The system of sovereignties

A common response to the problems presented by territorial jurisdictions, in a world of transnational inter-relationships, is to propose the abolition of all frontiers. But as we noted in the previous chapter, the establishment of one -- global -- jurisdiction would not of itself solve all the problems of the center/hinterland relationship. Furthermore, as we have observed, the governance of a specific activity or operation is often related to a specific material resource, or physical location of persons. Thus, even within the unified state, there are still such sub-system boundaries as school districts, drainage districts, etc.; the dimensions of which depend in part on the sophistication of the technology used within them and the desired size of clientele participating therein. In a unitary state, however, such boundaries are delegated by the central or national government; the boundaries, and the powers delegated to them, can be changed to meet specific situations at the will of the central government. This, of course, entails the problem of the imposition of system-majority-will on the perhaps divergent wishes of the sub-system.

(It bears repeating that we are invariably faced with systems within or overlapping other systems. The expressions, majority and minority, are relative terms. The minority in one sub-system may frequently be in accord with the majority of the larger system. Advocates of integrated education have traditionally been in the minority in the American South, but in accord with the majority of the United States at large. Anglophones are in the minority in Quebec, but part of the majority for Canada at large (35). Catholics are in the minority in Northern Ireland, but would be part of the majority in a united Ireland).

The abolition of territorial boundaries, of any sort, does not, of itself, resolve all of the conflicts of differentiated groups formerly associated with those boundaries. If Canada were, for example, to become a unitary state -- with the abolition of provincial governments -- the country would still be faced with the question of whether a school in a specific location should offer instruction in French or English, or Esperanto for that matter, whether by "live" or "electronic" instructors.

Indeed, the establishment of a territorial boundary may well serve to define or contain a problem for its more satisfactory solution. When, however, a sub-system threatens the very survival or prosperity of the whole, it is understandable that the whole would seek to intervene. In this context, the problem of a world of sovereign states is that, in the nuclear age, a specific sub-system (a specific power) can, indeed, threaten the survival of mankind. At the same time, there are limits to the constraint or intervention which a concert of other powers can bring to bear on the offending state, since police use of nuclear arms would likewise threaten the suicide of mankind. Just as the present state seeks a monopoly of control over the ultimate implements of suasion (arms), so would a world government have to secure the ultimate control of weaponry and incarceration. It would have to secure a monopoly over the ICBM, or whatever may supersede it. In the United States it took a civil war to decide that the central government must have ultimate control of the use of arms. The abolition of national frontiers would merely replace international warfare with civil warfare (within the global state), unless the nations formerly defined by those frontiers lose the capability and desire to engage in civil war.

In the present state of the world system, it is so patently absurd to visualize countries handing over all power to a global government that advocates of world government invariably propose a federal structure. Present states would cede irrevocably certain functions of government to the world state, while retaining others. It is worth noting that this has been a relatively rare phenomenon in history (the classic case being Switzerland) and has occurred in circumstances where the peoples of the constituent units feel such a great common external threat that they are prepared to become one unit for defence and related purposes. The historic unification of such unitary countries as Spain, by contrast, came about because the leader of one territorial fragment was able, through various techniques, to transform himself into the leader of the whole. The former fragments then ceased to have independent political power; though often continuing as administrative units (e.g., counties), the elites of which would have considerable influence in the determination of national government. The evolving monarchies of France and England allied themselves with lower classes against the overmighty barons (the dukes of the realm). (No doubt Secretary-General Hammarskjold had this precedent in mind when he attempted to court the smaller powers, in order to manoeuvre around the hegemony of the superpowers of the Security Council.)

The essence of the unitary system of government is that there is one over-riding authority, from which all sub-systems derive their power. It is a common fallacy to assume that a unitary system is necessarily a highly centralized system. In fact, the central government may establish regions with delegated power (as Italy has done in the case of Sicily, and Britain in the case of Northern Ireland) and may normally not intervene in the day to day workings of such sub-systems as regions and municipalities. The central government may also establish regional offices for the local administration of departmental programs; and it may disperse the headquarters of certain departments at other locations than the national capital. One can readily visualize a unitary system of government which is, in fact, more decentralized in net effect than possible federal structures.

The essence of the federal system of government is that power is divided between, on the one hand, a common government with jurisdiction over certain matters throughout the federation, and on the other hand, territorially-demarcated governmental units (states of the Union, cantons of Switzerland, etc) with jurisdiction over other matters. The division of powers (jurisdiction) is defined in general terms ("defence", "education") and it is, in reality, impossible to keep these in water-tight compartments (is international--educational--exchange "education" or "external relations" or a bit of both?) (29). Courts, conferences, and constitutional amendments are the necessary mechanisms for differentiating and co-ordinating topics of jurisdiction. In contrast to unitary systems, the common government is not, by itself, competent to diminish the jurisdictional power of the component "states" nor abolish them. Neither do the component "states" of themselves, have the power to abolish the common government. Constitutional change requires some formula ensuring the participation of both the common government and the other governments (e.g., agreement of the common government and three-fourths of the "states").

The establishment of a federal system necessarily involves a degree of decentralization, inasmuch as there are territorially-demarcated governments operating within the system. But it is possible to visualize a federal system in which the common government centralizes its activities in the national capital and the "state" governments centralize their activities in their capitals (e.g., a department of education and no local schoolboards).

We have surveyed the theoretical distinction between unitary and federal systems. In reality, there is a continuum which runs from the unitary position, to intergovernmental alliance or organization, to confederation (in which the component states reserve the right to collectively amend or abolish the common government), to federalism (to a stage of federalism in which one level uses financial levers to persuade or coerce the other), to quasi-unitary, and finally back to the unitary structure. (See diagram) (41).

The balance or division of power tends to fluctuate and expresses itself through constitutional amendment, constitutional interpretation, or the ability of one sphere of government to influence another, through the use of changes in the taxation base which were not foreseen when the base was established, etc. Canada is a striking case of such evolution. Its constitution (BNA Act) refers to "confederation", but in fact established a quasi-unitary system (in which the common government was given the power to annul provincial legislation, etc.) and handed four-fifths of the then utilized forms of taxation to the common government (42). In the course of time, the Canadian system has, in practise, shifted to a position where the provinces, in their dealings with foreign corporations, and their separatist tendencies (found not only in Quebec), challenge the viability of the federal state.

Another facet of federalism, particularly relevant in any consideration of world federalism, is the uniformity of the list of powers assigned to the component states. If the latter were homogeneous in all respects, the uniformity of powers assigned them would present no problem (indeed, a homogeneous area has no need of federalism in the first place; no matter how large, decentralization and the use of advanced transportation/communications technology permits unitary government). An important rationale of federalism is that functional needs differ from place to place within a heterogeneous area, and that placing jurisdictional powers in the hands of "states" affords them the flexibility to meet these needs in a manner difficult to a common government. Unfortunately, these differing needs may in fact require quite differing jurisdictional powers. One "state" may be heavily dependent upon the management of, say, uranium. Other states may have no uranium deposits. If "atomic power" is assigned to the common government, the electors of the other states -- as represented in the common government -- will have much to say about the affairs of the uranium state, and the uranium state may have less effective extent of jurisdiction within its borders than other states.

A seeming solution to this dilemma is the vertical delegation or re-assignment of powers between governments, taking into account the differing interests of component territorial units. Let us assume a comnon government and states A, B, and C. A exercises powers 1, 2, and 3. B exercises powers 2,3, and 4. C exercises powers 3, 4, and 5. This leads to a complicated mess in which the common government is responsible for powers 4 and 5 in A, 1 and 5 in B, and 1 and 2 in C. Only with respect to power 6 could it truly be called a common government. And why should a member of the common government elected from A have any say with respect to the operation of 1 in B? Clearly, there are limitations on the utilization of the delegation technique, which is why federal systems are loath to adopt it. Indeed, the same problem has some influence in unitary systems, which tend to give subordinate jurisdictions (e.g., municipalities) fairly uniform powers. The problem is not quite the same for unitary systems, however, in that any legislation of the central authority automatically supersedes the jurisdiction of subordinate units.

A further problem arises in federal systems when the component "states" vary in resources, and certain areas of taxation, related to those resources, are not available to the common government. The result is regional economic disparities. Even though there are no immigration barriers preventing citizens from moving to the favoured area, there are barriers to mobility such as family ties, competition for employment, and even barriers imposed by the favoured state when it has control of access to certain professions, etc. Despite the various techniques which can be adopted to mitigate the problem of regional disparities, federal systems are politically wise when their internal territorial demarcations are of roughly equal resource dimensions. California, Texas, and New York do not present to an America of fifty-two states quite the same problem as is presented to Canada by two (Ontario, Quebec) of the ten provinces. On the other hand Australia gets along well enough with a unit population pattern of 4.6, 3.5, 2, 1, 1, 1 millions.

Our discussion of federalism has deliberately, to this point, avoided the use of the expression "levels of government". The term "levels" implies superiority and subordination. From one perspective, the common government of a federal system is not superior to the states, provinces, or cantons. The common government has its autonomous sphere of jurisdiction and the others have theirs. From another perspective, however, the common government is indeed superior, because in all existing federations the common government has ultimate control over the use of force within the system; it controls the armed services.

Existing federations, such as the United States and Canada, are usually thought of in terms of two levels of government. In Canada, the third level -- municipalities and special purpose districts -- are entirely the creatures of provincial governments (the relationship between provincial governments and subordinate units is thus "unitary"). The United States constitution likewise concerns itself with only two levels of government, and if some states have chosen to give their municipalities status within state constitutions, that is strictly their doing (it is also noteworthy that no state constitution requires municipal participation in state constitutional amendment). There is, however, no theoretical reason why federalism should be confined to two levels of government. It is theoretically possible to formulate a federal structure of three or even more levels. This is the structural assumption of world federalism. We should be conscious, however, of the fact that all the problems of federalism discussed in this section would be equally relevant in a world structure of three or four levels. In fact, the increase in the number of levels would compound these problems; but it would transform problems of international tension and rivalry into the problems of complex federalism, to the advantage of lawyers and negotiators and the disadvantage of those militarists not needed as policemen.

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