A WORLD FEDERATION – Chapter 8: Federalism And Global Governance

“To coerce the states is one of the maddest projects that was ever devised… 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.” Alexander Hamilton, 1787

1 A personal note

I have been a World Federalist ever since 1954. Sixty-four years ago, I graduated from MIT and went on to do postgraduate work in theoretical physics at the University of Chicago. At that time, my political opinions were not very different from those of my parents, who were Eisenhower-supporting Republicans. I was very much against the institution of war, and in favor of world government. However, I thought that the establishment of a world authority would have to wait until most of the the member states had decent governments.


Figure 1: Alexander Hamilton believed that “To coerce the states is one of the maddest projects that was ever devised.”

At the University of Chicago, the general atmosphere was quite liberal, and I may have been influenced by it. But what really changed my mind was hearing a speech by a World Federalist named Vernon Nash. Besides convincing me that a world government ought to be a federation, he also made me see that if we waited until all the member states had governments of which we could approve, we would have waited too long. We need global governance precisely because of faults in the governments of the nations of the world. Vernon Nash had once been in favor of abolishing the United Nations and starting again from scratch with a World Constitutional Convention. He had justified this position by saying “No one has ever got across a ditch of any size in two jumps”.

However, other World Federalists had later made him see how impractical his position was, and he finally agreed that gradual reform of the UN was the best way to go forward. After studying the writings of the World Federalists, I reached beliefs that are very close to the ones that I hold today. I recently expressed these ideas in an article in Cadmus, a journal of the World Academy of Art and Science. You can find the article by typing “John Scales Avery, Cadmus” into a search engine. But what are the reforms that are needed? After the horrors of World War II, the United Nations was founded to eliminate the institution of war. However, the UN Charter drafted in 1945 was far too weak to achieve this goal because it was a confederation rather than a federation.

This was very similar to what happened during the early history of the United States: First a confederation was tried, but it soon proved to be too weak, and it was replaced by the present US federal constitution. The debates that occurred at that time are very relevant to UN reform today. George Mason, one of the architects of the federal constitution of the United States, believed that “such a government was necessary as could directly operate on individuals, and would punish those only whose guilt required it”, while James Madison (another drafter of the U.S. federal constitution) remarked that the more he reflected on the use of force, the more he doubted “the practicability, the justice and the efficacy of it when applied to people collectively, and not individually”. Finally, Alexander Hamilton, in his Federalist Papers, discussed the Articles of Confederation with the following words: “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 a 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.” In other words, the essential difference between a confederation and a federation, both of them unions of states, is that a federation has the power to make and to enforce laws that act on individuals, rather than attempting to coerce states (in Hamilton’s words, “one of the maddest projects that was ever devised.”) Other reforms are also needed: If the UN is to become an effective World Federation, it will need a reliable source of income to make the organization less dependent on wealthy countries, which tend to give support only to those interventions of which they approve.

A promising solution to this problem is the so-called “Tobin tax”, named after the Nobel-laureate economist James Tobin of Yale University. Tobin proposed that international currency exchanges should be taxed at a rate between 0.1 and 0.25 percent. He believed that even this extremely low rate of taxation would have the beneficial effect of damping speculative transactions, thus stabilizing the rates of exchange between currencies. When asked what should be done with the proceeds of the tax, Tobin said, almost as an afterthought, “Let the United Nations have it.” The volume of money involved in international currency transactions is so enormous that even the tiny tax proposed by Tobin would provide the United Nations with between 100 billion and 300 billion dollars annually. By strengthening the activities of various UN agencies, the additional income would add to the prestige of the United Nations and thus make the organization more effective when it is called upon to resolve international political conflicts. The budgets of UN agencies, such as the World Health Organization, the Food and Agricultural Organization, UNESCO and the UN Development Programme, should not just be doubled but should be multiplied by a factor of at least fifty.

With increased budgets the UN agencies could sponsor research and other actions aimed at solving the world’s most pressing problems – AIDS, drug-resistant infections diseases, tropical diseases, food insufficiencies, pollution, climate change, alternative energy strategies, population stabilization, peace education, as well as combating poverty, malnutrition, illiteracy, lack of safe water and so on. Scientists would would be less tempted to find jobs with armsrelated industries if offered the chance to work on idealistic projects. The United Nations could be given its own television channel, with unbiased news programs, cultural programs, and “State of the World” addresses by the UN Secretary General. In addition, the voting system of the United Nations General Assembly needs to be reformed, and the veto power in the Security Council need to be abolished (or alternatively, the Security Council could be abolished). So in 1954, convinced that war could only be eliminated by making the United Nations into a federation, I became an active World Federalist. In fact, during my stay at the University of Chicago, I became the Membership Chairman for the Chicago Area for the World Association of World Federalists.

james tobin

Figure 2: James Tobin. When asked what should be done with the proceeds of the tax, Tobin said, almost as an afterthought, “Let the United Nations have it.”

2 Strengthening the United Nations

It is becoming increasingly clear that the concept of the absolutely sovereign nation-state is a dangerous anachronism in a world of thermonuclear weapons, instantaneous communication, and economic interdependence. Probably our best hope for the future lies in developing the United Nations into a World Federation. The strengthened United Nations should have a legislature with the power to make laws that are binding on individuals, and the ability to arrest and try individual political leaders for violations of these laws.

The world federation should also have the power of taxation, and the military and legal powers necessary to guarantee the human rights of ethnic minorities within nations. In 1945, the victors of World War II gathered in San Francisco to draft the United Nations Charter. The tragic experiences of two world wars, during which the lives of 26 million soldiers and 64 million civilians were lost, had convinced them that security based on national military forces must be replaced by a system of collective security. The first paragraph of the Charter states that the primary purpose of the organization is “to maintain international peace and security, and to that end to take effective measures for the prevention and removal of threats to the peace, and for the suppression of acts of aggression and other breaches of the peace, and to bring about by peaceful means, and in conformity with the principles of justice and international law, adjustment or settlement of international disputes or situations which might lead to a breach of the peace.”

In practice, the United Nations has developed several effective modes of action peacekeeping, peacemaking, peacebuilding, preventative diplomacy and peace enforcement. Even though the organization has been hampered by Cold War tensions and frequently paralyzed by vetos in the Security Council, it nevertheless has made substantial contributions to global peace by resolving small-scale conflicts and by preventing large-scale ones. The term peacekeeping, in its narrow sense, is applied to operations where U.N. military personnel, often unarmed or only lightly armed, form a buffer between hostile forces in order to maintain a cease-fire. Peacemaking refers to U.N. assistance in the settlement of disputes or the resolution of conflicts. The term peacebuilding was coined in recent years, and it denotes broad and fundamental efforts to create global conditions which promote peace.

Thus peacebuilding includes all areas of international cooperation, including economic, social and humanitarian concerns. For example, U.N. action on problems of poverty, population, pollution, human rights, and the control of terrorism, narcotics and infectious disease all come under the heading of peacebuilding. In addition, the U.N. sometimes acts through preventative diplomacy, an example being the Secretary-General’s recent negotiation of an agreement on arms inspection in Iraq.

The term peace enforcement denotes active military intervention by the United Nations to stop aggression of one nation against another, for example in the Korean War or the Gulf War. During the half century which has passed since the founding of the United Nations, the need for effective government at the global level has greatly increased. Modern weapons have become so destructive that war is no longer an acceptable method for resolving international disputes. For this reason, and because of the enormous increase in global economic interdependence, we can no longer afford to have unlimited national sovereignty, with anarchy at the global level. We can clearly see that in the long run, security can only be achieved by an effective system of international law.

The United Nations is the only institution whose authority and structure are suited to constructing and enforcing such a system of law at the global level. U.N. membership includes all nations; and the U.N. has had half a century of experience in addressing global problems. The impartiality and neutrality of the Secretary-General are accepted and recognized, whereas regional organizations such as NATO cannot claim the same degree of impartiality. Thus it is urgent that the present U.N. Charter be made to function more justly and more effectively; and in the long run, the weaknesses of the present U.N. Charter must be corrected. There are numerous reasons why, during the coming century, war must be abolished as a social institution; and a few of these reasons are as follows: It is extremely important that research funds be used to develop renewable energy sources and to solve other urgent problems now facing humankind, rather than for developing new and more dangerous weapons systems. In spite of the end of the Cold War, the world still spends roughly 1.7 trillion U.S. dollars per year on armaments.

At present, more than 40 percent of all research funds are used for projects related to the arms industry. Since the Second World War, in spite of the best efforts of the U.N., there have been over 150 armed conflicts; and on any given day, there are an average of 12 wars somewhere in the world. While in earlier epochs it may have been possible to confine the effects of war mainly to combatants, in recent decades the victims of war have increasingly been civilians, and especially children. Civilian casualties often occur through malnutrition and through diseases which would be preventable in normal circumstances. Because of the social disruption caused by war, normal supplies of food, safe water and medicine are interrupted, so that populations become vulnerable to famine and epidemics. In the event of a nuclear war, starvation and disease would add greatly to the loss of life caused by the direct effects of nuclear weapons.

The indirect effects of war and the threat of war are also enormous. For example, the World Health Organization lacks funds to carry through an antimalarial programme on as large a scale as would be desirable; but the entire programme could be financed for less than the world spends on armaments in a single day. Five hours of world arms spending is equivalent to the total cost of the 20-year WHO programme which resulted, in 1979, in the eradication of smallpox.

With a diversion of funds consumed by three weeks of the military expenditures, the world could create a sanitary water supply for all its people, thus eliminating the cause of more than half of all human illness. It is often said that we are economically dependent on war-related industries; but if this is so, it is a most unhealthy dependence, analogous to drug-dependence or alcoholism. From a purely economic point of view, it is clearly better to invest in education, roads, railways, reforestation, retooling of factories, development of disease-resistant high-yield wheat varieties, industrial research, research on utilization of solar and geothermal energy, and other elements of future-oriented economic infrastructure, rather than building enormously costly warplanes and other weapons.

At worst, the weapons will contribute to the destruction of civilization. At best, they will become obsolete in a few years and will be scrapped. By contrast, investment in future-oriented infrastructure can be expected to yield economic benefits over a long period of time. It is instructive to consider the example of Japan and of Germany, whose military expenditures were severely restricted after World War II. The impressive post-war development of these two nations can very probably be attributed to the restrictions on military spending which were imposed on them by the peace treaty. As bad as conventional arms and conventional weapons may be, it is the possibility of a nuclear war that still poses the greatest threat to humanity. One argument that has been used in favor of nuclear weapons is that no sane political leader would employ them.

However, the concept of deterrence ignores the possibility of war by accident or miscalculation, a danger that has been increased by nuclear proliferation and by the use of computers with very quick reaction times to control weapons systems. With the end of the Cold War, the danger of a nuclear war between superpowers has diminished; but because of nuclear proliferation, there is still a substantial danger of such a war in the Middle East or in the India- Pakistan dispute, as well as the danger of nuclear blackmail by terrorists or political fanatics. Recent nuclear power plant accidents remind us that accidents frequently happen through human and technical failure, even for systems which are considered to be very “safe”. We must also remember the time scale of the problem.

To assure the future of humanity, nuclear catastrophe must be avoided year after year and decade after decade. In the long run, the safety of civilization cannot be achieved except by the abolition of nuclear weapons, and ultimately the abolition of the institution of war. In the long run, because of the terrible weapons which have been produced through the misuse of science, and because of the even more destructive weapons which are likely to be devised in the future, the only way that we can insure the survival of civilization is to abolish war as an institution. It seems likely that achievement of this goal will require revision and strengthening of the United Nations Charter. The Charter should not be thought of as cast in concrete for all time. It needs instead to grow with the requirements of our increasingly interdependent global society. We should remember that the Charter was drafted and signed before the first nuclear bomb was dropped on Hiroshima; and it also could not anticipate the extraordinary development of international trade and communication which characterizes the world today.

Among the weaknesses of the present U.N. Charter is the fact that it does not give the United Nations the power to make laws which are binding on individuals. At present, in international law, we treat nations as though they were persons: We punish entire nations by sanctions when the law is broken, even when only the leaders are guilty, even though the burdens of the sanctions fall most heavily on the poorest and least guilty of the citizens, and even though sanctions often have the effect of uniting the citizens of a country behind the guilty leaders. To be effective, the United Nations needs a legislature with the power to make laws which are binding on individuals, and the power to to arrest individual political leaders for flagrant violations of international law. Another weakness of the present United Nations Charter is the principle of “one nation one vote” in the General Assembly. This principle seems to establish equality between nations, but in fact it is very unfair: For example it gives a citizen of China or India less than a thousandth the voting power of a citizen of Malta or Iceland. A reform of the voting system is clearly needed. The present United Nations Charter contains guarantees of human rights, but there is no effective mechanism for enforcing these guarantees. In fact there is a conflict between the parts of the Charter protecting human rights and the concept of absolute national sovereignty.

Recent history has given us many examples of atrocities committed against ethnic minorities by leaders of nation-states, who claim that sovereignty gives them the right to run their internal affairs as they wish, free from outside interference. One feels that it ought to be the responsibility of the international community to prevent gross violations of human rights, such as the use of poison gas against civilians (to mention only one of the more recent political crimes); and if this is in conflict with the notion of absolute national sovereignty, then sovereignty must yield. In fact, the concept of the absolutely sovereign nation-state as the the supreme political entity is already being eroded by the overriding need for international law. Recently, for example, the Parliament of Great Britain, one of the oldest national parliaments, acknowledged that laws made by the European Community take precedence over English common law. Today the development of technology has made global communication almost instantaneous.

We sit in our living rooms and watch, via satellite, events taking place on the opposite side of the globe. Likewise the growth of world trade has brought distant countries into close economic contact with each other: Financial tremors in Tokyo can shake New York. The impact of contemporary science and technology on transportation and communication has effectively abolished distance in relations between nations. This close contact and interdependence will increasingly require effective international law to prevent conflicts. However, the need for international law must be balanced against the desirability of local self-government. Like biological diversity, the cultural diversity of humankind is a treasure to be carefully guarded. A balance or compromise between these two desirable goals could be achieved by granting only a few carefully chosen powers to a strengthened United Nations with sovereignty over all other issues retained by the member states.

The United Nations has a number of agencies, such as the World Health Organization, the Food and Agricultural Organization, and UNESCO, whose global services give the UN considerable prestige and de facto power. The effectiveness of the UN as a global authority could be further increased by giving these agencies much larger budgets. In order to do this, and at the same time to promote the shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources, it has been proposed that the U.N. be given the power to tax CO2 emissions. The amount of money which could thus be made available for constructive purposes is very large; and a slight increase in the prices of fossil fuels could make a number of renewable energy technologies economically competitive. It has also been proposed that the United Nations should be given the power to impose a small tax on international currency transactions. The amount of money involved in these transactions is so large that even a few hundredths of a percent in tax on each transaction would be sufficient to solve the financial problems of the United Nations. A United Nations tax on air travel has also been proposed.

The United Nations regular budget in 1992 amounted to 1.03 billion U.S. dollars. In addition, UNICEF, the U.N. Development Programme, and the World Food Programme used several billion dollars, but funds for these agencies were raised by voluntary contributions. Finally, in 1992, peacekeeping operations cost the U.N. 2.7 billion dollars. These sums seem very small when they are compared with the 1.7 trillion dollars which the world spends annually on armaments; and the reluctance of some nations to pay their dues to the U.N. seems shortsighted. It may be that the nations which starve the U.N. financially do so deliberately, in order to make the organization easier to control. They can then give financial support selectively to those interventions of which they approve. For this reason, the provision of a reliable income for the United Nations would have the effect of freeing it from undue influence by any nation, making it more impartial. Impartiality may prove to be the key factor required to give the U.N. the moral authority needed to settle disputes and to maintain peace with a minimum use of force.

The task of building a global political system which is in harmony with modern technology will require our best efforts, but it is not impossible. We can perhaps gain the courage needed for this task by thinking of the history of slavery. The institution of slavery was a part of human culture for so long that it was considered to be an inevitable consequence of human nature; but today slavery has been abolished almost everywhere in the world. The example of the dedicated men and women who worked to abolish slavery can give us courage to approach the even more important task which faces us today – the abolition of war.

3 The Success of Federations

european union

Figure 3: A map of the European Union. Existing federations like the EU can give us insights as we work to develop the United Nations into a federation.

Historically, the federal form of government has proved to be extremely robust and successful. Many of today’s nations are federations of smaller, partially autonomous, member states. Among these nations are Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Germany, India, Mexico, Russia, Spain, South Africa and the United States. The Swiss Federation is an interesting example, because it’s regions speak three different languages: German, French and Italian. In 1291, citizens of Uri, Schwyz and Unterwalden, standing on the top of a small mountain called Ru¨tli, swore allegiance to the first Swiss federation with the words “we will be a one and only nation of brothers”. During the 14th century, Luzern, Zu¨rich, Glarus, Zug and Bern also joined. Later additions during the 15th and 16th centuries included Fribourg, Solothurn, Basel, Schaffhausen and Appenzell.

In 1648 Switzerland declared itself to be an independent nation, and in 1812, the Swiss Federation declared its neutrality. In 1815, the French-speaking regions Valais, Neuchatel and Gen´eve were added, giving Switzerland its final boundaries. In some ways, Switzerland is a very advanced democracy, and many issues are decided by the people of the cantons in direct referendums. On the other hand, Switzerland was very late in granting votes to women (1971), and it was only in 1990 that a Swiss federal court forced Appenzell Innerrhoden to comply with this ruling. Switzerland was also very late in joining the United Nations (10 September, 2002). The Federal Constitution of United States of America is one of the most important and influential constitutions in history. It later formed a model for many other governments, especially in South America.

The example of the United States is especially interesting because the original union of states formed by the Articles of Confederation in 1777 proved to be too weak, and it had to be replaced eleven years later by a federal constitution. During the revolutionary war against England the 13 former colonies sent representatives to a Continental Congress, and on May 10, 1776, the Congress authorized each of the colonies to form its own local provincial government. On July 4, 1776 it published a formal Declaration of Independence. The following year, the Congress adopted the Articles of Confederation defining a government of the new United States of America. The revolutionary war continued until 1783, when the Treaty of Paris was signed by the combatants, ending the war and giving independence to the United States. However, the Articles of Confederation soon proved to be too weak.

The main problem with the Articles was that laws of the Union acted on its member states rather than on individual citizens. In 1887, a Constitutional Convention was held in Philadelphia with the aim of drafting a new and stronger constitution. In the same year, Alexander Hamilton began to publish the Federalist Papers, a penetrating analysis of the problems of creating a workable government uniting a number of semi-independent states. The key idea of the Federalist Papers is that the coercion of states is neither just nor feasible, and that a government uniting several states must function by acting on individuals. This central idea was incorporated into the Federal Constitution of the United States, which was adopted in 1788. Another important feature of the new Constitution was that legislative power was divided between the Senate, where the states had equal representation regardless of their size, and the House of Representatives, where representation was proportional to the populations of the states. The functions of the executive, the legislature and the judiciary were separated in the Constitution, and in 1789 a Bill of Rights was added. Because the states were initially distrustful of each other and jealous of their independence, the powers originally granted to the US federal government were minimal.

However, as it evolved, the Federal Government of the United States gradually became stronger, and bit by bit it became involved in an increasingly wide range of activities. The formation of the federal government of Australia is interesting because it illustrates the power of ordinary citizens to influence the large-scale course of events. In the 19th century, the six British colonies that were later to be welded into the Commonwealth of Australia imposed tariffs on each other, so that citizens living near the Murray River (for example) would have to stop and pay tolls each time they crossed the river. The tolls, together with disagreements over railways linking the colonies, control of river water and other common concerns, finally became so irritating that citizens’ leagues sprang up everywhere to demand federation.

By the 1890’s such federation leagues could be found in cities and towns throughout the continent. In 1893, the citizens’ leagues held a conference in Corowa, New South Wales, and proposed the “Corowa Plan”, according to which a Constitutional Convention should be held. After this, the newly drafted constitution was to be put to a referendum in all of the colonies. This would be the first time in history that ordinary citizens would take part in the nation-building process. In January, 1895, the Corawa Plan was adopted by a meeting of Premiers in Hobart, and finally, despite the apathy and inaction of many politicians, the citizens had their way: The first Australian federal election was held March, 1901, and on May 9, 1901, the Federal Parliament of Australia opened. Australia was early in granting votes for women (1903). Its voting system has evolved gradually. Today there is a system of compulsory voting by citizens for both the Australian House of Representatives and the Australian Senate. The successes and problems of the European Union provide invaluable experience as we consider the measures that will be needed to make the United Nations into a federation.

On the whole, the EU has been an enormous success, demonstrating beyond question that it is possible to begin with a very limited special-purpose federation and to gradually expand it, judging at each stage whether the cautiously taken steps have been successful. The European Union has today made war between its member states virtually impossible. This goal, now achieved, was in fact the vision that inspired the leaders who initiated the European Coal and Steel Community in 1950. The European Union is by no means without its critics or without problems, but, as we try to think of what is needed for United Nations reform, these criticisms and problems are just as valuable to us as are the successes of the EU. Countries that have advanced legislation protecting the rights of workers or protecting the environment complain that their enlightened laws will be nullified if everything is reduced to the lowest common denominator in the EU.

This complaint is a valid one, and two things can be said about it: Firstly, diversity is valuable, and therefore it may be undesirable to homogenize legislation, even if uniform rules make trade easier. Secondly, if certain rules are to be made uniform, it is the most enlightened environmental laws or labor laws that ought to be made the standard, rather than the least enlightened ones. Similar considerations would hold for a reformed and strengthened United Nations. Another frequently heard complaint about the EU is that it takes decision-making far away from the voters, to a remote site where direct political will of the people can hardly be felt. This criticism is also very valid. Often, in practice, the EU has ignored or misunderstood one of the basic ideas of federalism: A federation is a compromise between the desirability of local self-government, balanced against the necessity of making central decisions on a few carefully selected issues. As few issues as possible should taken to Bruxelles, but there are certain issues that are so intrinsically transnational in their implications that they must be decided centrally. This is the principle of subsidiarity, so essential for the proper operation of federations – local government whenever possible, and only a few central decisions when absolutely necessary. In applying the principle of subsidiarity to a world government of the future, one should also remember that UN reform will take us into new and uncharted territory.

Therefore it is prudent to grant only a few carefully chosen powers, one at a time, to a reformed and strengthened UN, to see how these work, and then to cautiously grant other powers, always bearing in mind that wherever possible, local decisions are the best. In the perspective of a longer time-frame, we need to work for a world where national armies will be very much reduced in size, where the United Nations will have a monopoly on heavy armaments, and where the manufacture or possession of nuclear weapons, as well as the export of arms and ammunition from industrialized countries to the developing countries, will be prohibited. (See reference 3). Looking towards the future, we can foresee a time when the United Nations will have the power to make and enforce international laws which are binding on individuals. Under such circumstances, true police action will be possible, incorporating all of the needed safeguards for lives and property of the innocent.

One can hope for a future world where public opinion will support international law to such an extent that a new Hitler or Saddam Hussein or a future Milosevic will not be able to organize large-scale resistance to arrest – a world where international law will be seen by all to be just, impartial and necessary – a well-governed global community within which each person will owe his or her ultimate loyalty to humanity as a whole.

The veto power in the Security Council must be eliminated

We should remember that the UN Charter was drafted and signed before the first nuclear bomb was dropped on Hiroshima; and it also could not anticipate the extraordinary development of international trade and communication which characterizes the world today. The five permanent members of the Security Council, China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States, were the victors of World War II, and were given special privileges by the Charter as it was established in 1945, among these the power to veto UN actions on security issues. In practice, the veto power of the P5 nations has made the UN ineffective, and it has become clear that changes are needed. If the Security Council is retained in a World Federation, the veto power must be eliminated.


The need for international law must be balanced against the desirability of local selfgovernment. Like biological diversity, the cultural diversity of humankind is a treasure to be carefully guarded. A balance or compromise between these two desirable goals can be achieved by granting only a few carefully chosen powers to a World Federation with sovereignty over all other issues retained by the member states. This leaves us with a question: Which issues should be decided centrally, and which locally? The present United Nations Charter contains guarantees of human rights, but there is no effective mechanism for enforcing these guarantees. In fact there is a conflict between the parts of the Charter protecting human rights and the concept of absolute national sovereignty.

Recent history has given us many examples of atrocities committed against ethnic minorities by leaders of nation-states, who claim that sovereignty gives them the right to run their internal affairs as they wish, free from outside interference. One feels that it ought to be the responsibility of the international community to prevent gross violations of human rights, such as genocide; and if this is in conflict with the concept of national sovereignty, then sovereignty must yield. In the future, overpopulation and famine are likely to become increasingly difficult and painful problems in several parts of the world. Since various cultures take widely different attitudes towards birth control and family size, the problem of population stabilization seems to be one which should be decided locally.

At the same time, aid for local family planning programs, as well as famine relief, might appropriately come from global agencies, such as WHO and FAO. With respect to large-scale migration, it would be unfair for a country which has successfully stabilized its own population, and which has eliminated poverty within its own borders, to be forced to accept a flood of migrants from regions of high fertility. Therefore the extent of immigration should be among those issues to be decided locally. Security, and controls on the manufacture and export of armaments will require an effective authority at the global level. The steps needed to convert the United Nations into a World Federation can be taken cautiously, one at a time. Having see the results of of a particular step, one can move on to the next. The establishment of the International Criminal Court is an important first step towards a system of international laws that acts on individuals. Another important step would be to give the UN a much larger and more reliable source of income. The establishment of a standing UN emergency military force is another step that ought to be taken in the near future.

4 Obstacles to a World Federation

It is easy to write down what is needed to convert the United Nations into a World Federation. But will not the necessary steps towards a future world of peace and law be blocked by the powerholders of today? Not everyone wants peace. Not everyone wants international law.1 The United Nations was established at the end of the most destructive war the world had ever seen, and its horrors were fresh in the minds of the delegates to the 1945 San Francisco Conference. The main purpose of the Charter that they drafted was to put an end to the institution of war. It was hoped that as a consequence, the UN would also end the colonial era, since war is needed to maintain the unequal relationships of colonialism. Neither of these things happened. War is still with us, and war is still used to maintain the intolerable economic inequalities of neocolonialism.

The fact that military might is still used by powerful industrialized nations to maintain economic hegemony over less developed countries has been amply documented by Professor Michael Klare in his books on Resource Wars. Today 2.7 billion people live on less than $2 a day – 1.1 billion on less than $1 per day. 18 million of our fellow humans die each year from poverty-related causes. In 2006, 1.1 billion people lacked safe drinking water, and waterbourne diseases killed an estimated 1.8 million people. The developing countries are also the scene of a resurgence of other infectious diseases, such as malaria, drug-resistant tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS. 2 Meanwhile, in 2011, world military budgets reached a total of 1.7 trillion dollars (i.e. 1.7 million million dollars). This amount of money is almost too large to be imagined. The fact that it is being spent means that many people are making a living from the institution of war. Wealthy and powerful lobbies from the military-industrial complex are able to influence mass media and governments.

Thus the institution of war persists, although we know very well that it is a threat to civilization and that it responsible for much of the suffering that humans experience. Today’s military spending of almost two trillion US dollars per year would be more than enough to finance safe drinking water for the entire world, and to bring primary health care and family planning advice to all. If used constructively, the money now wasted (or worse than wasted) on the institution of war could also help the world to make the transition from fossil fuel use to renewable energy systems. The way in which some industrialized countries maintain their control over less developed nations can be illustrated by the “resource curse”, i.e. the fact that resource-rich developing countries are no better off economically than those that lack resources, but are cursed with corrupt and undemocratic governments. This is because foreign corporations extracting local resources under unfair agreements exist in a symbiotic relationship with corrupt local officials. As long as enormous gaps exist between the rich and poor nations of the world, the task turning the United Nations into an equitable and just federation will be blocked. Thus we are faced with the challenge of breaking the links between poverty and war. Civil society throughout the world must question the need for colossal military budgets, since, according to the present UN Charter, as well as the Nuremberg Principles, war is a violation of international law, except when sanctioned by the Security Council. By following this path we can free the world from the intolerable suffering caused by poverty and from the equally intolerable suffering caused by war.

5 Governments of large nations

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, Australia, 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 nationstate 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.

Suggestions for further reading

  1. Francesco Stipo, World Federalist Manifesto. Guide to Political Globalization, (April 10, 2007), pages 1, 3, 21 and 136.

  2. Francesco Stipo, United Nations Reorganization. The Unification of the UN System, (April 21, 2007).

  3. International Commission on Peace and Food, Uncommon Opportunities: An Agenda for Peace and Equitable Development, 2nd Edition, pages 43-46, (2004).

  4. Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay, The Federalist Papers, (17871788), Project Gutenberg.

  5. Edith Wynner, World Federal Government in Maximum Terms: Proposals for United Nations Charter Revision, Fedonat Press, Afton N.Y., (1954).

  6. Grenville Clark and Louis B. Sohn, World Peace Through World Law, Harvard University Press, (1958).

  7. Bertrand Russell, Has Man A Future?, Penguin, Hammondsworth, (1961).

  8. Michael Klare, Resource Wars: The New Landscape of Global Conflict Owl Books, New York, (reprint edition 2002).

  9. Michael Klare, Rising Powers, Shrinking Planet: The New Geopolitics of Energy, Henry Holt & Company, (2008).

  10. Michael Klare, The Race for What’s Left: The Global Scramble for the World’s Last Resources, Metropolitan Books, (2012).

  11. United Nations General Assembly, Principles of International Law Recognized in the Charter of the Nu¨rnberg Tribunal and in the Judgment of the Tribunal, (1950).

  12. Bengt Broms, United Nations, Suomalainen Tiedeakatemia, Helsinki, (1990).

  13. S. Rosenne, The Law and Practice at the International Court, Dordrecht, (1985).

  14. S. Rosenne, The World Court – What It Is and How It Works, Dordrecht, (1995).

  15. J. D’Arcy and D. Harris, The Procedural Aspects of International Law (Book Series), Volume 25, Transnational Publishers, Ardsley, New York, (2001).

  16. H. Cullen, The Collective Complaints Mechanism Under the European Social Charter, European Law Review, Human Rights Survey, p. 18-30, (2000).

  17. S.D. Bailey, The Procedure of the Security Council, Oxford, (1988).

  18. R.A. Akindale, The Organization and Promotion of World Peace: A Study of UniversalRegional Relationships, Univ. Toronto Press, Toronto, Ont., (1976).

  19. J.S. Applegate, The UN Peace Imperative, Vantage Press, New York, (1992).

  20. S.E. Atkins, Arms Control, Disarmament, International Security and Peace: An Annotated Guide to Sources, 1980-1987, Clio Press, Santa Barbara, CA, (1988).

  21. N. Ball and T. Halevy, Making Peace Work: The Role of the International Development Community, Overseas Development Council, Washington DC, (1996).

  22. F. Barnaby, Ed., The Gaia Peace Atlas: Survival into the Third Millennium, Doubleday, New York, (1988)

  23. J.H. Barton, The Politics of Peace: An Evaluation of Arms Control, Stanford Univ. Press, Stanford, CA, (1981).

  24. W. Bello, Visions of a Warless World, Friends Committee on National Education Fund, Washington DC, (1986).

  25. A. Boserup and A. Mack, Abolishing War: Cultures and Institutions; Dialogue with Peace Scholars Elise Boulding and Randall Forsberg, Boston Research Center for the Twentyfirst Century, Cambridge, MA, (1998).

  26. E. Boulding et al., Bibliography on World Conflict and Peace, Westview Press, Boulder, CO, (1979).

  27. E. Boulding et al., Eds., Peace, Culture and Society: Transnational Research Dialogue, Westview Press, Boulder, CO, (1991).

A freely downloadable book

A new 418-page book entitled “A World Federation” may be downloaded and circulated gratis from the following link:


John Scales Avery is a theoretical chemist at the University of Copenhagen. He is noted for his books and research publications in quantum chemistry, thermodynamics, evolution, and history of science. His 2003 book Information Theory and Evolution set forth the view that the phenomenon of life, including its origin, evolution, as well as human cultural evolution, has its background situated in the fields of thermodynamics, statistical mechanics, and information theory. Since 1990 he has been the Chairman of the Danish National Group of Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs. During his tenure The Pugwash Movement won a nobel peace prize.  Between 2004 and 2015 he also served as Chairman of the Danish Peace Academy. He founded the Journal of Bioenergetics and Biomembranes, and was for many years its Managing Editor. He also served as Technical Advisor to the World Health Organization, Regional Office for Europe (1988-1997).

Support Countercurrents

Countercurrents is answerable only to our readers. Support honest journalism because we have no PLANET B.
Become a Patron at Patreon

Join Our Newsletter


Join our WhatsApp and Telegram Channels

Get CounterCurrents updates on our WhatsApp and Telegram Channels

Related Posts


Figure 1: L´aszlo´ Szombatfalvy, a highly successful Swedish businessman born in Budapest in 1927. His concern regarding threats to human civilization and the biosphere led him to establish the Global…

Join Our Newsletter

Annual Subscription

Join Countercurrents Annual Fund Raising Campaign and help us

Latest News