A liberal education enables us to see techniques in one realm that could solve problems in very different parts of life. Specialization has its own advantages, but people who are too specialized may overlook important opportunities.
Major problems today are caused by groups seeking to break away from various governments and to become independent countries or part of some other country. The Russian seizure of Crimea from Ukraine, after what was billed as a secession movement, is a dramatic recent example. Other countries currently afflicted by secession movements include Canada, Ukraine, Spain, the United Kingdom, Iraq, China, and Russia itself, which has been fighting Chechen separatists.
Secession movements are a problem because there is no peaceful, orderly way to decide what to do about them. Once in a while two parts of a country can go their separate ways peacefully, as happened with Czechoslovakia in 1993. But the more normal departure of part of a country has come through violent revolution and civil war.
The American Constitution provides procedures by which states can be subdivided. It actually happened once, when West Virginia was split off from Virginia in 1861 and admitted as a state in 1863. By analogy, if we had a world government it could decide when to allow secession from member countries. But we have no world government and no immediate prospects for one.
Experience from a completely different ball park—American labor law--- suggests how secession questions could be adjudicated peacefully. Our labor law allows workers to vote whether to designate a union to be their sole bargaining agent. But firms may have different types of employees and it is therefore necessary to determine exactly which employees will be included in the bargaining unit to be represented. This determination cannot be made by voting. Exactly who will be included in the bargaining unit and thus in the electorate is determined by a “unit clarification proceeding” conducted by the National Labor Relations Board.
Decision about boundary changes between countries, like decisions about the membership of a collective bargaining unit, cannot be made democratically because challenged boundaries call into question just who could vote. What we therefore need is a world agency that can hear arguments by supporters and opponents of any proposed change and then render a decision, binding on all parties, allowing or denying the proposal. Such a unit clarification agency, having only this one power, would not be a full world government.
To establish this agency would require a multilateral treaty adhered to by all or nearly all countries. Each country would agree to be bound by decisions of the boundary clarification agency about its own borders and to respect its decisions regarding the borders of other countries.
Many countries contain very motley and troublesome assortments of cultures, languages, and histories, so the advantages to existing governments of delegating responsibility to determine their exact jurisdiction would be considerable.
Although a world government with general jurisdiction is politically impossible for now, a specialized world agency performing just one of the functions of such a government—determining the boundaries of national governments-- just might be possible.
Given that World War I (beginning exactly 100 years ago), World War II, and most current wars grew out of disputes about the boundaries of political systems, even a limited world agency could greatly decrease the danger of war, allow reduced military expenditures, and make the world a more decent place for all of us.
Has the time come for a world borders clarification agency?