Eight hundred years ago today (June 15, 1215) humanity was enriched
by a Western document containing enlightened ideas that our nation’s founding
fathers eventually leveraged some 560 years later in the “Declaration of
Independence”. The Declaration, a
profound document in itself, led quickly to our nation’s constitutional protection
of a set of self-evident rights. Some
scholars today say these basic principles of granting rights to individuals as
a protective shield against abusive rulers existed centuries before the Magna
Carta. Whatever its origins the concept that
humans could agree to a certain set of rules to limit the abusive power of
rulers was genius. Intended to yield
peace between the rich and poor, the powerful and the weak, the chosen and the
largely common, remains a grand idea today adopted by some governments as the ‘rule
of law’ and ignored by others. History proves
that individuals or powerful armies making and enforcing their own rules often birth
excessive brutality, repression, injustice and out right mass murder or bloody
rebellions. This leveling concept should
have universal appeal today given that increasingly powerful nation states wield
such disrespect for the protection of human rights. After 800
years perhaps it’s time we apply this limiting of power to all nation states.
With the protection of human rights superior to the right of nation states to
wage war, commit genocide, allow hunger, ignore disease, instigate revolutions,
torture, pollute and commit other crimes against humanity and nature, we might
finally know peace on earth.
Most Americans rightfully believe that the world would be
better off if all governments ruled by the moral logic that life, liberty and
the pursuit of happiness is endowed to all Human beings. It even has universal human appeal but too
many governments reject this application.
Nations like Saudi Arabia and Iran enforce laws established by narrow
interpretations of ancient religious texts. Nations like China, Russia and India rely more
on laws derived from tradition, fear or the intellect of previous rulers.
Today, largely as a result of the permanent global war
against terrorists even America’s ‘rule of law’ government is gradually shrinking
away from safeguarding our inalienable rights. It is doing so in hopes of
ensuring both individual and national security.
Too few understand that that this tradeoff cannot be balanced. Eventually, we will lose one , and then the
Independent agencies within our government working with
independent national governments beyond our shores will almost always be torn
between completing interests. Only once
has all of humanity come together for a common cause and it proved
magnificent. The global eradication of
smallpox, a disease that killed more people in the last century than all of the
wars, revolutions and genocides combined.
This is arguably humanities greatest achievement saving hundreds of
millions of lives and hundreds of billions of dollars. All with a universal one
time investment of less than billion dollars.
It’s vital to note that if just one nation, one county, or even one village
had chosen freely, not to participate, that global campaign would have
failed. We have the capacity to today to
eradicate other diseases and other threats… but each will require universal
cooperation and a wise investment of limited resources.
Unfortunately, today’s political parties within the US can’t
unanimously agree on anything, let alone agreements between nation states. And,
as the threat of terrorism increases we will increasingly be forced to choose
between preserving our freedoms or protecting our security. There is a profoundly simple resolution to
this persistent and troubling dilemma but it will require a firm grasp of the
real world. Not the political world that
inhabits our minds. In the real world our
government says it stands for “freedom” and the “rule of law”. And then it allies with repressive regimes
and too often ignores the need for an effective global police force for protecting
all of humanities fundamental human rights.
Until we correct this real world inconstancy, our freedom/security
dilemma (do we trade our freedom for more security or risk our security to
retain our basic freedoms?) will not go away.
The grand news is that it could go away if we acted on the reality that
we face a trilemma, not a dilemma.
We create a dilemma when we chose to believe without question
that we are ‘independent’ from the rest of the world. Our error is in believing that we are, or should
be, free from the consequences of our actions and inactions beyond our sacred
shores. We value our national sovereignty that ensures
our nation’s freedom to act as our government sees fit in any global affair. Other national governments do the same. Unfortunately, this long cherished ideal of
national sovereignty cannot keep us free of the consequences of our own choices
or those of other nations. Not even with
the command of the most powerful military in the world. Commanding nearly 25% of the global economy
and energy consumption our nation’s actions and inactions have multiple
consequences, helpful and harmful, on the lives of people the world over. We
often don’t feel those consequences, until it crosses our borders, infects our
lungs, steals our jobs, steals our identity, or turns airliners into WMD.
So in reality, we face a trilemma, not a dilemma. We want freedom, security and independence
(national sovereignty). Reality will
only let us pick two.
Before choosing the two we want most, we must keep in mind
the real-world distinctions between these three concepts. 1) Freedom is real. We can choose to do anything we want to do.
And so can everyone else. But, no
individual or nation is free from the consequences of their choices. 2) Security is largely an illusion. If someone is determined destroy or kill and is
also willing to die doing so, stopping them may require uncivilized actions
with very costly consequences. Given our
inherent human vulnerabilities, the increasingly complex and vulnerable technological
systems that our multifaceted civilization depends on, and our irreversibly
interdependent world of economic, environment, health and communication
factors, living by the golden rule would be a wise choice. 3) Independence is nothing but a mental
political construct. It does not exist
in the real world. Biological weapons,
pandemics, computer viruses, nuclear winter, global warming, economic
recessions, cyber criminals, asteroids…are not affected by mental constructs
with no real world applications.
If however, we accept our global interdependence and apply
the grand idea of ‘the rule of law’ (justice) to all people, regardless of
their nationality, religion, sex, income level, age or ethnicity, we have a far
better chance of maximizing both our freedoms and our security.
Instead, today’s governments, particularly the American
government, insists on retaining its national sovereignty believing this
freedom of action can protect is people’s rights and it’s national security. More and more people are starting to realize
it can do neither. With each nation retaining
the freedom to make any law (related to domestic or foreign policy) as long as
it has the police and military power to back it up, national interests will
clash -- often violently, and with no respect for the human rights of individuals
within or beyond its borders.
That’s real government freedom. A potentially abusive freedom. And, in practice a very dangerous freedom. One that must be limited. That is what the Magna Carta, the Declaration
of independence and the US Constitution intended to do. To
limit government power. Today, exactly eight centuries after the Magna
Carta, nearly 200 unlimited governments are now the first order threat to human
security, global sustainability, economic prosperity and all of our most
cherished human freedoms.
The local impact of varying national laws on the health of
individuals, the environment or national economies is rarely considered until a
consequence is felt at home. Tragically,
in the face of Ebola, ISIS or climate change, powerful nations insist on
keeping this insane national paradigm in place.
The current UN system with its institutionalized
unenforceable ‘international laws’ essentially enforces the supremacy of the
national sovereignty paradigm. This has a heavy toll on human rights for nearly
half of humanity. Fortunately, this
paradigm is not set in stone.
Transforming it is a prerequisite for consistently protecting human
rights and maximizing human and national security. For now, governments can continue to chose to
gas, torture, behead, imprison, or assassinate individuals within their border,
with nothing short of war or sanctions (which can be more deadly than war), to
effectively deter them. And, if a nation
is not afraid of war or sanctions, human rights everywhere can suffer.
US drone strikes within other sovereign nations are considered
‘lawful’ by our government, even when we don’t have the other nation’s approval. When our drone strikes kill innocent people
and their children in those countries while targeting ‘suspected’ terrorists Americans
should not expect to remain free of the consequences. Standing by as school girls are kidnapped by
the hundreds in Africa will have consequences.
Our sophisticated weapons systems sales to the Saudi kingdom while their
officials behead dozens of its citizens each month for minor offenses will have
consequences. Dozens of suspected
terrorists in Guantanamo imprisoned for over a decade without charges, trials
or access to their relatives will have consequences. Allowing these violations of human rights without
redress will have consequences. Any time
we ignore the inalienable rights of others there will be consequences. And, rarely
will these consequences be good.
There are authoritative reasons the US and other powerful
nations insist on keeping this national sovereignty system (that allows the
abuse of human rights) in place. The
primary reason is maintaining political power and the short term benefits and profits
that accumulate with such power. The
rights of citizens ruled by powerful governments are too often a second or
third tier priority if a priority at all.
Even US federal workers, elected officials and military personal that
are sworn to protect the Constitution see Eric Snowden as a criminal for his
effort to expose our governments violation of their own constitutional rights.
If ‘we the people’ and our government officials who actually
care, calculated the human, economic, environmental, health and national
security costs of failing to change this profoundly outdated Treaty of
Westphalia ‘national sovereignty’ construct they would quickly see the solution
to our budget deficit problem. The national
sovereignty construct has enabled the unrestricted power of nation states for
the last 400 years to ring up the costs in blood and treasure of war after war after
war. And now an endless war against terrorism,
a tactic anyone can use, will prove enormously expensive in dollars and human
It’s clear that this dysfunctional global paradigm will not
be flipped over night. But our social
and cultural addiction to its destructive freedom and false protections must
end soon. A mental transformation is
essential if we are to begin creating new global institutions that will limit states’
rights and outlaw wars before the evolution of unprecedented weaponry reaches a
level of destructiveness our minds are unable to comprehend. We are dangerously close to that point
now. Some believe we crossed it with the
invention of the nuclear weapon. Other’s
believe today’s potential for the creation of specially targeted biological
weapons puts us there. The fact is, the
dual-use nature of incredibly powerful technologies (bio, cyber, nano, robotics…)
is growing exponentially as our government’s capacity to deal with this difficult
to comprehend factor is flat lined at best and at worst, politically dysfunctional. Any effective global capacity to limit access
or development of destructive technologies is nonexistent. And worse yet, creating it would mean the
creation of a global police/inspection
force, most nations and many people would violently reject. Meanwhile WMD precursors are increasingly
affordable to anyone with a grudge and a desire to mass murder. Progressively, coordinated or loan wolf
attacks will result in the loss of more lives and then the loss of more of our
Other global threats like MERS (Middle East Respiratory
Syndrome), natural disasters or solar flare induced electromagnetic pulse (EMP)
events should also spur rapid creation of a global prevention and rapid response
capacity. Without which these and other
threats, will inevitably result in the loss of freedoms, security and any
chance of a sustainable and prosperous future for our children. Independent governments cannot by definition
deal with these interdependent threats.
What would a world look like if human rights were dominant over the rights of
nation states to do as they please? It
would look much like the US after the civil war. A war largely fought to ensure the protection
of human rights over states’ rights. We
need not learn this same lesson on a global battlefield. We need a global federal government capable
of protecting human rights over the rights of states or prejudiced
majorities. We need to firmly limit the
unlimited global reach and power of national sovereignty – the freedom of
national governments to do as they please, without considering the cost in
The world could easily and affordably start with the global
enforcement of the fundamental human rights to clean water, sanitation,
education, basic health care services and adequate nutrition. For less than 2% of what the world now
spends on wars we could lay the foundation for the prevention of disease
outbreaks, nation state failures (meaning fewer opportunities for extremist
influences), and future wars. This
investment would create meaningful jobs, boost global prosperity and increase
human motivation for protecting the environment. More importantly, a well-funded, trained and
equipped global army of educators and health care workers would prevent costly
crisis saving more funds than they would consume.
ISIS mass murdering of innocent people would immediately
draw a well-equipped, highly trained, all-volunteer global police force capable
of effectively engaging ISIS criminal forces with both lethal and non-lethal
force. The avoidance of collateral
damage would be its top priority while offering human rights protection zones
as an alternative to extremist zones or the zones of constant vulnerability
that exist now. The global police
force’s secondary mission would be blockading extremist forces thus limiting
their resources and unfettered expansion.
ISIS cannot be defeated with military tactics that allow collateral
damage. Military alliances of a few
states, political parties, ethnic groups or religions are no improvement. The
loss of innocent lives would be outlawed as they are within our own nation’s
collection of 50 unique states, array of political parties and thousands of
individual religious differences. This
golden rule of ‘do unto others what you would want done to you’ is shared by
most religions and should be applied in war as well as economics, health, and
environment policies globally. Such a
code offers a sound foundation for building a better world where freedom and
security are everyone’s fundamental right.
Adequate funding for these initiatives would be a vital
task. A global financial transaction tax
could be levied and collected for such war, pandemic, climate change and
natural disaster prevention/preparedness/reactionary measures. Economic cost savings from the prevention of
so many costly but preventable crises would soon yield sufficient sustainable
resources for other human rights endeavors.
Cost effective investments in human capital instead of preserving the
increasingly costly status quo of national sovereignty and the inherently unfair/virtually
unregulated global capitalism is a fundamentally wise economic and sustainable
choice. Is there any doubt that free
trade would best flourish on a level, clean, healthy and well educated playing
field? A field where business contracts
were reliable and enforced equally in every corner of the world.
Territorial disputes between great and small nations (South
China Sea, Ukraine, Kashmir, West Bank, Outer space…), ethnic groups (Kurds,
Chechens…) or religions (Sunni/Shiite,
Islam/Hindu, would be settled in courts not on battle fields.
U.S. leaders often speak about ‘defending freedom’ but our
foreign policy usually protects national interests. We have not yet realized that our best
interests are in protecting the inalienable rights of all mankind. Albert Einstein once said “Nationalism is an
infantile disease. It is the measles of mankind.” In that context, national sovereignty is a
virus -- a lethal infection that has kept the grand ideals of the Magna Carta
from being applied globally.
Chances are June 16th will pass and then the 4th of
July. And most Americans will remain
ignorant of this fundamental American calling … of “liberty and justice for
all”. A world federation with powers
limited by a constitution and a global bill of rights is the best chance we
have of reaching that goal. And time is running