Sunday, October 14, 2007

The Global Rule of Law

Dear Citizens of the World,

In the last 500 years, we have moved from a sparsely interconnected world to a highly globalized human network. Our fates are now linked in the most unexpected ways as information cascades quickly sweep our planet into dark alleys of mass hysteria, anger and ultimately warfare.

Most of us claim we want to live in peace. We justify warfare as a means to a civilized end, an unfortunate but necessary way of attaining stability and prosperity. I believe that those of you that have truly suffered through long protracted wars understand its atrocities. But those of us who have not are often enticed by the virility of action, the profound conviction in our cause and the sweet promise of swift victory.

How many times in the last 100 years have nations said that their soldiers will be back before Christmas, Yom Kippur, Ramadan or New Years? And how many leaders have claimed early victory when the violence had just begun? As our technology evolves, we're fooled into believing that what was nearly impossible yesterday, that is swift victory, will be possibly today. What we forget is that our enemies are humans too and therefore as smart as us, if not smarter since (as the cliche goes) "necessity is the mother of invention". Smart bombs are followed by a grinding wave of IEDs, missile defense by fully fueled and hijacked civilian jet liners.

In lieu of how many times we have been fooled to believe that war is a reasonable option that can bring us to a desired state of affairs, we desperately need a new protocol to avoid going down the wrong path again and again. Once one side as opted for all out war, the other side often has no option but to respond with an equal measure of force. We need a protocol that allows us avoid spiraling into the precipice of another global conflict.

At our current evolutionary stage, some humans will continue to exhibit aggression. Aggression is closely linked to our "fighting spirit", our struggle for survival. But a global culture of civilized institutions can be built up that effectively minimizes the negative impact of violent behaviour without impairing our strength as a species.

Diversity makes us strong. It effectively allows us to experiment with potential solutions to our human condition and evolve through competition. And competition inevitably leads to conflict as it poises one approach against the other. But the proof of a concept should be contained within the constraints of the domain to which it applies itself. However, the desire to prevail is so strong in us that in a conflict situation, we have few inhibitions about what we allow ourselves to do. We reach beyond the problem domain itself. No longer are we proving the superiority of our approach. We are simply proving our ability to suppress competition through brute force.

A viable international protocol must permit us to compete freely within the boundaries of clearly set rules that delineate the problem domain. We don't prove how great we are at swimming by running 20 miles. We don't prove the viability of our ideological doctrines by killing each other. We don't prove how great our societies and economies are by building impenetrable borders (which, again, is simply a means of suppressing competition by force).

There is no way to infer what the exact rules should be without experimenting and arbitrating the result. Such a mechanism is known as a legal system, which consist of both a legislature and a judiciary. A legitimate legal system must be clearly and directly empowered to act by a majority of the people. At a national level many of us would not tolerate anything else. We have come to call it the democratic Rule of Law. Yet at the international level, we shy away from fully implementing such a legal system. Why?

We fear that the system will be skewed in favor of the other and suppress us through tyranny. The fear is particularly strong in those of us who are privileged. We fear that our wealth will be stolen, our powers compromised and our positions diminished. There is no doubt that the governments of the U.S. and Europe will have to surrender their privileged positions as exclusive "deciders". But the fear of tyranny is unfounded. There are means to prevent such tyranny, means that have evolved from amongst other sources the U.S Constitution and the great European experiment.

We shouldn't forget that despite that the Cold War has been over for more than 15 years, we're still at the dawn of the Nuclear Age. There are several nations ready for and capable of acquiring the ultimate safeguard against invasion: nuclear weaponry. Mass hysteria might not lead to burnt fields and pillaged cities. Mass hysteria might lead to the complete and total annihilation of humanity. In a highly interconnected world with endless information cascades and without the global Rule of Law, deterrence might quickly turn into destruction.

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