Benton Musslewhite

One Road to Survival


The dire report on global warming issued by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in early February made it clear that drastic global actions are needed immediately if we are to have any chance of avoiding a global Armageddon. Not an Armageddon in the biblical sense, the “end of all things,” but one where, as T. S. Eliot put it, the world ends “not with a bang but a whimper.”

The IPCC’s findings inevitably lead to what could be the most important question ever posed to humankind in its trek from the cave to possible extinction: What now?

The answer is this: Global warming is a global threat and can be successfully dealt with only by a global structure of governance, a federation of nations that is democratized and has the power to enact binding global laws. The best way to create this federation is by transforming the present United Nations through a Charter Review Conference under Article 109 of the present charter.

We must take on a sense of urgency like the world has never before known, and immediately begin dealing with the global, interconnected, and potentially devastating crises, like global warming, that are upon us. Left unaddressed, they will continue to threaten us at an ever-accelerating pace, and we will find ourselves in a slow, agonizing descent into a hellish existence of incomprehensible suffering and the painful disintegration of human society.

Many will not agree that we must create a global structure of governance and will argue that we have no choice but to continue relying on the present nation-state system and/or the present United Nations. But the nation-state system, which arose out of the ashes of the Thirty Years War with the Treaty of Westphalia of 1648, has just taken us through the bloodiest and dirtiest (environmentally speaking) century in history. As Emery Reves put it in his book The Anatomy of Peace, “We cannot risk reliance upon a method (the nation-state system) which has failed miserably hundreds of times and never succeeded once.”

It is the nation-states’ governmental representatives who shamefully watered down the IPCC report prepared by scientists, deleting most of the references to “positive feedbacks” that hasten and increase the amount of global warming and the intensity of its effects. It is the nation-states, supposedly protecting the people and their best interests, that are utterly failing us once again. In the face of probably the greatest issue challenging humankind, they remain beholden to a few special interests.

The United Nations is doing no better. Just five years after it was created, Winston Churchill recognized that it was not working. “Unless some effective supranational government can be set up and brought quickly into action,” he said, “the prospects of peace and human progress are dark and doubtful.” The U.N. is a creature of the nation-states. “The people” really have nothing to do with it. It is not a real government, has no real power to act, and has little money.

What must we do to establish a global governance structure that can handle these grave problems? Mahatma Gandhi gave us the answer in 1942 when he said that we must create a “world federation of free nations,” making it clear that “on no other basis can the problems of the modern world be solved.” Many great thinkers, leaders, and institutions, before and after Gandhi, have embraced that same higher moral cognition and supported a world federation in some form-Harry S Truman, H. G. Wells, Albert Einstein, Churchill, Arnold Toynbee, Thor Heyerdahl, Jawaharl Nehru, Peter Ustinov, U Thant, Willy Brandt, Norman Cousins, Gen-eral Hap Arnold, the Catholic Church (Pope John XXIII, Pope John Paul II, and the Catholic Bishops Pastoral Letter of 1983), the United Methodist Church, the Episcopal Church (Episcopal Bishops Pastoral Letter of 1962), and the Baha’i Faith.

Why do we not recognize how urgent it is to immediately create an empowered, democratic federation of nations to take the global actions essential for our survival? Some disturbing statements underscore the resistance to this imperative. Former vice president Al Gore, who wrote and co-produced An Inconvenient Truth, has expressly rejected “world government” as a solution for the environmental crisis. Dr. Paul Kennedy, in his book The Parliament of Man, concludes that significant U.N. reform must come piecemeal; he rejects the urgent, comprehensive reform of the U.N. Charter that is absolutely necessary.

If the world accepts the view that the U.N. cannot be immediately transformed into a structure of global governance, then we are doomed. Time will run out on humankind before we can turn the tide and build an environmentally sustainable world.

I believe most people, upon serious reflection, would agree that the global reach of climate change, requiring global action enforced by global law, is obvious. Look at China’s rush to build scores of coal-fired plants that will pump out massive volumes of greenhouse gases. Or India’s rapidly increasing population and carbon emissions. Brazil is failing to prevent the rapid destruction of the Amazon rain forest (as things are going now, 60 percent will be destroyed or severely damaged within 20 years). Meanwhile, the greatest polluting nation of all, the United States, continues its ominous annual increases in carbon emissions. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger should be commended for what California is doing about carbon emissions, but what real effect will these efforts have when a vast cloud of coal emissions continues to drift on the wind from China to California?

The solution to global warming is really rather simple. We need global laws placing strict, enforceable limits on all sources of carbon emissions – industrial plants, automobiles, and others. These limits must be mandatory. The present voluntary system simply does not work. Government is the answer. As E.B. White wrote: “Government is the thing. Law is the thing. Not brotherhood, not international cooperation, not security councils … Where does security lie, anyway-security against the thief, the murderer, the footpad? In brotherly love? Not at all. It lies in government.”

The world needs to spend billions on transition costs for businesses, governments, and individuals. We must immediately undertake intensive programs to develop alternative fuels and energy, investing billions of dollars in programs rivaling in size and intensity the Apollo Project to put a man on the moon and the Manhattan Project to develop the atomic bomb.

How do we get from here-a world of international anarchy-to there- a world justly governed by a democratized world federation? The only way to do it rapidly enough is by taking the model of the American Constitutional Convention of the 1780s and reviving it in modern form through a Charter Review Conference under Article 109 of the present U.N. Charter.

The Articles of Confederation rendered by the Constitutional Congress were almost as impotent as the U.N. Charter is today. Our forefathers initially intended to “amend” the Articles of Confederation, but they had the courage to write a completely new Constitution. We now need that kind of courage on the global level. Many (such as the World Constitution and Parliament Association) have given up on the U.N. and want to create a new world federation through spontaneous action. But direct action likely will not find a path to legitimacy. We need a better way. Article 109 of the U.N. Charter contains the only existing process of which we are aware to construct a global governing body. Urgency and the severity of the global situation causes us to turn to it.

Article 109 requires two-thirds of the members of the General Assembly to call a Charter Review Conference; two-thirds to adopt a new or comprehensively amended United Nations Charter at that Conference; and two-thirds of the member nations to ratify the amended or new Charter, as long as that two-thirds includes the five nations with the single-nation veto (U.S., Britain, France, Russia, and China). There is no doubt that we will have a hard battle to complete the ratification process. But saying that the United States will never ratify a new U.N. Charter is selling the American people short. The first two steps of the process can be accomplished without the consent of the United States. With the inevitable rapid growth of People Power throughout the world supporting the Article 109 process, it is my belief that the global momentum for ratification will become so compelling that the people of the United States will apply sufficient political pressure to secure ratification. If the people will lead, the leaders will follow.

There is a rising consciousness in America that there really is only one Earth, and that all of us on this planet – of whatever nationality, race, culture, religion, or economic station – are in this together, fighting for our planetary lives. Many Americans who have read the proposed new U.N. Charter written by One World Now (see realize that a democratized and empowered world federation is in the best interest of the United States, because it is in the best interests of the world. They also recognize that a new U.N. Charter will probably be much like the U.S. Constitution, with an elected legislative body (with appropriate checks and balance); an executive branch (recognizing that the U.S. president has too much power, the new U.N. probably will have a collective executive branch, with representatives from each of the continental regions); a real judiciary (with trial courts, intermediate appellate courts, and a supreme court, with compulsory jurisdiction and the power to issue binding judgments and decrees); and a fourth branch headed by a directly elected auditor general, who will have full power to ferret out waste and corruption in the new U.N. With proper checks and balances, military power can be marshaled and managed without risking global tyranny.

The American people will see that this “democratizing” of the new U.N. – investing it with power to do something immediately and effectively about global warming, war and peace, terrorism, poverty, the gradual destruction of the oceans and the rain forests, the increasing intensity of natural disasters, pandemics, human rights abuses, problems with population explosions in some places and ominous depopulation in others, and other global crises – is absolutely necessary if we are going to have any real chance of beating the Doomsday clock, which is relentlessly ticking away toward a terrible Armageddon.

I can see the day coming soon when the great majority of people will join arm in arm in a great and grand march toward the “sunlit upland” of global governance, where every World Citizen participates in a global democracy, where peace prevails, where the Bill of Social Rights (a safety net of food, clean water, adequate medical care, education, job opportunity, and social security for the aged, disabled and unemployed) is available to every World Citizen, where we live in an environmentally sustainable world, where each human being enjoys the basic individual, human and civil rights to which we are all endowed by our Creator and where, together, we have fought the battle for survival and won.

Benton Musslewhite is an attorney in Houston and president of One World Now, an organization dedicated to establishing global governance through the United Nations Charter process.