As climate change, the coronavirus pandemic shows the consequences of the enormous contradiction under which seven billion human beings live: a globalized world politically divided into almost two hundred national states all taking separate and uncoordinated measures.
Indifferent to the growing risks and warning signals, we continue keeping our regulations and control systems bounded to the national / international model while, through technology and the economy, we continue to build a global society. Only one planet, each day smaller and hyper-connected, in which global processes occur and circulate at an increasing speed, meanwhile 193 countries claim absolute sovereignty. Does anyone believe this can work?
Based on the paradigm of absolute national sovereignty, which was effective and progressive in the past, each country does whatever seems best to its government, whatever best suits its national interest, whatever. “Sovereignism” they call it. We all pay the consequences. Has there been Chinese negligence during the initial treatment of the coronavirus pandemic? Was it accidental or, maybe, was it Trump or Putin, or a terrorist sect trying to create global chaos? Did all the involved countries react effectively? We do not know, but our lives are at stake over this. We do not know what exactly has happened and what is happening now because there are no transparent global mechanisms for early detection and control of pandemics, and there are no compulsory protocols that everybody must respect in defence of a planetary common good: the survival of humanity.
National Response to Worldwide Pandemic Inadequate
If something like the coronavirus pandemic had happened at the national level, the institutional system built during the industrial era probably would have offered an adequate response, but at the global level the two great evils of politics prevail: anarchy and tyranny. I know, the UN and the World Health Organization do exist. Despite the sabotage of the populist nationalists, there they are. But the coronavirus pandemic has definitely made clear that the structure and capacities of international organizations are far below the demands of a global society, which already requires basic regulations and minimum mandatory standards to preserve world public goods such as human health, clean environment, global financial stability, and international peace. Yet international organizations are inter-national, meaning that their members, the national states, are forced to prioritize national interests and to make secondary what should come the first: human well-being and survival. Thence, although the UN and the WHO do exist, any country is still free to decide the coronavirus pandemic is a myth and to refuse to act, causing disastrous consequences for the rest. Exaggeration? Absolutely not. This is exactly what is happening right now with global warming.
Whether we like it or not, a different world will emerge from the coronavirus pandemic. It remains to be seen whether it will be a better or worse one. If, as at the beginning of the 20th century, each country decides not to worry about the world in order to play its own cards, the consequences will be the same: disconnection, rise of nationalism, inability to face common challenges, growing conflicts, extended crisis, authoritarianism, massive tragedies, chaos, death and despair. Fortunately, it is just a possibility, not a fate. Hopefully, since the creation of the United States and the European Union, we human beings have developed two paradigms, federalism and democracy, which have been extraordinarily successful on the national and continental levels. To acknowledge this, just think how insignificant the USA would have been if thirteen original colonies had proclaimed themselves to be autonomous and sovereign, or just compare the nationalist Europe of the first half of the 20th century with the integrated one of the second half.
Let’s think about a world federalism that preserves national sovereignty for decisions of national scope but delegates those in which the future of humanity is at stake. Let’s build a global democracy in which a world parliament creates a transparent and interconnected global health system, establishes mandatory early warning standards and protocols in the case of potential pandemics. Science fiction? Illusion? Dreams? May be, but a network based on electrical impulses encoded by ones and zeros covering the whole world and decisive for the economy, culture and social relationships seems to us the most natural thing on Earth… Why? Unfortunately, we human beings are amazing innovators in technology, pragmatic geniuses in economics, and stupidly conservative in politics. Therefore, we imagine that this globalized, fast and post-industrialized world can be effectively governed through the instruments of the slow industrial-national era. Applying federalism and democracy -the two paradigms of modern politics we consider a must-have at the national level- to the global field sounds still like a heresy. But the real utopia is happening now: a nightmare where we dream of managing the XXI century COVID-19 global pandemic using the XX century national/inter-national institutions.
Federal and democratic global governance doesn’t mean a world state or a world government, which necessarily would be based on a centralized executive power. Federal and democratic global governance means reinforcing the capacities of the global judiciary and parliamentary powers that already exist in an embryonic state. An International Criminal Court to sanction governments and rulers for genocide and war crimes, but also for not complying with coronavirus control protocols. A UN Parliamentary Assembly whose directives must be limited to critical global issues such as pandemics, climate change, financial stability and nuclear disarmament. World totalitarianism? Hardly. Totalitarianism has always concentrated power in the executive branch of government and been based on nationalism and the fight against an external enemy, that does not exist at the global level other than in the case of a Martian invasion. In addition, the idea of world federalism does not imply concentrating anything, but rather decentralizing the international and the local powers that the national state has misappropriated during centuries. Contrary to Orwell’s 1984, world federalism is about building a more balanced and decentralized local, provincial, regional and global decision-making system in which each level has its own capacities. A network, millennials would say. A network as horizontal and decentralized as the digital world, and as interactive, participatory and fast as the digital world is. Regarding its costs, a democratic and federal global governance would cost infinitely less than the current anarchy. If you don’t think so, please calculate the inefficiencies caused by the lack of coordination generated by strong national sovereignty coupled with weak international organizations during this pandemic and let me know.
Strengthen International Institutions
Maybe the coronavirus pandemic has taught us how small the Earth is, how close we are to each other, and that humanity has become a real community of fate. After the failure of the League of Nations in avoiding war, we learned from the disasters generated by nationalism and created something better: the UN and the European Union. And it worked. But the UN and the European Union are now being overcome by global events, as all the national governments, even the most sovereignist, are being overcome by global events. We do not need to abolish the UN, nor the European Union, nor to de-finance the WHO, but rather to strengthen them and all the international institutions by applying increased doses of world federalism and global democracy. Not in order to replace or destroy national states, but to help them to manage a globalized world. Otherwise, from the panic generated by insufficient national/inter-national responses to global crises, discontent and anger will continue growing; and with them, nationalism and populism, with their simple but “sovereignly” stupid responses to complex global issues, and their threats to democracy and human life.
Science fiction? Science fiction will be reality in the coming world. It remains to be seen whether it will be like Star Trek or Star Wars.
Fernando Iglesias is the President of the World Federalist Movement, Director of the Spinelli Chair in Buenos Aires, member of the Argentinian Parliament.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this blog post do not necessarily reflect the official policy of Citizens for Global Solutions.