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Global risks, national solutions: internationalists argue that global risks require global governance. In reality, global risks are best managed by independent nations.


The world has always had its idealists. Frequently enough, they have dreamt of erecting a paradise on Earth where the squabbles of nations, the ravings of dictators, and the recurring banes of famine and disease would be made relics of the past in a unified world ruled by a single globe-spanning government. Such was the vision and the hope of John Lennon when he sang the lyrics to the song "Imagine." Such was the hope of the World Federalist Association which, as late as the 1980s, blithely called for a world government on the basis that humanity was one large family.

That kind of idealism perished on 9/11. There are still some who believe that regional and world schemes for government make more sense than national governments. But instead of pointing to various utopian fantasies of peace and prosperity, today's internationalists point to threats and risks they say can't be managed by independent nations.

In 2004, writing in the journal Foreign Affairs, published by the Council on Foreign Relations, the most influential foreign-policy think tank in the United States, Robert Pastor argued that progress toward a more secure future "can only occur with true leadership, new cooperative institutions, and a redefinition of security that puts the United States inside a continental security perimeter, working together as partners." In other words, security demands that we build a North American Union. Pastor, though, doesn't call it that. He calls it a North American Community.

The new world of global risk, according to theoreticians like Pastor, requires the formation of supra-national organs of governance in order to mitigate threats that the individual nation-state alone supposedly cannot manage. This, however, is a dangerous misconception, a delusion that if allowed to be put into concrete practice would not only mean the end of liberty as Americans have long understood it, but would also open up new and particularly virulent dangers the likes of which the world has not seen before. Indeed, contrary to the beliefs of internationalists like Pastor, both liberty and security require the maintenance of sovereign and free nations.

Metaphor of a Sinking Ship

To understand why it is the nation state that is the best solution to a world society filled with risk, you need to think like a naval architect. A ship functions in an environment that is inherently unsafe. Subject to the unpredictable and sometimes violent vagaries of wind and water, a vessel can stay afloat only so long as it maintains its watertight integrity. In the event that the hull is breached, the ship will sink, if proper countermeasures have not been incorporated in its design.

For centuries, those countermeasures primarily have taken the form of bulkheads used to create watertight compartments. Currently, even for large yachts built for private use, regulations require multiple watertight compartments so that if any one compartment floods, others will remain dry and the vessel will remain afloat. Palmer Johnson, builders of the 156-foot mega yacht Anson Bell (since renamed) went further. According to Power & Motoryacht, regulations require "the inclusion of five watertight bulkheads, creating seven watertight compartments, Anson Bell has six bulkheads, creating eight compartments." If even two such compartments on the Anson Bell suffer flooding, the super yacht will still remain afloat, its passengers safe and secure.

In this sense, nations are like watertight compartments, with secure borders acting as bulkheads. This understanding of national sovereignty, in fact, played a significant role in shaping the thinking of the Founding Fathers as they built the constitutional framework for the United States during the early years of the republic. Recognizing that the 13 original colonies were independent and sovereign, the framers of the Constitution created a federal system of national government that left a great deal of power to the states comprising the United States. This approach was explicitly defined in the 10th Amendment, which reserves to the states and the people those powers "not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States."


This federal organization of the United States was part of the constitutional plan for additional watertight compartments within our government itself. "By reserving to the states considerable power," noted Ohio Northern University professor of political science David C. Saffel, the federal arrangement "lessened the likelihood of centralized tyranny."

International Federalism

In the same way that the retention of important powers by the American states has long stood as an important bulwark against the erection of centralized tyranny in the United States, independent, sovereign nations stand themselves as bulwarks against the potential spread of a variety of disastrous policies, including tyranny. Consider the two greatest dictators of the 20th century, Hitler and Stalin. Unquestionably both would have been eager to satisfy their unquenchable thirst for power by seeking dominion over the entire globe.

Hitler, for instance, would have found his quest more easily attained had he risen to power in a world that already included the European Union rather than a collection of independent states. As it was, the Austrian madman was forced to abandon political means of conquest for military means as soon as his ambitions brought him into conflict with sovereign nations willing to fight for their independence. True, a bloody and terrible war ensued, but the growth of the Nazi dictatorship was checked and driven back by nation states fighting for their very existence. Stalin and the Soviet Union, also confronted by independent nations intent on retaining their sovereignty, were contained and prevented from enveloping all the nations of the world in a communist tyranny. If either dictator had gained power within a supranational power structure, he would have been able to extend his tyranny much further and much faster. A future dictator with similar ambitions might salivate at the prospect of taking power in the European Union.

Hitler and Stalin are extreme examples, but the lessons apply equally with regard to the seemingly more pedestrian propositions imagining deeper and broader integration of the nations of North America. Suppose a North American Union is achieved and suppose that, as a result, the three formerly independent nations find they need to harmonize and standardize their healthcare systems--not a farfetched supposition since under NAFTA there has been significant movement to harmonize standards in various professions. Would former U.S. citizens enjoy having the Canadian healthcare system, where in 2003 about 13 percent of citizens had trouble getting in to see a family doctor? Or, worse, would former Canadian and U.S. citizens rather be forced into some semblance of Mexico's segregated system with one set of healthcare providers for workers, a separate set for government employees, and a third set of healthcare providers for "certain executives in the oil, telephone, and electrical industries and in the government [who] have special benefits to access the private medical system"?

Whether against the threats of tyranny, war, disease, or even the threat of incompetent socialist bureaucratic bumbling, nations serve as bulkheads preventing the spread of disastrous problems and ideas.
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Title Annotation:SPECIAL REPORT: USA v. NAU
Author:Behreandt, Dennis
Publication:The New American
Date:Oct 15, 2007
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