Gandhi’s Idea of “One World” to Usher in World Peace

James W. Arputharaj
President of South Asian Federalists; Former EC member of WFM; Coordinator for India for the Campaign for UN Parliamentary Assembly


This article would focus on the context of war and the relevance of Gandhi today. The world today is in a difficult period, not only because of climate change and financial crisis, but in the midst of one armed conflict after another which affect the whole world, as seen from the Russia-Ukraine war. There are really no world statesmen today with the caliber of Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela to provide leadership in the backdrop of occupation of Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Ukraine. There have been more wars fought since the creation of the United Nations and more lives lost since the World Wars. Arms trade is the most profitable business and wars are created or supported for profiting multinational arms producing transnational companies (TNCs) and the countries from where they operate from. According to SIPRI (2023), in the year 2020, 2.1 trillion dollars were spent globally on arms export. In 2018, US military expenditure was 36% of the global military expenditure. There are more than one billion firearms produced in the world today. As per the Geneva Convention, arms exports are banned in conflict zones enabling parties to the conflict to dialogue to reach a solution to the conflict. The war in Ukraine is nowhere near its end unless, according to Russia, its strategic objectives are achieved. Like the Afghan war, many would like to prolong this war, as war is business, while the people suffer.

We need to take effective steps on arms control, otherwise the world would not be at peace. In 2001, there was the first UN international conference to prevent proliferation of small arms and weapons in New York. Until then, there was no effort at creating a legally binding agreement on arms export controls and markings on the weapon. It was easy for example to find South African cluster bombs in Jaffna without any marking on them. Governments which export such banned weapons cannot be punished, as there is no evidence with markings on the weapons. In the 2001 conference, a program of action was developed to address illegal proliferation of light weapons and small arms. My research in this area, published as a book in 2003, shows that even in India we had illegal factories manufacturing guns. For example, Bihar alone had 1500 gun-manufacturing units, according to Ajay Darshan Behera. In 2014, we were successful in finally adopting at the UN the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) which incorporates mandatory export documentation, stockpile management, marking and tracing on the weapons. This was a great milestone, as members of the UN Security Council contribute to 90% of global arms sales. Currently Gandhi’s India also is a big manufacturer and exporter of small arms and light weapons.

We need to reflect on how Gandhi’s thoughts are relevant today. Gandhi-Nehruvian Foreign Policy guided the non-alignment movement with the idea to promote “One World. Unfortunately, currently there is no strong non-aligned movement, nor the Group of 77.  Elaborating the One World concept, there should be a world federal government at the UN. Right now, there is democratic deficit at the UN with veto power and only the international civil servants occupy the chairs of the UN General Assembly. Similar to the European Parliament, if there is a Parliament at the UN, then it could effectively address climate change and economic crises and prevent the wars. This was the vision of Gandhi and Nehru, who incorporated the One World concept in the resolution passed in 1942 regarding the Quit India movement.

The One World idea found its match with the allied powers trying to create a new world security organization which resulted in the founding of the UN.

According to Manu Bhagavan, Nehru said, “In One world, state power would be checked, the freedom of individuals and groups expanded. Questions of minorities, migrant peoples and endemic poverty would all be addressed, and Gandhi’s legacy would go global”. Madam Vijayalakshmi Pandit, one of the most admired women in the world (at that time), led the fight in and through the United Nations. The One World idea was initially conceived by an American, Wendell Willkie, in 1943, through his book “One World”. He envisioned a grand world alliance as the way forward to a permanent and lasting just peace. It found its way into Nehru’s prison’s cell and he was greatly impressed, as it resonated with many features of the Quit India resolution.

Albert Einstein in 1946 wrote a contribution to a a pamphlet, oublished in a book titled “One world or none”. His conceptualization of one world resembled the structure Nehru and Gandhi had envisioned in the Quit India resolution. India had communicated the total acceptance of the UN Charter.

Madam Pandit linked the need for freedom to India from the British and the need for the UN. In her speech to the UN delegates at San Francisco in 1947, she said, “The recognition of India’s independence now will be a proclamation and an assurance to the world that the statesmen of the UN assembled here in this solemn conclave in San Francisco, have in truth and in honor heralded the dawn of a new and better day for an all but crucified humanity”.

When India attained Independence, Nehru’s speech on “Tryst with destiny” did not condemn the British for their occupation, but called for One world. With Madam Pandit on his side to travel around the world to promote this policy, India campaigned against the apartheid in South Africa at the UN. India adopted people-friendly policy and welcomed with open arms people from China, Prussia, Israel, Tibet among others, and provided support. India never hesitated to vote at the UN General Assembly or the UNHRC. Many consider India’s positive and inclusive foreign policy based on Gandhi-Nehru thought on One World during 1947-1974 as the golden period.

Gandhi was against the systems and structures that promote oppression and not against any individual. Madam Pandit was successful in condemning the apartheid in South Africa with a majority vote at the UN General Assembly, though South Africa argued that the UN was prohibited from interfering in the internal affairs of the member states as per Article 2(7). Madam Pandit had argued that Human Rights are universal. Gandhi was not happy that she was not kind to South Africa's President Smuts when she won the vote. For Gandhi, means were just as important as the ends, and wanted Smuts to be treated with dignity and respect.

While the cold war between Soviet Union and USA was at its peak, India advocated the doctrine of foreign policy called the non-aligned movement. This was one element in the vision for One World. In January 1947, Nehru provided the roadmap for the country’s leadership when he spoke at the constituent assembly in India. “The only possible real objective that we, in common with other nations, can have is in the objective of cooperating in building up some kind of world structure, call it “One World”. Nehru in his later years outlined ‘Panchsheel’ which was meant to serve as the foundation for peaceful coexistence between all people. Panchsheel incorporates: 1. Territorial integrity & sovereignty, 2. Non-aggression, 3. Non-interference in internal affairs, 4. Equality and mutual benefit, 5. Peaceful coexistence. In his speech at the UN titled “Towards a world community”, that approach would create a “climate of peace”. In 1961, the Soviet Union introduced a resolution in the UN-GA that adopted Nehru’s ‘Panchsheel’ platform to help to promote the peaceful coexistence of states.

In the 1940s, the world saw the fascism of Hitler and Mussolini; also, the Japanese imperialism. Conflicts continue to rage even though the Treaty of Versailles was adopted to end "the war to end all wars". The World expected something from the “apostle of non-violence". Gandhi realized that the principle of non-violence had to go global.

According to Manu Bhagavan, “Nehru and Gandhi ...proposed creating a world federation in which all people would be equally represented and to which they would contribute fairly for the purpose of defense and finance”. 

In Gandhi’s words: “I would have a World Government. I claim to be a practical idealist. I believe in compromise so long as it does not involve the sacrifice of principles. I may not get a World Government that I want just now; but it is a Government that would just touch my ideal, and I would accept it as a compromise. Therefore I am not enamored of a World Federation, I shall be prepared to accept it if it is built on an essentially non-violent basis.”

We do hope and pray that we would see one world by supporting the campaign for UN Parliamentary Assembly as a reality in our lifetime. As of now, 1846 Members of Parliament from around 137 countries have endorsed the campaign for a Parliament at the UN. In India alone, 44 former and 22 current MPs have endorsed the UNPA (

Many of us adhere to the principle “Think globally and work locally”. Gandhi's idea of Gram swaraj advocated self-reliant-villages. Similar to his principles of non-violence, peaceful coexistence also went viral and contributed to developing community-based peace building measures by the UN Development Program and many other NGOs. During the war in Sri Lanka, the author promoted and trained Peace and Reconciliation committees in 100 villages with induction on non-violent communication, human rights and international humanitarian laws. These village committees will not allow the parties in conflict to use the weapons inside the village, thus gun-free villages.  Oscar Arias won the Nobel Prize for keeping his country Costa Rica gun-free by making a peace treaty with all his neighbours. When I went there in 2004, I could see guns only in the museum.

If countries reduce their military spending, such funds could be invested in eradicating poverty and in education and health. What we need today is not military security, but human security.

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