16 FEBRUARY 2004





Whether we like it or not globalisation is the dominant reality of the new millennium.  It offers enormous potential for increased international trade, development , prosperity and stability.  At the same time  it also involves a number of threats, particularly to less developed economies.


As we have seen in a number of cities from Prague to Seattle, many people are volubly opposed to globalisation.  They are concerned that globalisation is threatening to inundate the world with a crass and materialistic consumer culture;  that it has become a vehicle for multinational companies to further increase their wealth and power; that it is contributing to the further impoverishment and exploitation of the least developed countries; and that it is a major factor in the accelerating degradation of the environment.


However, regardless of the merits of their arguments, the opponents of globalisation have as little chance of stopping the process as King Canute had of stopping the incoming tide.

There is no way that we can – or should – try to neutralise the forces that are driving globalisation.  Whether we like it or not, the revolution that is taking place in information technology, communication and transportation will inexorably result in the further integration of global markets – with far-reaching implications for everyone on the planet.


Although we could not stop globalisation – even if we wanted to –  we can and should try to manage the process in the most effective manner.   I believe that globalisation requires three essential responses from the international community.


The first of these is multilateralism.


In our globalised world it is simply not possible for individual nations – regardless of their power –  to achieve their objectives through unilateral action.  Our integrating world requires global responses to global problems:


In a shrinking world, the problems of one region will inevitably become the problems of other regions and ultimately of the whole world:


In our globalised society such problems and conflicts will sooner or later breach international borders and affect the interests of us all.  Problems of global development, global security and protection of the global environment can be dealt with only if the international community works in concert.  The United States, as the sole remaining super-power, can – and must – play a pivotal leadership role in this process – but it cannot achieve success alone.


Our second response to globalisation should be equity – to ensure that globalisation  takes place in a fair and reasonable manner.    If we are all expected to play the globalisation game, we must ensure at the very least that the playing fields are even.


That is certainly not the case at present.


Although the portion of the world’s population living in absolute poverty has declined from two thirds to one third in the past forty years,  the total number of people living below the poverty line has stayed about the same – at about 2 billion ( because the world’s population has doubled since 1960).  Even more serious is the fact that the disparity per capita between the poorest and richest fifths of the world’s nations has widened from 30 to 1 in 1960 to 78 to 1 in 1994.


For Africa, the globalised playing fields could hardly be more uneven:


The cards are also stacked against Africa in the key area of education.  Only 76% of Africa’s children attend primary school and only 26% go on to secondary school, compared with 100% in developed countries.  Less than 4% receive tertiary level education compared with 51% in developed countries.


How under these circumstances is Africa supposed to compete in the global information economy?


The answer to many of these problems is not necessarily more aid – but better and fairer access to first world markets – particularly for agricultural exports.  One of the most serious distortions in the globalised economy remains the massive subsidies paid by first world countries to their farmers.  These amount to some US$ 300 billion a year – almost six times as much as the US$ 56 billion that first world countries contribute in foreign aid.   The first world’s agricultural subsidies often make it impossible for developing countries to compete in global markets for agricultural products – the one area where they have a competitive advantage.


We need an international system that will phase out such subsidies and open markets to third world exports.  We also need to protect third world economies against the kind of predatory attacks on their currencies that crippled a number of South East Asian countries five years ago.


The third response to globalisation should be to make the world safe for diversity.


The rich cultural diversity of our planet is one of our greatest communal and personal heritages.  The culture into which we are born provides the framework within which we later develop our own personal identities.  It provides us with the language through which we first communicate with our family and friends and the concepts by which we first begin to understand our universe.


However, as a result of globalisation a new international uniformity is developing in many areas which had previously been characterised by cultural diversity:


The result is the development of a new generation of global citizens whose attitudes, tastes and aspirations are increasingly uniform.   Everywhere regional and national cultures and identities are under pressure.


Globalisation presents us with another great challenge:  the challenge to preserve and enhance spiritual meaning in an increasingly materialistic and secular world.    The driving forces behind globalisation are economic, rationalistic and  materialistic – and these forces are often inimical to our search for spiritual meaning and ethical orientation.


Questions relating to diversity lie at the heart of most of the conflicts that currently afflict the world.  At the beginning of the new millennium only two of the world’s 27 significant conflicts were between countries.  25 were within countries, primarily between different cultural, ethnic and religious communities.  This trend will continue as globalisation brings more and more communities into closer proximity with one another. The challenge for the international community will be to articulate, entrench and promote respect for the rights of communities and to devise ground rules for harmonious co-existence.  Coupled to this, and in reaction to the cultural uniformity that globalisation will tend to impose, I believe that there will also be a resurgence of national and regional cultures as individuals strive to retain their identities in an increasingly amorphous world.


We cannot – and should not – stop globalisation.  But we can manage it in such a way that we minimise the threats that it poses and take advantage of the enormous benefits that it can bring to all mankind.


If we wish to do this we will have to act in concert.  There will be no room for unilateral behaviour.


We shall have to ensure that globalisation is fair – and that it brings benefits to all mankind – and not just to the wealthy.


And we shall have to promote globalisation in such a way that we do not sacrifice the rich cultural and religious diversity from which we derive our indentity and our meaning.