OVER the centuries, people have enlarged the circles of their allegiance and their loyalty from the family to the tribe, to the village to the town, to the city to the city-state, and then to the nation state. Governmental systems have taken a similar evolution. ``We must now take the next and final step (at least on this planet) to the global level,'' says Maurice F. Strong.
Many might dismiss such a view as naive ``one-worldism.'' But Mr. Strong is far from naive. He was the organizer and secretary general of the Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment 15 years ago, a conference that in many ways marked the maturity of modern environmentalism. He was founding executive director of the United Nations Environment Program.
More recently, he ran the international program to prevent famine in Africa and was a member of the World Commission on Environment and Development, headed by Norwegian Prime Minister Gro Harlem Bruntland.
Indeed, Strong is a sophisticate in world affairs, and he believes economic and environmental necessity will propel the world to a more effective system of international governance.
Mankind will not need to give up its allegiance to nations, just as people today remain proud and loyal to their families, tribes (e.g., Irish or black as well as, say, Kikuyu), and cities.
But, says Strong, humanity must create an effective global level of governance and management to deal with issues which bear, to an important degree, on human survival and well-being and which inherently require cooperation beyond the boundaries and jurisdictions of individual nation states.
He regards this step as ``the biggest single challenge we will face in the next century.'' In other words, Strong knows that the current trend in the opposite direction - reflected in trade protectionism, resistance to foreign aid, parochialism, and rampant national self-interest - will not be reversed suddenly.
Nonetheless, he finds it hard to conceive of civilization continuing through the coming century if people do not enlarge their concept of brotherhood sufficiently to permit a world system of governance.
``On the other hand, if we succeed, I believe there is a very real prospect of a new, exciting and sustained period of human growth,'' Strong noted in a lecture in Ottawa earlier this month.
Mr. Strong is not talking of a world government, ``a supreme authority for the control and direction of all forms of human activity.'' That, he says, ``would be neither feasible nor desirable.''
Rather, this new system of global governance should deal with such issues as the care and use of the global commons (oceans, Antarctica, the atmosphere, outer space). It should anticipate and deal with the causes and effects of major changes in climate and control of trans-boundary pollution, especially aiming at stopping environmental disasters.
It should aid in the management of the world economic, financial, monetary, and trading systems. It should help create conditions for sustainable development on a global basis, thereby eliminating mass poverty. It should try to maintain world security, especially aiming to avoid nuclear warfare.
Strong does not expect his global system of governance to assume overall control in these areas.
``Rather it should provide the mechanisms for cooperation amongst nations required to ensure that the basic `outer limits' or boundary conditions, which are essential for the security and well-being of the entire planet, are defined and respected,'' he says. ``Within these boundaries, an infinite variety of individual activities can take place, and these can be dealt with largely by other levels of governance.''
The former UN official sees the present multilateral system, with the United Nations as its centerpiece, as a starting point for better management of global problems. But the present system is crippled by vagaries of national funding. He talks of a revision of the UN Charter and automatic funding, perhaps through a levy on international trade and the use of the international commons.
Such a development, he admits, is not politically realistic at the moment. Nevertheless, ``events'' will compel nations to move in that direction.
Mr. Strong has a long, familiar list: growth in world population (another billion by the end of the century), environmental degradation (desertification, shrinking tropical forests, loss of atmospheric ozone), the dangers of nuclear and conventional war (global military spending equals $1,000 for every one of the world's poorest people), increased urbanization, third-world poverty, and political instability.
A global system of management will require a degree of discipline, constraint, and mitigation of sovereignty which nations and institutions are always reluctant to accept, Strong admits. But it will open a vastly superior number of opportunities which advancing technology and economic interdependence make possible.
And it will help ensure mankind's survival.