Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Dueling Forces of Integration and Fragmentation

That the world is being buffeted by storms of severe crises is not news even to the most casual observer of the international scene.  Chief among these are the financial crisis in Europe, which threatens to slow down economic growth worldwide, the environmental crisis as reflected in global warming and climate change, the looming food and water crises and the crisis of international security which encompasses issues of nuclear proliferation, human rights atrocities and acts of terror to name but a few.

What is more interesting and worth examining is the increasingly common reaction to these crises by peoples across the globe as reflected in their drive to separate and take refuge in fragmentation, all in the mistaken belief that independence will afford them more control of their own destinies, and will save them of the dangers of going down with the sinking ship of a larger country or region to which they belong. 

Looking at Europe alone, one is struck by the increasingly strident movement towards separatism as witnessed by the desire of the people of Flanders for further autonomy, the movement by the Catalans to gain independence from Spain and the drive by segments of the Scottish population to break away from the United Kingdom as reflected in the Edinburgh Agreement just signed between British Prime Minister David Cameron and Alex Salmond, the Scottish First Minister setting the terms for a Scottish referendum on the subject of independence to be held in 2014.  

The arguments that are offered in all three cases center on two main themes.  The first theme stems from the resentment of people in these regions who are relatively wealthy compared with the rest of their respective countries and who perceive themselves to be more hard-working, that their wealth and hard work are being exploited to support their poorer and/or lazier compatriots.  They resent being required to pay more in the form of taxes,  to give up revenues from their natural resources and to carry a large share in the debt of the larger countries to which they belong. 

The second theme rests on a strong desire to have decisions on fundamental policy questions be made by the people who are closest to and most affected by the decisions, rather than by distant institutions that are perceived as being out of touch with the needs of a particular group of people and that tend to apply a uniform policy to all without taking important differences into account.

One can see that what seems to lie at the root of these arguments is a genuine and legitimate desire on the part of people everywhere to have a reasonable say in the crafting of their own destinies.  This is a theme our times as reflected in the wave of nations participating in what has become known as the Arab Spring.  The sensible question to ask then is: in what instances is centralization a boon and when does it become out of touch with the grass roots and therefore oppressive and unfair?  The next question is: how can we craft a system of government that allows people to consult upon their legitimate needs while at the same time working towards unification?  For we face a real danger that in our rush towards fragmentation as a perceived panacea for solving all difficulties, we will set off a chain reaction of increasing fragmentation into smaller and smaller parts without a well-designed link between the parts.  How much fragmentation is enough?  How small must the units be for people to feel secure and feel that they have a voice in their own destiny?  One can see that if left unchecked, this process can easily degenerate into an avalanche of greater and greater fragmentation and balkanization generated and fed by fear.  In a world in which interdependence is a fixed reality, this will only lead to conflict and despair.

Might not the real solution lie in deeper integration both in Europe and indeed in the world?  Such integration would signal a further step in the process of maturation of humanity as a whole.  Having evolved from a societal system comprising small but increasingly growing loyalties to clan, tribe, city-state and nation, isn't the next natural step in our societal evolution the creation of a federated superstate in which each individual embraces a larger loyalty that is entirely compatible with the lesser loyalty to her nation state?  Such a federated state can and should be designed to meet the legitimate needs of individual populations, granting them autonomy over many issues of particular concern to them while also guaranteeing the good of the whole by requiring that the federated parts cede certain rights to decision making to the federal government.  These latter rights should sensibly include the right of individual nations to make war on each other, relying on a central army serving the whole to maintain the peace, the right to manage critical natural resources including energy resources for the benefit of all the people of the world, thereby eliminating conflict and inequality of access to sources of energy, and certain rights to taxation in order to raise funds to tackle global problems such as global warming.

If we need a model or blueprint to guide us in undertaking such a vital and bold experiment, it is worth examining the federal system of the United States, which appears to have been relatively successful both in balancing the needs of the whole with the needs of the individual parts and in inculcating the principle of unity in diversity in its workings.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Building A World Federation -- An Idea Whose Time Has Come

The solution to many of our collective global problems lies in a closer integration and union of our diverse nations ultimately resulting in a world federation of states.  For a deeper exploration of this proposition,  I invite you to see my webinar entitled "Building A World Federation -- An Idea Whose Time Has Come" by clicking on the following link:  http://bahai-studies.ca/building-a-world-federation-an-idea-whose-time-has-come/

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

What Should We Do When A Nation Threatens The Peace?

This evening, the world's nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), released a press statement saying that its mission to Iran had failed (yet again). Once again it appears that Iran is obstructing the international community's efforts to get to the bottom of Iran's nuclear activities and determine once and for all whether Iran is working towards building nuclear weapons or whether its nuclear program is, as it has repeatedly claimed, solely intended to meet the peaceful energy needs of its population. One would think that if the purpose was peaceful, Iran would be eager to have inspectors examine all its nuclear sites and produce satisfactory responses to the questions posed by the IAEA inspectors.

Iran's reasons for obfuscation and obstruction could be many and without solid facts, it is futile to speculate. What is abundantly evident and must be the center of our focus is the catastrophic course on which we are all embarked: If the international community continues down the path of making shrill demands unsupported by unified, decisive action, (other than incrementally broader sanctions) and if Iran continues to behave provocatively and meets the demands of the international community by turning a deaf ear, the risks of an all-out conflagration in the Middle East which no body wants, will continue to escalate until we reach the point of no return. A Middle East war has the potential to drag the entire international community into its orbit with all the devastation that such a world war would entail. Is this really the result we want? If not, then we must get off this path immediately and seek a safer and more sensible alternative.

We need to be very clear about the costs of inaction: What happens when we, the international community and the community of nations, abdicate our collective responsibility to act in unity to devise a collective system of security that ensures the safety of one and all? At this stage in our collective evolution, nothing short of a global collective security pact in which all nations (yes, all without exception) agree to eliminate nuclear weapons, to keep their conventional weapons to a the minimum required to preserve the peace within their borders and to rise against a nation that brazenly threatens the peace of the world will suffice to keep global peace. Such a pact must be backed by an international standing force that we have put off establishing for too long and must be based on a set of internationally agreed rules clearly delineating the circumstances in which it can be used.

What makes this alternative path, our only hope for salvation is the parity of treatment that is accorded all nations, as determined by international rules arrived at by consensus of the international community. We must let go of all our double standards and systems of "haves" and have nots". If one nation has nuclear weapons, others will want them and eventually someone will use them either deliberately or accidentally. Therefore no one can be allowed to have them. The other element that makes this alternative path viable and effective is the unity of action it requires. There is tremendous power in speaking with one voice and acting as one, especially in the face of would-be bullies on the playground of international affairs.

If we had not wasted past opportunities to put such a system in place, chances are Iran would not be making so bold as to play cat and mouse games with the IAEA and to make aggressive statements that merely serve to raise the levels of suspicion and mistrust. Then again, were such a system in place, the response of the global community in the face of such statements would be a unified and decisive one based on the rule of law. As it is now, individual nations who feel threatened by Iran's nuclear program may feel the need to respond aggressively based on the momentary requirements of expediency to defend themselves. Alas, any unilateral or coalition action is fraught with dangers for one and all and is likely to so the seeds of new problems as we have already seen in Afghanistan and Iraq.

So let us take up the challenge of our times and begin the painstaking but immeasurably rewarding work of building a collective system of security that will ensure the safety of our children and the generations to come.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

The Security Council Veto Must Go!

The Security Council is the organ of the United Nations tasked with the duty of maintaining peace and security. Why then does it appear to be failing so miserably and is there anything that can be done to restore its credibility in the eyes of an increasingly cynical world?

Restoring the Security Council's credibility is possible but only if it is seen to be taking decisive action where it is most needed: for instance in putting an end to the brutal acts of the regime in Syria or eliminating the threat to world peace posed by Iran's unwillingness to come clean on its nuclear program. For such decisive action to be even possible requires the international community to take the following minimal steps:

First, we must we must revamp the Security Council to make it more representative of our world as it is today -- not as it was in the middle of the last century. Part of this process of modernizing the Security Council requires that we sweep away that relic of our past, namely the veto power granted to the five permanent members of the Security Council. This relic, far from being a quaint reminder of our history, has become a solid barrier to world peace, paralyzing the Security Council at those critical moments when it needs to act quickly and decisively, and encouraging countries to act solely in their narrowly-perceived self-interest rather than in the interests of the global community.

Secondly, the Council needs to be given the proper tools with which to discharge its responsibility. It must have an international standing force at its disposal with which to enforce its decisions to maintain peace and security. Without such a force, it will continue to remain largely impotent, falling back on shrill and repeated watered-down resolutions calling for actions that recalcitrant nations feel free to ignore.

Thirdly, the mandate of the Security Council to act to restore the peace must be clearly delineated, especially regarding the circumstances in which it may use force. The mandate must be based on international rules rather than fuzzy policies and must be applied even-handedly to all nations.

How much more suffering does our world need to witness, before we are willing to take these steps to bring it some measure of peace and security?