No longer the stuff of dreams

Keith Best
Address by Keith Best of WFM to the 20th Congress of UEF in Genoa, Sunday 21 March 2004

My dear friends and fellow federalists.

First, let me acknowledge that I am a poor substitute for Sir Peter Ustinov who wanted to be with you today but could not be. He sends his apologies and best wishes to you all and is thinking of us. He, above all, recognises the historic importance of a closer working relationship between UEF and WFM and how both organisations can be complementary to one another in moving forward our goals of world peace through world law based on federalist principles as personified in a European Union with a constitution, safeguarding the political and human rights of its citizens. It is the significance of the resolution of UEF to join WFM formally that means it was my duty as well as my pleasure to be here in my capacity of a senior officer of WFM that I have been for the last seventeen years since I left the UK Westminster Parliament. In that time, thanks to the efforts of Bill Pace our Executive Director and our dedicated staff, WFM has transformed itself from a minor global think-tank with the vision of a better world, which was regarded by many as unrealistic in the days of the Cold War, to a major global non-governmental organisation which punches above its weight. The creation by WFM of the Coalition for the International Criminal Court of more than one thousand non-governmental organisations worldwide, supported generously by European Commission funding, has been acknowledged by the UN Secretary-General as playing a significant part in its establishment and continuing development. All the world’s major non-governmental organisations are members and have been prepared for WFM to lead the Coalition. Our ideas are now no longer the stuff of dreams but mainstream discussion among leaders in the main political fora in the world. We have much more to do but will be able to achieve that so much more effectively with the support of UEF.

On behalf of WFM I want to congratulate you all in UEF for having provided the bedrock of intellectual and action-based support over so many years for a federal European Union. You have been in the forefront of the drive for a Constitution for seven years as Jo Leinen sets out in his President’s report. You have achieved a great deal as John Pinder mentioned yesterday in the plenary session. You may have had to wait for more than 30 years for a common currency but we have had to wait for more than 47 years for an International Criminal Court. Yet both have happened in our lifetimes. It is the most exciting time to be alive for the development of transnational institutions. Of course, many said that neither could be achieved. They were wrong and we were right and we shall be proved right again. The tide of history is with us and the wind is in our sails. Humanity globally is climbing out of its narrow nationalist hole that enhanced the political elite but impoverished the people and is demanding that we live together in peace safeguarded by international institutions. For, if we fail to live together, assuredly we shall die together as the bloody slaughter of the last century, sadly translated into Kosovo and Rwanda and other places has taught us. Global interdependence, labour migration and knowledge conveyed through the internet and global media are genies that cannot be put back into the bottle – such matters need global not nation-state initiatives. If the increasingly wealthy part of our world does not answer the legitimate demands of the increasingly impoverished the price future generations will pay is too awful to contemplate. Only three days ago the new African Union’s Parliament met for the first time in Addis Ababa. The African Union is modelling its institutions on those of the European Union and we need to be talking to them. The creation of equality in the standard of living is an essential prerequisite of a common market let alone its moral imperative: it is well understood in the European Union. We in UEF and WFM share this vision and that is why we must work together. The European Union is predicated on the four fundamental principles of free movement of people, goods, capital and services. That is not a bad global agenda. But both in Europe and in the world it must be achieved within a legal constitutional framework which, again, is where UEF and WFM share a common vision. The accession states have been attracted to join the Union because of the four fundamental pillars. It seems to me that it is for all of us to persuade them that there should be a fifth fundamental pillar which is equally if not more attractive, namely the pillar of constitutional law.

The former communist accession states to the European Union will be the drivers of the new vision for Europe which for them includes a relationship with the USA and NATO as being important. They have seen the USA as the guarantor of their freedoms and yet will be critical of the White House where necessary. They recognise that NATO is the insurance policy that will prevent conflict between Europe and America in material terms. For them a unified Europe has an emotional and more immediate meaning because it was so brutally denied them in more recent history than a generation ago when the founding fathers were motivated by the conflicts of the twentieth century. It is important that UEF and WFM engage the people of those states in our vision.

Frankly, the negotiations between the existing European Union countries and the accession states have been technocratic and insensitive to their sense of history of being bullied by external neighbours. They want to be equal partners and respected as such and we should treat them in that way. That more sensitive approach has resonance in the wider world, especially when dealing with different faiths and cultures. The verbal shorthand of labelling people with opinions based on their religion or ethnicity is the most appalling form of prejudice which leads to so much misunderstanding.

The enlargement of the Union is exciting for me for a reason that is often overlooked because it is so obvious – but after centuries of territorial conquest and exploitation we should celebrate it nevertheless. Those who will join the Union have asked and not been compelled to do so. Others, Bulgaria, Romania, Turkey are in the queue. There is osmotic change going on as the values of human rights and fundamental freedoms that bind the states of the European Union are spread. After 1 May this year will Belarus and the Ukraine be European Union buffer states or Russian ones? If the concept of Europe geographically extends to the Urals why should it not extend geopolitically to Vladisvostok?

Our President Sir Peter continues to inspire us all with his perception of what is happening in the world and his inimitable ability to set it out simply for all to understand. For him, war is state terrorism. Of course, unless force has the legitimacy under international law it can be nothing better than state terrorism which becomes collective state terrorism if a group of states pursue it – yet so many politicians fail or are unable to realise that this is what the debate about Iraq is all about. It is not about the welcome removal of an unpleasant dictator in the style of Stalin and Hitler but about the rule of law. It is about the force of law and not the law of force. That is why the goal of WFM is to outlaw war. Literally, to make the exercise of military force outside the sanction of the international community an unlawful act. The realistic way in which that is achieved is to make war redundant. To create the mechanisms of conflict resolution and the adherence of states to those mechanisms a more reliable and cheaper way than recourse to force of arms. The release of finances currently spent on armaments to meet the challenge I have described in the imbalance of the world’s economies has been well rehearsed elsewhere.

It is a massive failure of international diplomacy let alone moral integrity to act in a way which gives credibility to allegations of hypocrisy and double standards in the Middle East and failure to observe international law and human rights. We cannot condemn others if our own conscious actions are legally and morally questionable.

Yesterday was the first anniversary of the attack on Iraq but it will be many years before the issue of legality is resolved. Iraq personifies the challenges we face at this turning point in history. It demonstrated how a powerful state can impose its will if not its moral authority over other states. It has identified weaknesses in the United Nations and it raises the question of what principles should be applied in dealing with threats to world order.

First, if certain western nations assume the rôle of the policemen of the world then that can only be effective if it is from the moral high ground of acting only within the confines of international law – and that includes what is done with the combatants afterwards. There is recognisable international law even if, as all law must, it is constantly evolving. The end can never justify the means as a serious tenet of law whether domestic or international.

Secondly, the United Nations needs allies to ensure that it is not sidelined but seen as the legitimate organ of the international community. Thirdly, we must continue our efforts to show that military force seldom solves problems – a solecism to which history is the dolorous witness. We must look to our vision when our children’s children will look back on these times in wonder that humanity could have been so crude as to think that killing a problem solved it. The heads of the Hydra will only grow if merely we try to cut them off. We must be more sophisticated in our approach to make it unacceptable and unremunerative to act in defiance of common standards of universally adopted human and political rights: we must make them justiciable and enforceable through the international community.

We should not forget, however, what the stated aims are of the United States. They are to ensure that no competitive superpower arises, that there are their bases encircling the globe and, more chillingly, that “preventive” action is taken. This is a new concept quite different from the doctrines in international law of pre-emptive strike when an attack appears to be inevitable and imminent or hot pursuit across international borders. The National Security Strategy of the United States of America, available on the website, makes it clear. As President Bush states in the foreword “In the twenty-first century, only nations that share a commitment to protecting basic human rights and guaranteeing political and economic freedom will be able to unleash the potential of their people and assure their future prosperity. People everywhere want to be able to speak freely; choose who will govern them; worship as they please; educate their children-male and female; own property; and enjoy the benefits of their labor.” These are noble sentiments with which we can all agree. Nor should we be surprised. President Kennedy in his inaugural address forty-three years ago told the world that the United States would pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty. The statement, however, in the National Security Strategy that “America will act against such emerging threats before they are fully formed” heralds the novel concept of preventive action of dubious legality, for it goes on: “We must be prepared to stop rogue states and their terrorist clients before they are able to threaten or use weapons of mass destruction against the United States and our allies and friends.” This is the green light for military action against any state that appears to be developing such weapons and we have seen how tenuous the evidence can be before that action is taken. The European Union must act as a counter-balance to this and seek internationally agreed limits to such a doctrine.

We now have about 200 nation-states in the world (191 are members of the United Nations) of which 145 are rated full or partial democracies and some 55 are federal democracies being mostly constitutional federal democracies. Thus, while the growing interdependence in the world has exclusively been measured in economic and financial terms, the globalization of democracy, human rights, justice and the rule of law are as important as economic changes, if not arguably more so, in their long-term effects.

The European Union represents not only history’s most successful experiment with international democracy so far but the most important geopolitical extension of the political principles of constitutional democratic federalism.

As Jo Leinen has pointed out, both the European and World Federalists were founded on the same day in October 1947. We have had our respective successes but I hope that you will feel that now is the time for us to come together on common projects and achieve greater feats through solidarity. We can reinforce each other’s convictions and commitments and find new enthusiasm. We need only to be determined and united in order to succeed.

Keith Best
Chair Executive Committee

More information

Union of European Federalists

World Federalist Movement

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