A World Federation Can Abolish the Institution of War
Why can’t the methods of peaceful national government be applied globally?
“With law shall our land be built up, but with lawlessness laid waste.” —Njal’s Saga, Iceland, c.1270 CE
The Present United Nations Charter
After the unspeakable horrors of World War II, delegates from 50 Allied nations met in San Francisco, California. The purpose of the conference, which took place between April 25 and June 26, 1945, was to set up an international organisation that would be able to abolish the institution of war. However, the Charter the delegates produced was too weak to achieve this goal.
In many respects the United Nations has been highly successful. During the 73 years that have passed since its establishment, a world war has been avoided. The agencies of the United Nations, such as the World Health Organisation, the Food and Agricultural Organisation, UNESCO and the IPCC, have provided urgently needed services to the international community.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the Millennium Development Goals have set goals towards which we can and should aim. And the UN has provided a place where representatives from many nations can meet for informal diplomacy, through which many dangerous conflicts have been avoided.
Nevertheless, the United Nations, with its present Charter, has proved to be too weak to achieve the purpose for which it was established – the complete abolition of the institution of war.
If civil wars are included, there are, on any given day, an average of 12 wars somewhere in the world. The task of abolishing war has become extremely urgent since the advent of thermonuclear weapons. The danger that these weapons will be used, through accident, technical or human error, or through the uncontrollable escalation of a war with conventional weapons, poses an existential threat to human civilisation and the biosphere.
The Russell-Einstein Manifesto of 1955 described our present situation in the following words:
“Here then is the problem that we present to you, stark and dreadful and inescapable: Shall we put an end to the human race, or shall mankind renounce war? … There lies before us, if we choose, continual progress in happiness, knowledge and wisdom. Shall we, instead, choose death becauswe cannot forget our quarrels? We appeal as human beings to human beings: Remember your humanity, and forget the rest. If you can do so, the way lies open to a new Paradise; if you cannot, there lies before you the risk of universal death.”
Why Call War an “Institution”?
Because the world spends almost two thousand billion dollars each year on armaments, it follows that very many people make their living from war. This is the reason why it is correct to speak of war as a social institution, and also the reason why war persists, although everyone realizes that it is the cause of much of the suffering that inflicts humanity.
We know that war is madness, but it persists. We know that it threatens the future survival of our species, but it persists, entrenched in the attitudes of historians, newspaper editors and television producers, entrenched in the methods by which politicians finance their campaigns, and entrenched in the financial power of arms manufacturers, entrenched also in the ponderous and costly hardware of war, the fleets of warships, bombers, tanks, nuclear missiles and so on.
Military-industrial complexes, throughout the world, drive and perpetuate the institution of war.
Each military-industrial complex involves a circular flow of money. The money flows like the electrical current in a dynamo, driving a diabolical machine. Money from immensely rich corporate oligarchs buys the votes of politicians and the propaganda of the mainstream media. Numbed by the propaganda, citizens allow the politicians to vote for obscenely bloated military budgets, which further enrich the corporate oligarchs, and the circular flow continues.
A World Federation
In order to save the world from destruction in a thermonuclear Third World War, the United Nations Charter must be reformed and strengthened. At present, the UN is a confederation of absolutely sovereign nation-states. But in a world of all-destroying modern weapons, instantaneous global communication, and economic interdependence, the absolutely sovereign nation-state has become a dangerous anachronism.
Furthermore, history has shown confederations to be fatally weak. For example, the original United States Constitution declared a confederation; but it soon became apparent that this form of governance was too weak. Instead, a federation was needed. In his Federalist Papers Alexander Hamilton wrote: “To coerce the states is one of the maddest projects that was ever devised… Can any reasonable man be well disposed towards a government which makes war and carnage the only means of supporting itself, a government that can exist only by the sword? Every such war must involve the innocent with the guilty. The single consideration should be enough to dispose every peaceable citizen against such government… What is the cure for this great evil? Nothing, but to enable the… laws to operate on individuals, in the same manner as those of states do.”
George Mason, one of the drafters of the Federal Constitution, believed that “such a government was necessary as could directly operate on individuals, and would punish those only whose guilt required it”, while another drafter, James Madison, wrote that the more he reflected on the use of force, the more he doubted “the practicality, the justice and the efficacy of it when applied to people collectively, and not individually.”
At present, the United Nations attempts to coerce states through sanctions – but sanctions are a form of collective punishment, and collective punishment is expressly forbidden by the Geneva Conventions. The worst effects of sanctions are usually felt by the weakest and least guilty of the citizens, while the guilty leaders are usually unaffected. Besides being a violation of the Geneva Conventions, sanctions are ineffective, their only effect being to unite the people of a country behind its guilty leaders.
The Success of Federations
A federation is a union of organisations to which specific powers are granted, all other powers being retained by the subunits. Historically, federations have proven to be highly successful and durable.
Examples of political federations include the European Union, the Federal Republic of Germany, the Swiss Federation, the Russian Federation, the Federal Government of the United States, and the governments of Australia and Brazil.
Besides political federations, many other kinds exist, examples being Universal Postal Union, established by the Treaty of Bern in 1874, and the International Tennis Federation, founded in 1913.
Laws Binding on Individuals
In general, political federations have the power to make laws which are binding on individuals, thus avoiding the need to coerce their member states. An effective World Federation would need to have the power to make laws that act on individuals. The International Criminal Court is an important step towards the establishment of a system of international law that acts on individuals rather than on states, and the ICC deserves our wholehearted support.
Greatly Increased Financial Support for the UN
A very important step towards strengthening the United Nations would be to give it at least 50 times the financial support that it has today. At present the entire yearly budget of the UN is only USD 2.7 billion, a ridiculously low figure, considering the organisation’s duty to ensure peace, law, human rights, social justice, respect for the environment, human health, and a safe food supply for the entire world.
If the financial support of the United Nations were greatly increased, its agencies could perform their vitally important duties much more effectively. This would give the UN increased prestige and authority, and the UN would thus be better able to resolve political disputes.
Various methods for increasing the money available to the UN have been proposed. For example James Tobin, who was Sterling Professor of Economics at Yale University, and a Nobel laureate in economics, proposed that international currency transactions be taxed at a small fraction of a percent. He believed that even this extremely small tax would make exchange rates much more stable.
When asked what should be done with the proceeds of the tax, Tobin added, almost as an afterthought, “Give it to the United Nations.”
In fact, the volume of international currency transactions is so enormous that even the tiny tax proposed by Tobin would be sufficient to solve all the UN’s financial problems.
A Standing UN Emergency Force
The United Nations is often called on to act quickly in emergency situations, an example being the call for the UN to stop the Rwandan genocide. It would be helpful if the UN had a standing armed force which could act quickly in such emergency situations. The force could consist of volunteers from around the world, pledged to loyalty to humanity as a whole, rather than loyalty to any nation.
A Reformed Voting System
In the present UN General Assembly, each nation is given one vote regardless of size. This means that Monaco, Liechtenstein, Malta and Andorra have as much voting power as China, India, the United States and Russia combined. For this reason, UN resolutions are often ignored.
The voting system of the General Assembly should be reformed. One possible plan would be for final votes to be cast by regional blocks, each block having one vote. The blocks might be: 1) Latin America 2) Africa 3) Europe 4) North America 5) Russia and Central Asia 6) China 7) India and Southeast Asia 8) The Middle East and 9) Japan, Korea and Oceania.
In a reformed, democratised and possibly renamed Security Council, the veto power would be absent, and final votes would be taken between regions of roughly equal populations.
Hope for the Future
Can we abolish the institution of war? Can we hope and work for a time when the terrible suffering inflicted by wars will exist only as a dark memory fading into the past?
I believe that this really is possible. The problem of achieving internal peace over a large geographical area is not insoluble. It has already been solved. There exist today many nations or regions within each of which there is internal peace, and some of these are so large that they are almost worlds in themselves. One thinks of China, India, Brazil, the Russian Federation, the United States, and the European Union. Many of these enormous societies contain a variety of ethnic groups, a variety of religions and a variety of languages, as well as striking contrasts between wealth and poverty.
If these great land areas have been forged into peaceful and cooperative societies, cannot the same methods of government be applied globally?
Today, there is a pressing need to enlarge the size of the political unit from the nation-state to the entire world. The need to do so results from the terrible dangers of modern weapons and from global economic interdependence. The progress of science has created this need, but science has also given us the means to enlarge the political unit: Our almost miraculous modern communications media, if properly used, have the power to weld all of humankind into a single supportive and cooperative society.
We live at a critical time for human civilisation, a time of crisis. Each of us must accept their individual responsibility for solving the problems that are facing the world today.
We cannot leave this to the politicians. It is what we have been doing until now, and the results have been disastrous.
Nor can we trust the mass media to give us adequate public discussion of the challenges that we are facing.
We have a responsibility towards future generations to take matters into our own hands, to join hands and make our own alternative media, to work actively and fearlessly for better government and for a better society.
We, the people of the world, not only have the facts on our side; we also have numbers on our side. The vast majority of the world’s peoples long for peace. The vast majority long for the abolition of nuclear weapons, and for a world of kindness and cooperation, a world of respect for the environment.
No one can make these changes alone, but together we can do it. Together, we have the power to choose a future where international anarchy, institutionalised injustice and chronic war will be replaced by democratic and humane global governance; a future where the madness and immorality of war will be replaced by the rule of law.
We need a sense of the unity of all mankind to save the future, a new global ethic for a united world. We need politeness and kindness to save the future, politeness and kindness not only within nations but also between nations.
To save the future, we need a just and democratic system of international law; for with law shall our land be built up, but with lawlessness laid waste.
John Scales Avery is the author of A World Federation (2018) which can be downloaded and circulated for free here (pdf).