Introduction

I believe that world peace is possible, within our lifetimes, and that we should make it our goal.

Is there any higher goal? I can’t think of one.

If we define world peace not as the elimination of all conflict, but rather as the end of wars — organized violence at a national scale — we can achieve it. It’s monumentally ambitious, but the obstacles are lower than we imagine.

Now (the current period, historically speaking), the obstacles are lower than they’ve ever been.

A formula for success is not difficult to envision: a single, globally inclusive democracy, in which everyone has an equal voice. Think of it as a United States of the World. Everyone is included, nobody left out.

Here within the United States of America, we have conflicts over enormous issues: water rights, food, oil, religious beliefs, civil liberties, inequalities of wealth and opportunity, self-determination, dignity, ambition, and greed. In other periods of history, and/or in other parts of the world, these conflicts have taken the form of warfare. Here in the United States, we handle them by other means, mainly economic competition, politics, and free expression; we also channel some regional tensions into sports rivalries. Of course, our American society is far from perfect, and today many of our conflicts are being suppressed and left to fester, rather than resolved.

But, for the most part, we are not handling our conflicts through organized violence, either directed by the state, or at it. That’s the single best thing about being one country, the United States, rather than many separate states.

Is there any reason we shouldn’t operate on a similar model for the entire world?

Where in the world should we allow a child to be born without the opportunity to participate in an inclusive society?

Is there any reason we should continue to accept anything less than the opportunity for every person, no matter where they are born, to participate in a global economy, democracy, and civil society, unlimited by militarized borders? Why should a child born in Syria be walled into a war zone?

This is not just about idealism.

As a practical matter, international borders simply aren’t serving us.

Many of the greatest challenges we face are compounded by international borders. To stop climate change, for example, we need a globally coordinated response; instead we have major countries (the U.S. and China) pointing fingers at each other across borders, each saying “you first.” Or, look at economic inequality, perpetuated in part by the wealthiest people stashing their money in foreign countries, like Switzerland or the Cayman Islands, to avoid paying their fair share in taxes at home. Consider how the land and water are poisoned in countries with weak environmental laws — for example, just over the U.S.-Mexican border. Or think of grisly crimes like human trafficking, in which the perpetrators often smuggle their victims across borders to stay beyond the reach of justice.

These are just a few examples of how the forced and arbitrary division of our human community into separate countries prevents us from doing what we need to do. There are many more. In fact, almost every day there’s a new story of a problem we can’t quite seem to fix, in part because borders are preventing us from working together.  My blog here at OneGlobalDemocracy.com will track some of these.

International borders are holding us back from making the progress we need to make today.

Why do we accept international borders?

Mainly out of habit. In other words, because of history.

Centuries and millennia ago, people banded together to form tribes and villages. At first, people had no way to ensure justice or shared safety beyond an immediate vicinity, so we created perimeters, lines of defense. As villages grew into towns and cities, many fortified their boundaries. As we developed technologies and administrative systems, empires grew (Greek, then Roman), encompassing vast areas under central authority. Later, these empires collapsed, in part because the costs of military control over huge areas stretched them too thin. Afterward, small city-states covered much of Europe, while the church extended a unifying social structure over a wider area. Gradually, over the course of centuries, many city-states joined together to form the early outlines of countries we know today, such as France, Germany, and Italy.

Later, mostly outside of Europe, many of today’s national borders were originally imposed from outside, by European colonial powers. Over the last few centuries, the British, Dutch, Spanish, Portuguese, and French empires carved up the Americas, Africa, the Middle East, and South and East Asia, claiming vast areas such as India, Indonesia, Algeria, the former Congo, and Brazil as colonies. The borders were almost always arbitrarily imposed, reflecting imperial interests rather than authentic, prior cultural and political cohesion or difference.

In short, while the borders we’re accustomed to today have history behind them, that history, in many cases, is both short and regrettable. So there’s plenty of reason to question the legitimacy of today’s borders.

And, on a deeper level, it’s important to remember that our habit of relying on current national borders is not encoded in our human DNA. Borders are part of our past, but we don’t have to let them limit our future.

More importantly, the long-term trend over the course of history has been that small local units, such as villages and then city-states, have tended to unify into larger and larger blocs, forming countries. In some cases, especially in Europe and China, local elites either agreed to join together, or conquered their neighbors. In other places, colonial powers imposed national borders from afar. Although the events driving unification were not always pleasant, the overall trend across history, of villages and city-states unifying into countries is clear.

As technology has advanced, increasingly robust systems of communication have made it practical to include increasingly large areas within the borders of a country.

Borders are becoming obsolete.

We’re now at the next stage, with countries today taking a variety of steps toward unification into larger blocs. The European Union is the most obvious example. Although it’s grappling with fundamental financial & structural challenges as I write this, people everywhere are hoping it survives, because as long as it does, another war between France and Germany is unlikely, and because it points, imperfectly, toward a better way forward for everyone.

Another sign of countries banding together is the proliferation of trade agreements between countries in recent decades.* They aim to harmonize laws across national borders, so commerce can flow more easily between countries. There’s a lot wrong with these agreements: they generally undermine human rights and environmental protections, rather than advance them. These are serious problems that require our attention (and my overall thesis here is, in part, an attempt to address them). Still, these agreements, and the ongoing effort to enact more of them, reflect the fact that the countries we know today are no longer big enough to contain a growing share of human enterprise, both business and civic, which increasingly crosses national borders.

* Such as the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), or the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership and Transatlantic Free Trade Area.

The shape of war is changing.

Recently, wars have also begun to take a different shape from those earlier in human history. This changing pattern of warfare is another major factor that points to the declining relevance of national borders, and indicates that the time for comprehensive global cooperation has come.

Most wars in recorded human history have occurred between countries or along the borders of countries, generally for control of territory and the people and resources contained within it. In the twentieth century, World Wars I and II, the wars between Japan and China, and the US- Korean war fit this pattern. Previous, major historical wars that fit this pattern include the Mexican-American war, the Napoleonic wars, the Mongol conquests, Tamerlane’s conquests, the many European wars of the middle ages, the crusades, and the conquests that formed the Ottoman, Persian, Roman, and Greek empires, among others.

But that pattern is changing. Since about the mid-1950s, fewer wars have followed a conventional model of military forces fighting their way across a border to invade another country. Instead, most recent wars around the world have tended to occur within the internationally-recognized borders of countries, rather than across them. Typical recent situations include despots slaughtering their own people in an attempt to hold onto power (as in Syria, or Libya), warfare between ethnic, religious, or other groups within a country (the Congo, Darfur, Rwanda, Sri Lanka), or identity groups seeking to separate from a larger country (such as the breakup of the former Yugoslavia, Chechnya’s attempts to separate from Russia, Eritrea separating from Ethiopia, or the Falkland Islands seeking independence from Britain).

Of course, conventional, cross-border wars still occur, such as Russia’s recent invasion of Ukraine and annexation of Crimea, China’s invasion of Tibet, Indonesia’s invasion of East Timor, or Turkey’s invasion of Cyprus, and so do conventional, militarized territorial disputes between countries, as in Kashmir between India and Pakistan, or the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But these conventional territorial conflicts are generally less prevalent today than they have been historically.

This change in pattern is reflected in America’s recent choices of which wars to engage in. We’ve fought our recent wars mainly in pursuit of non-state actors, such as terrorists and drug lords. The latest American military operations — hunting for terrorists in Afghanistan, ostensibly hunting for nuclear weapons in Iraq, and trying to stem the flow of drugs from Latin America — have all been presented, basically, as police actions, rather than efforts to take or hold territory.

Regardless of these American wars’ basic merits, or lack thereof, police actions have the virtue, at least in theory, that they’re taken on behalf of a global community, and not just for the benefit of one country at the expense of another. This is a crucial point.

We need a better system.

The changing shape of warfare lays bare the limits of our current international system, which consists mainly of a weak United Nations, a militarily strong United States and Russia, and an economically rising China. The United Nations provides a forum for international agreement, but lacks significant power. This weak international system isn’t really much of a system at all; it’s an assortment of dated structures that aren’t keeping up with today’s needs. They work well enough to deter conventional, cross-border wars, which, thankfully, are in decline. But our current structures are obviously failing to prevent the kinds of wars that are occurring today.

Every year, fifty thousand people’s lives end, and hundreds of thousands more are shattered, in wars that we as a global community are failing to prevent.

In America, we have the good fortune of geographic distance from most of these wars, but if the shocking events of 9-11 proved anything, it is that America is no longer immune from the tragic horror of war. We have a stake in preventing it, as surely as a child born in Syria or the Congo.

We need a better system to prevent wars, and also to facilitate the worldwide cooperation we need to solve global problems of justice and of environmental protection, and to ensure economic opportunity for everyone.

We’ve got to design this new system to protect people, not countries. Similarly, its legitimacy must flow from the support of people, not countries.

What would that system look like?

The obvious answer is: democracy.

Democracy is an old word, one we usually don’t get very excited about, because it’s such a core part of our American identity. Our democracy is also far from perfect. But it does the job of preventing massive, organized violence within our borders. It enables civil resolution of disputes and creates a zone of relative safety and stability within which we can travel, do business, and go about our lives.

The problem is that our democracy doesn’t extend far enough. Most of the world’s people are excluded.

Imagine democracy on a scale greater than humanity has ever accomplished before. A single, global democracy that includes everyone.

More to come.  Get updates by hitting the “Follow” button, above and to the right.

21 responses

  1. Peter you present a good case for a unified world. I like your points on preventing wars, defining what police action is and protection of the people. I would like to see a blog post on a world wide economic system and law. I feel that those are areas to examine. Also would there be a global language or would their be more translators? Another thing that came to mind is when you talked about the changing shape of warfare, I thought about conventional vs. unconventional warfare and costs both in bodies and politically and they fit into police actions.

    • Thanks, Kevin. I’m excited about getting into the conversation about what a worldwide system of law might look like. It’s a great question.

      As a starting point, the U.S. provides one model: an overall structure in which everyone has a voice, with sub-units (today’s states, eventually today’s countries) having jurisdiction on some matters, with the overall structure taking precedence on others.

      I think we already have a worldwide economic system, one needing more democratic oversight and accountability, which would result in both greater stability and predictability for businesses, which need those conditions to prosper, and a more just world for everyone.

      • It’s human nature to not want to be ruled from afar and to control one’s own destiny, so like communism which went against human nature, one-world government will not work either. You have idealism and are coming from a good place (that is your intentions), however people want a government and culture respective of their unique nature.

      • Shawn – Thanks for your comment. Two thoughts in response:

        1. I agree completely that people don’t want to be ruled from afar, with effectively no voice in their future. Yet that’s what we effectively have today, with an unaccountable international oligarchy holding true power, while the rest of us are subject to the laws of nation-states. Only a global entity in which each of us has a voice can change this. See:
        http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2014-04-10/thomas-pikettys-global-tax-on-capital-may-not-be-a-crazy-idea

        2. We also need to preserve & expand the principle of subsidiarity, so that decisions are handled at the most locally granular level feasible (for example, local election of school boards & city councils; local zoning decisions) in combination with a global democracy in which each of us has a voice, to handle the big issues that nation-states can’t.

  2. People are rising up all over objecting to their own governments. To think they would allow something like UN or the european union to merge with the US and tell them what to do is not something I can see happening. The world is very complicated and controlling it from afar, planning it globally were things I was thought possible about about 10 years ago, right now I’m less optimistic. How is one government to get buy in and control over everything? People have developed differing values, we don’t all feel the same things are important. If first we can identify which values are universally agreed upon. We might have the first stepping stone toward this thing. Love to see an end to wars…?

    • Lew, I’m the first to admit this won’t be easy.

      As you point out, people in different parts of the world see things very differently. But the same is also true within the U.S. People in Alabama, for example, have very different values from people in northern California, at least as indicated by the public officials elected from the two places. Yet we co-exist under one larger entity, the United States.

      This is not about controlling from afar. In fact, I think it’s the opposite. It’s about giving everyone, everywhere, a voice in a democratic system directing their shared government with power, instead of leaving people at the mercy of fragmented powers, often far away, in which they have no voice whatsoever.

      Your question of mechanics, “how is one government going to get buy in…” is a very good one. I don’t have all the answers, but I’m going to sketch out my thoughts on this in a future post.

      I think you’re exactly on the right track with identifying shared values as a starting point.

  3. Peter, This is an inspiring vision. All great achievements in human history began as an idea in one person’s mind. May this come to pass. I look forward to reading further writings. I am especially curious to see what role you would see the U.N. playing in a global democracy, if the U.N. would evolve into that or if it would be an entirely new creation? Also, there are entrenched powers and interests that would oppose this adamantly, including the major state actors as well as multinational corporations that are profiting from the current lack of cohesive economic policy. As well, on a popular level there would be strong Xenophobia against it — witness for example even in Europe the so called “Euroskeptics” who doesn’t want the EU to have too much power compared to the sovereignty of the member states. How do you foresee a people’s movement overcoming these obstacles?

    • Thank you! I’m certainly not the first person to have this idea, but it is one I believe in deeply.

      You’re raising some great questions and issues as well, and I’m excited about hashing through these and similar points in greater detail as this project moves forward.

      For now, my very brief answers:

      I think the U.N. is a great institution, but (a) it’s not strong enough, and (b) it has a brand problem, at least partly because of (a). Because of your related point about xenophobia / skepticism, I think the simplest way to frame the idea in everyday terms is as a “United States of the World”. That is, a new, stronger entity building on the strengths of both the U.S. and the U.N.

      There are certainly entrenched interests who may oppose this, most likely those benefiting from the status quo. I agree with you to some degree on who these are likely to be, and disagree on others. The leading individuals at the top of today’s countries would probably see the greatest relative drop in power (from the roles of President / Prime Minister / Premier etc. to Governor etc.) under the transition I envision. However, this is a long term vision that will take time, first to build support for, and then to implement. In that time, my guess is that today’s heads of state will most likely have moved on, so I don’t actually think they are threatened.

      Some multinational corporations do exploit today’s uneven patchwork of laws and regulations to do their darkest deeds in the countries where laws and enforcement of them are weakest. On the other hand, ethically run corporations have a major interest in stability and predictability in global supply chains and markets. Both of those values are best enhanced, in my view, by a global system of laws, backed by a globally inclusive democratic mandate. If everyone’s voice is included, the resulting laws should have a very stable base of support.

      Thanks for reading, and please keep the great questions coming.

  4. The only way something gets created is to start with the idea and then elaborate on it then involve as many people as possible and gain agreement. Peter, this is exactly how world peace will be attained. We all need to involve ourselves in the conversation of what is possible until it actually occurs. Thank you for doing this.

  5. After reading this paper –
    http://personal.lse.ac.uk/koenigar/Koenig-Archibugi_Is_Global_Democracy_Possible.pdf
    I found it generally supportive of your thesis here.
    However — i think there is a large gap with equating democracy with the absence of war.

    Wouldn’t “war” just morph and change shape into “terrorism” or “civil war”? Contest over resources still exists in a democratic system. Note that America was formed in the fire of civil war. If a “terrorist attack” claimed as many lives as a small “war” – what is the difference, really?

    I think your would be served to consider these as separate, and perhaps independent, issues – or flesh out much more completely how you see that democracy will reduce conflict, particularity in countries with very uneven resource/education/opportunity distribution.

    • Thanks for the sharp question, and the link to that paper.

      I think we can and must end war, by which I mean organized violence on a national scale. Although I would love also to see an end to violence at any scale, that’s beyond what I see as achievable and am calling for here.

      Terrorism is a somewhat different animal. It can be essentially an act of war, perpetrated by an organized foreign entity, such as Al Qaeda. Or it can be an act of apparently isolated whack-jobs like Timothy McVeigh or (as far as I’ve heard so far) the Tsarnaev brothers.

      The police and other law enforcement agencies responded to McVeigh and the Tsarnaevs, and the entire country supported those responses. On some level, that’s because everyone in America has some voice in choosing the government that responded.

      Contrast this with 9-11. The whole world was ready to support America’s response, but President Bush acted virtually alone, in defiance of world opinion (the UN withheld its support) by launching a war in Iraq, which simply bred more terrorists. In a global democracy, he could be held to account.

      But legitimate police actions, such as our response to the Tsarnaev attack at the Boston Marathon, are almost universally supported.

      Legitimacy is a big piece of this, and it rests on giving everyone a voice.

      This is why I think a globally inclusive democracy is the best means of ending war.

      You’re right that contest over resources still exists in a democratic system. Here in the U.S., we handle it through economic competition, rather than armed battles. That should be our model for the world as well.

      I do look forward to fleshing this out further in future posts.

  6. Peter–I am so glad you’re doing this–both on the personal level that you are putting your vision out there, and on the level of: the world needs this.

    Many questions arise.

    For starters, besides the obvious ‘how do we get there from here’ questions, just where are we trying to get? Do you envision some sort of federation made up of familiar nations, somewhat as the states make up the US (or did originally)? Sort of a much beefed up UN? Or do you envision replacing nations entirely?

    You note that most wars these days are not between governments, but are more like civil wars. So … how does the one world govt idea make such wars less likely?

    I get your point that division among national entities makes it harder to solve MANY global scale problems, such as climate change, besides making war more of an option. But … aren’t there also dangers to one world government. Sure, I support global democracy (whatever that might ultimately mean or look like), but …. What if the one-world-government ends up overthrowing democracy. What if, eg, genocidal dictators take over, and there’s nowhere to go, because they control the whole world, not just one country?

    • Thanks for the encouragement and your questions.

      I think the division of the world into nation-states is the problem. We need a single, globally inclusive democracy, in which today’s nations look more like today’s states, within the United States. So, a United States of the World.

      Today, the world community is mostly powerless to respond to civil wars within countries, except when a few specific countries get together to respond. It’s as if the US couldn’t respond to the Boston bombings because Oregon, Florida, and Kansas had to agree first.

      In a global democracy, we’d have a system of laws and a standing global police force, akin to the FBI, that would go in and lock up the aggressors.

      The risk you flag is a real one. What I support is global democracy, not global dictatorship. We have challenges protecting democracy and preventing dictatorship already, here in the U.S. Those challenges won’t go away at a global scale, and they may grow.

      But I still think we should go for it.

  7. I hope you run for president, Peter. 🙂 Your vision should be the #1 priority of all humans on this planet. We need to respect our world and all beings who live here. Yes! I’m in! It is time for peace and now with our world connection via internet, we are ready and able. If not now, when? It seems like we are at a major junction where it’s peace or total and complete destruction.

    • Thanks, Jo! Definitely not running for president. But I am committed to developing and spreading this vision, and I appreciate your support. Please hit “follow” in the upper right for updates.

  8. I think it’s important that we really consider what’s possible so thanks for widening the tent on that. I’m curious why you emphasize the unified government approach? Among other options like intense multi-national cooperation or projects along the lines of the “department of peace” vision that has been circulating.

    • Thanks, Brian. I just don’t think those other ideas go far enough. “Intense multi-national cooperation” is a squishy thing to define; some would claim we already have it. How do we accomplish it? Other countries are mostly threatened by the U.S.’ power; they have incentives now to compete with us militarily. But Texas and California, for example, do not compete militarily because they are part of a larger whole, despite their differences. A department of peace is a fine idea but, I fear, ineffectual even if adopted. The EPA does not prevent environmental destruction here in the U.S. A department of peace will not have the power to prevent war. Instead, we have to change the overall structure if we want to really solve this problem. That’s my view.

  9. Hi Peter, just now learning of your project after seeing your profile on the WorldFix site, which is also a beautiful project.

    It is a beautiful vision, and I could not agree with any more of my heart that working to build a harmonious world at peace feels like the most whole and real way to spend our lifetime.

    What I am struck by reading the intro document here is a powerful longing for this to happen, and a sense that what is necessary is a massive coming together of a great critical mass of people united in spirit, and on the same page with some implicit principles and practices for how to work together.

    And I am thinking that what could potentially be very auspicious right now is a coming together of the various similarly themed networks right now working at a very similar purpose – ie, New Earth Project, Next System Project, P2P foundation, the community around Charles Eisenstein’s writing, Thrive, etc., just to name the few that I am the most familiar with, and to let the web start tightening around the globe.

    I will be following the world fix, and look forward to developments, and to joining forces at the right moment.

    With gratitude,
    Noah

    • Hi Noah –

      Thanks for your support. Yes, I agree, it would be good for aligned groups to come together. We are in the process of getting in touch with many of these folks. Charles, TNSP, Michel,… It will take time to build the massive critical mass we need, but, as Cesar Chavez said, “the only way I know to do organizing is to talk to one person, then talk to another person, then talk to another person.” Thanks for being with us.

      – Peter

  10. Great work, Peter. I’m definitely enrolled in the conversation and share the belief in a one world government to end war (and hopefully lots of other issues like poverty, homelessness, hunger, and the environment). It’s a huge undertaking, no doubt, and inherently intimidating as a mission, yet, to me, also an inevitability, that is, if world peace is even possible.

    The internet comes to mind as the place this will happen, where people of all creeds and nations can come together and create a body that holds these ideals world wide – outside of any particular country or race – a completely new system. I cannot imagine this goal being achieved by any of our current systems, whose very nature tends to be separatist. Basically, the people of earth creating their own government together, using the web as our tool to manifest it.

    Obviously, it’s not that simple, but I’m feeling like it is the most simple and sensible first step for creating some kind of grass roots movement towards this dream.

    I’ll look forward to discussing it more with you. I have more to share with you next time we get a chance to talk. Way to stick to your dream, bro. Free ZAZA!

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