Dienstag, Dezember 09, 2008

Worst of All Possible Worlds...

Gideon Rachman of the FT is, once again, a hoot.

The only thing he's really got right is that global government isn't going to happen soon.

Let the fisking begin...

I have never believed that there is a secret United Nations plot to take over the US. I have never seen black helicopters hovering in the sky above Montana. But, for the first time in my life, I think the formation of some sort of world government is plausible.

Plausible? Plausible in the sense of "yes we can contemplate it" just like my children insist that getting a PS3 is a plausible thing to do, or plausible in the sense of "makes sense"?

I fear that Mr. Rachman believes the latter. Goodness.

A "world government" would involve much more than co-operation between nations. It would be an entity with state-like characteristics, backed by a body of laws. The European Union has already set up a continental government for 27 countries, which could be a model. The EU has a supreme court, a currency, thousands of pages of law, a large civil service and the ability to deploy military force.

The EU has a legion of technocrats, is run by a group of unprincipled and out-of-control do-gooders who haven't even once, in the history of the EU Commission, actually published a budget that had anything - anything - to do with reality and whose former commissioners tend to end up convicted of fraud and malfeasance. Hmmm. Come to think of it, that's how you can describe most governments in power today, but that is scarcely the model to hope that the world follows: or perhaps it is? Could it be that Rachman actually wants the incompetent and vainglorious fools that represent the citizens of Europe to run things?

There is a reason why the EU has so abjectly failed outside of things like subsidies for milk and other foodstuffs: it makes the workings of Congress look like a high-precision and quality workshop in comparison.

So could the European model go global? There are three reasons for thinking that it might.

First, it is increasingly clear that the most difficult issues facing national governments are international in nature: there is global warming, a global financial crisis and a "global war on terror".

Well, two out of three isn't bad. The first one, of course, can't be taken seriously if you've been watching the actual science behind the enormous claims of the doom-and-gloom brigade, things like, say, using the wrong data, constructing models that always give you the results you want, and general incompetence of the global warming hysterians.

Second, it could be done. The transport and communications revolutions have shrunk the world so that, as Geoffrey Blainey, an eminent Australian historian, has written: "For the first time in human history, world government of some sort is now possible." Mr Blainey foresees an attempt to form a world government at some point in the next two centuries, which is an unusually long time horizon for the average newspaper column.

Right: "it could be done". As if that is the reason it should be done? While I also anticipate an attempt to form a world government - heck, it's part of the AGW hysterian agenda - I don't view it with glee or with anticipation, but rather with a sense of foreboding and dread.

But – the third point – a change in the political atmosphere suggests that "global governance" could come much sooner than that. The financial crisis and climate change are pushing national governments towards global solutions, even in countries such as China and the US that are traditionally fierce guardians of national sovereignty.

Well, that's a point to be seen: nations cooperating in enlightened self-interest is scarcely the first baby steps to global government, since if they were, that baby has since grown, had kids of its own, and retired, wondering why the children never call and if they'll ever see any grandchildren before they depart this vale of tears...

Barack Obama, America's president-in-waiting, does not share the Bush administration's disdain for international agreements and treaties. In his book, The Audacity of Hope, he argued that: "When the world's sole superpower willingly restrains its power and abides by internationally agreed-upon standards of conduct, it sends a message that these are rules worth following." The importance that Mr Obama attaches to the UN is shown by the fact that he has appointed Susan Rice, one of his closest aides, as America's ambassador to the UN, and given her a seat in the cabinet.

Well, I couldn't expect Rachman to avoid trying for once again a Bush-bashing round, but does he have to be so predictable? There is no disdain for international agreements and treaties: just like any self-respecting national government, the Bush administration has quite rightfully chosen to ignore those that get in the way. That the Bush administration isn't good at hiding its disdain is another problem, but if you've bothered to read any history or understand how the world actually works, you'd know that international treaties are worth, at best, the paper they are written on, and it is only enlightened self-interest that keeps any such treaty going. Really.

And the sad corollary of the world's sole superpower willingly restraining its power is that everyone else tries to fill the vacuum, which political nature abhors. One of the great mysteries to around 90% of the world's governments is that the US hasn't simply declared pax americana and gone on to tell them what the game plan is: if it were any of those 90%, that's exactly what they'd be doing. Power unused is power gone, first temporarily, then permanently. On top of that all, what "internationally agreed-upon standards of conduct" are we talking about?

The kind that let thugs and murders run a country into the ground and murder and abuse millions, while demanding non-interference? The kind that allows and, if anything, encourages genocide by pretending that it isn't happening because it might make someone unhappy? The one that sells the tools to make weapons of mass destruction and then feigns ignorance?

Or the one that will tsk-tsk when Iran detonates a nuke in Tel Aviv and then point out that if Israel had just been nicer, maybe it wouldn't have come to this?

Mr. Rachman: there are no "internationally agreed-upon standards of conduct" except in the fantasies of those proposing world government (oh...wait, got it). They're at very best a nice political construct, and belief in them shows a naivety that would ordinarily be charming.

But in this case it's chilling.

The world will remember Susan Rice not as an intellectually sharp and incisive woman, but rather as someone who pushed for the US to get involved in any and all genocides across the globe, truly aiming for imperial overreach. The woman is at best a catastrophe waiting to happen: I can just see her lecturing the government in Khartum about its genocidal activities, and that government deciding that the Americans are both insane and stupid. She is a moralist wanting to correct the world's wrongs, and such people should be kept behind locked doors before they start wars.

A taste of the ideas doing the rounds in Obama circles is offered by a recent report from the Managing Global Insecurity project, whose small US advisory group includes John Podesta, the man heading Mr Obama's transition team and Strobe Talbott, the president of the Brookings Institution, from which Ms Rice has just emerged.

Interesting choice of words, isn't it? Not solving global insecurity, or overcoming global insecurity, but managing global insecurity. Says it all, doesn't it?

The MGI report argues for the creation of a UN high commissioner for counter-terrorist activity, a legally binding climate-change agreement negotiated under the auspices of the UN and the creation of a 50,000-strong UN peacekeeping force. Once countries had pledged troops to this reserve army, the UN would have first call upon them.

Well, isn't that special. Let's give the organization that has turned human rights into a laughing stock joke, that has failed repeatedly to follow its own resolutions, spectacularly so, that was actively involved in undermining some of its own resolutions, and which has murdered and sexually exploited those it was to protect, let's give them a new high commissioner for counter-terrorism. I nominate, oh, maybe Syria to fill the position, or maybe Iran?

Legally binding? Correct me if I am wrong, but legally binding implies a) someone who writes the laws; b) courts to make a decision about the law; c) police to enforce and uphold the laws. Shall international law trump local law?

The UN has no jurisdiction here, and legally binding  will be a joke for most countries. They'll be happy to put it into law, and just as happy to ignore it when auspicious or useful.

And 50k troops? Don't be silly. If you are going to go for a right a proper peace-keeping force, you'd need more like 5 million to for the UN to be able to enforce the law. The number 50k is, counting support troops, barely enough to police a single province (anywhere), let alone be a real "peace-keeping" force. That 50k, when you subtract support troops, is less than 10k on the ground: if there is serious fighting - which will happen, as no one will believe in the deterrence effect of such a UN force unless they know that they are willing to fight - that isn't enough to sustain any sort of combat operations.

Given the general quality of the troops involved in UN peace-keeping operations, unless these are highly-trained, combat-tested troops, they will be nothing more than uniformed police, and in such a role these numbers are ludicrously low. Which means that they will get higher.

Do you want the UN running your country? Given the track record, only a civil war is less attractive...

These are the kind of ideas that get people reaching for their rifles in America's talk-radio heartland. Aware of the political sensitivity of its ideas, the MGI report opts for soothing language. It emphasises the need for American leadership and uses the term, "responsible sovereignty" – when calling for international co-operation – rather than the more radical-sounding phrase favoured in Europe, "shared sovereignty". It also talks about "global governance" rather than world government.

Nice try, Mr. Rachman: try to make anyone opposing this into the equivalent of that favorite boogeyman of the Europeans, a hillbilly redneck.

Responsible sovereignty? Sorry, there is no such thing. It's like "responsible breathing", not like "responsible drinking". You can't help but breath, just as states cannot help but be sovereign. It's part and parcel of what a state does. Giving up fundamental rights - the right to decide economic policy, for instance - isn't something one does to be "responsible": if anything, it is an irresponsible abdication of fundamental sovereign rights to unnamed, unelected technocrats - who make up the EU commission, after all - who, to boot, have no one that they need to be responsible to. And what would be the difference between "global governance" and world government?

There is none: making such a differentiation is nothing less than smoke and mirrors.

But some European thinkers think that they recognise what is going on. Jacques Attali, an adviser to President Nicolas Sarkozy of France, argues that: "Global governance is just a euphemism for global government." As far as he is concerned, some form of global government cannot come too soon. Mr Attali believes that the "core of the international financial crisis is that we have global financial markets and no global rule of law".

Mr. Attali: the core of the international financial crisis is that governments create instabilities that are exploited. The US government decided to bend market rules to create lots and lots of homeowners who cannot pay their loans. That's the problem.

So, it seems, everything is in place. For the first time since homo sapiens began to doodle on cave walls, there is an argument, an opportunity and a means to make serious steps towards a world government.

And the connection between doodling on cave walls is?

To be correct, Mr. Rachman should rather write "...since homo sapiens began to boss other people around". That'd be the right and proper comparison.

Most certainly there are means to create a world government. Doesn't mean you should. It's sort of like giving the materials for explosives to teenage boys and teaching them chemistry, pointing out that things that make loud noises are fun: opportunity and means. Doesn't make it a good idea now, does it?

But let us not get carried away. While it seems feasible that some sort of world government might emerge over the next century, any push for "global governance" in the here and now will be a painful, slow process.

Thank goodness for that. The slower and more painful the better: it should be so slow and painful that people decide that it's a really, really, really bad idea.

There are good and bad reasons for this. The bad reason is a lack of will and determination on the part of national, political leaders who – while they might like to talk about "a planet in peril" – are ultimately still much more focused on their next election, at home.

Well, duh. Does Mr. Rachman think that this is somehow going to change come the new age of enlightenment he is fantasizing about? That shows a rather basic lack of understanding about human nature, now, doesn't it?

But this "problem" also hints at a more welcome reason why making progress on global governance will be slow sledding. Even in the EU – the heartland of law-based international government – the idea remains unpopular. The EU has suffered a series of humiliating defeats in referendums, when plans for "ever closer union" have been referred to the voters. In general, the Union has progressed fastest when far-reaching deals have been agreed by technocrats and politicians – and then pushed through without direct reference to the voters. International governance tends to be effective, only when it is anti-democratic.

Well, why do you think the EU has suffered a series of humiliating defeats? Got news for you, Gideon: it's because not everyone thinks the EU is a hunky-dory glorious thing, and as a matter of fact, the more that know how the EU actually works, the less they are interested in having it in charge.

Of course, the last point is the critical one, the one that warms the hearts of all of the watermelon people out there: they want their dictatorship, and by golly they want it now! All of you peons out there, thinking for yourselves and not kowtowing to the obvious elite, your betters ('cause we know about global warming! Yesindeediedoo!), you're ruining the planet for us, the considerate, the metrosexual, the modern elite, the watermelon people.

All you need ot make this complete is for him to say that communism never was really tried in practice, but with modern computers I'll bet we can get it to work.

The world's most pressing political problems may indeed be international in nature, but the average citizen's political identity remains stubbornly local. Until somebody cracks this problem, that plan for world government may have to stay locked away in a safe at the UN.

In other words: until we can bamboozle everyone, or until we can indoctrinate them well enough, or until we can scare them into it, or until we have people who don't actually behave like people, then we need to keep our plans for taking over the world under lock and key.

Sigh. History repeats itself, but this is increasingly farcical. Which means it will end, once again, in fiasco, chaos, despair and desperation. The last thing the world needs right now is a world government. It would be, quite clearly, the worst of all possible worlds.

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