Last night I attended the 2008 International Relations Council annual awards banquet in Kansas City. Strobe Talbot received the award for international statesmanship. He then went on to deliver a speech that began with Socrates' concept of world citizenship and ended with global climate change. Talbot's main message was that international institutions undergird world peace, and that successfully meeting the greatest current challenge to international peace - global climate change - will require an international legal regime that accomplishes at least some rudimentary level of world government.
Drawing from his new book, The Great Experiment: The Story of Ancient Empires, Modern States, and the Quest for a Global Nation, Talbot traced the history of international treaties and institutions as responses to, and prophylactics against, armed conflicts among countries, empires, and cultures. Beginning with Socrates' claim to have been "a citizen of the world", the President of the Brookings Institute went on to offer a magisterial overview of how international law tends to encourage good international relations, encouraging peace and prosperity. Talbot identified global climate change as the single greatest threat to humanity's future, and suggested that treaties and other international institutions will need to bind nations together if the world is to avoid the worst consequences of greenhouse gas emissions.
One world government is an infamous bogeyman of American politics. Many in the United States believe in, and fear, the fabled "Black Helicopters". Strobe Talbot made a strong case for the proposition that the real fear humanity should have is that countries will continue to confront global climate change independently - an approach apparently favored by Talbot's cousin, George Bush II - rather than as a single coordinated polity forged by international legal institutions.