World governance


The dream of world government persists in many minds even if no credible global constitution has been presented. But the blessings of the idea itself are rarely denied. Only the implementation is seen as a problem. I maintain that the legitimate global exercise of power is an unsolvable equation. Instead ad hoc agreements between the major powers could gradually prepare a stable foundation for global cooperation and international jurisdiction. A group of major powers in peaceful cooperation could stand surety for international stability without losing their sovereign status.

United Nations

Disregarding misgivings on principle, it seems practically impossible to construct a plausible political mechanism which would bolster the authority of the United Nations. The divergence in population, resources, power and democratic maturity locates both adequate representation and a responsible executive in never-never land.

Many UN-organizations carry out valuable work but the United Nations as a political instrument was a stillborn idea. In the aftermath of the Second World War, the ambition was to master all the world problems in one fell swoop. Yet real progress generally takes place as a sequence of small steps, one item at a time. That is what has happened within or without the framework of the United Nations. A number of voluntary but very useful cooperative vehicles have emerged. On the other hand, the efforts to strengthen the UN politically seem to be doomed. No major powers will submit to UN authority when even minor nations defy the Security Council without serious consequences.

International justice is highly ambiguous and mostly dependant on the good will of the parties; a court without a police force at its disposal is actually a contradiction in terms. Even the proceedings against well-known mass-murderers, for example in Ruanda and Cambodia, have a deplorable tendency to fizzle out and turn into travesties of justice. A permanent International Criminal Court has been established to supplant the present ad hoc justice. The court is supported by more than one hundred nations, but the United States, China and Russia among others have so far refused to ratify the underlying treaty; the authority of the court will be correspondingly curtailed.

Presently, the United Nations and its organs seem to be above the law; they cannot be touched in any court. Soldiers in the service of the United Nations are exempt from prosecution despite overwhelming evidence of breach of duty, misbehavior and outright crime. At least those were the principles confirmed by a Dutch Court on July 10 2008. The broad immunity implied could be a foretaste of things to come.

Like all public bureaucracies, the United Nations has an inbuilt tendency to acquire new tasks, to extend its organization and to expand its budget. There is no shortage of urgent problems which are deemed to require the intervention or at least investigation by the UN or its associated bodies. The syndrome, so well known at the national level, is reappearing in a global format; all the aberrations of socialist centralized authority are haunting us under the aegis of the United Nations.

Mission impossible

I maintain that the legitimate global exercise of power is an unsolvable equation. Whatever way democratic principles are applied, a monopoly on forceful means is indispensable, as are enforceable rules for the administration, the judiciary and, above all, for the appointment and dismissal of those in power. Without such a structure society will fall apart. In the gigantic organization, corruption will grow like a cancer and will be ever harder to curb. Sooner or later the outcome will be stagnation, decay and breakdown.

It would be interesting to carry out a strict game-theoretic analysis of the problems of a world government. It is hard to believe that a stable homeostasis could prevail in a worldwide society; change is what keeps societies on track. And without competition between nations there is no need for change in the long term. Imperial China in its self-sufficiency is an instructive simulation model for global governance. Time and again, the country was driven into anarchy by way of stagnation.

During a world government, liberty will crumble. No country can exit the political community and find its own way. Individuals are burdened with the same lack of alternatives; radically different environments would be non-existent. Creativity will be short-changed for conformity, truth seeking for political correctness. Without genuine alternatives, speechifying about cultural diversity becomes just that much lip-service. Even if democratic formality could be maintained for some time, any combination of unfavorable circumstances could bring on a state of weakness and indecision. Then the peoples will clamor for the certainties of a new, tranquil world and its irremovable potentates.

We should hold on to a wide degree of decentralization in global affairs. Every nation must in the long term pull its own weight and be answerable for its own follies – otherwise we will never learn. What we could and should aim for, at this juncture, is a loose but world-wide coalition of perhaps a dozen democratic super powers or confederations in a state of self-disciplined collaboration. A new international order can never provide full coverage against catastrophe but it could give us a flexible, pluralistic arrangement, sorely needed for ecological co-operation and open to unlimited cultural evolution. Closer integration by a global government would presuppose exalted, extra-terrestrial goals for mankind, such as the systematic colonization of space.

Global self-organization

Before proceeding, the need for global coordination should be analyzed in more detail. The avoidance of a new, utterly destructive world war occupies pole position. So far this calamity has been avoided by the otherwise cantankerous international community. Next in order are the unruly rogue states which have been dealt with in another article. Most of the constructive tasks are already attended to by existing international bodies.

Still there are some glaring gaps and weaknesses. The defense against asteroid impact requires more structured international collaboration. The management of climate change lacks an authoritative coordination organ. The IPCC does not live up to this role, but the World Trade Organization (WTO) could be the right body to impose a global carbon dioxide tax. The World Health Organization is not up to its task to control contagious diseases, especially when a pandemic is looming. And deep-sea fishing should be strictly regulated by an international body to avoid imminent overfishing.

Instead of aiming at Utopian goals, we can augment existing voluntary organizations. The WTO has been a success ever since its forerunner, GATT (General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade), was founded in 1947. China joined in 2001 and Saudi Arabia, Vietnam and Ukraine are the latest arrivals, with Russia on the verge of signing on. Soon only the international pariahs are absent.

It bears repeating that poverty is not an affliction which can be remedied by superordinate global institutions. The task must be dealt with locally or regionally, supported by factual help and prudent capital injections. The same goes for the associated problems of deforestation, water supplies, soil erosion and salinization, as well as other local environmental challenges. Small scale assistance in the form of education and other means of knowledge transmission are advisable, but massive monetary support is usually more of a hindrance than a help. The population issue, too, must be managed locally. Every country has to straighten out its own over- or underpopulation. Large scale migrations are always destabilizing and sometimes destructive.

Can international self-organization comprise political decision making, too? The answer is affirmative. The EU and NATO are the best examples. Can the cooperation become worldwide? In the motley progression of Utopians, Immanuel Kant stands out as the most clearheaded. In Zum ewigen Frieden (1795) he puts forward three conditions for a workable global confederation. The first precondition is democratic regimes in all participating countries. Secondly, the cooperation must be founded on agreements between independent states. And finally, every country shall have the right to restrict immigration according to its own lights.

In The Shield of Achilles (2002), Philip Bobbitt presents a thorough historic analysis of international jurisprudence and the strategic alternatives of the democracies in a world of new threats and conflicts. He concludes that international law and order can be ascertained only when the primary actors negotiate new treaties on a contingent, case by case basis. All-encompassing agreements are habitually vague and unenforceable to boot.


If we boldly assume global democratization and concomitant prosperity in the world, the consequence will be that economic strength will be distributed roughly in proportion to the population. If we furthermore presume regional self-organization on the EU-model, the world will be divided into perhaps a dozen political blocks. Everyone would be untouchable and sufficient onto themselves – no one would need to be anxious about their neighbors. In such an atmosphere it would be possible for these major powers to assume joint responsibility for the ways of the world without the burden of a formally superior entity. They would cover the overwhelming majority of the global population. The remaining small nations could find accommodation under the protection of a neighboring power.

The hypothetical superpowers will be free to realize their intentions within a broad framework of voluntary international agreements which serve their joint superordinate interests – rogue states will not be tolerated. If democracy is the dominant form of government, as we hope, the risk of violent conflicts is much reduced; democracies will hardly be at each others’ throats. But this is not an indispensable condition. If all the superpowers have nuclear counter-strike capability they can feel safe. In a nuclear war there are no victors; presumptive world rulers are kept at bay.

Absolute security is out of this world. The question arises whether world peace is compatible with even a reduced nuclear capability. But trust is the driver of disarmament, not the other way round. As time goes by, the need for nuclear insurance will diminish and perhaps vanish.