The current crisis in Eastern Europe underscores the need to strengthen the international security system. This approach to building a more peaceful world goes back decades, and continues to demand our attention today.
In the immediate aftermath of World War II — the most destructive war in human history — a mass movement developed among people in the United States and other lands who were determined to create the kind of united world that could avert future human catastrophe. Among their leaders were the acclaimed physicist Albert Einstein, Nuremberg war crimes prosecutor Benjamin Ferencz, presidential advisor Grenville Clark, and feminist activist Rosika Schwimmer.
In February 1947, during a massive snowstorm, 327 delegates representing several world federalist organizations from across the United States gathered in Asheville, North Carolina, to launch one of the most significant peace efforts of the 20th century. Among those present? Norman Cousins, editor of the Saturday Review and later president of the World Federalist Association. Thomas K. Finletter, later President Harry Truman’s Secretary of the Air Force. Florence Harriman, former U.S. ambassador to Norway.
Cord Meyer Jr., World War II-decorated Marine officer and, subsequently, president of United World Federalists. And Harris Wofford, later U.S. Senator from Pennsylvania.
Each of the world federalist associations was created by individuals who recognized that the growing horror and destruction of modern warfare could only be halted by a world organization with the power to deal with aggressors and the buildup of armaments. The urgency was intensified by the dropping of the atomic bomb, and thousands responded in recognition of the need to prevent future devastation.
Their declaration, adopted on November 2, 1947, stated that they believed, “that peace is not merely the absence of war, but the presence of justice, of law, of order — in short, of government and the institutions of government. That world peace can be created and maintained only under a world federal government, universal and strong enough to prevent armed conflict between nations. And having direct jurisdiction over the individual in those matters within its authority.”
They concluded that “while endorsing the efforts of the United Nations to bring about a world community favorable to peace, we will work to create a world federal government with authority to enact, interpret and enforce world law adequate to maintain peace.”
With those words, the United World Federalists was born. In the 75 years that followed, the organization changed its name several times — it’s now Citizens for Global Solutions — and served as the main U.S. branch of a global body, the World Federalist Movement. The U.S. movement had some important early successes, including resolutions passed by 23 state legislatures supporting the establishment of a world federal government.
Together with the worldwide movement, the U.S. world federalist movement also worked on the successful campaign for the Partial Test Ban Treaty in 1963, which prohibited the atmospheric testing of nuclear weapons, the establishment of the International Criminal Court, and the acceptance by all U.N. member nations of the responsibility to protect, a commitment to safeguard all populations from mass atrocities and human rights violations.
Although these were steps in the right direction, today’s crises necessitate further action toward global governance. The lethality of warfare has become unimaginable, dwarfing the destructiveness of the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The triple planetary crises of climate change, biodiversity loss, and pollution are now an existential threat, as we move toward irreversible planetary tipping points. And we are over two years into a disease pandemic that has claimed nearly 6 million lives worldwide, including roughly 966,000 in the United States.
Our current system of 195 sovereign nations, each pursuing its own self-interest while bound together in a loose confederation through the United Nations, has demonstrated its inability to solve the greatest problems of our time. As our organization’s founders clearly stated 75 years ago, humanity needs a democratically elected, global federal government with enforceable world law. More of the same just won’t do.
Through our outreach efforts and public education programs, Citizens for Global Solutions continues to work toward this goal. At the same time, we advocate for our more immediate objectives of strengthening and democratizing the United Nations, global institutions, and our current system of international law.
The author is executive director of Citizens for Global Solutions and an adjunct faculty member in the transformative social change program at Saybrook University in California