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The planetary incapacity to govern needs to be addressed right now

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Will the planetary incapacity to govern be addressed right now or do we wait until after a Third World War to do so?

The First World War made it painfully clear that a world order dominated by national self-interests is a highly dangerous world disorder. Still humanity only managed to take a small step, a much too small step, in the direction of a world order that goes beyond the politics of national self-interest: The League of Nations, founded in 1920, did not last long because in almost no country the spirit of national self-interest seriously gave way in favor of a League of Nations truly worthy of this name. The right of veto for all member nations was an “insurance” that the “right to protect national interests” would continue to retain its de facto dominance.

The Second World War was the result. It was even far bloodier and far more cynical in terms of nationalist delusion. The subsequent founding of the United Nations represented a valuable step beyond the concept of the League of Nations. Nevertheless, an inter-national conception of world order remained its core constitutional principle, best visible in the veto right of the great powers in its most important body, the Security Council. Over decades, the Security Council has not been able to prevent a renewed escalation of military buildup and – as we are acutely aware today – not even provides an effective protection against a Third World War.

Do we really need a Third World War to finally overcome the planetary incapacity to govern in such vital matters as maintaining world peace and preserving the ecosystem? How long will we wait to rethink the dominance of national self-interest in fields that undeniably have a global, a human dimension and can only be managed based on concepts of planetary sovereignty and effective planetary action?

Is Earth still governable?

Perhaps the most interesting recent contribution on this topic was written – perhaps a particular challenge for Western readers – by a Chinese philosopher, of all people. Here are some quotes from Zhao Tingyang’s work “Everything Under Heaven”, published in a German translation in 2020:

The real problem of the world is not failed states, but a failed world. Should the world continue to exist as an inefficient world in the long run, no state, no matter how powerful, will be able to cope with the problem of the negative outside and ensure security and development in a divided and uncooperative world… The reasons for this lie, among others, in the fact that the particular state interest always takes precedence over the common world interest… World order cannot be the order of a world dominated by any hegemonic states or alliances of powerful states, but only the order of world sovereignty, which is guided by the common good of the world.

Albert Einstein already recognized the necessity of global political action that complements all the valuable action taken by civil society in the global realm. German foreign minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher and German president Richard von Weizsäcker spoke of world domestic policy, Mikhail Gorbachev of global perestroika. In 1988, Gorbachev presented to the world community at the UN General Assembly the idea of a world environmental security council and, overall, of a profound strengthening and democratization of the United Nations. To achieve this goal, he said, his country was prepared to substantially renounce national sovereignty. The most comprehensive review of such forward-looking thinking was done by Andreas Bummel and Jo Leinen in their 2018 work “A World Parliament” which is nearly 500 pages long.

There is no shortage of smart forward-thinking from a wide variety of sources. However, with regard to challenges that can only be solved at the global scale, each year the gap widens between the need for global action and action that has actually been implemented. More than 25 years ago Yehezkel Dror raised the question whether “Earth is still governable?” in a report to the Club of Rome, published in German under this apt title and in English under the title “The capacity to govern”. As long as this gap persists, his question remains frighteningly unaddressed. Sustainable solutions to problems in the field of the environment, human rights, peace, justice or other fundamental questions of human civilization can only be implemented sustainably in a globalized world if at the same time sustainable democratic and constitutional changes are made energetically at the global level.

Of course, a global system of global action can only meet with approval if it conforms to the highest and most modern democratic principles. But how will we ever get there if we don’t finally start thinking about the design of a global government construct that is fit for the future and capable of action, and that no longer gets constantly entangled in endless loops of national egoisms?

The most important and valuable drivers of all the agreements the UN has come up with to date on global challenges have not been its member states but global civil society that has become increasingly strong. More than 3,000 non-governmental organizations with consultative status are now accredited at the UN. Global civil society ultimately is all of us. Let’s make it our responsibility now to ensure a global discussion takes place on how to constructively overcome the planetary disorder.

Georgios Zervas
Georgios Zervas is Managing Director of IMS Consulting in Stuttgart
Peter Spiegel
Managing Director of WeQ Institute in Berlin. Co-founder and board member of Democracy Without Borders-Germany
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