Prevention Beyond Borders:
The Threat of Disease and the Need for a Global Government
By Chuck Woolery

"As new discoveries are made, new truths disclosed, and manners and opinions change with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also, and keep pace with the times." --Thomas Jefferson

The primary function of government is protecting the lives of its citizens. Wise governments also ensure their citizens' freedoms. The most immediate and severe threat to both of these government functions is the growing and inevitable threat of infectious diseases. Human death, disability, poverty or loss of freedoms on a global scale from natural or engineered pathogens still hold great promise for catastrophic impact on the course of human progress and history. Humanity has the means to prevent or avoid most of this carnage but most people continue to live in dangerous denial.

There has been progress in humanity's war on infectious diseases, but they remain the single greatest source of human death and suffering in the world today. Some estimates suggest that over a hundred million people died as a result of war and over 180 million people in genocides over the last 100 years. Infectious diseases killed about four times more innocent people than war and genocide combined during that same century. The majority of those who died were children.

A new plague tomorrow could kill well over a hundred million people in a matter of months. Most virus experts agree that a new strain of killer flu, as lethal as the 1918 strain that killed over 40 million people in 18 months, is long overdue. An intentional or accidental release of smallpox or a new weaponized strain of smallpox or some other infectious pathogen could kill hundreds of millions of people and disrupt civilization. AIDS, West Nile virus, and SARS are only our most recent wake up calls. The loss of antibiotic effectiveness, the continued evolution of natural pathogens and the accidental or intentional abuse of biotech experiments with other pathogens, combined with rapid global transportation, trade, injustice and poverty give little reason to be optimistic about humanity's future.

Less than 30 years ago, the US Surgeon General told Congress that infectious diseases had been conquered, but by 1992 pathogens had moved from being the fifth largest killer of Americans to third place -- a doubling of infectious disease-caused deaths -- with HIV/AIDS responsible for half of that increase. Since then, five uncontested reports authored by the Centers for Disease Control, the Department of Defense, the National Security Council, the National Academy of Sciences Institute of Medicine and even the US National Intelligence Council have stressed that new and re-emerging infectious diseases are a significant and growing threat to our nation's security and prosperity. Can the US federal government or our advanced technology protect us? No.

Our advanced technologies can help, but in many cases they actually make us more susceptible to infectious disease. Widespread abuse of antibiotics, invasive medical procedures, toxic environments and mass production/distribution food systems only exacerbate our disease risks. Our advanced military technology makes traditional war against the US suicidal for any conventional force. This spurs the development of biological weapons of mass destruction that are infinitely more affordable, difficult to defend against and almost impossible to detect.

The dual use nature of biotechnology has effectively killed any hopes of disarming those who committed to doing us harm. One of the greatest manhunts in human history has yet to find the individual or the lab that brought the most powerful nation's capital to a standstill with a few anthrax-tainted envelopes. Even a military invasion and occupation of Iraq has yet to yield any conclusive evidence of large amounts of Saddam's biological weapons. And we know he had them, at least right before the first Gulf War -- because the US gave him over 40 shipments of actual disease cultures.

Many people still believe that national borders provide protection against disease, but pathogens are not impeded by human ideas. Perhaps the most lethal human concept is that of "national sovereignty" -- the institutionalized belief that nations are independent from other nations. In reality, if even one nation in the world lacks effective disease control, then all nations and all people are at risk in this era of rapid mass transportation. And history has recently demonstrated that just the belief that a nation might have biological or other weapons of mass destruction can spark a war.

If just one group of individuals is sufficiently alienated from the rest of humanity, virtually nothing can stop them from developing or purchasing a biological weapon that can make life miserable for the rest of humanity. A global government truly of the people, by the people and for the people can establish a lasting world civilization where human rights and freedoms are universally enforced. We cannot eliminate the capacity to make biological weapons, but we can do something about the desire to use them.

When thinking about constructing a functional government system, most scholars will point to the creation of our own nation's constitution and the three basic structures of government: an elected body to represent the people and make laws, a judicial system to enforce the laws, and an executive branch to administer the laws. They often overlook the vital need for a bill of rights to give the government legitimacy and thus more permanence. Access to basic health services should be one of the inalienable human rights guaranteed by any constitutional government. The basis of U.S.-style democracy is the right to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness". Without health, this is meaningless.

Effective local disease control and prevention efforts will require effective global disease control and prevention efforts. This isn't a new idea. Some of the first efforts at global cooperation were disease control efforts. One of the first problems that brought various nations together for mutual action was the failure of disease quarantines by individual nations during the mid-1800s. The Pan American Health Organization was one of the first international institutions. It was created nearly 50 years before the UN and it was done primarily to further US national security interests.

Consistent and enforceable global standards for effective global surveillance, response and prevention must become humanity's highest priority. This can only be accomplished with a consistently enforceable global bill of human rights and distribution of power at every level of government, including global government, to minimize abuses. Current international institutions lack both the resources and the enforcement mechanisms to effectively prevent or respond to outbreaks. We need universal, enforceable health standards and laws.

Infectious diseases have always been humanity's greatest enemy and protection from them should be one of governments' highest priorities. As early as 1866, experts argued that quarantine was no longer effective given the growth of international trade and travel. The vulnerability of states today is similar to that of nineteenth-century European states. In 1916, L. S. Woolf wrote, "the conflict fought by the theory of national independence, isolation, and national interests against the facts of international life and international interests has nowhere shown itself more persistently and clearly than in the struggle of human beings against the scourges of cholera, plague, and other epidemic diseases." This remains true today.

Pathogens have shaped the fate of nations. They continue to mutate and grow more dangerous with most aspects of unregulated globalization, from low wages to unequal rights for women, from international crime to the response or lack of response to armed conflict. Pathogens are changing. Can we?

Chuck Woolery is Advocacy Director for the Global Plan Initiative. He served as the World Federalist Association's Issues Director for two years and its Grassroots Director for almost two more years. Chuck lives in Rockville, Maryland with his wife, children, pets and native plant garden and is doing something he swore he would never do again -- writing a book. Its tentative title is The Trilemma: Maximizing Freedom and Security in an Interdependent World.

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