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Globalism Without World Federalism Leads to Deadlier Wars

by Megan Jordan

One thing this crisis has made me think is that it appears that globalism (without an existing structure of world federalism) tends to promote more wars than nationalism.

People who generally believe in a more global view of politics tend to be more deeply invested in Ukraine than people who are more nationalist or realist in their outlook (and don't live in Ukraine, obviously). Just a simple survey of Twitter and who's "standing with Ukraine", changing their avatar, and suggesting military action in Ukraine bears this out.

In some way, this makes sense. A nationalist or realist in the United States, for example, can say "well, that's sad, but it's really not my problem" or "I want to help, but not at the cost of endangering my country" or even "why should I care". Globalists/internationalists/liberals tend to see an attack on anyone as an attack on everyone, and are reacting as if this conflict affects them personally. This isn't necessarily a wrong view, and I do tend to agree with it on a moral level, but it does pose security risks that realists are right to point out. NATO intervention in Ukraine would likely end the conflict, but it very likely would also set off a large scale war in Europe, if not a nuclear war. The more compassionate move, realists will say, is to support Ukraine with weapons and aid but ultimately stay out.

This calculus starts to change if we introduce the idea of world federalism. The various subunits of federal states almost never go to war with each other. New Hampshire has not invaded Massachusetts since they became states. Ontario and Manitoba are not in an arms race. Maharashtra and Goa are not on each other's border, menacing each other.

Similarly, assume we have a federal world. Russia and Ukraine would have some other way to resolve their issues, that would actually have binding force, and if it got too out of control, there would be a way to prevent it from coming to bloodshed. The issue for the real world is that states exist in an anarchic system, and power is not remotely distributed evenly between states. Russia simply has more people, a larger military, and of course 6,000 nuclear warheads, that mean it can invade and dominate Ukraine much more easily than the reverse.

This doesn't change the way people react to events. People, rightly, want to stop the bloodshed in Ukraine and punish Russia for violating the norm against the use of force in international affairs. The way they do this is often by advocating the United States (as the larger military power) or NATO (as an international coalition) impose a no-fly zone over Ukraine, invade and repel the invaders, or force regime change in Russia. These goals, while noble, are not possible to implement without massively increasing the risk of a large scale nuclear war, potentially dooming millions of innocents, even though the cause behind them is just. In essence, our principles end up making things more dangerous, both for Ukraine and the whole world, than if we were cold realpolitik scholars who simply let Ukraine get overrun to preserve/bolster our own states' security.

The "rules based liberal international order" created since World War II is based on noble principles of autonomy, self-determination, equality, and peaceful relations between states. Where it fails is that the solutions it generates can often end up endangering more people than either realpolitik caution or nationalist 'not our problem' indifference.

Only if we introduce a federal system wherein nations (inasmuch as they would exist in this world) have the ability to settle disputes in a binding way and without resorting to force can we ensure invasions, wars of aggression, and war crimes are truly punished without putting more people at risk.

Injecting idealism into a system that operates by the laws of nature, that "the strong do what they can and the weak endure what they must", is a recipe for disaster. Our best intentions may not help the people we want to help, or even make it worse for more people. Without resolving this tension, we may risk more deaths over more conflicts like Ukraine in the future.

As the unipolar moment of American hegemony recedes, we can either return to the deadly nuclear standoff of the Cold War and continue to risk a conflict escalating into societal destruction, regress into a nationalistic "until they hit me who cares" Concert of Europe where many. Nations scramble for territory and power, or rethink the notion of national sovereignty and the anarchic status of international affairs.

The future of the world, indeed, if the world has a future, depends on our choices now.


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