Shaping the future
America's role in a challenging world

Chicago Tribune

42nd president of the United States

January 13, 2002

The great question of this new century is whether the age of interdependence is going to be good or bad for humanity. The answer depends on whether we in the wealthy nations spread the benefits and reduce the burdens of the modern world, on whether the poor nations enact the changes necessary to make progress possible, and on whether we all can develop a level of consciousness high enough to understand our obligations and responsibilities to each other.

We cannot make it if the poor of the world are led by people like Osama bin Laden who believe they can find their redemption in our destruction. And we cannot make it if the wealthy are led by those who cater to shortsighted selfishness and advance the illusion that we can forever claim for ourselves what we deny to others. We are all going to have to change.

Philosophers and theologians have long talked about the interdependence of humanity. Politicians have talked about it, quite seriously at least, since the end of World War II, when the United Nations was established. But now ordinary people take it as a given because it pervades every aspect of our lives. We live in a world where we have torn down walls, collapsed distances and spread information.

The terrorist attacks on Sept. 11 were just as much a manifestation of this globalization and interdependence as the explosion of economic growth. We cannot claim all the benefits without also facing the dark side of the coin.

It is very important, therefore, that we see the present struggle against terrorism in the larger context of how to manage our interdependent world.

If you were asked on Sept. 10 what are the forces most likely to shape the beginning of the 21st Century, the answer would have varied, depending on where you live.

If you live in a wealthy country, and you are an optimist, you might have said the global economy. It has made rich countries richer and lifted more people out of poverty around the world in the past 30 years than at any time in history. And poor countries that have chosen development through openness have grown twice as fast as poor countries that have kept their markets closed.

Second, you might have cited the explosion in information technology, because that increases productivity, which drives growth. Hard as it is to believe today, when I became president in January 1993, there were only 50 sites on the World Wide Web. When I left office eight years later, there were 350 million.

Third, you might have named the current revolution in the sciences, especially in the biological sciences, that will rival Newton's or Einstein's discoveries. The sequencing of the human genome means mothers in countries with well-developed health systems will soon be bringing home from the hospital babies with a life expectancy of 90 years. Nanotechnology and super microtechnology are giving us the diagnostic capacity to see tumors when they're only a few cells in size, raising the prospect that all cancers will be curable. Research is now under way on digital chips to replicate the highly complex nerve movements of damaged spines, raising the prospect that people long paralyzed might get up and walk.

Fourth, from a political point of view, you might have said the dominant factor of the 21st Century world will be the explosion of democracy and diversity. For the first time in the history of humanity, more than half of the world's people lived under governments of their own choosing, and within countries with open immigration systems and successful economies, there was a breathtaking increase in ethnic, racial and religious diversity , proving that it is possible for people from different backgrounds with different belief systems to live and work together.

On the other hand, if you come from a poor country, or if you are pessimistic, you might have said the global economy is the problem, not the solution. Half of the world's people live on less than $2 a day. A billion people live on less than a dollar a day. A billion people go to bed hungry every night. A quarter of the world's people never get a clean glass of water. Every minute one woman dies in childbirth. It is projected that the world population will grow 50 percent over the next 50 years, almost 100 percent of it in countries that are poorest and least able to handle it.

Further, you might have said that, despite economic growth or perhaps because of it, we are going to be consumed by an environmental crisis. The oceans, which provide most of our oxygen, are rapidly deteriorating. There is already a drastic water shortage. And global warming is going to wreak devastation. If the Earth warms for the next 50 years at the same rate as it did in the last 10, we will lose whole island nations in the Pacific and 50 feet of Manhattan Island in New York. We will create tens of millions of food refugees, leading to more violence and upheaval.

The global health crisis might have topped the list. One in four people every year dies from AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis and infections related to diarrhea, almost all of them children who never get clean water.

From AIDS alone, 22 million people have died and 36 million people are infected. One hundred million cases are projected in the next five years if preventive action is not taken. If that happens, it will be the biggest public health problem since the Black Death killed a quarter of Europe in the 14th Century. While two-thirds of the cases are in Africa, the fastest-growing rates are in the former Soviet Union, at Europe's back door. The second fastest-growing rates are in the Caribbean, at America's front door. The third fastest-growing rates are in India, the biggest democracy in the world. And the Chinese have just admitted they have twice as many cases as they had previously thought, and only 4 percent of the adults know how AIDS is contracted or spread.

Even on Sept. 10, you might have reasonably argued that the 21st Century will be defined by the marriage of modern weapons and terrorism rooted in ancient hatreds of race, religion, tribe and ethnicity.

Taken together, these positive and negative forces are a stunning reflection of the most extraordinary degree of global interdependence in human history.

What is to be done?

First, we have to win the fight against terrorism. There is no excuse ever for the deliberate killing of innocent civilians for political, religious or economic reasons. Terror has been around a long time. The West has not always been blameless. In the First Crusade, when Christian soldiers seized Jerusalem, they burned a synagogue with 300 Jews and slaughtered every Muslim woman and child on the Temple Mount. My country is now the oldest continuous democracy in the world. Yet it was born with legalized slavery, and many black slaves and Native Americans were terrorized and killed afterward.

Now America and other advanced nations face the reality of terror at home. While we have to win the fight in Afghanistan and do more to develop defenses against the possible use of biological, chemical or nuclear weapons, we also must do more to figure out how, with open borders and increasingly diverse societies, we can identify and stop people who come into our countries, looking for somebody to kill.

This will be hard to do without violating civil liberties because, in America and many other nations, there is somebody from everywhere. But we will do it.

In all human conflicts, since the first person came out of a cave with a club in his hand, offense always wins first. But then, if good people do sensible things, defenses catch up and civilization proceeds. The more lethal the weapons, the more urgent it is to quickly close the gap between offense and effective defenses.

Terrorists aim to terrorize, to make us afraid to get up in the morning, afraid of the future and afraid of each other. But no terrorist strategy standing on its own has ever succeeded. This frightening effort will fail, too, and it is highly unlikely that the 21st Century will claim as many innocent lives as the 20th Century.

Not everybody who is angry wants to destroy the civilized world. A lot of people are angry because they want to be a part of tomorrow but they cannot find the open door.

It thus seems fundamental to me that we cannot have a global trading system without a global economic policy, a global health-care policy, a global education policy, a global environmental policy and a global security policy.

In effect, we have to create more opportunity for those left behind by progress, thus reducing the pool of potential terrorists by increasing the number of potential partners. To make new partners, the wealthy world has to accept its obligation to promote more economic opportunity and help reduce poverty.

To start with, there should be another round of global debt relief. Last year the United States, the European Union and others provided debt relief to 24 of the world's poorest countries if, and only if, they put all the money into education, health care and development. There have been some stunning results. In one year, Uganda doubled primary school enrollment and cut class size with its savings. In one year, Honduras took its savings and went from six years of mandatory schooling to nine.

For several years the United States has funded 2 million micro-enterprise loans every year in poor countries. We should do more of that. That 2 million should rise to 50 million. As the Peruvian economist Hernando de Soto has shown, economic growth can explode if the assets of the poor are brought under the legal system. This means giving the poor titles on their homes, which in turn will enable them to collateralize credit. Whole new markets will open up if this can be done.

Last year America and Europe opened markets further to Africa and the Caribbean as well as to Jordan and Vietnam. China was admitted into the World Trade Organization. This market access should be expanded further.

We should urgently fund the $10 billion that UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has asked for to fight AIDS. America's share would be about $2.2 billion--a mere tenth of a percent of the budget. That's a lot cheaper than coping later on with a potential 30 million AIDS victims in India alone.

The same argument applies to helping fund education. A year's education adds 10 percent to 20 percent to a person's income in a poor country. There are 100 million children who never go to school--half of them in sub-Saharan Africa. In Pakistan, the main reason that all those madrassas were not teaching math but were promoting such ludicrous notions as "America and Israel brought dinosaurs back to Earth to kill the Muslims" is that the Pakistanis ran out of money in the 1980s to support their schools.

Compared to the costs of fighting a new generation of terrorists, putting 100 million kids in school around the world is an inexpensive proposition. And it can be done. In Brazil, for example, 97 percent of the children go to school because the government pays the mothers in the bottom third of the poorest families every month if their children attend school.

The Afghan war costs America about a billion dollars a month. For $12 billion a year America could pay more than its fair share of every program I've mentioned.

Obligations of poor countries

The poor countries also have an obligation--to advance democracy, human rights and good governance. Democracies don't sponsor organized terrorism, and they're more likely to honor human rights.

To that end, we must encourage the debate now going on in the Muslim world, one that has risen and fallen for 1,300 years, about the nature of truth, the nature of difference, the role of reason and the possibility of positive, non-violent change.

The most successful modern reconciler of faith and the imperatives of modern life, King Hussein of Jordan, lamentably died not long ago. In 1991, he galvanized all the elements of Jordanian society and offered a real parliament with fair elections, in which everyone, including fundamentalists, could run, as long as they agreed not to limit the rights of others.

It is no accident that Jordan, a poor country, a young country, a majority Palestinian country, a small country in a geographically delicate position, is nonetheless the most politically stable country in the Middle East today. That is because it has moved toward democracy with enforced mutual respect and a role for human reasoning and debate. Those of us who want to have a good relationship with the Islamic world must support this kind of moderation and trend toward democracy.

A hard road

If interdependence is going to be good instead of bad for the 21st Century, then we must recognize that our common humanity is more important than our differences. This is the struggle for the soul of the 21st Century. But history has shown how hard this notion is to realize.

In my lifetime, Gandhi was killed, not by an angry Muslim but by an angry Hindu, because Gandhi wanted India for the Muslims, the Jains, the Sikhs and the Hindus. Anwar Sadat was killed 20 years ago, not by an Israeli commando but by an angry Egyptian who thought Sadat was not a good Muslim because he wanted to secularize Egypt and make peace with Israel. And my friend Yitzhak Rabin, one of the greatest men I have ever known, was killed, not by a Palestinian terrorist but by an angry Israeli who thought Rabin was not a good Jew or a faithful Israeli because he wanted to lay down a lifetime of killing for a secure peace that gave the Palestinians a homeland and recognized their interests in Jerusalem.

Those of us who have benefited most must lead the way in making this world without walls a home for us all.

pearly gates