Int. Herald Tribune
A revolution in human affairs

An Intense Sense of Change Grips Much of the World

By Jim Hoagland

Paris, Monday, January 3, 2000


The arrival of the year 2000 finds more of the world's population living in good health and prosperity, educated and secure from territorial aggression than has any other moment in history. Yet more of the world's people also live in an awareness of their own relative or absolute poverty and despair than ever before.

The rounding off of decade, century and millennium on Father Time's chronometer brings home a global dichotomy of promise and peril, of achievement and affliction.

As champagne corks were popping with machine-gun rapidity in holiday celebrations in Washington, Tokyo and Paris, the turn of the millennium dawned as just another grim moment of struggle for survival in remote villages in Senegal, Indonesia or Peru.

But those moments of celebration and struggle were linked by far more than the change of dates on the world's most widely accepted calendar. Technology and the flow of information, people and goods across borders at millennium's turn are transforming basic human endeavor in ways that are still gathering force.

Probably not since the end of World War II and the arrival of the atomic era has there been as intense a feeling in country after country that the future is now - that the patterns that will determine for decades or centuries to come how people live, work and play will be forged in the weeks, months and years immediately ahead.

The revolution in human affairs runs the gamut from science to economy, from politics to the nature of war.

In science, biology and its technical applications bid to be to the 21st century what physics was to the 20th: the fundamental (and glamour) science of the day where the greatest advances and reputations can be made - and where the greatest ethical dilemmas lie. Scientists have within their grasp the ability to prolong productive life by cloning humans and greatly expanding organ transplants.

But should they? Politics will be consumed by this kind of question in the near and distant future as the year 2000 opens.

A long economic boom - that is, a period in which the application of new technologies, creative investment and product development combine with rising worker productivity to shelve volatile stop-and-go business cycles temporarily - seems within reach for the United States at the start of the new century.

But it is not just an American boom. Much of the rest of the world is being reshaped by the spread of trade, which grows at twice the rate of world industrial output, by the vertiginous growth of foreign direct investment to $120 billion last year from $24 billion in 1990, and by ''popular capitalism,'' in which workers or their pension funds own large equity shares in big corporations at home and stock markets and government bonds abroad.

The economic forces of globalization, powered by the Anglo-American model of capitalism, and the pooling of sovereignty pioneered by the welfare states of the European Union, will continue to shrink the importance of national boundaries and the powers of the nation-state, which are at their lowest ebb since the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648 established the modern state system.

But this weakening of the state is helping to spawn a cultural backlash against globalization and giving new force to ethnic and national identities. Much of the anxiety this backlash produces focuses on the United States and the preeminent position it has occupied in the world since the end of the Cold War, nearly a decade ago.

''There is the impression that the values that stem from the free market economy and that have been pushed by America for two centuries are now taking over the world,'' says the French ambassador to Washington, Francois Bujon de L'Estang. ''French society doesn't want the uniformity of societies that is being pushed by globalization.''

The challenge is political as well as cultural: France, Russia and China begin the year 2000 openly working for a ''multipolar'' world that would result in a diminishing of American dominance. For the multipolarists, one American Century seems to have been enough.

These powers seek to avoid the worst features of what they see as American hegemony. Unlike the Soviet Union and its Warsaw Pact allies, they are not dedicated to overturning the international order that American power has shaped and now dominates. They seek larger roles for themselves in that order.

The story of the coming century will be determined in large part by the manner in which the two biggest transition countries, Russia and China, organize themselves within their national space and within the international system.

Territory and population no longer define a state's wealth and security in that system. The technical revolution in weaponry and delivery capability also shrinks the world and devalues national boundaries and national armies as guarantors of stability. The conquering and occupying of territory and the subjugation of captive peoples is in fact a losing proposition in the electronic age.

The American refusal to occupy Iraq at the end of the Gulf War in 1991 was one manifestation of this new reality. In the waning days of the century, the Panama Canal was given up by the United States, and Israel's government began serious talks with Syria about giving up the Golan Heights territory, captured 32 years before.

For centuries the collapse of old empires has led inexorably to the rise of new empires. But the Soviet Union may have been the last large prison of nations. Successful modern wars, such as NATO's campaigns in Bosnia and Kosovo, are fought specifically not to take over territory but for ''humanitarian'' purposes. Russia's war in Chechnya and the Serbian campaigns in the former Yugoslavia are last gasps of a dying order.

This does not mean that nirvana among nations has arrived. ''Rogue'' states like Iraq and North Korea have not renounced their claims on their neighbors' wealth. They pursue weapons of mass destruction either for war or blackmail. Coalitions led by the principal defenders of today's global status quo, the United States and Britain, will be necessary far into the future.

''The United States is in a unique position to do more good for more people than at any time in history,'' says Senator Charles Hagel, a moderate Republican from Nebraska and a leading internationalist voice in his party. ''But it will not be easy. It is up to American leadership to bring that about by understanding our national potential and others' sensitivities and needs.''

But success has led the members of history's most democratic alliance to emphasize self-reliance and self-protection for the future. The United States is planning a national missile defense to cover its territory against ''rogue'' states. The European Union is drawing up its own autonomous military force. Japan is launching its own reconnaissance satellites instead of depending on American products.

It is likely that the far-reaching threats to global stability will increasingly come from dwindling natural resources (the scarcity of which is exacerbated by the worst features of globalization) in the developing world, where 95 percent of total population growth is occurring.

President Bill Clinton has already suggested that U.S. security policies of the future will be driven as much by concern about the global pollution potential of China and India as by their nuclear weapons programs.

Seemingly mundane commodities like fish could be the trigger for future resource wars. The two most important fishing nations today are China, with 17 million tons annually, and Japan, with 8 million tons. They face a rapidly shrinking harvest from the ocean. China also destroys 6 percent of its natural forest cover every decade, while Indonesia doubles that figure.

The pressures of scarcity and of uneven development, rather than ideology, are likely to drive future conflict.

Global consumption totaled $24 trillion in 1998, according to United Nations Population Fund figures. The world's wealthiest 20 percent consumed 66 times the material and resources of the world's poorest one-fifth.

Primary school enrollment in sub-Sahara Africa has been declining for 20 years. In low- and middle-income countries as a whole, secondary school enrollment covers only half of those age groups eligible. Unicef records that 30 percent of the population of the world's poorest countries live on less than $1 a day. In a dozen African countries, the figure is 50 percent or higher.

But the most fundamental changes that influence the future are occurring to the world's population, which entered the new millennium at slightly over 6 billion. Global population is expected to reach 9 billion by 2050. Over the last 50 years the average global life expectancy rose to 66 years from 46 years. U.S. population growth in the future will come largely from the continuing reduction of the death rate through better health care, and from immigration.

The rapid aging of the populations of the United States, Western Europe and Japan will create strong pressures to increase immigration sharply in the decades to come. And the explosive growth in the world's poorest zones, where 40 percent of the population is under 15, will provide an outward surge of workers. Immigrant workers today account for 2 percent of the world population and remit about $70 billion a year to home countries. Both those figures will grow exponentially.

The private sector has led globalization in the 20th century, withering the power of states far more effectively than did the failed ideology of communism. But the 21st century will probably include the globalization of government as well.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development is already at work on developing global principles and rules for tax treaties.

There is nascent movement toward international regulation of tax havens and capital flows. This will soon be followed by international safety nets to provide social security and unemployment insurance for workers who change not only jobs but also countries of residence several times during their careers.

Thomas Hobbes observed that we cannot know the future and therefore we create one ''out of our own conceptions of the past.''

But on the cusp of epochal change, a new world seems to be emerging to dwarf even our most recent expectations, for better and for worse.




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