Re: Hanson antiproliferation method?

Nicholas Bostrom (
Thu, 21 Aug 1997 22:30:59 +0000

Eric Watt Forste wrote:

> Nicholas Bostrom writes:
> > We will of course never have an "ideal" world government, but we
> > should be willing to pay a high prise in terms of inefficiency if
> > that will reduce the risk of total annihilation.
> Sure, but it seems to me that most serious outbreaks of military
> disorderliness nowadays are civil wars, not international wars. I
> can't think of any reasons to believe that a world government would
> be a more effective means of reducing the risk of total annihilation
> from civil wars than the current setup, or an even more decentralized
> setup.

UN has terminated the shooting in Bosnia, and there is some hope that
the peace will hold, though a shortage of resources might force a
withdrawal of the Nato troops next year. There are several other
examples of successful UN peace keeping missons (and some of failed
ones), but this is still a rather new phenomenon and learning is
still in progress, so I think there is room for hope, especially if
the UN is given adequate funding.

> > What are your grounds for thinking that a reformed, democratic
> > United Nations would provoke and escalate mote disputes than it
> > would settle?
> Because, for instance, the reformed democratic government that I
> endure, the federal government of the United States of America and
> its wholly-owned subsidiaries, provokes and escalates more disputes
> than it settles. One could mention the police execution of the
> Black Panther leadership in Chicago a couple decades ago, or the
> mess in Waco, Texas a few years ago.

Small potatoes!.

> > Many wars seem to originate in differing interpretations of some
> > legal or historical circumstance. I have often thought, oh, if
> > there only were an impartial arbiter to which the rivalling nations
> > could submit their cases, and a responsible international force
> > that could implement the judgements.
> What makes you think that a reformed, democratic United Nations
> would be impartial? (Or that their international force would be
> responsible, though I find this far easier to imagine than an
> impartial United Nations. The current United Nations is
> extremely partial.)

UN itself would not need to be impartial (though it would presumably
be much less partial that the parts that are fighting), it would
only need to implement the decisions of some independent tribunal.

> > The only realistic candidates in the foreseeable future are either
> > the UN or a coalition led by the USA. I think it is dubious that
> > most people would accept the USA as an international Dad in the
> > long run.
> I think any increase in the influence that the US federal government
> has over world affairs would be disastrous. It has far too much
> busybody meddling influence as it is. I find both of your "realistic
> candidates" quite frightening.

The future is frightening, be brave.

> > I would suggest a reformed UN in which the USA and the
> > other powers had an influence that were in some proportion to their
> > real power.
> What the heck is "real power" and how do you propose to measure
> it? (I hope you're not going to say "in watts". ;)

By real power I mean the power they have in the world as opposed to
the power they have within the present UN. I don't have any specific
proposals for how to measure it, but I think a UN is less likely to
function well if some nations perceive that they are
underrepresented. (A rough measure of real power would be GNP.)

Nicholas Bostrom
London School of Economics
Department of Philosphy, Logic and Scientifc Method