“Building a World Federation: The Key to Solving Our Global Crises” was the title of the Wilmette Institute’s tenth Web Talk on October 25 celebrating its twentieth anniversary. Sovaida Ma’ani Ewing shared her thoughts on the topic with some 93 learners as part of Wilmette Institute’s Web Talk series. The previous weekend, she had spoken about the subject at the 2015 Parliament of the World’s Religions as well.
Like many speakers on topics current in public discourse, Ewing began by saying that “it doesn’t take much to know that our world is in crisis”—from climate change, to melting ice caps and glaciers, disappearing islands, less food and fresh water, fewer resources, nuclear proliferation and arms control, global financial crises, terrorist groups, migrant crises. One of the effects of the ever-growing list of problems is depression and lack of hope, which leads to paralysis, which humankind cannot afford. But, Ewing said, this is the time when we need action and constructive consultation. Hence, she said, she hoped her presentation would give her audience perspective and hope.
Ewing advised looking at the Bahá’í writings to understand where humankind is in its development. It has gone through infancy, toddlerhood, childhood and then through junior youth, youth, and teenage years, arriving at adolescence, where it is experimenting with dangerous activities. Maturity is in sight, but the time it will take to get there depends on free will. Humankind can hasten maturity by using free will to make good choices. Or it can cling to adolescence with old patterns of self-destructiveness. Hope comes from the fact that humans are not inherently bad, but it is time for them to move on to a deeper sense of unity and integration.
What is the next step? Ewing asked. She referred to ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s answer in 1912 to a high official in the U.S. government who asked Him what was “the best manner in which he could promote the interests of his government and people.” ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s answer was this: “You can best serve your country . . . if you strive, in your capacity as a citizen of the world, to assist in the eventual application of the principle of federalism underlying the government of your own country to the relationships now existing between the peoples and nations of the world” (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, quoted in Shoghi Effendi, The Advent of Divine Justice 88 and The World Order of Bahá’u’lláh 37). Hence humankind needs to start building a United States of the World.
Then Ewing asked another question: What will it take to get us going? First, it will take intense mental and physical suffering. For example, to arrive at the United States of America, it took a war between thirteen loosely organized states and Great Britain and then a Civil War. In Europe, it took two World Wars before several European countries formed the European Coal and Steel Community, the first international organization based on supranationalism, to prevent future wars between France and Germany. Second, Ewing said, it will take Bahá’u’lláh’s revolutionary principle of becoming “convinced that the advantage of the part can best be served by ensuring the collective interest.”
Ms. Ewing’s third question was this: What do we need to start building a world federation? We need a viable blueprint and design, which the Bahá’í writings give us, including ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s directive about federalism. We also need tools and materials, and we need successful models, which come from experience and past models.
Bahá’u’lláh has given us the elements of the design: a world parliament; a world executive, backed by a standing army; and a world court. The world parliament must be vested with four critical powers: (1) collective decision-making (that is, the power to make laws) for the international community (for global issues such as climate change and financial stability); (2) certain rights to taxation (for example, after winning freedom from Britain, the thirteen U.S.states all had war debts; to avoid distintegration, they moved toward federation, giving the central government taxation rights); (3) management and equitable distribution of critical natural resources (such as fuels, water, and food); and the right to make war (individual nations must cede the right to the United States of the World and its standing army).
The second part of the design is the world executive, which will oversee the international standing army and will enforce laws of the world parliament and the judgments of the world court with the help of the standing army. The standing army would serve as deterrent, maintaining the credibility of the world parliament, stepping quickly into problem areas, and applying laws even-handedly.
The world court is the third critical institution. It would mediate disputes between nations to avoid war. It would have compulsory jurisdiction (which the current World Court in the Hague does not have). And it would render binding and enforceable judgments.
Ewing then turned to foundational principles for a United States of the World, which include:
- The advantage of the part is best achieved by assuring the advantage of the whole.
- Nations must cede a modicum of sovereignty
- Collective security (the only arms needed are those needed for security)
- Force is to be used as a servant of justice and then only by the world executive’s standing army
Other conditions for a successful world government, according to Ewing, include:
- Unity in diversity (in language music, art, and so on)
- A sane and intelligent patriotism (nations should vie with each other in creating music and art)
- Avoidance of excessive centralism (some decisions must be made at local, regional, and national levels).
Near the end of her talk, Ewing talked about how to respond to skeptics. One way to allay skepticism about a United States of the World is to discuss successful federal infrastructures from the past, including the United States of America and the European experiment. The Coal and Steel Community, formed by six nations in 1951 to prevent further wars between German and France, lasted until 2002, which, according to Wikipedia “formed the blueprint for today’s European Commission, European Parliament, the Council of the European Union, and the European Court of Justice” and the European Union itself. Another way to ally the fears of skeptics is to inform oneself about the Responsibility to Protect (R2P), to which 193 nations agreed in 2005. It is an international security and human-rights norm to address the international community’s failure to prevent and stop genocides, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and crimes against humanity.
Ewing ended her talk by saying that time is of the essence because there is a disturbing trend afoot: a drive toward fragmentation, which leads to more strife and away from integration. We need to keep reminding ourselves of the spiritual principle that says that the problem of the part is the problem of the whole, or, to look at the matter with more hope: The advantage of the part is best achieved by assuring the advantage of the whole.
After Ms. Ewing ended her talk, she fielded a number of questions from participants in a question-and-answer session.
Sovaida Ma’ani Ewing is an international lawyer, independent scholar, and the founding director of CPGG, the Center for Peace and Global Governance (http://cpgg.org). CPGG is a virtual think tank and online forum that pools and proposes principled solutions to pressing global problems through publications, podcasts, lectures, workshops, webinars, and targeted consulting. CPGG has just published Ewing’s latest book entitled Building a World Federation: The Key to Solving Our Global Crises. Ewing is also the author of Collective Security Within Reach published by George Ronald in 2008. She maintains a blog that analyzes and offers principled solutions to current global problems at http://collectivesecurity.blogspot.com. Her other publications include Laws of the Kitab-i-Aqdas, Tracing Their Evolution in Religious History, co-authored with Baharieh Rouhani Ma’ani (published by George Ronald) and Creating a Baha’i Identity in Our Children published by Grace Publications.
Ewing’s talk is now available on the Wilmette Institute’s YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/user/WilmetteInstitute.