27 October 2004




“The Policeman’s lot is not a happy one.”

(Gilbert & Sullivan)


Next week the people of the United States will elect their President for the next four years.  The coming election will be one of the most important in recent history for the United States – and for the world.  This is because it will help to define the role that the United States will play in a globalising world during the critical period that lies ahead.

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:


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.


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 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 doubled since 1960.  The reality is that in 2002 the per capita income of Americans was more than fifty times greater than the per capita income of people in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.


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.


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.


There can also be no doubt that had the United States not decided to invade Iraq,  Saddam Hussein would still be in power in Bagdad;


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.  Wars seldom turn out the way they were planned.   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 ruling 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, leaders should think very carefully about launching military actions far from their shores with few sure allies in very volatile neighbourhoods.


In these circumstances leaders should consider the advisability 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 .


This is because poverty, repression; ignorance and fanaticism are the oxygen that enables conflict and repression to burn out of control; they are the oxygen that enables organisations like Al Qaida to breathe and survive.


It is not by accident that 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:


The United States – acting in concert with other prominent countries in 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 and peace that are essential for economic growth.


There is an undeniable link between peace,  economic development and democracy.  Only a handful of countries 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.


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 have experienced serious internal conflict – with the exception of Northern Ireland.


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


In the sphere of the economy, the developed countries must ensure that developing countries are treated fairly in the globalisation process:


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  have  been involved in wars or internal conflict during the past ten years.  Much of this instability can be ascribed to the lack of democratic mechanisms and protection 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 simmering conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians 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 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 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 that guarantees the individual and collective rights of all our people and that 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 the terror attacks of Al Qaida and Hamas would be to achieve a settlement that would ensure the security of Israel, living in harmony with a viable Palestinian state.


I believe that it would also be prudent for the United States, its global allies and multinational energy companies to embark on a major initiative to develop alternatives to oil.


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, Americans should consider that 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:



The United States can best play its global leadership role by remaining true to the values on which it is based and by working together with the international community to.


If the United States can do all these things there will ultimately be no place for the terrorists to hide.


A return to isolationism is simply not an option in a globalising world: the question is not whether, but how, the United States should carry out its historic global leadership role.  This is the question that the voters of America will have to decide when they cast their ballots next Tuesday.