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Essay/Term paper: Democratic world government - an outline structure

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Democratic World Government - An Outline Structure

Introduction - problems and benefits of World Government

The idea of world government has not received a good press for many years. It
tends to make most of us think of Stalinist dictators and fascist domination of
the globe. I wish to argue, though, that there is a viable form of democratic
world government which could bring many benefits.

A democratic world government that really worked would lead to a major increase
in the freedom enjoyed by all people on the planet. It would also make more
equitable the international balance of power which currently so heavily favours
the rich developed nations and their citizens at the expense of the much larger
numbers of citizens in the underdeveloped world.

The billion-dollar question is, though, whether there could be a form of
democratic world government which was workable and sustainable, not inefficient
and expensive, and above all which was fair?

Conventional ideas about world government, which typically picture it in the
form of a global parliament passing universal laws in order to create an
identikit legal framework for all world citizens, suffer from three severe
problems. Firstly, the near-impossibility of persuading all of the world's
countries to hand over their sovereignty to a global government of this sort.
Secondly, the risk - of which we are, and must always be, very aware - of
permitting a future global dictatorship of a particularly intransigent kind
(imagine how difficult it would be to dislodge a Hitler if he was in possession
of the kind of absolute power available through such a form of government). And
thirdly, as we see sometimes today in the European Community, the tendency of
such a large-scale government to create detailed, uniform laws for the entire
area it governs; the impetus would be towards a sort of global standardisation,
almost certainly based in the cultural attitudes of the West, which would
massively erode the rich cultural variations which exist in the world.

A preferable system of world government, if such could be invented, would meet
all of these objections, as well perhaps as providing a global framework
designed to encourage the democratic possibilities of all nations. Perhaps such
a system might look something like the one I shall now describe.

New form of World Government - outline structure

The new World Parliament would be a single elected chamber, possibly similar in
format to the House of Commons in the UK but with places for up to 1000 elected
representatives - Members of the World Parliament, or 'MWP's. The MWPs would be
elected from national or supra-national constituencies, one per so many head of
population (but probably with a minimum of at least one per nation, at least in
the early decades [There are approaching 200 nation states in the world at the
moment, with populations ranging from 50,000 - St Lucia - to 5,000,000,000 -
China. This represents a variance of a factor of 100,000, so the disparity in
representation could not be tolerated indefinitely. In due course some notion of
communal MWPs, shared by small countries of reasonably alike culture, would have
to be introduced.]). They would be subjected to re-election every 5 years. The
world government envisaged here would have no army and would require only
minimal administrative support. As a result, its costs would be small. It would
not be allowed to raise any taxes, instead being funded in a similar way to that
in which the United Nations is today, by contributions from the nation-states
which make up its membership. Such nation-states would continue to exist in the
new system just as they do now, forming an essential balancing power to that of
the world government, and would be without significant loss of sovereignty.

Membership of the new system which the world government represented would be
voluntary for each nation in the world, just as membership of the United Nations
currently is [Some democratic nations choose not to join the United nations even
today, Switzerland being a prime example.]. Becoming a member would involve them
adding their signature to a world treaty, which decision would need to be
ratified by the population of the country in a referendum. Only upon so joining
the 'club' would a country's people have the right to vote into the world
government one or more MWPs, and in turn the world government would only have
the right to instigate actions which related to countries within its membership.
Once in the system a country would be able to extricate itself only by majority
vote of its population in another referendum.

The world government's purpose would be to enact laws by normal majority voting
within its chamber, but laws which were couched in general terms. Because
presented in general terms, the laws would permit individual countries to retain
or create their own culturally-based detailed laws and social practices as long
as these did not conflict with the general world-law.

The laws, although couched in general terms, would be very real. A World Court
would exist, providing a top-level of appeal for individuals once they had
exhausted their domestic forms of justice and where they thought they were
innocent under the general world law (much as we in Europe can now make an
ultimate appeal to the European court).

But what would the powers of the world government be? The new system must not
permit the world government to enforce its desires in an absolute way upon the
world population because that would immediately raise the twin dangers of global
dictatorship and imposed cultural uniformity.

World Government's only power - enforced referenda

Instead, nations would be allowed to transgress world-laws - to pass local laws,
or otherwise operate, in contradiction to them - but only where the population
of that country was in agreement with its government in that course of action.
The principal element of the new world constitutional system would be the
provision of just such a check that any country which went against a world-law
was expressing the will of its people. So the world government's one and only
direct power would be that of requiring any nation within its membership to
undergo a binding referendum on any issue, and ultimately if necessary a general
election, which would be conducted according to a set of internationally agreed
standards. These standards, written into the world treaty, would include the
fact that the world government must be given equal opportunity to present its
arguments to the country's people as the host government.

So say, for example, that a generalised human rights law had been passed by the
World Parliament. At some later point in time a majority of MWPs might come to
consider that a particular member country was violating this law, either in its
current activities or in a new law which it had enacted locally. Then the world
government could require a binding referendum to be held in the offending
country, so that the people of that country could have a democratically-valid
opportunity to decide whether they wanted their national government to adhere to
the world-law on this point.

If the result of the referendum was in the local government's favour then it
could continue to operate as it had chosen, and no further action would follow.
On the other hand, if the outcome favoured the world government's view then its
general law would take precedence in the nation. If in turn that fact was not
promptly acted upon, then the world government could enforce a general election.
The country's population would thus become the final arbiters of the question.

The effects of this sort of setup are fairly clear. On issues where most human
individuals are likely to be in agreement irrespective of their background, such
as on the immorality of torture, the imposed referendum would ensure that
governments tending towards dictatorship would be stopped in their tracks. But
where a putative world government law was based on cultural prejudices the local
population would almost certainly be in agreement with their own government's
decision to ignore the global law and would vote in favour of the local decision.
In doing so of course they would have effectively taken their nation out of the
world system as regards this one issue, and would therefore have to forego
access for themselves to the World Court on the global law in question.

Constraint on World Government

How would the world government be constrained to only pass laws couched in
general terms? Well, if it passed laws which were too detailed they would almost
certainly be rejected by many populations supporting their domestic governments
in internal referenda. Concern about high-levels of such refusals would probably
in itself be enough to restrain the world government from being too precise on
many issues. To buttress this impulse, though, a constitutional mechanism would
be built into the world treaty, sucha that the MWPs themselves would be
automatically subjected to a general world election en masse if more than, say,
10-20% of countries rejected a world law in national referenda.

But how would a world government which had no military power of its own impose
referenda and elections and make them binding? What if a country's government,
perhaps tending towards dictatorship, chose simply to ignore the world
government's requests for it to hold a referendum on some issue?


The answer is simple, and maintains the principle that the world government's
only direct power should be to enforce referenda. Faced with this sort of threat
the world government would be constitutionally allowed to initiate synchronised
referenda of the populations in, say, 5 randomly-chosen nations in order to
sample world opinion at a statistically-significant level. It would put before
those populations its suggestions as to what co-ordinated sanctions should be
used by all countries against the offending nation. The result of the vote would
dictate what collective world action could be taken. The action to be taken
might be initially an economic blockade by all member countries, but ultimately
if the crisis escalated could become a collective invasion of the offending
country. It would be up to the polled populations, acting as a world jury, to
decide on behalf of the whole world whether they were going to allow the
principles of world government to be upheld by voting for such sanctions, or
were going to let the world slip back into its messy and dangerous old ways.

In practice the mere threat of the tight, global economic sanctions which could
be invoked by this method would in most cases very rapidly bring a recalcitrant
member country back into line. But if not such sanctions could quickly be put in
place after the sampling referenda. If they in turn proved inadequate and if a
sampling world vote upheld military intervention then ultimately an invasion
could be carried out. As the world government itself would have no army, this
would be planned and mounted by a collective military force made up of units
from all, or a selection of, the armies of each member country of the world - in
the same way as the UN Peacekeeping forces are today. (Once again, in many cases
the mere planning of such an action would persuade the country to drop its

If however the sampling votes activated in such a crisis failed to back the
world government then at best the world government itself should be subjected to
an immediate election, and at worst the entire system of world government would
be threatened and might start to unravel. The important point here is that
economic and military action would be decided upon by vast numbers of ordinary
people, rather than by governments swayed by all sorts of 'interests' and biases.
In a very clear way a responsibility for the future of the world would reside
with each of us. The fact that it would so reside with the people of the world
would be a safeguard as ultimate as could ever be achieved against the
possibility of a dictator assuming global power through the apparatus of the
world government. The dictates of such a despotic world government would
doubtless very soon cause it to lose such a sampling referenda, and it would not
itself be in possession of any miltary power on which it could call.

The system of global governance, composed of the world government in co-
existence with multitudinous nation states, would thus embody a balanced set of
powers and checks. Nation states would retain much power, although subject to
the general will of the world government. As long as they acted in accordance
with the wishes of their citizens they would be able to implement any policies
they pleased. They could probably also defy the world government without the
backing of their citizens to a small extent with ease, but any larger revolt
would be prevented by the need to carry a majority of the population. If they
pursued their defiance they would face the ultimate threat of economic and then
military isolation in the world.

Or at least, that is how things would be as long as the world government
confined itself to passing humane and unbiased laws. It itself would be subject
to a strong counter-balance to its powers. If it showed any tendency to err from
such a widely accepted moral basis then the continued existence in the world of
a large number of varied and independently-willed nation states would guarantee
that transgressions of unpopular global laws would commence fairly rapidly.
Referenda would follow, in which local populations would almost certainly vote
against the world government line and thus eventually force its members to face

The world government would in fact only be able to operate by sticking to a very
broadly accepted seam of morality. Indeed it is more than likely that after an
initial phase of establishing a basic canon of general world-laws, the main
emphasis of the world government would turn to reviewing the practices of
nations of the world. There would of course always be occasional requirements
for new general laws, or amendments to existing ones, but much of the work of
the mature world government would probably consist in monitoring national
conformance with world-law and deciding upon appropriate actions in cases of

Benefits - Reducing militarisation

Could the existence of the world government do anything to reduce conventional
military tensions in the world? Well, there seems no reason why the world
government should not take the view that unsanctioned war between countries
should be totally illegal, and pass a law to such an effect. Then if war did
break out between any two countries, the standard procedure of global-sampling
referenda could be invoked to enforce devastating economic sanctions against
both of the warring nations, or to raise a collaborative army with which to
overwhelm them and enforce peace. In effect this would be an active version of
what is currently the passive UN Peacekeeping Forces. Furthermore, the world
government could impose limits on the size of armies and quantity of weapons any
country could be permitted, and then over time gradually force these down, so
producing a world which in the long-run would become stable and virtually

In the absence of a fool-proof 'Star Wars' system providing a defensive
umbrella-shield against inter-continental missiles and planes, a precondition of
such action and of the functioning of the world government as a whole, would be
some sort of collectivisation of nuclear weapons and any other vastly
destructive technology. An individual country in possession of and willing to
use nuclear weapons could resist all of the co-ordinated international power at
the disposal of the world government unless at least a comparable destructive
capacity could be rapidly switched against it as a deterrent. So, as part of
signing the world government treaty countries in possession of such technology
would have to agree to make a proportion of it available for use in such
circumstances. Such weapons might be sited in a neutral, and sparsely-populated
territory such as on one of the polar ice-caps, and would remain under the
control of the individual owning countries. However in circumstances in which an
individual nuclear power was resisting the world government, and agreement on
scales of activity had been defined by a global-sampling referendum, the
possibility would exist for such countries through the world government to co-
ordinate their use of them in retaliation against a nuclear strike. No one
country need possess a huge number of such weapons as long as the collective
total would together outweigh those owned by any individual recalcitrant nation,
and as before there would be every reason to hope that the world government
could gradually force the levels down to their minimum throughout the world.

Benefits - International ecology

Urgent international ecological problems, such as the excessive production of
ozone-destroying chemicals and the destruction of rainforests, could also be
dealt with by this sort of world government. It could pass laws which acted
across countries in mutual ways, backed up ultimately by the possibility of
enforcement via the global-sampling system. For example, the world government
might enact a balanced general law which imposed severe limits on rainforest
destruction, and also appropriately penalised wealthier economies whose economic
activity tends to encourage it. As always such a law could be neutralised by a
population for their own country (although I would argue that we would be much
more likely to see a positively altruistic response from ordinary people than
from their governments, which tend to react to public pressure, rarely to lead
it). But if such a law actively broke down because of high levels of veto, the
world government could try to resort to a global-sampling referendum to 'enforce
it' using the threat of economic sanctions. Again the 'jury' of randomly-chosen
populations would become the conscience of the world in deciding how important
the problem was.

There could also be an emergency procedure whereby nations affected in a
negative way by the policies of their neighbours - a good ecological example of
this is provided by the Scandinavian nations, which currently suffer from acid-
rain generated largely in the United Kingdom - could request the World
Parliament to enforce a combined binding referendum of all of the involved
populations on the topic. There might also be a procedure where a petition
signed by 0.1% of the population of a country could lead to a binding referendum
on any issue within that country via the powers of the World Parliament.

Democratic assumption

It might be argued that such a system of world government, while allowing
considerable cultural variation among its member countries, nevertheless makes
the assumption that democracy is acceptable and desirable within all cultures.
This is true, but there are two mitigating points to be made. Firstly, it should
be remembered that membership of the world system would be voluntary, depending
on governments responding to public pressure to join it, and in each case would
only be deemed to be ratified by a majority vote in a popular referendum. Where
democracy was genuinely not acceptable to a culture then there would be no such
internal pressure, or membership would fail at the initial referendum stage, and
such a country would then voluntarily remain outside the system. In practice, if
people were polled by fair referendum, it seems most unlikely that there would
be any cultures, except perhaps the most primitive, which would reject the basic
preferability of democracy over dictatorship.

Secondly, the international standards for democratic practice need neither be
uniform nor blindly instantiate the common model of Western European or American
practice. Individual nations could use any method apporved by the standards -
and there would almost certainly at the very least be a spectrum of
possibilities from the 'one person one vote' method to many types of
proportional representation - for both the election of their MWPs and the
conduct of internal referenda. There is no reason why forms of fair practice
which arise from other cultural backgrounds should not be incorporated. As long
as some fundamental general criteria were met by a procedure for establishing
the will of a populace then it could be approved. The criteria might include
such things as freedom of expression without fear of reprisal, and no
inequitable influence on the outcome by minority groups [%f: For example, it is
not obvious that some procedures used in small tribal communities for arriving
at consensus, although secret voting is not involved, are not fair in this

Indeed it could even be stated in the world constitution that any form of
procedure would be acceptable as long as it was approved once by a member
nation's population in a referendum carried out using an already approved
practice. It might well be the World Court in which the interpretation of the
standards and the arbitration on practices would best ultimately lie.

Getting from here to there - Step 1

But isn't this all just a pipe-dream? Could we ever get from where mankind is
now to this seemingly ideal situation? Could it be done without force?

Funnily enough, it may not be too difficult. One of the beauties of this system
is that it threatens the sovereignty of individual countries only to a minimal
degree, making it difficult for them to have grounds for resisting popular
pressure to join in.

The full system could possibly be achieved in three graduated steps over a
period of a number of decades. The process would start with the setting up
through the UN of an international organisation of Electoral Observers, rather
like the current Electoral Reform Society but on a much larger scale and on a
more formal basis. Their aim would be to produce the international set of
standards and procedures for the conduct of democratic referenda and
governmental elections, allowing for the many different systems of direct,
proportional and other representation which might be used. These standards would
no doubt cover issues such as how to keep votes unattributable to individuals,
procedures for fair counting of votes, and safeguards against victimisation of
voters. The job of the UN Electoral Observers would then be to monitor the
actual practices of democracy in the world against them. That this is all not an
unrealistic scenario is shown by the fact that in 1991 the countries of the
Commonwealth gave serious consideration to the development of just such an

No doubt many democratic countries would have no objections to the UN Electoral
Observers monitoring and reporting on their practices. Over time they would
become a familiar and accepted feature of democratic practice in numerous
countries, although clearly there would remain many countries which would
continue not to welcome them.

Getting from here to there - Step 2

After some years or decades, once the UN Electoral Observers were well
established, a voluntary treaty would be drawn up by the UN to develop the
system to a second level. The treaty would commit signatory countries to make
use of the Electoral Observers for all subsequent elections and referenda, and
to repeat any which the Observers classed as failing to meet their basic
standards of democratic practice. The established, mostly developed democracies
would almost certainly, if there was a sufficient groundswell of public opinion
in favour of such a strategic move towards underpinning the basic quality of
democracy, again tend to accept this treaty and operate under its regime. As a
result a considerable weight of moral and public pressure would build on other
governments in the world to follow suit. Gradually other countries if they had
any pretence to democracy would be forced by both internal and external opinion
into the fold. It has taken Britain many centuries of the 'democratic-habit' to
build up genuinely democratic practices, and such a system of independent
international observers with enforceable standards could go a long way to
assuring populations, especially those of underdeveloped countries in Africa,
South America and Asia, of the viability of proper democracy in their countries.

Getting from here to there - Step 3

It might well take decades before numbers had grown significantly, but
eventually there would come a time when a significant percentage of the world's
population, living in a considerably wider variety of cultures than the merely
European and American, were enjoying governmental systems which operated within
the system of democratic safeguards. Finally, at that time, a world government
treaty would be drawn up incorporating the full system of global government
described earlier, for countries again to sign voluntarily. As an additional
'smoothing in' mechanism, for perhaps the first 50 years of its life the World
Parliament might have the existing UN as its 'upper-house' - able to review its
laws and at least suggest amendments. It would also probably be sensible for
global financial institutions such as the International Monetary Fund and the
World Bank to eventually be brought under the control of the world government.
These very significant global powers would then be under a more direct
democratic control, and would be more likely to make a fairer spreading of the
world's financial resources into the impoverished underdeveloped world.

As before there is every chance that there would be enormous popular pressure on
most national governments to back this final phase of development and to join
the world government system, because people would see that its effect would be
to ensure deeper and fuller democracy throughout the world. Perhaps again the
initial core of member-countries at each step would be made up of the mature
western democracies, but because of this pressure it would not be long before
membership became wider.


We have all witnessed in recent years the populations of many countries (the
Phillipines, China, the USSR, Eastern Europe, etc.) doing their best to bring
about local democracy. In some cases this seems to have worked reasonably
smoothly (eg. Poland) but in others (the Phillipines) the resulting government
has always been balancing on a knife-edge, threatened on all sides by despotic
forces; in some cases (China) the population has failed to win through. One of
the major benefits of the full world government system would be that populations
would only have to force their governments to sign the voluntary world
government treaty, by the sort of courageous popular action we have seen so much
of, in order to ensure their country's future democratic health; from this
single action all else would safely follow. If their government subsequently
started to digress from the democratic path, or was overthrown and replaced by a
totalitarian alternative, no doubt it would soon fall foul of some world
government laws, and would then leave itself open to the full range of sanctions
which the world government could persuade other populations to bring against it.

A fitting plan for the opening decades of the 21st century? Perhaps. If it
worked such a system of world government would almost certainly represent a
quantum leap forward in the levels of freedom enjoyed by the poorer citizens of
the world, as well as to some extent those of us in the developed nations.


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