A Community of Small Nations for a Sustainable Planet

There seems only one cause behind all forms of social misery:  bigness.  Whenever something is wrong, something is too big.

— Leopold Kohr, The Breakdown of Nations

Neither its $5.4 trillion economy, its state-of-the-art technology, nor its military-like efficiency could protect Japan from the catastrophic consequences of the March 11, 2011 earthquake, tsumani, and nuclear disaster.  To be quite blunt, when you cram 127 million people into one large island and a group of smaller ones, all prone to earthquakes, you have few degrees of freedom when disaster strikes.  It’s all about human scale.

Japan is but one of eleven meganations with a population of over one hundred million people.  Although none of them are as wealthy, materialistic, racist, militaristic, violent, or imperialistic as the United States, all eleven of them are too big, too powerful, too undemocratic, too environmentally irresponsible, too intrusive, too insular, and too unresponsive to the needs of individual citizens and small local communities.

Thus it is hardly surprising that the 192-member United Nations, which is dominated by the United States, Russia, and China, each of which has veto power in the Security Council, has been so ineffective since its inception in 1945.  Nothing illustrates this better than the U.N. sponsored conferences on climate change in Kyoto in 1997 and Copenhagen in 2009.  Trying to come up with solutions to a problem as complex as climate change by assembling 178 heads of state, as was the case in Kyoto, or 193 in Copenhagen, is truly an exercise in futility.  The product of the 12-day Copenhagen conference was a nonbinding agreement in which no one was committed to anything.  The so-called Copenhagen agreement was a complete sham.  The process was replicated in Cancun, Mexico in 2010 with similar results.

The track record of big international governing organizations, such as the League of Nations or the United Nations is singularly unimpressive.  How many wars has the U.N. prevented?  Certainly none in Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia, Iraq, Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Palestine, or Africa.  Global political problems are too complex for an assembly of two hundred international political leaders to sort out in a public forum. This is even more true if China and the United States refuse to budge from their positions of national self-interest.  Some have cynically suggested that the U.N. is little more than an extension of the U.S. State Department.

I believe it is high time for the smaller nations of the world to begin withdrawing from the United Nations.  The U.N. is morally, intellectually, and politically bankrupt. It is time for these smaller nations to confront the meganations of the world and say, “Enough is enough.  We refuse to continue condoning your plundering the planet in pursuit of resources and markets to quench your insatiable appetite for consumer goods and services.”  These small nations should call for the nonviolent breakup of the United States, China, Russia, India, Japan, and the other meganations of the world.

A small group of peaceful, sustainable, cooperative, democratic, egalitarian, ecofriendly nations might lead the way.  Such a group might include Denmark, Finland, Norway, Sweden, and Switzerland.

What these five European nations have in common is that they are tiny, very affluent, nonviolent, democratic, and socially responsible.  They also have a high degree of environmental integrity and a strong sense of community.  Although Denmark and Norway are members of NATO, Finland, Sweden, and Switzerland are neutral.  Once considered classical European democratic socialist states, the four Nordic states in the group have become much more market-oriented in recent years.  Not only is Switzerland the wealthiest of the lot, but it is the most market-oriented country in the world, with the weakest central government, the most decentralized social welfare system, and a long tradition of direct democracy.  What’s more, all of these countries work, and they work very well.  Compared to the United States they have fewer big cities, less traffic congestion, less pollution, less poverty, less crime, less drug abuse, and fewer social welfare problems.

Three other small countries which might also join the party are environmentally friendly Costa Rica, which has no army, ecovillage pioneer Senegal, and the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan.  Since 1972 the king of Bhutan has been trying to make Gross National Happiness the national priority rather than Gross National Product.  Although still a work-in-progress, policies instituted by the king are aimed at ensuring that prosperity is shared across society and that it is balanced against preserving cultural traditions, protecting the environment, and maintaining a responsive government.

This group of small, nonviolent, sustainable countries could evolve into the Small Nations’ Alliance.  Such an alliance might encourage the nonviolent breakup of meganations, the peaceful coexistence of a community of like-minded, small nations, and the independence of small breakaway states such as Quebec, Tibet, and Vermont from larger nations.  The Small Nations’ Alliance could become a sort of international cheerleader supporting breakaway nations.

We do not envision the SNA as an international governing body with the power to impose its collective will on others.  Rather we see it as a role model encouraging others to decentralize, downsize, localize, demilitarize, simplify, and humanize their lives.  Membership in the SNA will be open to those nations who subscribe to the principles of the SNA and are approved for membership by a consensus of SNA members.  The only mechanism available for enforcing policies endorsed by the SNA would be expulsion from the organization for noncompliance.

Membership would be open to both free-market oriented countries as well as democratic socialist countries.  For example, Cuba and Venezuela might both be possible candidates for membership provided they become more democratic.  Cuba would also need to clean up its human rights act.

The point of all of this was succinctly summarized back in 1957 by Leopold Kohr in his prescient book The Breakdown of Nations.  “A small-state world would not only solve the problems of social brutality and war; it would solve the problems of oppression and tyranny.  It would solve all problems arising from power.”

THOMAS H. NAYLOR is Founder of the Second Vermont Republic and Professor Emeritus of Economics at Duke University. His books include: Downsizing the U.S.A., Affluenza, The Search for Meaning and The Abandoned Generation: Rethinking Higher Education



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