World federalism is a system where local government deals with local issues, national government deals with national issues, and a new layer of global government deals with global issues. At the global level there would be a legislative world parliament directly elected by global citizens, an empowered executive, and an independent judiciary. The global government would not replace sovereign nations, it would work with and complement them, dealing only with global issues that are not better addressed at lower levels.
Why do we need world federalism?
We need world federalism to take effective action on global problems such as climate change, pandemics, poverty, and war. The reason we currently find these problems so difficult to solve is that we run the world as a competition between nations, rather than in the common interest of people. National governments often know which course of action would be best for humanity but cannot take it for fear of weakening their own position on the global stage. The root cause of this dilemma is unrestricted national sovereignty. In a world federation, with a global government for global issues, not only could we prevent and solve global crises, we could launch ambitious new projects.
The rise of nationalism around the world might make it seem impossible to achieve a world federation, however humanity cannot continue living unsustainably forever. Either we create effective global governance, or we risk environmental catastrophe. Our current system of international cooperation was built in response to the destruction of two world wars. The goal of the Young World Federalists is to avoid making the same mistake, and reform global governance before humanity endures another catastrophe.
Would world federalism work?
Yes. Over forty percent of the world’s population live in federal nations like Ethiopia, Pakistan, Mexico, Germany and the United States. Regionalization processes around the world, such as the European Union, East African Community, and the Caribbean Community are developing novel variations of federation. Federations can govern diverse cultures, languages, religions, and ethnicities over large geographic areas while successfully addressing issues of common concern.
In terms of scale, the size of the political unit has been increasing for millennia from the village, to the city, to the nation – only a small step remains to the global level.
How do we build a World Federation?
World federalists agree on the goal of a democratic, world federation, but have different opinions as to which route to take. Given that it cannot be known in advance how a world federation will actually come about, this diversity of opinions provides flexibility and strength to the movement. The various routes towards a world federation include:
Incremental Reform of the United Nations
The UN could be reformed in a series of small steps, starting with the addition of an advisory Parliamentary Assembly, as proposed by the UNPA Campaign. As its democratic legitimacy increased, an advisory Parliamentary Assembly could develop into a legislative World Parliament at the heart of a world federation.
Reform the Charter of the United Nations
The UN could be transformed into a world federation in one giant step through revision of the UN Charter, which lays out its basic rules and goals. Whether a first or subsequent step, revision of the UN Charter will be necessary on the way to world federation.
League of Democracies
Free democracies could form a union. More autocratic countries might then have economic and political incentives to join the union and democratize. One day, this could grow into a world federation.
Grassroots World Democracy
A world parliament, outside of the UN, and with voluntary elections could be created. As participation in elections grew, its political legitimacy would grow, too – eventually evolving into a world federation.
How would World Federalism help with…
Despite our efforts in arms control and cooperation, international relations are still ruled by the principle of unrestricted national sovereignty. Each state reserves for itself the right to pursue its own interests, even at the expense of others. Such behavior should be just as unacceptable and illegal between nations as it is between people.
World federalism would provide the means to resolve conflicts of interest peacefully and sustainably through the application of world law. War between nations to exploit neighbors would become just as unthinkable as war between Texas and Wisconsin, Bavaria and Saxony, or Tamil Nadu and Rajasthan.
Fighting the climate crisis, and achieving sustainability, currently relies on international treaties lacking enforceability. It is in each nation’s interest not to take the first step, because it would put them at a disadvantage in the world economy. This approach has proven ineffective, as evidenced by ever-increasing global temperatures and ongoing damage to the ecosystem. Only effective global governance and binding legislation can limit greenhouse gas emissions and keep us within planetary boundaries.
According to the Global Peace Index 2020, violence costs the world over a tenth of the annual economic output. Moreover, an uneven patch-work of tax laws incentivize companies to exploit legal loopholes and tax havens just to remain competitive in a globalized economy. With less military spending, and a fair system of global taxation, there would be more than enough money to provide equal opportunity to all.
A system for global cooperation would enable funding for projects that propel humanity forward as a whole. Space exploration, medical research, cultural exchange, and economic development could all benefit from the binding global legislation, effective democratic governance, and the shared sense of humanity that a world federation would provide.
What are the risks of World Federalism?
The idea of world government raises fears of global tyranny. As world federalists, we are not advocating a unitary world government with the power to abolish nations and manage all affairs centrally. Rather, to counter the risk of a tyrannical global government, we advocate that countries should retain sovereignty over national issues and work together on global issues within a world federation. Moreover, mature democracies have learned to counter the risk of tyranny with separation of powers, rule of law, a free press - enshrined in constitutions. We advocate the same institutions at the global level.
Loss of National Identity
We believe that national identity is threatened by every nation being forced to tackle the same global problems. While we do advocate a united, democratic humanity to tackle global problems, federalism guarantees that nations would be free to focus on their own national identities, issues, and solutions. There is no tension between national identity for national issues and global identity for global issues.
Whilst governance can never be risk free, the absence of global government poses a far greater risk to the peaceful and sustainable existence of human life on Earth.
How is this different from the current United Nations?
The United Nations is an international organization, not a government, which seeks to improve cooperation between competing countries on a chaotic global stage. It provides a forum for countries to discuss issues, but there are several deliberate design features that prevent it from providing effective governance:
The five permanent UN Security Council members can, and regularly do, use their veto powers to prevent action being taken.
The UN General Assembly cannot pass binding legislation and has no mechanism to enforce resolutions.
The UN has no express separation of powers (i.e. legislative, executive, judicial).
Voting based on the principle “one nation, one vote” instead of “one person, one vote”.
The members of the UN are nations, not citizens, and people have no way to directly participate in the decision-making process.
These design flaws create a UN in which countries have the last word. This makes it nearly impossible to take coordinated action on pressing problems, such as climate change, pandemics, poverty and war. In a world federation, however, member states and citizens would be subject to binding world law, formulated by a world parliament representing humanity.
Is the YWF Left, Right, or Center?
YWF deliberately does not take a left, right, or centrist position. We advocate a world parliament to debate ideas and solutions to global problems, not for any particular decision that body might take. We look forward to lively, worldwide debate on global issues from people on all sides of the political spectrum.
YWF members have diverse views on pretty much every issue aside from World Federalism. Our membership includes conservatives, socialists, liberals, and many others. We debate issues amongst ourselves vigorously but remain united in our advocacy of a global, democratic, federal government.