A speech by Walter Cronkite -
United Nations, national sovereignty and the
future of the world
upon receiving the Norman Cousins Global Governance
on October 19, 1999, at the UN Delegates Dining Room
" I am greatly honored to receive this Norman Cousins
Global Governance Award for two reasons:
First, I believe as Norman Cousins did that the first priority
of humankind in this era is to establish an effective system of
world law that will assure peace with justice among the peoples
of the world.
Second, I feel sentimental about this award because half a
century ago Norman offered me a job as spokesman and Washington
lobbyist for the World Federalist organization, which was then
in its infancy.
I chose instead to continue in the world of journalism. For
many years, I did my best to report on the issues of the day in
as objective a manner as possible. When I had my own strong opinions,
as I often did, I tried not to communicate them to my audience.
Now, however, my circumstances are different. I am in a position
to speak my mind. And that is what I propose to do.
Those of us who are living today can influence the future
of civilization. We can influence whether our planet will drift
into chaos and violence, or whether through a monumental educational
and political effort we will achieve a world of peace under a
system of law where individual violators of that law are brought
For most of this fairly long life I have been an optimist
harboring a belief that as our globe shrank, as our communication
miracles brought us closer together, we would begin to appreciate
the commonality of our universal desire to live in peace and that
we would do something to satisfy that yearning of all peoples.
Today I find it harder to cling to that hope.
For how many thousands of years now have we humans been what
we insist on calling "civilized?" And yet, in total
contradiction, we also persist in the savage belief that we must
occasionally, at least, settle our arguments by killing one another.
While we spend much of our time and a great deal of our treasure
in preparing for war, we see no comparable effort to establish
a lasting peace. Meanwhile, emphasizing the sloth in this regard,
those advocates who work for world peace by urging a system of
world government are called impractical dreamers. Those impractical
dreamers are entitled to ask their critics what is so practical
It seems to many of us that if we are to avoid the eventual
catastrophic world conflict we must strengthen the United Nations
as a first step toward a world government patterned after our
own government with a legislature, executive and judiciary, and
police to enforce its international laws and keep the peace.
To do that, of course, we Americans will have to yield up
some of our sovereignty. That would be a bitter pill. It would
take a lot of courage, a lot of faith in the new order.
But the American colonies did it once and brought forth one
of the most nearly perfect unions the world has ever seen.
The circumstances were vastly different, obviously. While
the colonies differed on many questions, at least the people of
the colonies were of the same Anglo-Saxon stock. Yet just because
the task appears forbiddingly hard, we should not shirk it.
We cannot defer this responsibility to posterity. Time will
not wait. Democracy, civilization itself, is at stake. Within
the next few years we must change the basic structure of our global
community from the present anarchic system of war and ever more
destructive weaponry to a new system governed by a democratic
I suppose I'm preaching to the choir here. So let's not talk
generalities but focus tonight on a few specifics of what the
leadership of the World Federalist Movement believe must be done
now to advance the rule of world law.
For starters, we can draw on the wisdom of the framers of
the US Constitution in 1787. The differences among the American
states then were as bitter as differences among the nation-states
in the world today.
In their almost miraculous insight, the founders of our country
invented "federalism," a concept that is rooted in the
rights of the individual. Our federal system guarantees a maximum
of freedom but provides it in a framework of law and justice.
Our forefathers believed that the closer the laws are to the
people, the better. Cities legislate on local matters; states
make decisions on matters within their borders; and the national
government deals with issues that transcend the states, such as
interstate commerce and foreign relations. That is federalism.
Today we must develop federal structures on a global level.
We need a system of enforceable world law-- a democratic federal
world government--to deal with world problems.
What Alexander Hamilton wrote about the need for law among
the 13 states applies today to the approximately 200 sovereignties
in our global village:
"To look for a continuation of harmony between a number
of independent, unconnected sovereignties in the same neighborhood,
would be to disregard the uniform course of human events, and
to set at defiance the accumulated experience of ages."
Today the notion of unlimited national sovereignty means international
anarchy. We must replace the anarchic law of force with a civilized
force of law.
Ours will neither be a perfect world, nor a world without
disagreement and occasional violence. But it will be a world where
the overwhelming majority of national leaders will consistently
abide by the rule of world law, and those who won't will be dealt
with effectively and with due process by the structures of that
same world law. We will never have a city without crime, but we
would never want to live in a city that had no system of law to
deal with the criminals who will always be with us.
Let me make three suggestions for immediate action that would
move us in a direction firmly in the American tradition of law
and democracy. 1. Keep our promises: We helped create the UN and
to develop the UN assessment formula. Americans overwhelmingly
want us to pay our UN dues, with no crippling limitations. We
owe it to the world. In fact, we owe it as well to our national
self-esteem. 2. Ratify the Treaty to Ban Land Mines, the Law of
the Sea Treaty, the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, the
Convention to Eliminate All forms of Discrimination Against Women,
and the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Most important,
we should sign and ratify the Treaty for a Permanent International
Criminal Court. That Court will enable the world to hold individuals
accountable for crimes against humanity. 3. Consider, after 55
years, the possibility of a more representative and democratic
system of decision making at the UN. This should include both
revision of the Veto in the Security Council and adoption of a
weighted voting system for the General Assembly. The World Federalists
have endorsed Richard Hudson's Binding Triad proposal. George
Soros, in his recent book, "The Crisis of Global Capitalism"
has given serious attention to this concept which would be based
upon not only one-nation-one-vote but also, on population and
contributions to the UN budget.
Resolutions adopted by majorities in each of these three areas
would be binding, enforceable law. Within the powers given to
it in the Charter, the UN could then deal with matters of reliable
financing, a standing UN Peace force, development, the environment
and human rights.
Some of you may ask why the Senate is not ratifying these
important treaties and why the Congress is not paying our UN dues.
Even as with the American rejection of the League of Nations,
our failure to live up to our obligations to the United Nations
is led by a handful of willful senators who choose to pursue their
narrow, selfish political objectives at the cost of our nation's
They pander to and are supported by the Christian Coalition
and the rest of the religious right wing. Their leader, Pat Robertson,
has written that we should have a world government but only when
the messiah arrives. Any attempt to achieve world order before
that time must be the work of the Devil!
This small but well-organized group, has intimidated both
the Republican Party and the Clinton administration. It has attacked
each of our Presidents since FDR for supporting the United Nations.
Robertson explains that these Presidents were and are the unwitting
agents of Lucifer.
The only way we who believe in the vision of a democratic
world federal government can effectively overcome this reactionary
movement is to organize a strong educational counteroffensive
stretching from the most publicly visible people in all fields
to the humblest individuals in every community. That is the vision
and the program of the World Federalist Association.
The strength of the World Federalist program would serve an
important auxiliary purpose at this particular point in our history.
There would be immediate diplomatic advantages in just the world
knowledge that this country was even beginning to explore the
prospect of strengthening the UN. We would appear before the peoples
of the world as the champion of peace for all by the equitable
sharing of power. This in sharp contrast to the growing concern
that we intend to use our current dominant military power to enforce
a sort of pax Americana.
Our country today is at a stage in our foreign policy similar
to that crucial point in our nation's early history when our Constitution
was produced in Philadelphia.
Let us hear the peal of a new international liberty bell that
calls us all to the creation of a system of enforceable world
law in which the universal desire for peace can place its hope
As Carl Van Doren has written, "History is now choosing
the founders of the World Federation. Any person who can be among
that number and fails to do so has lost the noblest opportunity
of a lifetime.""