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Home Current Issue Federalist Action Humanity beyond the United Nations

Humanity beyond the United Nations

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  • Autore:

    Joseph Preston Baratta

  • Titolo:

    Professor of World History and International Relations at Worcester State College, MA, USA

Augusto Lopez-Claros, Arthur L. Dahl, and Maja Groff

Global Governance and the Emergence of Global Institutions for the 21st Century

Cambridge University Press, 2020 *


The coronavirus pandemic makes this a timely book. It is a splendid contribution to academic debate on the future of the United Nations Organization. It should come to the attention of national foreign policy elites as well as to internationalists and federalists everywhere. It joins three recent substantial works on UN reform in the age of globalization – Leinen and Bummel’s A World Parliament,[i] the Stimson Center and Hague Institute on Global Justice’s Confronting the Crisis of Global Governance,[ii] and Joseph Schwartzberg’s Transforming the United Nations System.[iii]

Lopez-Claros (Bolivian) is an economist with 30 years experience in international organizations, most recently the World Bank; Dahl (Swiss) is an ecologist with 50 years experience, particularly with the UN Environment Programme; and Groff (Canadian) is an international legal officer based in The Hague and an expert on multilateral treaties. They won a major prize of Sweden’s Global Challenges Foundation. The lead author expanded the work during a year as a visiting fellow at the Edmund Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University, where he had the benefit of Dean Joel Hellman and a wide range of American scholars and officials.

The authors’ aim is “to extend to the international level the same principles of sensible governance that exist in well-governed national systems: rule of law, legislation in the common interest, an executive branch to implement such legislation, and courts to enforce it.” They propose quite radical reforms, going back to the origins of the UN, and update the Clark-Sohn Plan[iv] for the systematic amendment of the Charter. Like Clark, they assume that availability of a specific plan of UN reform will inspire action to achieve it.

They propose to gradually transform the General Assembly into an assembly of state representatives, indirectly elected by national parliaments (not appointed nor instructed by national governments) and ultimately elected by popular national vote, with powers based on weighted voting. The weights would be determined as an average of world population and GDP shares plus a membership share equal for all 193 states members. Numbers of representatives would be proportional to each member’s voting share, updated from time to time by the GA. The authors take no view of an ideal size, but for a GA of 600, India would have 48 representatives, China 72, and U.S.A. 50.[v] The one-nation, one-vote rule would be replaced by a system of “degressive proportionality” – the nearest conceivable principle of working democracy. That would transform the GA effectively into a world legislature acting by majority rule. They would then give the GA primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security. The long postponed International Peace Force would by definite steps of disarmament replace national armed forces and be put under the control of the world legislature.

They propose to transform the Security Council into an Executive Council for the enforcement of the world laws to secure the peace and (new!) preserve the environment. The new EC would have 24 members, five initially guaranteed seats (U.S.A., E.U., China, India, Russia) and 19 regional representatives. They would have voting power equal to their proportional weights, as in the GA. No state would have a veto.

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) would be upgraded as in well-organized democratic states. The distinction in international relations between legal and political disputes would be shifted very much toward the legal, whereas now almost any dispute other than the interpretation of a treaty is treated as political. Peaceful settlement would be made obligatory, in a much expanded rule of law. They mention a new global “Mediation and Conciliation Commission,” following earlier proposals of Clark and Sohn for a world equity tribunal for the resolution of political disputes, prior to formal adjudication by the ICJ. They would create a Civil Society Chamber for the accommodation of the nongovernmental organizations. And, optionally in the transition, they would create a popularly elective World Parliamentary Assembly as a second chamber of the world legislature, more directly representative of peoples (size 567). In effect, the authors propose a significant strengthening of the UN system, giving it enhanced powers to more effectively address questions of peace and security, plus management of the global commons. They do not restrict the term “governance,” as is usual, to degrees of voluntary international cooperation, adherence to new norms, functional growth to political union, and the like, but allow it to merge naturally, with the rule of law reaching to individuals, in a “government.”

Dispute about the design of a new world order will not be the focus of this review. The authors basically propose a maximal world government in order to preserve the peace, save the environment, and promote justice. Other scholars, like Lucio Levi in The Democratization of International Institutions, would create in place of the General Assembly an elective Parliamentary Assembly, rather like the European Parliament, and in place of the Security Council a second house representative of the regions.[vi] Jeffrey Sachs, in a new book also devoted to the global crisis, proposes nothing more radical than realistic next steps toward implementing the UN's sustainable development goals.[vii] Almost any aspiring founding father (or mother) has their own scheme. That is like the split in ideal designs of world federation in the 1940s: there were the Atlantic unionists vs. the universalists, the minimalists vs. the maximalists, and the gradualists vs. the revolutionaries. Their disputes provoked the quip: “The world federalists, who aim to unite the world, cannot even unite themselves!”[viii]

One crucial issue is whether the world legislature should be unicameral or bicameral. Grenville Clark held that it should be unicameral, for democratic legislatures are prone to paralysis and inability to form a majority, which would be a dangerous situation for a representative institution responsible for international peace and security. Hence Lopez-Claros and coauthors focus on just the General Assembly. Most writers prefer a second house to check the first. No amount of argument could settle the question of design. We should expect the design to be settled by negotiations, and the result will probably look different from any historic form, for Humanity has never before been united politically.

The political transition to this comprehensive scheme of UN reform will be the focus of this brief review. The authors often discuss the transition – especially the necessity of reforms to meet global problems, the need for a crisis to motivate action, a call for new leadership, enhanced public opinion – but the politics of the transition is very rudimentary today. Why would Americans or any nation entrust their security to a legislative assembly largely composed of foreigners? How could the veto be so lightly abandoned by powerful states expected to supply the funds and the personnel of an International Peace Force? If the reformed UN had the power to pursue justice and human rights, would it not have to be empowered to interfere in the domestic jurisdiction of states, now protected by Article 2(7) of the Charter? Will the World Court, even if granted powers comparable to the U.S. Supreme Court or the European Court of Justice, be obeyed for the peaceful settlement of international disputes?

The authors regard non-interference into the domestic jurisdiction of states (Article 2(7)) as bereft in recent decades of meaningful “protections” of the people. It does not protect us from climate change, nor pandemics like COVID-19, nor breakdowns of the global financial system. Indeed, the main benefit of Article 2(7) has been to coddle tyrants and mass murderers and to hide human rights abuses. But I remind the authors that Article 2(7) was not put into the Charter to protect people, but rather to protect the sovereignty of states. It goes back to the treaty of Westphalia, and most recently it protected the United States from outside interference in its abolition of racial segregation, and the Soviet Union in its dismantling of the Gulag prison camps. Omission of Article 2(7) from a future amended UN Charter would mark the end of the absolute sovereignty of states. The authors intend that meaning.

The politics to make these reforms happen hardly exist today. The world leaders willing to introduce them have yet to appear. Which leaders are now going to tell their people that they must prepare to elect international legislators and accept economic changes to arrest climate change or pay even modest world taxes? The book is already very large, and the authors could hardly be faulted for only hinting in many places at the changes necessary in world politics. Their work might serve as a negotiating text in some future general conference (UN Agenda 2030?), if only the politics might be prepared.

Busy people might skip the detailed proposals and start with Chapter 20 on the “values and principles” of “good governance” in order to start. There the authors reflect on enforcement of the laws after further world cultural integration:

The foundation of any system of justice is reward and punishment. Yet a legal system that relies primarily on police systems, courts, and prisons is inefficient, expensive and socially damaging, locking people away when they could be contributing to society. A citizenry motivated by high ideals, educated to good morals and with a conscience regarding right and wrong has little need for such machinery of justice: the same is true at the international level and with respect to the highest levels of political leadership.[ix]

The necessity of a more perfect union of the globe can be inferred from a modern reading of Hamilton, Madison, and Jay’s The Federalist: it would protect the states members from aggression, safeguard them from international anarchy and faction, preserve their freedoms in a secure system of rule of law, fairly regulate commerce, and maintain popular government.[x] Lopez-Claros and others mention the revolutionary character of their proposals but assume that progress can be made by continuing current international practice. They argue that global problems, like climate change – or lately, global pandemics – beyond the capacity of sovereign states to solve alone, require UN reform. But the fate of the Paris Accords of 2015 do not augur well for that. New leaders are needed. The goal is a “slow process of integration,” even a “fundamental transformation in society,” a “paradigm shift.” Who now appears to be such a leader? Not Madeleine Albright (84), judging by her silence. The authors imagine further integration (identity) will take an immense work of education in “values” by all humanity, which, by the pace of European integration, will take many decades if not a century.

The argument for the transition is most concentrated in the chapter on disarmament. Why should nations disarm? To save the money wasted on arms and to make possible a more rational world politics. In case of violation of agreements by national leaders, the authors presume that UN marshals would arrest the individual violators, in proper exercise of the police power of higher authority. Who constitutes that authority? Humanity in the reformed General Assembly! Finally the authors are forced into the corner of what the International Peace Force would do in case of serious, armed resistance. They answer stoutly, “In extreme cases, [it would] intervene if any country tries to destabilize the disarmament process to its own advantage.[xi] Now, use of legitimate force (perhaps disguised as humanitarian intervention) will look like war, or more technically international civil war. Such a challenge to the reformed UN is predictable. This admission opens the whole question of violence in future world politics. By historical precedents, war, more than negotiations, will produce the new values of global governance. No state or federation has been created without the agency of war. College classes can help in education, but the hard lessons will be learned in the struggle for a new world order.

How do we find a way forward? That is the burden of this book. The authors assume that “principles of sensible governance”, well established in the domestic order of national states, can still be applied to the international order. They assume that an amended Charter, like treaties, will be well observed, despite neglect of now over 100 human rights instruments and Articles 2(2), 2(4), 4, and 25, by the U.S.A. and NATO in wars in Kosovo and Iraq. “Globalization is unfolding,” they confidently affirm, “in the absence of equivalent progress in the creation of an international institutional infrastructure that can support it and enhance its potential for good.” The book is full of appeals for a good global governance system, one that will approach justice. They naturally were attracted by the Chicago Plan for a world system devoted to justice no less than peace and security.[xii] They were influenced by my own comment on the Chicago plan — “a repository of clear world political analysis, of prescription adequate to the ends of international organization, indeed, of wisdom, which someday may provide an invaluable guide to world statecraft at a more auspicious hour of our global regeneration.”[xiii]

What authority could produce the necessary UN reforms patiently outlined in this book? The Big Five, as in founding the UN in 1945, do not currently seem interested. The sole surviving superpower is still in the grip of exceptionalism, though leading historian of U.S. national security policy Andrew Bacevich finds the United States exhausted and disillusioned at the end of its late wars to spread “freedom” about the globe. Though he foresees a “fresh understanding of the nation’s purpose,” he never imagines that it could be to return to the UN, or to guide those choosing the profession of arms to undertake service truly for freedom and justice in an International Peace Force.[xiv] Other American scholars, like Ed Luck in Mixed Messages, trace the history of U.S. resistance to international organizations because of a claimed mission to expand the sphere of liberty.[xv] Many countries feel exceptional, and America is not the only one expected to “push back.” America, however, should be a leader in the new cause, judging by her revolutionary origins, dynamic expansion, and progressive reforms. Nevertheless, Lopez-Claros expects an initiative from middle powers like Sweden and Canada, plus civil society.

If the reformed General Assembly is going to be respected and obeyed, its authority must be drawn from Humanity. What is proposed is a union of Humanity to undertake the democratic world statecraft of UN reform. The revolutionary implications of world democracy are not, in my view, sufficiently outlined in this book. Vox dei, vox populi. World community must form before world federation. A beginning is sufficient, for, as with Americans after the foundation of their federal Government, the experience of national government – and meeting the inevitable tests of Union – will steadily teach them the value of the supreme law of the land. Today, nascent global citizens, currently being formed by economic and social globalization, must constitute the long promised body politic for the governance of the world. The equality of Man must truly be accepted to make safe and effective a General Assembly responsible for international peace and security. What Jean Monnet said of the European Community applies to a reformed UN, “We are not forming coalitions of states, but union of peoples.” That’s what Lopez-Claros and others mean by a new “social contract” for the planet, but they imagine the process will be more rational than any historical example of the formation of modern states or federations.

My sense of things is that millions, if not billions, are now ready to perform their duties as well as to enjoy their rights as world citizens. They are the ones who already work in international businesses, who travel abroad eagerly, who serve in civil society organizations bringing aid to the poor and unfortunate, who are linked in the universal cause of science, who are engaged in scholarship and education that crosses borders, who care about the international news, who show extraordinary sympathy for the victims of continuing wars, who bring in refugees and the downtrodden, who as soldiers have been disillusioned with national use of force. The problem is to unite them in a global body politic. It must be as effective as present national identities.

The reason why nations should entrust their security to a legislative assembly largely composed of foreigners is that, during the revolutionary transition, they come to feel there are no foreigners. There are only people like us. Humanity is one, like the appearance of the Earth from space. Foreign relations are becoming indistinct from domestic ones. UN reform will produce good governance, belonging to us. The age of nations is past. We are one people. World democracy is really possible. Our country is the world, and our religion is to do good. To prevent abuse of power, checks and balances and eternal vigilance can be employed. (It would also be wise to aim at world federation, too, as an additional check.) The rule of law, as Kant said, is the ground of our freedoms. The powers of the reformed UN are legitimate, that is, acceptable, drawn from our consent. Obedience to commonly enacted law is easy, for it will be perceived as just. State “interests” (advantages, as chosen by national governments) will be set aside for policies directed at the common good. We will accept the limits to growth and aim at economic reforms for the long term. We are humble, as befits mature men and women. We are embarked on Humanity’s greatest adventure.

These changes are so profound that the proper word for them is theology. In writing my history of the world federalist movement after atomic bombs were first used in anger, I was slowed down for years by reconsiderations. While ideally we believe in the equality of human beings, is it really wise to vest the maintenance of peace and security in governing institutions conducted by the kind of citizens we meet everyday in the daily news? Considering the delays and gridlock of many national legislatures, is it realistic to expect less party spirit and more disinterested civil responsibility from supranational politicians? Justice once was promised by God, but can human courts and assemblies ever approach the divine standard for the redress of wrongs and the guarantee of rights? Are human rights not merely Western standards, and is democracy really fated for all Humanity? For a world union, will we not need a flag, like the E.U.’s twelve stars on a field of blue, and an anthem, like the theme from Beethoven’s Ninth? Perhaps the Apollo photo of the full Earth from space, and John Lennon’s “Imagine”! These are theological questions. Theology is the word used by General Douglas MacArthur on receiving the Japanese surrender on the USS Missouri on 2 September 1945. “If we do not devise some greater and more equitable system, Armageddon will be at our door. The problem basically is theological and involves a spiritual recrudescence and improvement of human character that will synchronize with our almost matchless advance in science, art, literature, and all material and cultural developments of the past 2,000 years.”[xvi]

Lopez-Claros et al. conclude with what they call a United World Organization. (Because that organization would be based on the people, I prefer the term Humanity.) Their transition steps are similar to others’: a series of world conferences similar to the Bretton Woods conference of 1944, when there was public and official will to reform the international economic order. They imagine that public sentiment will be enlightened by these conferences, led by middle powers, civil society, and the business community. A world parliamentary assembly established as a second chamber of the General Assembly of the existing UN could be a catalytic step.

Lopez-Claros et al. conclude:

This book represents our reasonable efforts to shine some light on the possible ways ahead, to provide a vision of where we might need to go and to suggest workable mechanisms for the next steps in our evolving system of governance. It tries to strike a balance between what idealism says would be desirable, what the reality of our present situation says is necessary and what might seem feasible to a political realist.

What is now needed at this stage of UN reform is a reply by politicians, policy makers, and civil servants with comparable experience in national governments, who recognize the necessity of such UN reforms for a more lawful world order.


* Free under Open Access at:


[i] Jo Leinen and Andreas Bummel, trans. Ray Cunningham, A World Parliament: Governance and Democracy in the 21st Century (Berlin: Democracy without Borders, 2018).

[ii] Madeleine K. Albright and Ibrahim A. Gambari, co-chairs, Commission on Global Security, Justice and Governance, Report, Confronting the Crisis of Global Governance, June 2015.

[iii] Joseph E. Schwartzberg, Transforming the United Nations System: Designs for a Workable World (Tokyo: United Nations University Press, 2013).

[iv] Grenville Clark and Louis B. Sohn, World Peace through World Law (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1958; 2nd ed., 1960; 3rd, 1966).

[v] Amended Charter Art. 9. Augusto Lopez-Carlos et al., Global Governance, 99, 102.

[vi] Lucio Levi, “Introduction,” in Lucio Levi, Giovanni Finizio, and Nicola Vallinoto, eds., The Democratization of International Institutions: First International Democracy Report (London: Routledge, 2014), 7-24.

[vii] Jeffrey D. Sachs, A New Foreign Policy: Beyond American Exceptionalism (New York: Columbia University Press, 2018), 207-14.

[viii] Joseph Preston Baratta, The Politics of World Federation (Westport, CT: Praeger, 2004), 12-17.

[ix] Global Governance, 439.

[x] The Federalist, Nos. 1, 9, 10, 15, 21, 22, 23, 37, 46, 51.

[xi] Global Governance, 200, 202.

[xii] Global Governance, 60-64. Committee to Frame a World Constitution, Robert M. Hutchins, president; G.A. Borgese, secretary. “Preliminary Draft of a World Constitution.” Common Cause, 1 (March 1948): 1-40. Reprinted in Richard A. Falk and Saul Mendlovitz, eds, Regional Politics and World Order (San Francisco: W.H. Freeman, 1973).

[xiii] Baratta, Politics, 316.

[xiv] Andrew J. Bacevich, The Age of Illusions: How America Squandered Its Cold War Victory (New York: Henry Holt, 2020), 185-85, 198.

[xv] Edward C. Luck, Mixed Messages: American Politics and International Organization, 1919-1999 (Washington, DC: Brookings, 1999). Cf. Gary B. Ostrower, The United Nations and the United States, 1945-1995 (New York: Twaine, 1998).

[xvi] Speech displayed in MacArthur Hall, the Pentagon.

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