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Martin LeFevre: Architecture for Global Governance

Meditations (Politics) - From Martin LeFevre in California

Architecture for Global Governance

A friend in East Africa, living in an area where he has difficulty receiving regular news reports (perhaps an advantage), writes asking an interesting question about the relationship between the UN and the US.

“I wonder just how the UN has accommodated the illegal invasion of Iraq?” he writes. “Is it that the UN is prepared to step back in exchange for dollars and a sort of rehabilitation with the main donor (whose motives don’t exactly inspire confidence)?”

This query comes on a day when thousands of angry protesters attack UN compounds in at least three cities in the Democratic Republic of Congo--the Congo, where hundreds of thousands, even millions of people have died as a result of outrageous conflicts and equally outrageous inaction by the United Nations. The Congo seems a long way from Iraq and the dictates of “the indispensable country,” as America likes to think of itself. But it is not.

The people of the world now see the UN, which not so long ago enjoyed a reputation as a humane organization striving to speak for the poor and marginalized, as part of the problem. The failure of the US/UK invasion of Iraq has not brought the UN back from the brink. On the contrary, it is weaker than ever.

As the New York Times reported the other day: “Instead of fashioning the kind of compromise for which he is known, (UN envoy) Mr. Brahimi appears to have folded, acquiescing to the desires of the Americans, who were touting Dr. Alawi” (a man on the CIA payroll.)

The morass of the American preemptive war against Iraq offers an opportunity to set forth principles for perpetuity. Yet the UN, which is the rightful and only institution that could codify them, is still trying to square the circle.

The principles are these: first, democracy cannot be installed by force. Second, outside force cannot rightfully determine the fate of a country.

There are other clear lessons from both wars against Iraq. The first war, under Bush the First, was wrong, and set the stage for the completely illegal second one, under Bush the Second. Even Gulf War I violated the principle of only using force in the face of an ongoing war. It undermined the UN and international community, which then allowed a million people to be slaughtered in Rwanda, where they could have and should have acted to halt the genocide.

The international community, much less a particular country or ‘coalition’ of countries, has no right to use force to restore borders, only to prevent the spread of war or genocide.

The United Nations is incapable of establishing these or any other principles of global governance because it has been terribly wounded as an institution. But even if two Bush Wars had not weakened it so, the basic premise of the UN’s very existence—the nation-state—has ceased to provide a viable foundation for global governance in a global society.

In short, the only way to save the UN is to supersede it in principle while complementing it in practice. But how can that be realistically achieved?

The state-based (that is, international) system is on the verge of collapse. But international institutions, as woefully inadequate (and even economically unjust) as they are, need to be retained. It simply is not an option to start from scratch.

One of the biggest mistakes the UN leadership has made in recent years is to hew to the line: ‘the UN is not an independent body; it can only do what the member states mandate it to do.’ That is a logic trap that has produced the stinking kettle of fish we now have. The UN can and must have a measure of independence from member states, and the authority to act autonomously in cases like Rwanda, where immediate action is required. But that will require radical changes.

A right and reasonable architecture for global governance would have three parts: Non-power-holding and non-law-making Global Polity of world citizens; UN and international institutions (under one umbrella); and national governments. The first obviously doesn’t exist. Therefore world citizens will have to create and build it.

A true Global Polity is neither possible nor desirable without a psychological revolution however. Even if it’s part of ‘human nature,’ the ancient human pattern and habit of identifying with particular groups for security and prosperity must give way in people to the emotional perception of the fact of humankind’s totality.

That is also why a Global Polity must not hold power. If power continues to be the basis for political organization, as it has since time immemorial, the “sole remaining superpower” will run the world completely into the ground. Human beings need to create something truly new, and what better place for a Global Polity to manifest than in Africa, where ‘modern humans’ first emerged?


- Martin LeFevre is a contemplative, and non-academic religious and political philosopher. He has been publishing in North America, Latin America, Africa, and Europe (and now New Zealand) for 20 years. Email: The author welcomes comments.

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