Is it time for a World Government?

Is this a good time to resurrect the idea of a World Government? In these times of increasing nationalism and calls to “take back control” is it worth considering the value of the opposite approach – the value of increasing internationalism and passing control to an entity with global vision?

I have thought for a while now that we should be giving this some serious consideration, but what brought this to the front of my mind was a recent ‘Archive on 4’ programme on Radio 4 (The Dream of a World Government) in which David Miliband described first the birth and eventual failure of the League of Nations, and then the formation of the United Nations. The first of these was founded as result of the 1920 Paris Peace Conference that followed the First World War – an attempt to create an intergovernmental organisation that would prevent the recent recent horrors from occurring again. But occur again they did. So, in 1945 the League was replaced by the UN – an international organisation tasked to promote international cooperation and to create and maintain international order. I’ll leave you to judge the success of the UN, but I would suggest that any success has so far been partial, and is under increasing threat from resurgent nationalisms.

The next existential threat to humanity was not long in following, with the power of the UN again being shown to be marginal. In 1961, when the Cold War was in full swing and amidst the clear and widely held belief that a nuclear war could easily bring humanity to the brink of extinction, the British philosopher Bertrand Russell expressed his lack of faith in the ability of any national government to resolve matters. In his book Has Man a Future he argued that an international government of some kind was required to deal with the failures of national ones.

The threat of nuclear war may have retreated, but other existential threats to humans have emerged, and in many ways these are more intractable than those of nuclear war. These treats are trans-national. Whilst individual national governments can be persuaded, through economic, diplomatic or military means, to pull back from the brink, the threats facing humanity now are beyond the scope of any national government to do anything about. So whilst inter-governmental interventions could be highly effective in resolving nuclear threats, they are absolutely essential to the resolution of our current ones. Global climate change, world economic crises, global migration resulting from poverty or war, international terrorism, cyber security, and pandemics all pose existential threats to large numbers of humans, if not us all, and are all beyond the power of any national government to deal with. These threats have no respect for borders, so “taking back control of our borders” will prove futile. They can only be resolved through global cooperation, though our recognition of our global inter-dependence.

On the day I write this, Donald Trump is due to speak at the UN (the closest we have to an international government, but one made ineffective by the power of certain nations to veto any resolution). He is expected to assert yet again his motif of “America first”. Whilst this may be well received by many of his domestic supporters ahead of November’s mid-term elections, on the world stage it is deeply concerning. Whether we like it or not, all aspects of human life on this planet are highly connected and interdependent. And the complexity that is behind this interdependence is increasing daily. This needs to be acknowledged by our politicians. They are simply failing in their jobs if they fail to do so. Politicians need to be honest with the electorate, they need to tell them that certain things they want are just not possible. It is just not possible to put your own country first and to “take back control” of that country. Any national interest is best served by accepting its inter-dependence and that global cooperation is the only way forward. This needs facilitating, and perhaps even enforcing at times, by some form of world government.

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