The 20th century has witnessed enormous technological change, the pace of which has been dizzying at times.
Compared to the placid way life was ordered 100 years ago, planet Earth is a different and, in many ways, unrecognizable place.
At the forefront of change has been the communications revolution. Forty years ago, Marshall McCluhan coined the phrase “global village” to describe the modern world. His point was that modern transportation and communication systems had shrunk the world to village size. How much more true this is now with the advent of cellular phones, cable television, video conferencing, e-mail and the Internet.
Rapid change can be unsettling and disorienting. It takes time for the human organism to adapt to a new set of variables, which can at first be puzzling and incomprehensible. Sometimes change can be incorporated far more readily by nations who vary in economic strength and cultural diversity.
The use of the Internet provides an interesting example. Even developing countries in Asia and Africa have embraced the Internet.
Since globalization is a relatively new development, its ramifications are not fully understood. Although books and articles about globalization already exist and the list is increasing, the nature, extent and future direction of globalization is not fully clear.
Both in the West and in the developing countries, there are skeptics who do not see globalization as a necessarily beneficial or benign occurrence.
Among some other powerful countries, globalization is perceived as consolidating the United States as the world’s only superpower. Perhaps there was a touch of envy in the French foreign minister’s recent characterization of the United States as an “hyper power.”
The U.S. preeminence is based on its clear current lead over other industrial countries in the cutting edge or frontier technologies whether it is biotechnology, lasers, rocket science or digital technologies. Clearly if globalization is to be accepted universally, appropriate policies will have to be devised so that the benefits of globalization are shared more equitably and its drawbacks minimized.
This is a tall order for the world’s statesmen and diplomats but in my view, quite attainable.
A foremost realization, which should never be too far from our thoughts, is that there are huge and growing swathes of poverty in Africa, Asia and Latin America among pockets of affluence elsewhere. An extract from a recent report by U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan on the state of the world is reproduced by me below because I believe it contains important information:
The past half century has seen unprecedented economic gains but 1.2 billion people have to live on less than $1 a day. The combination of extreme poverty with extreme inequality between countries, and often also within them, is an affront to our common humanity.
Rich countries must further open their markets to poor countries’ products, must provide deeper and faster debt relief and must give more and focused development assistance. Ridding the world of the scourge of extreme poverty is a challenge to everyone of us, we must not fail to meet it.
On the environment, the secretary general stated bluntly, “We have been plundering our children’s heritage to pay for unsustainable practices.”
He mentions the need to cope with climate change by taking steps to reduce global warming, confronting the water crisis, preserving forests, fisheries and biodiversity and finally developing a new ethic of conservation and stewardship.
If globalization is to succeed, which is eminently desirable, the international community will have to focus more on issues of international trade and environment. This is all the more important because export led growth can be an important vehicle for increasing prosperity worldwide and in shortening the gap between the haves and the have-nots. That is where trade based on an equitable trading regime can be the main engine of growth.
Thus, Mike Moore, who assumed his duties as director general of the World Trade Organization only a few months ago, has his work cut out for him. He has the tricky and sensitive task of steering the often complex trade negotiations between the developed and developing world toward a fairer trading regime. Not an easy task by any means, but inescapable if we wish to see the firm foundations of globalization laid out on a consensual platform.
It is interesting that the developing countries are not alone in fearing being marginalized because of the inherent inequities of the current international trading system.
Some workers in the advanced countries also feel threatened that globalization will result in the loss of their jobs. The violent demonstrations at Seattle last December during a World Trade Organization ministerial meeting and the recent demonstrations in Washington, D.C., at the annual World Bank-IMF meetings reflects fears about globalization in the United States.
Such fears should be addressed through informed debate and discussion. The point needs to be made repeatedly that globalization can be made to work for the benefit of all and not at the expense of anyone.
With such an approach, we can move confidently in the new millennium with a renewed sense of hope that a better and more equitable future is attainable for all through combined effort and concerted action.
— S. Azmat Hassan, a former Pakistani diplomat, is a professor at Caldwell College and a resident of East Hanover.
— From: The Daily Record, Morristown, NJ
— Published: July 28, 2000