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Global Governance Made Easy
Mike Treder   Sep 23, 2009   Ethical Technology  

National sovereignty is a privilege, not a right.

Designing and implementing a successful form of global governance depends on a single simple principle: that national sovereignty is not a right but a privilege to be earned.

If we can get agreement on that idea, the obvious next step is to determine the basis on which the privilege of sovereignty can be earned and maintained. While this is another simple, basic concept, developing the actual terms for granting or recognizing sovereignty would be a difficult process indeed. We can’t overstate the immense challenge of getting nearly two hundred currently existing nations to reach consensus on the rules for their continued independence.

Still, the end result would surely be worth it, assuming the project is undertaken and carried out in good faith.

It’s basically a three step process:

First, all participating nations must agree on the fundamental principle underlying the concept of global governance: that national sovereignty is a privilege, not a right. The corollary to that is an expectation that sovereignty privileges will be revoked for those who do not maintain certain minimum standards. Any nation withholding agreement at this point would exempt itself from the opportunity to participate in designing the governmental structure.

Second, participating bodies must negotiate a set of international standards to which all nations will be held. These standards might incorporate articles found in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, although it’s nearly certain that we’d see impassioned debates over how to revise those statements or whether to scrap them altogether and begin anew. This step could be expected to take several years.

Third, after the initial agreement is reached (step 1) and the basic international standards for sovereignty are established (step 2), some mechanism for verifying compliance with standards and for enforcing decisions about revoking sovereignty would have to be developed. Again, this would be an arduous process that could involve many years of negotiation.

In practice, of course, all three steps might be taking place simultaneously and not in strict linear order. It would be a messy process and the outcome would undoubtedly be far from perfect—but it would represent a beginning and an important advance for all of us in recognizing that we are part of a single human family.

The time to begin is now.

Mike Treder is a former Managing Director of the IEET.


I’m not so sure that any collection of the currently existing nation-states could create any sort of structure which could force sovereign nationhood to be earned.

The reason is because of accelerating technological growth.

Seasteading is typically the example which has been brought up here, but I’m not so sure how practical that is given the startup costs, and the fact that most of the champions of this have no realistic concept of how to manage a functioning society.

Yet, there are other highly land-based groups that are popping up. Lots of increasingly self-sufficient Resilient Communities, Transition Towns, Global Villages, etc.

One such group is actively advocating the creation of new nations using the enabling power of distributed, local manufacturing, open source methodology, communications technologies, 3D printing, etc.

Can this really be stopped? Would we even want to live in a world in which these enabling technologies were stunted by some authoritarian body? Clearly the IEET wouldn’t, and considering the barriers to entry regarding nation building are rapidly lowering, at minimum a more sophisticated response suited to the 21st century would be required.

All of this isn’t much more advanced than Wilson’s Fourteen Points over a hundred years ago. We shouldn’t treat it as something radical, but rather see it for what it is… product of its time…. progressive no doubt, but certainly not what is needed.

Furthermore, while I firmly believe that we should be active in the construction of federalized global governance mechanisms, I think the role we should take is that of activists challenging it. While I voted for Ralph Nader, one of the things I at least respected about Obama is that he told his followers to be critical and push him. I’m not so sure they followed through on that, but that is the sort of active (global) citizenship we need.

Sovereignty is an inherent aspect of the nation-state. In the current construction of governance, a nation’s sovereignty is either infringed or respected, with the sovereignty of the nation never removed. How would you propose divorcing the two concepts in such a way as to make sovereignty a thing to be given/taken away by a higher governing body?

Your description of a global government is akin to the current construction of the EU in that membership can be granted/revoked. That system, however, doesn’t require sovereignty as privilege. In fact, like a democracy, the governing body of the EU functions based on the concept that the nation-state as such possesses a kind of autonomy which is based in its sovereignty. Just as a democracy assumes autonomous, in fact, sovereign citizens (gov’t of, by, and for the people implies just that), your global governance structure, if democratic, must continue to recognize sovereignty. In fact, the only systems of governance that don’t recognize sovereignty as-such are fascism, communism, and totalitarianism.

The system you are describing would function much better with a graduated federalist system. I researched possible scenarios for a paper in undergrad and the most logical system would, like the nation-state and it’s offspring the union (trade, political or otherwise) are emergent formations that arise out of need and mutual desire. The most logical path for global governance would be a tiered system of global, union/regional, national/federal, state/province, local.

To eliminate sovereignty requires a total re-conception of governance itself, particularly regarding the political legitimacy of the governed, in this case, nation-states.

“basic international standards for sovereignty are established”

followed immediately by more and more standards until we have regulated and controlled every aspect of life for everyone. Enjoy that bloated inescapable bureaucracy!

I think this is most likely doomed to fail at the first fence here because

Quote - “all participating nations must agree on the fundamental principle underlying the concept of global governance:.. “

I agree this must be the first and most important step, and the first step to success here must be to provide valid reasons and motives and promote the need for global governance, (via the UN). How else would you get autocratic nations to come on board? Firstly, there must be a motion of common concerns that drives the need to bring ALL the nations of the world together, excluding none : not one single exclusion is acceptable.

So what would be these motives and concerns which necessitate the need for global governance? Well, primarily I would say climate change, famine, world health issues, world economic stability, end of conflicts, fair trade and de-globalisation, and the distribution of knowledge, skills and technologies, and medical advancements may be the secondary drive.

The existential risks concerning climate change may be key to this first stage, and there must be clear evidence why the UN is no longer a viable organisation to solve these current problems. I still have faith in the UN, and on the whole it does have its successes as well as failures, yet its weakness may be linked to its democratic and bureaucratic processes which are slow and sometimes inadequate to act quickly. However, the UN is a system we have in progress now, and I believe we should build and extend upon these principles.

Quote - “that national sovereignty is a privilege, not a right.”

I don’t feel there would be any consensus for this point alone. And there will certainly be many countries willing to go to war over simply this. You cannot mess with national sovereignty, a true democratic government is one that is elected by its peoples, (not the world), and thus whosoever those peoples decide should rule them through democratic means or other should take president.

I guess it all depends on your views regarding global governance, which I envisage as an international and governing treaty with powers to sanction and veto for the benefit of the world as a whole. Sovereignty and national identity should remain, at least until such times when the world is ethically evolved enough to discard with national identities and nations altogether?

Quote - “corollary to that is an expectation that sovereignty privileges will be revoked for those who do not maintain certain minimum standards. Any nation withholding agreement at this point would exempt itself from the opportunity to participate in designing the governmental structure.”

Again, enforcement is not an option, the whole basis of global governance must be based on full participation, and so excluding or suspending nations and states for any breach of ruling is merely acceptance of failure. Sanctions and other penalties may apply, yet you cannot mess with sovereignty, peoples will fight to the death rather than give up these rights and freedoms. And who could blame them?

And what are these minimum standards to be? Acts of aggression against other nations? Then sanctions yes, yet not the exclusion of any nation if peace talks and resolution of conflicts is to be achieved. Human rights? Again, you can constructively direct attentions to resolve human rights issues in the manner that the UN already utilises, (sanctions once more). There are many nations presently that fall far short of minimum standards on human rights, yet to exclude them is to turn your back on the problem, which can only lead to the permanent exclusion and alienation of these countries?

I would like to suggest global governance in the form of an international parliament, whereby the position of any nation within this global government is balanced against its “usefulness” to the rest of the world as a whole. Either through fair trade, human rights, export of foods and other materials, the sharing of technologies, medical supplies, global emissions, power and fuel distributions, and many other responsibilities which may be taken into account. Each nations position would then be tallied in relation and respect to this “usefulness” to the rest of the world, perhaps using an international ratings scheme which permits nations a number of voting seats within the global parliament.

In this model, no nation would be excluded, as the participation of every nation of the world is of utmost priority. The lowest performing nations within this schema would maybe hold one or two seats, and the more “useful” nations would hold more voting seats up to an agreed maximum. Thus the most productive nations would hold the greater voting potential yet less voiced nations would still have the opportunity to veto in the parliament. For example, similar or even collaborative nations and allies may decide to cooperate together to veto and sanction against nations that possess more voting seats if they disagree.

Note this parliamentary system must not be based on power or wealth! Else all we would have is a larger world bureaucracy controlled by the wealthiest of nations. Fairness and equitable status of all the nations of the world as global partners must be the only way forward, and would ensure a democratic philosophy which may even aide to evolve the entire world into a democratic union, as autocratic nations become more absorbed into the democratic process.

I agree with Kyle:reconstitution of the UN as a union of continental unions (a “GU”, for Global Union?) would do much more to quietly undermine nationalistic defiance than a direct challenge to sovereignty.  A much different dynamic is created in a Union of 6 or 7 regional unions than a forum of 200+ very unequal nations.

Perhaps this is too Kantian, but it seems that the idea that sovereignty is not a right opens up the idea that people also are not sovereign unto themselves.  If a country can be “dissolved” (or whatever), you are essentially creating a body which can take away social identity.

If someone busted out with an edict “The nation of Kerplakistania no longer exists due to excessive production of reality TV shows”, what happens to the citizenship of its citizens?

Creation of a subclass of people, with no (or second-class) citizenship offers an odd slope of potentials.

It would require much more than a big stick and soft speech to convince most of the world to agree to such a thing.
(Nations may be enthusiastic to join the EU, but what is the cost/benefit for those nations who want to join, vs a nation who does not.)

I used to be in favor of a world government. I am not anymore, for this simple open question:

Suppose the world government becomes a dictatorship with no respect for citizen’s rights. Don’t say this is impossible: it has happened to many cultures which have been great before and after. Or, suppose the world government becomes a benevolently dictatorial nanny state which interferes in every aspect of citizen’s private life. And don’t say this is impossible, because it is what is happening now in many western societies.

Simple question: where do we run to?

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