It is not useful to discuss what’s right and what’s wrong with the United Nations these days, without at the same time discussing what’s right and wrong with the entire range of U.S. foreign policies and major U.S. domestic policies as well. What anyone might want to do with the U.N. would almost certainly depend on how and in what direction that person wants U.S. policies to change.
My own goals for future U.S. global policies are long-term, but step-by-step implementations of some of these goals should begin right away. The first thing the U.S. should do is announce that it will quit trying to have an empire and start putting a much larger share of its resources into solving U.S. domestic problems and reducing the income gap between the very rich in our society and everyone else. The U.S. should unilaterally reduce its military spending markedly (a 50-percent reduction should be the goal in the next couple of years for both the military and all the intelligence services, with further cuts to follow). Military aid to other nations including Israel should be cut by similar magnitudes. The U.S. should immediately also end the hypocrisy of insisting that we and our close allies including Israel be allowed to continue improving our nuclear weapons and delivery capabilities, while demanding that other independent nation-states such as Iran not develop any military nuclear capabilities.
In addition, the U.S. should withdraw all its military forces from Iraq and Afghanistan by July 1, 2009, and should pay the U.N. however many billions of U.S. dollars are necessary to resolve the Iraq and Afghanistan problems without further U.S. involvement. The U.S. should also publicly forswear any and all military attacks on Iran and should, equally publicly, reject any pressures from the government of Israel or the Israel lobby in the U.S. to support an Israeli attack on Iran. Finally, the U.S. should, through the U.N., begin multilateral negotiations for global nuclear and general disarmament as called for in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). The U.S. has to date made no serious efforts to do this, although the NPT was ratified by the U.S. and came into force 38 years ago in 1970. A nation that has ignored a major treaty commitment for so long cannot expect to receive full support from others who may have committed less important transgressions themselves.
Note that these proposals call for the United Nations to take on important new tasks associated with the withdrawal of the U.S. from Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as in the area of global disarmament. One of my motives in proposing this is, deliberately, to enhance the power and standing of the U.N. by increasing its responsibilities. Anyone of the contrary school — that is, of the school that wishes to weaken or discard the U.N. — will obviously not support at least this part of these proposals. In addition, given the closeness of the Israel-U.S. partnership that gives the Israel lobby real influence over U.S. foreign policies, and given that both Israel’s government leaders and the leading neocon officials in Washington oppose a strong U.N., any of the steps proposed here that would strengthen the U.N. would almost certainly meet a frosty reception from many in Washington today.
On the other hand, anyone who supports strengthening the U.N., and hopes that someday it might turn into an embryonic, and later a true, world government, should entertain a few other changes that might initially be made in the organization. At the moment, these might all seem to be pie-in-the-sky proposals, but they are still worth talking about. The first, and the simplest one to describe, is getting rid of the veto power presently possessed by the five permanent members of the Security Council. More than 60 years after the formation of the United Nations, at least some of us who support the concept of a world government would see this as a long overdue first step. Another proposal would be to add a few large nations to the list of permanent members of the Security Council. Japan, Germany, India, Brazil, and Indonesia are among the candidates occasionally mentioned for this status. But both of these proposals are not in the cards for the near future, in large part because of the acrimony they would create if seriously put forward.
There’s a third proposal, however, that — while it also is highly unlikely to become a reality at the moment — would become almost inevitable in a longer term framework. This would be a democratic global parliament, which could, over a period of years, be given gradually increasing legislative powers in a world government. The European Union already has such a parliament, and it is quite simple, as an example or a mental exercise, to draw up a table or chart depicting such a global parliament. Simply assume, arbitrarily, that the global parliament will have 500 members, and then allocate the number of members each nation state will get exclusively on the basis of population statistics.
Right now, the main lessons to be learned from such a table would be to show (1) how abysmally far we are from having any global body that is even remotely democratic in the U.N. today, and (2) how much the power of the U.S. would be reduced in comparison to its power in the present United Nations. For example, in a democratic global parliament of 500 members, China, with 20 percent of the global population, would have 100 of the total 500 members. India, with 17 percent of the population, would have 85 members. After China and India, there is a big drop-off in the numbers of members for countries or groups of countries. All the countries of the European Union (EU) combined have only 7.4 percent of the global population and would have 37 members in the global parliament. The U.S-Israeli partnership would be fourth on the list, and it would have only 5 percent of the world’s population and 25 members in the global parliament. The EU and the U.S. and Israeli partnership combined would have fewer members in the parliament than either China or India separately. (All of these figures are based on data from the World Almanac and Book of Facts, 2008.)
One other statistic deserves mention. Of the continents, Asia is by far the largest in population. As of mid-2007, it had an estimated 60.6 percent of the global population. In our imaginary democratic global parliament, it would therefore have 60.6 percent, or 303, of the 500 seats.
And we Americans talk all the time about democracy? Yes, we do. And yes, we should mean it.
One thing to keep in mind is that the rapidly changing technologies that force the pace of globalization also make the prospects for world government stronger. Right now, we have no real substitute for nation-states as the principal governing bodies in the world. At the same time there exists, particularly in the western and southern parts of the U.S. — but also in some other parts of the world as well — a strong aversion to anything approaching a world government. Whatever antagonisms the concept of world government raises, however, more movement toward such a government is probably inevitable in coming years. The WTO (World Trade Organization) is only a tiny first step and is limited to the economic area, but globalization as it is presently developing will inevitably result in pressures toward political and military integration as well. These pressures, however, will be less democratic pressures than pressures from the world’s military-industrial-energy-financial complexes and all the lobbying forces which support the view that military power can and must continue to dominate the world.
Actual changes toward more world government will undoubtedly be difficult, and we can only hope they will involve considerable elements of democracy and not be imposed from above by technocrats, as has been too often the case with the European Union. To repeat, the hope is that what results will be a body in which no member has a veto, and a body, or at least a model, specifically seen as a better replacement for the U.N. Security Council. The key question for Americans, of course, will be how much real democracy can we Americans stand? Will we accept a situation in which a combination of China and India would have more than a third of the votes on major political issues? The answer is that if we want long-term justice, peace, stability, and democracy in the world, we must come pretty close to granting such political power to China and India, while working very hard to negotiate acceptable protections for minority rights during the formation of a new global government.
It can be argued, of course, that everything I’ve just said would be and should be rejected by the U.S. government, because a majority of Americans would oppose it. Today, this might be right. With an aggressive educational campaign that we should be launching right now, however, it might be possible in no more than a year or two to build widespread acceptance for the first phase of a democratic world government that we could all be proud of. The greater global justice that might then emerge in this fast-changing world would be a goal worth striving for.
On June 21, 2008 the author gave a 20-minute talk, followed by an hour-long Q and A period, to the Albuquerque Chapter of the United Nations Association. The main subject was how the U.N. should be reorganized. The article below is the text of that talk with minor revisions.
BILL CHRISTISON was a senior official of the CIA. He served as a National Intelligence officer and as director of the CIA’s Office of Regional and Political Analysis.