Federalism? A Cosmopolitan Dispute on Institutional Models,” Global Society, 20(3), July 2006, pp. 287-305; James F. Keeley, “To the Pacific? Alexander Wendt as Explorer,” Millennium: Journal of International Studies, 35(2), 2007, pp. 417-430; Heikki Patomäki, “Rethinking Global Parliament: Beyond the Indeterminacy of International Law,” Widener Law Review, 13(2), 2007, pp. 375-393; Ronald Tinnevelt and Thomas Mertens, “The World State: A Forbidding Nightmare of Tyranny? Habermas on the Institutional Implications of Moral Cosmopolitanism,” German Law Journal , 10(1), 2009, pp. 63-80; Thomas G. Weiss, “What Happened to the Idea of World Government,” International Studies Quarterly, 53(2), June 2009, pp. 253-271; Cornelia Beyer, “Hegemony, Equilibrium and Counterpower: A Synthetic Approach,” International Relations, 23(3), September 2009, pp. 411-427; Mathias Koenig-Archibugi, “Is Global Democracy Possible?” European Journal of International Relations, 20(10), June 2010, pp. 1-24.
2 Vaughn P. Shannon, “Wendt’s Violation of the Constructivist Project: Agency and Why a World State is Not Inevitable,” European Journal of International Relations, 11(4), October 2005, pp. 581-587. Wendt’s response is contained in Alexander Wendt, “Agency, Teleology, and the World State: A Reply to Shannon,” European Journal of International Relations, 11(4), October 2005, pp. 589-598.
3 Eric A. Posner, “International Law: A Welfarist Approach,” University of Chicago Law Review, 73(2), , Spring 2006, 487-543.
4 Campbell Craig, “The Resurgent Idea of World Government,” Ethics & International Affairs, 22(2), Summer 2008, pp. 133-142; Luis Cabrera, “World Government: Renewed Debate, Persistent Challenges,” European Journal of International Relations, 16(3), 2010, pp. 511-530.
5 Anne-Marie Slaughter, A New World Order (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2004), p. 8.
6 Accounts of this period are contained in Joseph P. Baratta, The Politics of World Federation, two volumes (Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 2004), Derek Heater, World Citizenship and Government: Cosmopolitan Ideas in the History of Western Political Thought (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1996, Chapter 6), and James A. Yunker, The Idea of World Government: From Ancient Times to the Twenty-First Century (New York: Routledge, 2011, Chapter 4).
7 Giuseppe Borgese, Foundations of the World Republic (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1953); Grenville Clark and Louis Sohn, World Peace through World Law (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1958, 1960, 1967).
8 Borgese, Foundations of the World Republic, p. 104.
9 Clark and Sohn, World Peace through World Law, 3rd edition, p. xv.
10 Errol E. Harris. Earth Federation Now! Tomorrow Is Too Late (Radford, Virginia: Institute for Economic Democracy, 2005), p. 113.
11 Luis Cabrera, Political Theory of Global Justice: A Cosmopolitan Case for the World State (New York: Routledge, 2004); Louis P. Pojman, Terrorism, Human Rights, and the Case for World Government (Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield, 2006); Daniel Deudney, Bounding Power: Republican Security Theory from the Polis to the Global Village (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2007); Torbjörn Tännsjö, Global Democracy: The Case for a World Government (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2008); James A. Yunker, The Grand Convergence: Economic and Political Aspects of Human Progress (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010).
12 Kenneth H. Waltz, Man, the State and War: A Theoretical Analysis (New York: Columbia University Press, 1959), p. 228.
13 Quoted in Elliott R. Goodman, The Soviet Design for a World State (New York: Columbia University Press, 1960), p. 396.
14 Examples of concurring opinions regarding the insuperable impediment to world government represented by ideological conflict during the Cold War may be found at the following locations: Gerard J. Mangone, The Idea and Practice of World Government (New York: Columbia University Press, 1951), pp. 64-65; Stephen S. Goodspeed, The Nature and Function of International Organization, second edition (New York: Oxford University Press, 1967), pp. 662-663; Inis L. Claude, Swords and Plowshares: The Problems and Progress of International Organization, fourth edition (New York: Random House, 1971), p. 430.
15 Mark Amstutz, International Conflict and Cooperation: An Introduction to World Politics (New York, McGraw-Hill, 1999), p. 329.
16 Richard Falk, “A New Paradigm for International Legal Studies: Prospects and Proposals,” Yale Law Journal, 84(5), April 1975, pp. 969-1021.
17 Cabrera, Political Theory of Global Justice, p. 114.
18 Deudney, Bounding Power, p. 259.
19 James A. Yunker, “A Pragmatic Route toward Genuine Global Governance,” p. 148. In Errol E. Harris and James A. Yunker, eds., Toward Genuine Global Governance: Critical Reactions to “Our Global Neighborhood” (Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 1999).
20 The most extended treatment of the “blueprint specifics” of the Federal Union proposal is contained Chapter 2 (“A Pragmatic Blueprint for World Government”) of James A. Yunker, Political Globalization: A New Vision of Federal World Government (Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, 2007).
21 It needs to be emphasized that despite use of the word “democratic” in the tentative name of the supernational federation, there is no implied intention of “exporting democracy,” a notion that has come into extreme disrepute recently owing to the difficulties encountered by the US and UK in their military occupation of Iraq. These difficulties should not be allowed to obscure two very important points. First, democracy can be exported, as shown by the post-World War II history of Germany and Japan—albeit the “export costs,” both military and economic, are necessarily immense. Second, the inherent power of the basic democratic concept, despite numerous setbacks, has been thoroughly demonstrated by modern history. On the whole, therefore, it strengthens the case for world government that it be wedded to the democratic principle.
22 Although world federalists in the post-World War II era have viewed a world government primarily as an instrument for the reduction of the risk of a nuclear war among the superpowers, they have also viewed such a government as an instrument through which to overcome the long-term threat to international harmony and permanent peace represented by the economic gap between rich nations and poor nations. One of the earliest expressions of this particular vision was contributed by the historian Stringfellow Barr, a member of the “Committee to Frame a World Constitution” formed by Robert Hutchins and Giuseppe Borgese of the University of Chicago in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War. In 1950, following completion of the Committee’s work and the publication of their “Preliminary Draft of a World Constitution,” the University of Chicago Press published a 30-page pamphlet by Barr entitled “Let’s Join the Human Race.” The themes and ideas in this short tract were later amplified in his book Citizens of the World (New York: Doubleday, 1952), which boasted a Foreword by Justice William O. Douglas of the United States Supreme Court. Barr argued that the interdependent goals of world government and worldwide economic equalization should be pursued simultaneously, since neither one was likely to be a success in the absence of the other.
23 James A. Yunker, Common Progress: The Case for a World Economic Equalization Program (New York: Praeger, 2000). A somewhat revised and updated version of the research reported in the book is contained in James A. Yunker, “Could a Global Marshall Plan Be Successful? An Investigation using the WEEP Simulation Model,” World Development, 32(7), July 2004, pp. 1109-1137. A more recent, book-length updating and expansion of this line of research is contained in James A. Yunker, Global Marshall Plan: Theory and Evidence (Lanham, Md.: Lexington, 2013).
24 For a survey of the political science literature on the relationship between economic inequality and political instability, see Mark I. Lichbach, “An Evaluation of ‘Does Economic Inequality Breed Political Conflict?’” World Politics, 41(4), July 1989, pp. 431-470.
25 Presumably this more cautious approach would be endorsed by the Global Marshall Plan Initiative active in several Western European nations. None of the Initiative’s literature suggests a world federalist intent.
26 For a detailed critique of this proposition, see Chapter 5 (“Effective Global Governance without Effective Global Government: A Contemporary Myth”) in James A. Yunker, Rethinking World Government A New Approach (Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, 2005). See also the essays in Errol E. Harris and James A. Yunker, editors, Toward Genuine Global Governance: Critical Reactions to “Our Global Neighborhood” (Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 1999).
27 For example, Gary H. Kah, En Route to Global Occupation (Lafayette, LA: Huntington House, 1992).
28 For example, Danilo Zolo, Cosmopolis: Prospects for World Government (Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, 1997).
Professor of Economics