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[casi] Monbiot: Globalisation - How to Stop America

How to Stop America

George Monbiot launches the Chartist movement of the 21st Century: a
manifesto for a world in which every individual would have an equal say.

Published in the New Statesman, 9th June 2003

Presidents Roosevelt and Truman were smart operators. They knew that the
hegemony of the United States could not be sustained without the active
compliance of other nations. So they set out, before and after the end of
the Second World War, to design a global political system which permitted
the other powers to believe that they were part of the governing project.

When Franklin Roosevelt negotiated the charter of the United Nations, he
demanded that the United States should have the power to block any decisions
the UN sought to make. But he also permitted the other victors of the war
and their foremost allies - the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, China and
France - to wield the same veto.

After Harry Dexter White, Roosevelt's negotiator at the Bretton Woods talks
in 1944, had imposed on the world two bodies, the International Monetary
Fund and the World Bank, whose underlying purpose was to sustain the
financial power of US, he appeased the other powerful nations by granting
them a substantial share of the vote. Rather less publicly, he ensured that
both institutions required an 85% majority to pass major resolutions, and
that the US would cast 17% of the votes in the IMF, and 18% of the votes in
the World Bank.

Harry Truman struggled to install a global trade regime which would permit
the continuing growth of the US economy without alienating the nations upon
whom that growth depended. He tried to persuade Congress to approve an
International Trade Organisation which allowed less developed countries to
protect their infant industries, transferred technology to poorer nations
and prevented corporations from forming global monopolies. Congress blocked
it. But, until the crisis in Seattle in 1999, , when the poor nations were
forced to reject the outrageous proposals inserted by the US and the
European Union, successive administrations seemed to understand the need to
allow the leaders of other countries at least to pretend to their people
that they were helping to set the global trade rules.

The system designed in the 1940s, whose ultimate objective was to ensure
that the United States remained the pre-eminent global power, appeared,
until very recently, to be unchallengeable. There was no constitutional
means of restraining the US: it could veto any attempt to cancel its veto.
Yet this system was not sufficiently offensive to other powerful governments
to force them to confront it. They knew that there was less to be lost by
accepting their small share of power and supporting the status quo than by
upsetting it and bringing down the wrath of the superpower. It seemed, until
March 2003, that we were stuck with US hegemony.

But the men who govern the United States today are greedy. They cannot
understand why they should grant concessions to anyone. They want unmediated
global power, and they want it now. To obtain it, they are prepared to
destroy the institutions whose purpose was to sustain their dominion. They
have challenged the payments the United States must make to the IMF and the
World Bank. They have threatened the survival of the World Trade
Organisation, by imposing tariffs on steel and granting massive new
subsidies to corporate farmers. And, to prosecute a war whose overriding
purpose was to stamp their authority upon the world, they have crippled the
United Nations. Much has been written over the past few weeks about how much
smarter George Bush is than we permitted ourselves to believe. But it is
clear that his administration has none of the refined understanding of the
mechanics of power that the founders of the existing world order possessed.
In no respect has he made this more evident than in his assault upon the
United States's principal instrument of international power: the Security

By going to war without the council's authorisation, and against the wishes
of three of its permanent members and most of its temporary members, Bush's
administration appears to have ceased even to pretend to play by the rules.
As a result, the Security Council may have lost both its residual authority
and its power of restraint. This leaves the leaders of other nations with
just two options.

The first is to accept that the global security system has broken down and
that disputes between nations will in future be resolved by means of
bilateral diplomacy, backed by force of arms. This means, in other words,
direct global governance by the United States. The influence of its allies -
the collateral against which Tony Blair has mortgaged his reputation - will
be exposed as illusory. It will do precisely as it pleases, however much
this undermines foreign governments. These governments will find this
dispensation ever harder to sell to their own people, especially as US
interests come to conflict directly with their own. They will also be aware
that a system of direct global governance will tend towards war rather than
towards peace.

The second option is to tear up the UN's constitution, override the US veto
and seek to build a new global security system, against the wishes of the
hegemon. This approach was unthinkable just four months ago. It may be
irresistible today.

There are, of course, recent precedents. In approving the Kyoto protocol on
climate change and the International Criminal Court, other nations, weighing
the costs of a world crudely governed by the United States against the costs
of insubordination, have defied the superpower, to establish a global system
in which it plays no part. Building a new global security system without the
involvement of the US is a far more dangerous project, but there may be no
real alternative. None of us should be surprised if we were to discover that
Russia, France and China have already begun, quietly, to discuss it.

Of course, one of the dangers attendant on the construction of any system is
that it comes to reflect the interests of its founders. There has, perhaps,
never been a better time to consider what a system based upon justice and
democracy might look like, and then, having decided how it might work in
theory, to press the rebellious governments for its implementation.

There is no question that the existing arrangement stinks. It's not just
that the five permanent members of the Security Council can override the
will of all the other nations; the General Assembly itself has no greater
claim to legitimacy than the House of Lords. Many of the member states are
not themselves democracies. Even those governments which have come to power
by means of election seldom canvas the opinion of their citizens before
deciding how to cast their vote in international assemblies.

It is also riddled with rotten boroughs. Many of the citizens of the United
States recognise that there is something wrong with a system in which the
500,000 people of Wyoming can elect the same number of representatives to
the Senate as the 35 million of California. Yet, in the UN General Assembly,
the 10,000 people of the Pacific island of Tuvalu possess the same
representation as the one billion people of India. Their per capita vote, in
other words, is weighted 100,000-fold.

Even if all the world's nations were of equal size, so that all the world's
citizens were represented evenly, and even if the Security Council was
abolished and no state, in the real world, was more powerful than any other,
the UN would still fail the basic democratic tests, for the simple reason
that its structure does not match the duties it is supposed to discharge.
The United Nations has awarded itself three responsibilities. Two of these
are international duties, namely to mediate between states with opposing
interests and to restrain the way in which its members treat their own
citizens. The third is a global responsibility: to represent the common
interests of all the people of the world. But it is constitutionally
established to discharge only the first of these functions.

Its members will unite to condemn the behaviour of a state when that
behaviour is anomalous. But they will tread carefully around the injustices
in which almost all states participate, such as using money which should be
spent on health and education on unnecessary weapons. They will do nothing
to defend the common interests of humanity when these conflict with the
common interests of the states. Nearly all the governments in power today,
for example, are those whose policies are acceptable to the financial
markets: they are, in effect, the representatives of global capital. Radical
opposition parties are kept out of power partly by citizens' fear of how the
markets might react if they were elected. So while it might suit the
interests of nearly everyone to re-impose capital controls and bring many
forms of speculation to an end, an assembly of nation states is unlikely to
rid the world of this plague. The preamble to the UN Charter begins with the
words "We the peoples of the United Nations". It would more accurately read
"We the states".

That the Security Council should be disbanded and its powers devolved to a
body representing all the nation states is evident to anyone who cannot see
why democracy should be turned back at the national border. That the UN
General Assembly, as currently constituted, is ill-suited to the task is
equally obvious. I propose that each nation's vote should be weighted
according to both the number of people it represents and its degree of

The government of Tuvalu, representing 10,000 people, would, then, have a
far smaller vote than the government of China. But China, in turn, would
possess far fewer votes than it would if its government was democratically
elected. Rigorous means of measuring democratisation are beginning to be
developed by bodies such as Democratic Audit. It would not be hard, using
their criteria, to compile an objective global index of democracy.
Governments, under this system, would be presented with a powerful incentive
to democratise: the more democratic they became, the greater their influence
over world affairs.

No nation would possess a veto. The most consequential decisions - to go to
war for example - should require an overwhelming majority of the assembly's
weighted votes. This means that powerful governments wishing to recruit
reluctant nations to their cause would be forced to bribe or blackmail most
of the rest of the world to obtain the results they wanted. The nations
whose votes they needed most would be the ones whose votes were hardest to

But this assembly alone would be incapable of restraining the way in which
its members treat their own citizens or representing the common interests of
all the people of the world. It seems to me therefore that we require
another body, composed of representatives directly elected by the world's
people. Every adult on earth would possess one vote.

The implications for global justice are obvious. A resident of Ouagadougou
would have the same potential influence over the decisions this parliament
would make as a resident of Washington. The people of China would possess,
between them, sixteen times as many votes as the people of Germany. It is,
in other words, a revolutionary assembly.

Building a world parliament is not the same as building a world government.
We would be creating a chamber in which, if it works as it should, the
people's representatives will hold debates and argue over resolutions. In
the early years at least, it commands no army, no police force, no courts,
no departments of government. It need be encumbered by neither president nor
cabinet. But what we would create would be a body which possesses something
no other global or international agency possesses: legitimacy. Directly
elected, owned by the people of the world, our parliament would possess the
moral authority which all other bodies lack. And this alone, if effectively
deployed, is a source of power.

Its primary purpose would be to hold other powers to account. It would
review the international decisions made by governments, by the big financial
institutions, and by bodies such as the reformed UN General Assembly and the
World Trade Organisation. It would, through consultation and debate,
establish the broad principles by which these other bodies should be run. It
would study the decisions they make and expose them to the light. We have
every reason to believe that, if properly constituted, our parliament, as
the only body with a claim to represent the people of the world, would force
them to respond. In doing so, they would reinforce its authority, enhancing
its ability to call them to account in the future.

We could expect undemocratic states to wish to prevent the election of
global representatives within their territory. But if the General Assembly
was reconstituted along the lines I suggest, they would discover a powerful
incentive to permit such a vote to take place, as this would raise their
score on the global democracy index, and thus increase their formal powers
in the General Assembly. In turn, the parliament's ability to review the
decisions of the General Assembly would reinforce the Assembly's democratic

We might anticipate a shift of certain powers from the indirectly-elected
body to the directly-elected one. We could begin, in other words, to see the
development of a bicameral parliament for the planet, which starts to
exercise some of the key functions of government. This might sound
unattractive, but only if, as many do, you choose to forget that global
governance takes place whether we participate in it or not. Ours is not a
choice between democratic global governance and no global governance, but
between global democracy and the global dictatorship of the most powerful

None of this will happen by itself. We can expect the nations seeking to
frame a new global contract to do so in their own interests, just as the
victors of the Second World War did. If we want a new world order (of which
a parliamentary system is necessarily just a small part), we must demand it
with the energy and persistance with which the vast and growing global
justice movement has confronted the old one. But nations seeking to design a
new security system would discover that the perceived legitimacy of their
scheme would rise according to its democratic credentials. If it is true
that there are two superpowers on earth, the US government and global public
opinion, then these nations would do well to recruit the latter in their
struggle with the former.

Now is the time to turn our campaigns against the war-mongering,
wealth-concentrating, planet-consuming world order into a concerted campaign
for global democracy. We must become the Chartists and the Suffragettes of
the 21st Century. They understood that to change the world you must propose
as well as oppose. They democratised the nation; now we must seek to
democratise the world. Our task is not to overthrow globalisation, but to
capture it, and to use it as a vehicle for humanity's first global
democratic revolution.

George Monbiot's book The Age of Consent: a manifesto for a new world order
is published by Flamingo on June 16th.

9th June 2003

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