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The Clark-Sohn Plan

By: Joseph Preston Baratta

Joseph Preston Baratta is a member of the Center for Global Community and World Law. He is also a World Federalist Institute Fellow.

World Peace through World Law was the title of a 1958 book that is generally regarded as a minimalist plan of world government. It was designed to abolish war by substantial amendment of the United Nations Charter. It did not attempt to establish a world government that would be empowered to address all the problems of humanity, though it provided a more liberal amendment procedure so that its powers could grow.

Known as the Clark-Sohn plan, it was distinct from the maximalist Preliminary Draft of a World Constitution of 1948 by University of Chicago Chancellor Robert M. Hutchins and other Western academics to achieve both peace and justice after World War II. It differed, too, from Clarence Streit’s maximalist plan Union Now of 1939, which aimed to unite the democracies to overawe the fascist states by the Union’s preponderance of force and thus prevent the war.

Historically, the Clark-Sohn plan was very late to respond to the opportunity opened up by the Allied victory in World War II and the establishment of the weak United Nations Organization. But their plan was seen as practical and realistic, because it was a very carefully drafted series of UN Charter amendments designed to achieve universal disarmament and hence peace by the rule of world law. To my mind, the book is still eminently readable. If you want to understand the UN Charter and what it would take to make it effective, this is the plan to read. No other plan from the old world federalist movement can make its objective so clear and persuasive.

They assumed as Clark said at the beginning of World Peace through World Law, “There is no peace without law.” Another time he said, “It is almost axiomatic that there can be no peace without order and no order without law.” United World Federalists went even further, saying, “We believe that peace is not merely the absence of war, but the presence of justice, of law, of order — in short of government and the institutions of government; that world peace can be created and maintained only under a world federal government, universal and strong enough to prevent armed conflict between nations, and having direct jurisdiction over the individual in those matters within its authority.” Clark and Sohn understood that they were proposing “constitutional legislation.” They were drafting a fundamental law for the world. Clark and Sohn believed that states would find their proposals acceptable if they offered a practical plan to achieve peace, a common interest. States could coexist and compete without the arbiter of war.

But they went very far, as a reader will immediately see. In order to achieve general and complete disarmament, they made the General Assembly democratically representative of the peoples of the world. They made the Assembly primarily responsible for the maintenance of peace and security. At a stroke, they abolished the Security Council with its veto. In its place, they made it an Executive Council of the world laws enacted by the Assembly. A careful 10-year, step-wise plan would abolish all military forces and ultimately secure a disarmed world by a new World Peace Force alone equipped with arms.

They also proposed two new organs of the UN to deal with political disputes beyond the competence of the International Court of Justice: a World Conciliation Board and a World Equity Tribunal. The Board was to consist of “five most By Joseph Preston Baratta Joseph Preston Baratta is a member of the Center for Global Community and World Law. He is also a World Federalist Institute Fellow. 16 qualified international mediators or conciliators,” chosen by the General Assembly and responsible to it. The Equity Tribunal was to consist of 15 persons “whose character, experience, and reputation would furnish the best assurance of impartiality and breadth of view,” who would be elected for life by the General Assembly. “Equity” was an old English process by which a royal judge could find justice when the Common Law was inadequate, which Clark and Sohn proposed to revive and apply to international law today. The Equity Tribunal could recommend solutions to such international problems as the Israeli-Palestinian crisis (an illustrative case that they took up). If the General Assembly reached a four-fifths majority to accept the recommendation, it would become binding. Even a recalcitrant state might find it difficult not to abide by such a majority. In the worst case, Clark and Sohn provided for enforcement by economic and military sanctions, ultimately by a new UN Peace Force.

Could such processes have stopped the Vietnam War, or Russia’s current war in Ukraine? The General Assembly in the Clark-Sohn plan would be elected by the peoples of the world, voting as individuals in accordance with their judgment of where justice lay, as in national republican assemblies. They would not be appointees of the state governments under instructions on how to vote, as at present. The whole scheme presumes world democracy on those questions affecting international peace and security.

A monopoly of force in the world state — necessary to permit the rule of world law — would have to be vested in the reformed UN, but recourse to force would be no more common than in democratic states. Police powers would be sufficient. Individuals — including heads of governments — could be accused of violation of the laws and brought into new world courts, where they would be tried by due process. If found innocent, they would be freed; if guilty, properly punished. It sounds radical, but it is exactly what happens in every well-organized state. No more war.

World Peace through World Law made a substantial contribution to the movement for general and complete disarmament that flourished for the next few years. At a time when the new intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) was about to be deployed in the United States and the Soviet Union, Nikita Khrushchev proposed to the United Nations a plan for “general and complete disarmament.” Presidents Dwight Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy responded positively and negotiations actually produced a complete plan, known as the McCloy-Zorin agreement, in September 1961. The text explicitly set out the military forces, bases, stockpiles, weapons, and expenses to be eliminated; the stages of implementation, with compliance and verification procedures at every stage; the creation of an international disarmament organization with powers of inspection and control, not subject to a veto; and the creation of a UN peace force and of reliable procedures for the peaceful settlement of disputes.

What happened to the McCloy-Zorin agreement? From a world federalist perspective, the insecurities and nationalist traditions of a world without order overwhelmed it. The Cuban missile crisis, the Kennedy assassination, the Vietnam War drove it out of mind. In response to the disappointment with disarmament, the ICBMs were rapidly deployed. Deterrence was the doctrine of the day.

So it all came to naught. The U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency resisted the tide for a few years (1961-99), and at the UN the goal of “general and complete disarmament under effective international control” continued to be voiced into the 1970s. The last major efforts were launched by Mikhail Gorbachev, whose disarmament treaties ended the Cold War by 1991, but the treaties are now defunct.

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