The outbreak of hostilities in Ukraine has riveted the world’s attention on the unthinkable, a major war on the European continent. Although it has been some 77 years since the last major war in Europe ended, to anyone paying attention its outbreak should have come as no surprise. War appears to be inherent in human nature. So invoking it seems to be inevitable as long as human beings have the material means and political ability to put it into practice.
The First World War was often billed as “The war to end all wars.” Obviously, it didn’t. Barely 20 years later, mankind was plunged into a new war that was many times more murderous than its predecessor. However, it wasn’t necessary to wait two decades for a new conflict to break out because between the two world wars there were numerous other conflicts that cost thousands of lives and laid waste to cities and the countryside. A partial listing would include the Russian Civil War (1918–1921), the Irish War of Independence (1919–1921), the Polish-Russia War (1919–1921), the Turkish War of Independence (1919–1922), and many more.
The 21st century has shown little improvement, with fratricidal and suicidal conflicts seeming to break out virtually every day. People oppressing and slaughtering other people seems to be a fundamental feature of human nature. Modern warfare has become so horrible and costly in terms of human misery, with the ever-present threat of nuclear annihilation, that we may now be on the verge of an important change. And that is a genuine impetus toward developing and implementing a new type of political structure to put an end to the madness— a genuine world government.
The idea of a single, all-encompassing world government automatically raises the hackles of many people. This is largely for fear that such a globe-girdling political structure would inevitably lead to worldwide oppression and misery—a cruel, heartless dictatorship beyond anything ever previously experienced or imagined.
This is not an unreasonable concern; however; it is a knee-jerk reaction. Although a possibility, there is nothing inevitable about such a globe-girdling government ultimately turning into a people-crushing abomination. The same potential for malevolence exists in all governments, no matter how big or small, and always has. This is the perpetual leitmotif of mankind. This is what must be countered.
Estimates of deaths due to war in the past century often exceed 100 million. This means that from 1900 to 1999, an average of 1 million persons were killed by war every year. This reduces to about 833,000 persons killed by war every month, 27,400 every day, 1,140 persons killed every hour, or18 persons every minute. This means that in the time it would take the average person to read this paragraph, the lives of 18 people would have been snuffed out by war.
Moreover, in June 2014 the United Nations reported that there were 51.2 million displaced persons in the world, an all-time high. In large measure, this was because the world was embroiled in a number of murderous conflicts, including the Afghanistan war, the Darfur war, the Somalian civil war, the Syrian civil war, the Israeli-Gaza crisis, the Yemen civil war, the Iraq-IS (Islamic State) insurgency, etc. No doubt other such conflicts are brewing elsewhere on the planet, just waiting to hit the headlines. With no end in sight.
Big is Better
It is easy to overlook the fact that with fits and starts, throughout history we have been moving towards bigger and bigger political entities. And, with notable exceptions, the results of consolidation have been generally positive. In fact, it can be argued that a government that is “too small” can be more detrimental than one that is “too big.”
For example, most Americans tend to forget that the Constitution of the United States was adopted in 1788 specifically to strengthen the palpably ineffectual government left in place under the Articles of Confederation in 1783 at the end of the American Revolution (War of Independence). This first American government was virtually bereft of any legal authority, such that it was treated by many, if not most, as some kind of joke. Because it was accorded essentially no respect, the original 13 states (former British colonies) felt they could do largely anything they wanted without let or hindrance. This included not paying taxes, which some states did only intermittently, considering financing the central government to be voluntary, not obligatory.
The blame for the perpetual political muddle of the European Union can largely be laid at the door of under-centralization rather than over-centralization. The same is true of the world’s other regional groupings.
Wars Between Wars
Probably no one is still alive who first heard the iconic slogan “The war to end all wars.” First seen as a book title in 1914, this slogan was used to describe and inspire people to fight in the Great War of 1914–1918. Yet barely 20 years later, the Great War (renamed the First World War) was succeeded by an even greater war. However, it was not necessary to wait two decades for hostilities to resume. Between the end of the First World War on November 11, 1918, and the outbreak of the Second World War on September 1, 1939, the planet would witness countless vicious attacks of man against man, the most important ones being:
- Russian Civil War (1918–1921)
- Irish War of Independence (1919–1921)
- Polish-Russia War (1919–1921)
- Turkish War of Independence (1919–1922)
- Franco-Syrian War (1920–1920)
- Guangdong-Guangxi War (1920–1921)
- Soviet-Finish War (1921–1922)
- Riffian War (1921–1926)
- Nicaraguan Civil War (1926–1927)
- Chinese Civil War (1927–1937)
- Second Italo-Ethiopian War (1935–1936)
- Spanish Civil War (1936–1939)
- Sino-Japanese War (1937–1945)
Unlike the First World War (World War I), no one ever claimed \ the Second World War (World War II) was a “war to end all wars,” and it certainly wasn’t. Wars fought after World War II to the end of the 20th century include:
- Greek Civil War (1946)
- French Indochina War (1946–1954)
- Indo-Pakistani War (1947)
- Israeli War of Independence (1948–1949)
- Korean War (1950–1953)
- French-Algerian War (1954–1962)
- Vietnam War (1959–1975)
- Nigerian Civil War (1967–1970)
- Soviet-Afghan War (1979–1989)
- Iran-Iraq War (1980–1988)
- Sudanese Civil War (1983)
- Persian Gulf War (1990–1991)
- Third Balkan War (1991–1995)
- Rwandan Genocide (1994)
These two lists only scratch the surface. According to some estimates, during the 20th century, up to 180 million people died as the direct or indirect result of war. The figure of 180 million is probably high because it is difficult to precisely define what is meant by the “direct or indirect result of war.” However, one thing that is beyond question. During the 20th century, tens of millions of people died due to war, and hundreds of millions of survivors endured severe suffering due to war.
It was said earlier, but it is worth repeating. Even if we suppose that the actual number is considerably lower than 180 million people, say 100 million people, this means that from 1900 to 1999, an average of 1million persons were killed by war every year. This reduces to about 833,000 persons killed by war every month, or 27,400 every day. If we want to downsize even further, we arrive at about 1,140 persons killed every hour or 18 persons every minute. This means that in the time it may take you to read this paragraph, the lives of 18 people would have been snuffed out by war.
No matter how you calculate it, the level of carnage is staggering.
A Glimpse of the Future
Anyone familiar with the iconic TV and film series “Star Trek” knows that the famous Starship Enterprise undertakes its interstellar voyages on behalf of the United Federation of Planets. Interstellar space travel to “explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before” is of course still very much in the province of fiction. However, one aspect of this description would seem to be very much in the real province of the past and the future.
The concept of a United Federation of Planets clearly implies that the member planets have somehow managed to create individual planetary governments that are capable of joining each other in a close-knit interstellar community. If we look at our own planet Earth today, it is clear that we are still very far from creating any kind of worldwide government. The United Nations is more of a talking shop than a government, as was the ill-fated League of Nations before it. If it actually were a world government, the U.N. would have put a stop to the invasion of Ukraine before it started, or within a day or two thereafter.
Clearly, the murderous conflicts of the 20th century must not be allowed to continue. Equally clearly, the current situation of nearly 200 fractious, inward-looking countries, each defending its sovereignty and perceived national interests, has failed miserably to do the job. It would seem that the only solution to man’s penchant to slaughter his fellow man is a properly constrained world government with the authority and power to stop such conflicts before they start, or at least to dampen them before they can flare into sickening conflations.
Thus, the question is not whether a true world government would be too big, but whether anything less is now too small.
How Would a World Government Operate?
The knee-jerk reaction to the idea of a world government is often: What happens to the individual in all this? A fair question. The answer is, the individual would be better off than they have been at any time in history.
This would be true if a world government only guaranteed that there would never be another war. However, it goes much further than this.
A world government would also ensure that major worldwide problems such as climate change would be tackled efficiently and effectively with no self-serving individuals or countries able to stop it or try to throw it into reverse. Likewise, there would be a fairer allocation of wealth and resources, the contrary of which we have been (unsurprisingly) witnessing with the Covid-19 pandemic, in which the people in some countries have had all the Covid vaccines (initial regimen plus boosters) while those of other countries have had little or no access at all. Eradicating poverty and implementing sustainable economic development would be much more effective and fair because they would no longer depend on the largess of countries that already have a comfortable standard of living. And so on.
Yes, there would be problems; of course, there would be problems. The key problem would be: How to ensure that the all-encompassing world government based on the principle of the best for everyone would not be converted into a global autocracy based on the principle of the best for the privileged few.
This would be no mean feat. It would depend on how the world government is initially structured, plus clear, effective regulation to ensure that this bright, new political reality never degenerates into its opposite.
A key obstacle to establishing and operating a true world government is the deeply entrenched concept of “sovereignty.” This is the notion that certain pieces of territory and the peoples within them are so unique that the rest of the world should have little or nothing to say about what happens there. The word sovereignty derives from the word “sovereign,” which initially meant a supreme ruler, especially a hereditary monarch. While still existing in some corners of the world, the idea that someone is “born to rule” has been largely consigned to the dustbin of history. However, the notion of national sovereignty is still very much alive—and still very much a burden.
For example, if Russia hadn’t been able to use its veto on the Security Council of the United Nations, the carnage in Ukraine might have been stopped virtually overnight, rather than going on and on. It is instructive to note that Russia is one of only five members of the Security Council’s 15 members to hold veto power, the other four being China, France, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Apparently, some countries are more sovereign than others.
Albert Einstein made two prescient comments appropriate to this discussion.
“We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”
“Insanity: Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
Computing and World Government
Establishing and maintaining a fair, equitable, and self-regulating world government would require an almost unimaginable amount of number crunching and analysis of the resultant data. Fortunately, we live in the age of computing and computer science. It is probable that everything we would need to bring a safe, effective world government does not yet exist. However, it is well within the realm of possibility for whatever might be required to be developed and put into operation. So what would be the role and what are the challenges computing would face in order to make such a world government a functioning reality?
The way that computing and computer science would contribute to, and in fact be a sine qua non of a world government, will depend on a clear understanding of the goals and objectives of that government.
To my mind, the leitmotif of a world government must be “the greatest good with the least pain.” This means that while dealing with people numbering in the billions, each one must be considered an individual. No matter what actions the world government would take, some people would benefit while others would not. In other words, there would necessarily be winners and losers. However, no one must lose to the extent that they are truly hurt.
For example, today it is largely agreed that radical action must be taken to slow down, and perhaps even reverse, climate change. It is also largely agreed that this will mean rapidly converting the world’s energy generation from fossil fuels to renewables. For many people, the shift will be hardly noticeable or at the most a slight inconvenience. However, for those who make their living drilling for oil and digging for coal, the changeover could be catastrophic. This must not be allowed to happen.
It is not enough to provide aid for such people to retrain for other jobs, provided that such jobs are available where they live. If not, it might be necessary to provide them with sufficient compensatory financial resources to maintain a decent standard of living over a long period of time. Finance their move to other locations where there are jobs. Develop a specific plan to create a useful, sustainable industry where petroleum production and coal mining will be shut down. Or a combination of these. Or something else not yet imagined.
To remain true to the credo “the greatest good with the least pain,” it is clear that it would be necessary to amass relevant data from far and wide, process the data to a high level of sophistication and reliability, and constantly monitor the progress of the plan as it is being implemented in order to make minor tweaks or major changes as the plan progresses.
Also, it must be understood that a world government would be unable to micromanage the billions of people it would be created to serve. Any more than any national government today can micromanage all the people within its jurisdiction. There will still be subdivisions into states or provinces, counties, districts, cities, etc. to deal with problems and situations of a largely local nature. The difference would be, that such subdivisions would in no way be sovereign. Once the world government, after detailed consideration, deemed an action to be necessary, the subdivisions would have to follow. They would not be able to opt-out such as many U.S. states did with respect to Covid-19 social distancing, mask-wearing, and vaccination mandates proposed by the federal government in Washington.
Another significant role of computing is ensuring that war would no longer be possible. This would probably be the primary impetus for instituting a world government in the first place.
The best way to prevent a war is to ensure that no one has weapons and armies to fight a war. Under a world government, there would no longer be independent arms manufacturers; all arms manufacturing would be the sole domain of the government. Moreover, the arms that would be manufactured would be largely for policing purposes, i.e. to fight crime in towns and cities, not to invade another territory. The role of computer-based surveillance to ensure that no one is clandestinely preparing arms for war would be critical. And quite a historical turnaround.
In 1989, the authors of a paper published by Communications of the ACM made a cogent comment on the subject. The paper was “Computing, Research, and War: If Knowledge Is Power, Where Is Responsibility?” And the comment was:
In his 1983 Star Wars speech, President Reagan enjoined “the scientific community, . . . those who gave us nuclear weapons, . . . to give us the means of rendering these nuclear weapons impotent and obsolete.”
We are now 40 years beyond this plea. But it is still prescient. And probably more pressing than ever before.