Skip to content

On Global Civil Governance and Justice

President Bush in his address to the U.S. Congress said, “Every nation in every region now has a decision to make. . . . Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists… Every nation must choose sides in the coming conflict against a terrorist network [that involves] thousands of people in more than 60 countries.” We must “rid the world of evil-doers” and begin a sustained “crusade” against terrorism.

These are dangerous times.

The U.S. government has a decision to make. Should it lead nations into a century of war against terrorism and risk the rise of military states around the world? Or, should it lead nations into a new order of global governance and change the course of history?

If the U.S. were to lead the world into a century of sustained war, it would tighten national security in the traditional manner. It would add police at airports and armed guards on all commercial airlines and curb freedom in mass communications without creating any method for civilian defense or corrective action on the problems of world trade. It would assassinate suspected terrorists and justify all military action without addressing the underlying problems of civil governance at the world level.

Retaliatory action without moving on the need to develop a new system of civil governance — without addressing the need for a civilian defense system or the problem of a new order in global markets — could produce a steady state of terrorist retaliation, escalate the need for security for all governments. A “sustained war” against terrorists could lead to a growth in military states around the world, which in turn could bring forth the use of biochemical weapons.

Civilian-Based Defense

The U.S. could make a different decision. To protect a nation from terrorist attacks leaders would prepare citizens to resist aggression through a civilian-based defense system. Citizens would learn the tactics of resistance before aggression starts, which distinguishes civil defense from spontaneous action. Prior preparation and publicity enhances effectiveness and makes it a deterrent to attack. If the U.S. were to undertake a full civil response to the current threat, it would initiate novel methods for citizens to treat terrorism.

Instead of placing military police on every commercial airplane, for example, the government and civic groups would train passengers on how to deal with terrorists. There is evidence that passengers themselves stopped the terrorists on the ill-fated plane in Pennsylvania. They may have in this instance become civilian soldiers willing to give up their lives to protect their country. Such a training program would reduce the need to place armed guards on all commercial airlines.

The use of airspace is impossible to control by government alone. Private planes are in constant use across every nation. Evidence suggests that terrorists considered using crop dusters for biological warfare. Some 8,000 business jets operate in the U.S., which are not checked to see whether passengers carry a knife or gun. Their bags are not screened and a terrorist could easily buy or charter a fully fueled corporate jet and point it at the Pentagon or any strategic place where thousands of people gather.

How could government regulate all air space?

If terrorist attacks continue, a civil defense system will be needed to reduce the need for extensive police surveillance on air flights. The cost of advancing major airport security will be an estimated at $1.8 billion. But a civilian air defense system would not require nationwide government control and surveillance. Rather, it would involve enlisting the cooperation of civil (trade and professional) associations to self-monitor the flying space. Civilian defense reduces government costs, and guards against the growth of a police state.

The potential for science to contribute toward terrorist tactics is far-reaching and it is not monitored. Science has constructive purposes, as in treating diseases, but it is also a major source of knowledge for terrorists in devising new methods of attack. The chemical industry is doubling in size every 20 years without government monitoring. Of the 70,000 chemicals in commercial use in 1995, only 2 percent had been fully tested for human health effects. Today nanoscale physics is using techniques to control the properties of atoms and will be a dominant technology in the 21st century. New biological research is growing rapidly in ways that could lead quickly into a terrible system of global warfare. Biological weapons — like anthrax, plague, tularemia, or smallpox — are among the weapons of mass destruction.

All the sciences are connecting with global business, making new scientific information available to everyone around the world and thus difficult to control.

The options for a civil government to monitor scientific activity are narrow. In preparing for a war on terrorism, a government should not take over scientific inquiry; rather, it should bring scientific associations into a self-monitoring and self-managing process. Scientific associations carry a civic responsibility to help avoid terrorism everywhere. How this technique for civilian defense might be carried out is complex, but it should be on the agenda for all nations.

Civilian defense means the empowerment of ordinary people. It means teaching everyone how to combat terrorism with a sense of civic responsibility. It means teaching self-defense in the local community, and in the process building civic accountability. A national emergency joins with the purpose of building a local sense of responsibility. Civic groups could — and should — foster training programs for sensible self-defense among young and old who face ordinary violence on the street every day. This is an opportunity to train citizens to deal with violence in mundane settings like a football game, or an office or an assembly line. The purpose of training is not to add fear, but a sense of confidence in making a mature response to a real crisis. Civilian defense is a broad educational method for developing a peaceful community life. It cultivates moral and ethical character and should be on the agenda for all nations who want to sustain a civil society.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency can work with local governments on civic training programs. New federally funded research and development programs are needed to monitor each phase of what might be a growing crisis, offering training exercises for civilians. Governor Ridge and the Office of Homeland Defense could create a small staff to work on nonviolent strategies for defense.

A public debate on civilian defense should be part of a plan for nations today.

Global Civil Governance

The U.S. could take leadership in a creative war on terrorism by initiating a new form of global governance. This would change the course of history. The U.S. could — and should — support the democratic formation of UN security forces and the establishment of tribunals in world regions. A creative war on terrorism would mean establishing new systems of global justice, civil governance, making a sustained effort to establish enforceable world law.

Social scientists and economists have laid out methods for treating some of the problems that may have led to the destruction of the World Trade Center. The details are in the literature but the general directions are clear.

1. Develop a more effective and democratic world trade and monetary system. Honor the work of the IMF and the World Bank but proceed quickly toward a revision of the way global capital is allocated and invested. Construct a World Trade Organization based on principles of democracy and freedom that combine effectively with principles of finance and economics. New global institutions are needed that are comparable to domestic institutions, such as monitoring the exchange of securities and restraining the formation of world cartels.

2. Increase support for the International Court of Justice. The International Criminal Court (ICC) should be a permanent court for trying people accused of terrorism, war crimes and crimes against humanity.

3. Improve the UN’s peacekeeping capability. Authorize the recruitment and training of a permanent international peacekeeping force.

4. Establish a more stable UN income arrangement. Use deep-seabed revenues, multinational licensing fees, a small levy on international mail, satellite communication fees, ocean and atmospheric pollution penalties.

5. Support UN reform, examine the veto power in the Security Council, establish a more equitable voting structure, strengthen the Economic and Social Council to ensure coherent planning, support the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, and strengthen the presence of civil society associations.

6. Support the Chemical Weapons Convention and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and create an international disarmament organization that can monitor the race for advanced biochemical weapons, verifying arms limitations agreements, encouraging a step-by-step phased disarmament with established procedures for enforcing new treaties.

7. Improve the global dispute-resolution process. Provide specific procedures for third-party involvement in disputes through mediation services and panels of professional arbiters.

Such proposals are in the interest of maintaining peace for all nations around the world.

Finally, the U.S. government should promote a “civil patriotism” by which voluntary associations — religious, professional, scientific, artistic, and educational — advance the development of a democratic society. Citizens can — and should — build systems of civilian defense and self-governance in a global economy, not a world state. The voluntary sector should become active through its global organizations to stop terrorism and reduce the tendency of threatened governments to become military states. Civilian defense systems and global civil markets are the basis for building world peace and justice around the world.

Author: Severyn Bruyn is professor emeritus at Boston College and a member of the Journal of Mundane Behavior editorial board. These comments are drawn from his books A Future for the American Economy (Stanford University Press, 1991), A Civil Economy (University of Michigan Press, 2000), and Civil Markets (forthcoming). A civilian-based defense system is researched by Gene Sharp who is Senior Scholar at the Albert Einstein Institution in Boston, Massachusetts and since 1965 has held research appointments in Harvard University’s Center for International Affairs.His web site can be found at

Published in9/11 and Everyday LifeIssues
© 2000, Journal of Mundane Behavior. Permission to link to this site is granted. All copyright permission and reproduction requests beyond "fair use" must be approved jointly by Journal of Mundane Behavior and the individual author, and should be directed to the managing editor.