One World?

Prof. Mari Fitzduff, who I’m honored to call a friend, set me thinking the other day when she commented on a proposed speech I wrote for President Obama to substitute for the one he gave in Cairo. But before I share our exchange, you need to know that Mari is the director of the Conflict and Coexistence Program at Brandeis University, where she moved after many years as director of INCORE, the International Conflict Research Institute in (as she always says it to avoid taking sides) “Derry/Londonderry,” Northern Ireland. In that role she played an important part in the years and years of mediation that finally brought a blessed end to that terrible conflict. She has now turned her wisdom and experience to another easy problem, the Israel-Palestine conflict. But she is also in close touch with people involved in conflict resolution throughout the world. So when she talks about world peace, I listen. As she wrote in an eloquent essay a few years ago, “If we actually take the business of peaceful coexistence as seriously as we take the waging of our wars, we can make our future world a lot safer for all of us…” This quote from her recent letter to me is used with her permission:

“By the way, I’ve been mulling over your last blog about Obama, and what he should have said in Cairo – all good. But it led me to think about whether he, or any major leader now can just speak for their country, and not for the needs of the world? While the environment is an obvious no to this, other issues such as the economy point to our increasing connectedness/dependence.

“Also – I’ve been imagining – what if we decided to end all world borders in say 50 years – as essentially Jean Monnet did to Europe? What kind of work would we need to do in the world to ensure that there would not be chaos and huge shifts in population? I speak as someone whose country benefited so much from Europe’s decision to get rid of borders, and the decisions of the stronger nations to develop the weaker ones in recognition of the need to ensure rising tides all through Europe so as to ensure sustainable peace. A tough one at the world level I know, but it is an interesting challenge to think about it!”

Dear Mari,

Regarding your very important questions about Obama and “one world”: I did have Obama start the speech with, “Fellow citizens of the world…” In answer to your question, “whether he, or any major leader now can just speak for their country, and not for the needs of the world?” I guess I think “both.”

But Obama, like Merkel, Brown, Sarkozy, etc., was elected to lead his country first, and think about the welfare of the world mainly in terms of interdependency rather than personal leadership responsibility. None of them has or will keep any influence worth anything on the world stage unless they are perceived as loyal to their own people. All four of them, however, are doing what they can in my view to situate their countries’ needs in a global context.

Regarding your stunningly interesting last paragraph, I think 50 years is far too optimistic a time frame for the dissolution of world borders, but double or triple it and perhaps it can be a reality. I am not sure that the borders within Europe have dissolved yet, and the EU is undergoing a tremendous economic challenge (Milton Friedman predicted it would break up under just this sort of pressure–precisely because he thought the strong countries would jettison the weak if they defaulted; wrong so far).

But you know as well as I that nothing brings people or nations together like a common enemy, and I doubt very much that the EU would have legs if it didn’t have the U.S., Japan, and now the BRIC countries to compete with at least in the economic arena. The trouble with One World is that there is no common enemy other than distant disaster (rarely enough incentive for humans to unify).

It seems to me that the world is facing an extremely risky bottleneck in just the next 50 years. After human population peaks at midcentury it should begin to decline, but the rising aspirations of the 9 or 8 or however many billion will continue to place tremendous burdens on the planet, and wars over oil, water, and food are all too likely. A hundred or 150 years from now we may have enough of a decline in population so that, assuming also that religious fanaticism is more or less in check, we might have a future.

Meanwhile, any steps toward a loose confederation of nations are valuable. I think the UN is no great success, but it’s better than nothing provided no one thinks it can really be a world government. I think the expansion from G-8 to G-20 is very important, and I hope that G-20 meetings become more frequent. I think too that the World Court is a step toward world civilization, but I am neither surprised nor very dismayed that the U.S. has kept aloof from it so far. The world is a dangerous place, and when you are the world’s policeman (and expected by many to continue to play that role) you make enemies that are not necessarily legitimate, some of whom can bend the Hague process to meet their own needs.

For now, I believe there have to be steps taken by the elite among the nations to move the world forward. I also think that a United Democracies (arbitrarily defined by the more-or-less democratic nations) would be a valuable addition to the UN, not as a substitute but as a shadow organization. And yes, I know that Sudan and Burma think we are not democratic, but in my new organization they would not have a vote, any more than they do in the G-20. I am an elitist in this regard, I confess.

Overall, I am optimistic for the long run. For now, I think Merkel, Sarkozy, and Brown (like Blair before him), warts and all, strike a pretty good balance between leading their countries and reaching out to the world. In this they represent great improvements over many of their predecessors. Tzipi Livni (warts and all) would represent such a step over Bibi [Netanyahu], if she could just get elected.

As for Obama, he is a tremendous improvement over Bush as far as the world goes, but if he doesn’t learn to walk that fine line between American pride and worldwide outreach, he could be an embattled one-term president without many accomplishments before his time is out. The economy is still a mess and the midterm election season will begin before we know it.

Such are the realities of the sojourn of our species on this planet, as I see them through my aged and scratched-up anthropological crystal ball. Sorry to sound like such a damnable pessimist, but I know there’s an optimist inside me somewhere, struggling to get out, whenever the bullets stop flying. Meanwhile, I’m so glad you are optimistic enough to get out there and try to make them stop flying!


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