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“For the first time since World War II the international community is united. . . . The world can therefore seize this opportunity to fulfill the long-held promise of a new world order.”
SO SAID a president of the United States in the last decade of the 20th century. At that time, international events seemed to suggest that world unity was on the horizon. Totalitarian governments fell one after another. The Berlin Wall came down, signaling a new era for Europe. The Soviet Union, viewed by many in the West as an instigator of global conflicts, disappeared before the eyes of an astonished world. The Cold War came to an end, and there was optimistic talk about disarmament, including nuclear disarmament. Granted, war broke out in the Persian Gulf, but that seemed to be just a momentary blip that left much of the world more determined to pursue a peaceful order.
Positive signs could be seen not only on the political front but also in other areas of life. The standard of living was improving in many parts of the world. Advancements in the medical field made it possible for doctors to do things that would have been called miracles just a few decades earlier. Economic growth in many countries moved ahead at a pace that appeared to be leading to global prosperity. It looked as though things were heading in the right direction.
Today, not many years later, we cannot help but ask: ‘What happened? Where is the promised world unity?’ If anything, the world seems to be moving in the opposite direction. Suicide bombings, terrorist attacks, the reported proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and other disturbing developments have become regular features of published news. Such events appear to be pushing the world further and further away from unity. One prominent financier recently said: “We are becoming enmeshed in a vicious circle of escalating violence.”
World Unity or Global Fragmentation?
When the United Nations was formed, one of the stated purposes was “to develop friendly relations among nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples.” After nearly 60 years, has that noble objective been reached? Far from it! Rather than “friendly relations,” the expression “self-determination” appears to be more on the mind of the nations. Peoples and ethnic groups struggling to establish their own identity and sovereignty have increasingly divided the world. When the United Nations was formed, it had 51 member nations. Today, there are 191.
As we have seen, toward the end of the 20th century, hope for a united world was in the air. Since then, that hope has turned to dismay as mankind has witnessed the progressive fragmentation of the world community. The violent disintegration of Yugoslavia, the clashes between Chechnya and Russia, the war in Iraq, and the continued carnage in the Middle East—all of this has been evidence of ever greater disunity.
There is no doubt that many of the efforts for peace have been sincere and well-meant. In spite of this, world unity seems unattainable. Many are left wondering: ‘Why does world unity remain so elusive? Where is the world heading?’
WORLD UNITY. It sounds so good. Does not everyone want it? Yes, there has been much talk about unity. Again and again, meetings of world leaders have focused on the subject. In August 2000, more than 1,000 religious leaders met at the United Nations in New York for the Millennium World Peace Summit. They discussed solutions to world conflicts. However, the conference itself was a reflection of the world’s simmering controversies. A mufti from Jerusalem refused to come because of the presence of a Jewish rabbi. Others were offended because the Dalai Lama was not invited to the first two days for fear of antagonizing China.
In October 2003, world security issues were discussed by Pacific Rim nations at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit held in Thailand. The 21 nations present pledged to dismantle terrorist groups and agreed on ways to increase global security. Yet, during the conference several representatives grumbled about one prime minister’s remarks, which were said to be a hate-filled attack on the Jews.
Why No Unity?
Though there is a lot of talk about unifying the world, we see few concrete results. Despite the sincere efforts of many, why has world unity continued to elude mankind into the 21st century?
Part of the answer is reflected in the comments of one of the prime ministers who attended the APEC conference. He said, “There is this thing called national pride.” Yes, human society is steeped in nationalism. Each nation and ethnic group is driven by the desire for self-determination. National sovereignty combined with the spirit of competition and greed has produced a volatile mix. In one case after another, when national interests conflict with global interests, national interests win out.
Nationalism is well described by the psalmist’s expression, “the pestilence causing adversities.” (Psalm 91:3) It has been like a plague on humanity, leading to untold suffering. Nationalism with its resultant hatred of other peoples has existed for centuries. Today, nationalism continues to fan the flames of divisiveness, and human rulers have not been able to stop it.
Many authorities recognize that nationalism and self-interest are the root of the world’s problems. For example, former United Nations Secretary-General U Thant observed: “So many of the problems that we face today are due to, or the result of, false attitudes . . . Among these is the concept of narrow nationalism—‘my country, right or wrong.’” Still, nations today, engrossed in self-interest, are clamoring more and more for their own sovereignty. Those who have the advantage do not wish to give up even a little of it. For example, the International Herald Tribune made this observation about the European Union: “Rivalry and mistrust remain basic patterns of European politics. For most EU member states, it is still unacceptable for one of their peers to gain greater influence and take the lead.”
God’s Word, the Bible, correctly describes the result of all human rule, saying: “Man has dominated man to his injury.” (Ecclesiastes 8:9) By breaking the world up into their own separate dominions, groups of men as well as individuals have experienced the fulfillment of this Bible principle: “One isolating himself will seek his own selfish longing; against all practical wisdom he will break forth.”—Proverbs 18:1.
Our Creator, who knows what is best for us, never purposed for humans to set up their own governments and rule themselves. By doing so, men have ignored God’s purpose and the fact that everything belongs to him. Psalm 95:3-5 says: “Jehovah is a great God and a great King over all other gods, he in whose hand are the inmost depths of the earth and to whom the peaks of the mountains belong; to whom the sea, which he himself made, belongs and whose own hands formed the dry land itself.” God is the rightful Sovereign to whom all should look for rulership. By pursuing their own sovereignties, the nations are working against his will.—Psalm 2:2.
What Is Needed?