University of St Francis, Joliet, Illinois, 1 November 2007

Denison University, Granville, Ohio, 6 November 2007




One of the remarkable things about human beings is that they are often not aware of the great historic and economic forces that determine their lives.  So, for example, Louis  XVI of France’s entry into his diary for 14 July 1789 – was simply “rien” – “nothing happened today”.  14 July was, of course, the day on which the Bastille was stormed and signalled the start of the French revolution which swept Louis and his world away.  Most of the workers in the cotton mills of Manchester at the end of the eighteenth century were probably also not aware that their lives were being determined by something that students would later study as the industrial revolution.


So it is with us today. Most of us in our daily lives are not aware of the great historic economic and political forces that are reshaping our world and that will determine the nature of the society in which we and our children will live in the years that lie ahead.


Foremost among these forces is the process that we call ‘globalisation’ or ‘global integration’.  Almost without our being aware of it, globalisation is reshaping the world in which we live.


If you don’t believe me check the running shoes and the jeans that you are wearing.  Chances are that they were made somewhere in Asia.  Think about the gas you put in your car the other day:  it probably came from the Gulf, from Venzuela or somewhere in West Africa.  Do you know anyone in the US armed forces who is serving somewhere overseas?  How many Thai, Korean and sushi restaurants were there in your community 10 years ago – and how many are there now? All these things are manifestations of globalisation.


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:


Well, what is globalisation driven by?  Who is directing its course and where will it all end?  The scary thing is that it is organic.  It has just grown and developed.  It is perhaps the latest manifestation of the universal evolutionary drive toward the creation of ever more complex systems.


At the same time, globalisation is eliciting increasingly vocal opposition from labour, conservationist, cultural and religious groups around the world – as we have seen in mass demonstrations from Seattle to Prague.


How should the United States – as the world’s last surviving super-power –  respond to the emerging reality of globalisation?


Throughout its history America has oscilated between isolation and active involvement in the world.


At present, the United States is in a phase of active engagement in global affairs.  In fact, if the world has become a globalised village, there can be little doubt that 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 IT pre-eminence.


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


As Gilbert and Sullivan observed over a hundred years ago “the Policeman’s lot is not a happy one”.


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 throughout history  – from the Romans two thousand years ago to the British during the nineteenth century.


The temptation under these circumstances will be great for America to withdraw once again into a new period of isolation.  It might well argue that it is self-sufficient and is much less dependent on the rest of the world than most other countries. After all, America’s imports and exports  amount to less than 15 %  of its GDP compared to over 35% for a country like Germany or more than 90% for Ireland.


I believe, however, that the key reality of globalisation is that isolation is simply no longer an option.


One of the implications of the globalising world is that no country – and particularly no leading power – can any longer withdraw from the international community.   Involvement in the globalised economy will increasingly be the key to growth.  No country will be able to withdraw from the commercial, cultural and technological opportunities that globalisation presents.


Neither can countries any longer ignore problems and grievances in other societies.


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.  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.


How then should America deal with the realities of globalisation?


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:


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.


Globalisation is leading to an unprecedented flow of people between countries and regions.  The days of homogeneous nation state have gone.  Today, a quarter of the populations of more than half of the countries in the world comprise ethnic and cultural minorities.


More and more US and international cities have culturally diverse populations.  59% of the population of Miami was foreign-born in 2001.  The figure for Toronto was 44% and for New York 36%.    23% of the population of even a supposedly homogenous city like Paris were born overseas.


The challenge will be to develop approaches that will enable all these diverse communities to coexist in harmony, toleration and mutual respect.  Attempts to ignore or suppress diversity can lead to confrontation and conflict.


The failure to accommodate diversity lies 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.


When dealing with the cultural challenges presented by globalisation we should perhaps remember what Mahatma Gandhi had to say on the subject:


“I do not want my house to be walled in on

all sides and my windows to be stuffed. I

want the cultures of all lands to be blown

about my house as freely as possible. But I

refuse to be blown off my feet by any.”


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 identity and our meaning.


We should perhaps leave the last word on the tension between isolation and globalisation to the early seventeenth century English poet, John Donne.  He said


‘….No man is an island, entire of itself…any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.’


The same is true of countries in a globalising world:


No country is an island, entire of itself…

the suffering and deprivation of any part of mankind diminishes us all,

because all of us are involved in mankind;

and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls

It tolls for us all.


And all of us must respond collectively and individually to its summons.