17 APRIL 2007






If the world has become a globalised village, there can be little doubt that – for the time being – the United States is its Mayor and  – its Chief of Police.   America holds these positions – not because it has been elected to them – but because of its unchallenged  military, economic and technological pre-eminence.


America’s role as de facto global leadership bears with it heavy burdens and responsibilities:


Unfortunately, this is the price that must be paid for being the only remaining super-power.  It is a price that was well understood by other pre-eminent powers – from the Romans two thousand years ago to the British during the nineteenth century.


How then should America react to this burden?  What challenges will confront it as global Mayor and chief of police?


When the United States first ascended the stage of world power at the beginning of the last century, President Teddy Roosevelt’s approach was to ‘speak softly and carry a big stick.’  He said that by so doing America would go far.  He was right.


The big stick is undoubtedly necessary.


After the terrorist outrage of 11 September 2001 it was essential for the United States to use its big stick against international  terrorism.


In this, America’s ‘big stick’ played an essential role.


But what of Iraq?   On the one hand, the reality is that if it had not been for the resolute action of the United States, Saddam Hussein would still be in power in Bagdad.  He would still be doing everything in his power to deceive the international community and he would still be repressing the Iraqi people.  All of the hand-wringing of some of America’s allies and all of the resolutions of the United Nations would have meant nothing to him.  There can be no doubt about one thing: Iraq, the Middle-East and the world are better places after the destruction of his brutal regime.


All these things are true.


But it is equally important to remember Teddy Roosevelt’s advice ‘to speak softly’. Military force has an essential place in international affairs – but at the end of the day it cannot create lasting solutions.


Military force also carries with it immense risks.


It is much easier to start wars than to end them.  Also, the outcome of war is always uncertain.  The Austrians, the Russians and the Germans did not think at the beginning of the First World War that the result would be the destruction of their dynasties.  When Napoleon marched his Grand Army into Russia in 1812 he did not foresee the disaster that would soon befall him.  History is full of similar examples – which have persuaded wise leaders to resort to war only as the very last option.


In the same way one should think very carefully about beginning military adventures far from ones shores with few sure allies in very volatile neighbourhoods.


Playing the role of the global policeman brings with it many burdens and tribulations and little thanks.  The imperial role also requires iron will and force – qualities that are often inconsistent with democratic values.


The Romans, who also ventured into the Middle-East and who stayed around for hundreds of years, understood the problems and requirements of empire.  These are vividly illustrated at Masada, the mountain top in the Judean desert where Jewish Zealots made their last stand after their failed rebellion against Rome in 63 AD.   The lesson of Masada is not the undoubted courage of the Zealot defenders – who finally committed communal suicide rather than surrender to the Romans:  it is the implacable will of the Romans.   Rather than allow a few hundred Zealots to defy them, they sent a whole legion into the desert and besieged Masada for two years.  One can still see the lines of their camps and the walls they built around the mountain.  Eventually, when they realised that Masada could not be taken by any other means, they built a gigantic ramp several hundred feet high against the weakest point of the mountain rampart – which they were eventually able to use for their final assault.


Needless to say, the treatment that they would have meted out to the Zealots – had they ever succeeded in capturing them – would not have looked too good on CNN.


The question is whether the United States can muster such will over an extended period to promote its global interests?  Does it have the will to remain involved in long, difficult and expensive overseas ground conflicts for indefinite periods?


That is the difference between the United States and former global powers like Britain and Rome.


There are clear limitations to the use of the ‘big stick’.  It is essential to deal with clear and present threats –  when it can be wielded swiftly, accurately and effectively – but it is problematical when it requires long, costly and unpopular operations on foreign soil.


That is why the United States – in its global leadership role – should also consider the necessity of ‘speaking softly’.


‘Speaking softly’ requires a multilateral approach to international crises.  It does not mean that the international community must forgo the option of using the big stick; but it does mean that if it is finally used there will less criticism and a greater chance of success.


The ‘Speaking softly’ option also recognises that long term solutions can be achieved only by addressing the root causes of conflict – poverty, repression; ignorance and fanaticism.


It is not by accident that Afghanistan, the country that Osama bin Laden chose as his refuge, was also one of the poorest, most tyrannical, repressive and conflict-ridden societies in the world.


The long-term way to combat terrorism must then include tackling the roots of poverty, repression and conflict.  The challenge to world leaders is to address the following priorities:


We are living through one of the most profound developments in human history, the process that we have come to call globalisation – or world integration.  During the past decades we have begun to lay the foundations of a new supranational global community.  One of the central implications of this new community is that none of us – and particularly not the leading powers – can any longer ignore problems and grievances in distant countries.  Non-performing economies cannot be ignored and relegated to a basket-case category outside of the mainstream of global commerce; and bloody crises and conflicts in distant societies deserve much more than mere thirty-second segments on the evening news.


In the new millennium it will be less and less possible to ignore the stark reality that a large part of the human population still lives in unacceptable poverty, misery and repression.


Some will argue that there has been progress; that the portion of the world’s population living in absolute poverty has declined from two thirds to one third in the past forty-five years.  However, fact is that 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 more than doubled since 1960.  Even more serious is the fact that the disparity poorest and richest fifths of the world’s nations has widened from 30 to 1 in 1960 to 78 to 1 in 1994.   In 2004 the per capita income of the richest OECD countries measured in US$ was 96 times higher than the per capita income of the least developed countries.


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.  It is equally true that the problems confronting a globalised world can no longer be dealt with unilaterally by any single country – regardless of how powerful or rich that country might be.  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 can – and must – play a pivotal leadership role in this process – but it cannot achieve success alone.


Under its leadership and the leadership of other prominent countries the international community should develop the policies, the resources and the will to tackle the root causes of global problems.


We need to recognise the symbiosis between stability, prosperity and freedom:  Economic prosperity creates the environment in which democracy and free institutions can grow – and they, in turn, help to promote the stability that is essential for economic growth.


There is an undeniable link between peace, development, growth and democracy.  Only three of the countries in the world with per capita incomes of less than US $ 1,000 are full democracies, while nearly all of the twenty richest countries – those with per capita incomes above US $ 15 000 – are democracies (the exceptions being a number of oil-rich states).


There is also a link between levels of development and peace.   Eleven of the thirty poorest countries – including Afghanistan – have in recent years been wracked by devastating civil wars.  On the other hand, none of the twenty richest countries currently experience serious internal conflict.


How then can we achieve this symbiosis between economic development, stability, democracy and a vibrant civil society?  Once again I only have time for a few guidelines.


In the sphere of the economy, the developed countries need to help to promote economic growth in the least developed societies.


The international community also needs to continue its efforts to promote democracy and the rule of law in third world countries.


Twenty of the 45 countries of sub-Saharan Africa are presently – or have recently – been involved in wars.  Much of this instability can be ascribed to the lack of democratic mechanisms and the absence of the rule of the law.


One of the fundamental causes of conflict throughout the world lies in the inability of different ethnic and cultural groups to coexist peacefully within the same societies.   In the post Cold War world, conflict seldom takes place between countries.  In 2000, the first year of the new millennium, only two of the 25 significant conflicts that afflicted the world were between countries:  the rest were within countries – primarily between ethnic, cultural and religious communities. The present or recent conflicts in the Middle East, former Yugoslavia, southern Asia, Rwanda, Burundi, Sri Lanka, East Timor and Kashmir all bear bloody testimony to this fact.


The current conflict in the Middle East is, unfortunately, a good example of both the challenge that the international community faces in this regard and of the risks that such conflict can hold for the entire world.


For all of these reasons the United States, as the pre-eminent world power, cannot afford to allow the conflict to spiral further out of control.  Just as war is too important to be left to the generals, peace in the Middle East is too important to the key interests of the whole international community to be left solely to the Israelis and the Palestinians.


The Israelis and the Palestinians are simply going to have to find some way of learning to live together.  This means that both sides will have to take risks; both sides will have to make painful compromises; both sides will have to accept that military force, and suicide terrorist bombings will only accelerate their downward spiral into deepening conflict.  At the end of that conflict, after immense and unnecessary suffering, they will still have to negotiate.


Although the situation looks desperate, I do not believe that it is hopeless.  I recall the dreadful period that South Africa went through between 1984 and 1987.  We also, were confronted by our own version of the intefada; we also resorted to draconian security measures to restore order; we also experienced growing international isolation and condemnation.


But we pulled back from the brink.  We discovered that there was another way: that it was possible to solve our long-standing and bitter dispute through peaceful means.  In the process, we learned the following lessons:


Finally we emerged with a new constitution which guarantees the individual and collective rights of all our people and which is enabling us to live together with one another in peace and co-operation.


If we could do it, the Israelis and the Palestinians should also be able to do it.  The United States and the rest of the international community can play a major role in this process


The most eloquent response to global terrorism would be to achieve a settlement that would ensure the security of Israel, living in harmony with a viable Palestinian state.


These, I believe, are the priorities that confront the United States in its global leadership role.   The United States should take the lead in


The United States, as the last remaining super-power, will inevitably have to play a disproportionate role in addressing these challenges.  It is part of the burden of world leadership.  However, there is, perhaps, only one thing more burdensome than being the most powerful country in the world – and that is, no longer being the most powerful country in the world!


World leadership is a difficult business:


Above all, it requires firm and continuing belief in, and commitment to, the ideals for which your country stands.


It should be remembered that most of the great civilisations declined and disappeared from the world stage because they lost belief in the ideals that inspired their birth and growth.  In shouldering the burden of world leadership Americans should not forget why their country became so pre-eminent in the first place.  The key to addressing its global role may be for the United States to resist the temptation of becoming absorbed with what it is accused of doing wrong.  It should perhaps redouble its commitment to the things that it has done right:



In the final analysis, the greatness of the United States does not lie in the undoubted strength of its armies, its navies and its air forces: it lies in the values and ideals of personal and economic freedom that it represents.  If it can remain true to these ideals it will succeed in carrying out its historic global leadership role.