By John Resenbrink —
The government of the United States was once again embarking on war. But President Obama paused. It finally came through to him that the people of his country didn’t want it.
It’s very debatable whether this awareness of the real life experience of the American people would last; or that the grip the militarist clique running his government has on his mind and his actions might loosen. But for the moment the people’s voice got through the fog.
Fortunately, Congress was not in session but were back in their home districts instead. They got an overwhelming message from the people opposing the bombing of Syria and this actually translated into what loomed for Obama as a defeat in Congress for yet another executive lunge for war.
It helped a lot that Russia’s Putin, for what reasons only he really knows, proposed a way out. Assad, the beleaguered president of a weakened Syrian government, had no alternative but to bow to his only real ally’s proposal, the proposal being nothing less than to place Assad’s government’s stockpile of chemical weapons under United Nations control. Obama followed suit.
As we go to press with Green Horizon, it seems that plans and actions are going forward to bring that proposal to fruition. Noteworthy is that the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) which is tasked with executing the Russian-U.S. plan has just
been award the Nobel Peace Prize.
BOTH SKEPTICAL AND HOPEFUL
On the one hand, one cannot be other than skeptical as to whether this surprising turn of events means a turning away perpetual clashes of the big powers. However, one can also look upon this turn of events as a small but very significant step towards a collaborative way of easing and resolving bitter disputes among and within the nations.
Once this were to happen again, and then again, the way may be open for a new pattern to take hold, one that moves the nations of the world to seek and establish strong collaborative ways, mutually advantageous ways, to resolve clashes and disputes in a peaceful way.
I think of Immanuel Kant’s intriguing essay penned long ago, “Eternal Peace”. He posited the possibility that over time the competitive struggle among the powers (inherent in the system of sovereignty for every nation) can lead to a durable balance of power among them and, by so much, at each historic phase, lead to the creation and gradual strengthening of new patterns of global governance—stronger and stronger sinews of international law and institutions of global governance.
I believe this is overly optimistic, somewhat similar to the proposition of Adam Smith in his 1776 Wealth of Nations that there is a “hidden hand” for balance, progress, and comity that is implicit in the competitive world of business and commerce. What we actually face is more complex and more down-to-earth. The nation-state system of itself does not and will not gradually evolve towards effective peoplebased, accountable, and democratic global government.
It’s going to take more than that. Come to think of it, we do not have that much time, hoping that by some process of osmosis things will work out in the long run. In the long run, if things continue without fundamental change, we are all dead. What is required as a minimum is a consciousness and a will by leadership—and a continuing pressure from the people and from non-violent political forces including especially a political party as part of the people—to bring forces to bear for genuine collaboration.
The Putin proposal and subsequent positive development has been hailed as a return to diplomacy. If that is all it is, we will not see fundamental change. Diplomacy as has been practiced within the nation-state system, is part of that system, does not break it, and perpetuates an unstable, dangerously lethal political climate of perpetual fear and descent into unthinkable war.
Collaboration on the other hand moves a decisive step beyond that. One hopes that the Putin proposal and follow through on its behalf is an instance of genuine collaboration. Putin’s proposal looks to a key role for the United Nations, and though only half a step, it is a step beyond diplomacy. Collaboration assumes going further than diplomacy towards possible and hopefully better planetary governance.
A deeper understanding of the reality of the world as it is now tells us that whether it’s Obama or Bush, or Clinton, or Reagan, or the new president in 2017—whether Democrat or Republican—the story is and will be the same. The card they play is to fall back on “the national interest”. That’s what counts in the end to enable these inadequate presidents, and their parties,
to persuade and over-awe the middle of the road and most of the opposing forces. The appeal to the “national interest” is posed, embroidered by lies, and is manipulated to get a seeming
support for expensive, fruitless, deeply wrong, and extremely dangerous wars—dangerous to the nation, to the other nations of the world, and to the planet and its fragile and increasingly
challenged environment. This was the starting point and basis of my article on global
governance in the last issue of this magazine (#27 Spring/Summer 2013).
A frank recognition of the structural and psychological pressures of the nation-state system on people and politicians is crucial if we are to grasp where and how our species can journey in the next 50 years in order to survive. The pathway ahead for that to happen is not yet fully clear and is fraught with peril. But we must talk about it and as we do, the way ahead will become more clear.
A STRONG GREEN VOICE FROM EUROPE
In furtherance of that hope and imperative, I cite an intriguing, highly pertinent and remarkable article by a leading European Green, Daniel Cohn-Bendit and Felix Marquardt. It appeared as an op-ed in The New York Times September 3, 2013. That The Times published it is the remarkable part. That imperiously rational and above-it-all voice of the Established elite seldom reports things Green (meaning Green Party). This has been the care from our beginnings in 1984. The New York Times has been somewhere between hostile and patronizing towards us.
Cohn-Bendit is in a large sense the grandfather of European Greens. He has been at the beginning and in the forefront of Green Party thinking and action in Europe. He is a German
Green Party member of the European Parliament. He and Marquardt, who runs a public relations company, are cofounders of Europeans Now.
They write, “In next year’s European elections, we must unmask our national politicians’ best-kept secret: that what they see as the be-all and end-all of modern governance, the nation-state, is fast becoming an obsolete political structure.” (Italics mine.) They continue, “The time is ripe for a transnational, grassroots, and crowd-funded movement to take European integration to the next step…Today’s solutions need to be transnational, or they won’t be real solutions at all…In Europe, politics has become too much about how each nation would like the world to be, and too little about what produces tangible results…Europe will change only when European-minded politicians who are elected to national offices agree to transfer power to truly European institutions.”
They are right on target that the nation-state system is obsolete. But even though it is an atavistic structure it continues in place. It resists the next step towards genuine transnational institutions and acts as a blight on efforts to produce tangible answers to the immense problems facing the planet. I am also excited and not surprised, given Cohn-Bendit’s democratic, grass roots convictions, that he envisions a world, at least a European world, whosegovernance structure is both transnational and locally rooted.
I have some skepticism, not about Cohn-Bendit’s commitments and intention, but in regard to something he is not saying. For it should be obvious that an integrated Europe would itself be a
nation among others. Very powerful perhaps. It may be the case that Cohn-Bendit has strong hopes that this new Europe, composed internally of many nations, would be a model to the world for a global transnational governance structure.
But is it likely that this would be the real message Europe would bring to the more than 150 nations of the world? As a new player in the nation-state ensemble, wouldn’t Europe begin
to act like any nation-state? Wouldn’t it’s actions be tinged if not saturated with concerns for the national interest—the new Europe’s national interest? Wouldn’t those actions speak louder
than any words Europe might utter to persuade the world to hear and act on a global transnational message? In any case, Cohn-Bendit does not mention this dimension of the Europe he is hoping and working for—though I am sure he would argue that the new Europe would be a powerful model for a global governance system.
THE PRINCIPLE OF SUBSIDIARITY
It is useful and fruitful to follow Cohn-Bendit’s thinking and advocacy for a transnational Europe that is both transnational and is rooted in the grass roots. He speaks from a Europe that has already labored hard to reserve power and authority to local grass-roots governance structures. The principle they follow is along the lines of subsidiarity. The entry on subsidiarity in Google describes this in the following paragraphs.
“Subsidiarity is an organising principle of decentralisation, stating that a matter ought to be handled by the smallest, lowest, or least centralised authority capable of addressing that matter effectively. The Oxford English Dictionary defines subsidiarity as the idea that a central authority should have a subsidiary function, performing only those tasks which cannot be
performed effectively at a more immediate or local level.
EUROPEAN UNION AND THE PRINCIPLE OF SUBSIDIARITY
“The principle of subsidiarity was defined in Article 5 of the Treaty on European Union. It ensures that decisions are taken as closely as possible to the citizen and that constant checks are made to verify that action at Union level is justified in light of the possibilities available at national, regional or local level.
Specifically, it is the principle whereby the Union does not take action (except in the areas that fall within its exclusive competence), unless it is more effective than action taken at national, regional or local level. It is closely bound up with the principle of proportionality, which requires that any action by the Union should not go beyond what is necessary to achieve the objectives of the Treaties.
“The Edinburgh European Council of December 1992 issued a declaration on the principle of subsidiarity that laid down the rules for its application. The Treaty of Amsterdam took up the
approach that followed from this declaration in a Protocol on the application of the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality. Following the entry into force of the Treaty of Lisbon on 1
December 2009, the Protocol now requires the principle of subsidiarity to be respected in all draft legislative acts and allows national parliaments to object to a proposal on the grounds that it breaches the principle, as a result of which the proposal may be maintained, amended or withdrawn by the Commission, or blocked by the European Parliament or the Council. In the case of a breach of the principle of subsidiarity, the Committee of the Regions may also refer directly to the Court of Justice of the European Union.”
I introduced the concept of subsidiarity in my Spring/Summer article. I received considerable response. Some of it questioned why I would be proposing a world governance system, pointing out that I have been applauding, and the Magazine has been featuring, local self-help and autonomy for years. The argument I made late in the article that a world
governance system must be based on the principle of subsidiarity did not seem sufficiently compelling to those who posed this question—or it may have seemed so abstract as not to be taken seriously, or the whole idea of a world government aroused deep seated fears and/or strong anarchist leanings and commitments. Some who felt the principle of subsidiarity has merit, and should be taken seriously, also felt however that the word itself is too cumbersome or too ponderous and pretentious. There is a point in that, I admit. Yet, my reference to the European Union’s embrace of the word, as well as their embrace of the concept it
represents, may to some extent help the reader see that this may be the case of learning a new word—as a way of thinking about how the planet might be, could be, organizationally structured that protected individual freedom and local self-reliance and autonomy. And as I mentioned to several, I am certainly open to finding and using a different word. I invite and challenge the readers to find and offer one!
As we proceed with this knotty but profoundly important subject, we can and we should figure out ways to help push the nations of the world, and the peoples of the world, towards workable, democratic, accountable-to-the-people, and participative by-the-people ways and structures of planetary governance.
John Resenbrink is co-editor of Green Horizon Magazine, president of the Green Horizon Foundation, and Professor Emeritus of Government at Bowdoin College.