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Text of remarks by Kishore Mahbubanii to the RSA/BBC's "The
World Lectures" on 1 June 2000 in London.
1 Let me begin
with two Arab proverbs. One says, "he who speaks about the future lies,
even when he tells the truth". Another says, "For every glance behind
us, we have to look twice to the future". These two Arab proverbs capture
well the challenge I face in this lecture. I am going to speak about the
future, not the past, but all discussions of the future are inherently
2 My thesis today
will I hope be a relatively simple one: that the 21st century will be
fundamentally different from the 19th and 20th centuries. By the end of
the century, we will return - in terms of balance of civilisations - to
the world we saw somewhere between 1,000 and 1,500 A.D. I don't know exactly
when these great changes will manifest themselves clearly. I hope that
they will emerge clearly in the next 25 years, while I have a chance to
be around to witness them. But even if these changes do not happen in
the next decade or two, I remain confident that these great changes will
happen this century. I feel this deeply in my bones.
3 The underlying
premise of my thesis is that the west has played an unusually dominant
role in world history for the past two centuries or more. Many history
books have made this point. One such classic is "The Rise of the West"
by William H. McNeillii. But I am going to quote from another
historian, J. M. Roberts, who says the following in his book: "The Triumph
of the West":
"It seems reasonable
to expect agreement that the course of 'modern' history ….. has been
increasingly dominated by first the Europeans and then the western civilisation
which was its successor. By 'dominated' I mean two things were going
on. One was that the history of the rest of the globe then changed forever
and irreversibly by the actions of the men of the west. The other was
that it changed in a particular direction; it was overwhelmingly a matter
of other cultures taking up western ideas, goals and values, not the
So, to summarise
world history crudely, for most of the past 200 years, western populations
have been subjects of world history while the rest of the world have been
4 As a consequence
of dominating the world for two centuries or more, the west has spun several
layers around the world, which in one way or another continue its domination
of the world. Curiously, most western minds cannot see the layers of western
influence because they have spent most of their lives on top of these
layers. Those who live under these layers know the scope and influence
of these layers - and those, like me, who have travelled from beneath
the layers to climb over them can perhaps see both sides of the picture.
Only this unique transition that I have made in my life has emboldened
me to make some of the outrageous claims I will make in this lecture.
5 A small personal
anecdote may help explain to a British audience what life was like under
the layers. Forty-six years ago, when I went to school for the first time
in Singapore, then a British colony, I once asked my classmate, Morgan,
where he wanted to be when he grew up. He replied "London, of course".
I asked why. He replied, "Because in London the streets are paved with
gold". This was how mighty and strong London appeared to be in our young
minds. British colonial rule has long gone. That removed only one layer
of western influence. Other layers remain.
6 The main conclusion
of my lecture is that some time in the 21st century, we will see what
I will call the rest of the west. There is a deliberate "double-entendre"
in the use of the word "rest": to connote both passivity and remainder.
(Incidentally, when I sent out the draft of my lecture to my western friends,
they saw many other meanings.)
7 Having said
that I am going to talk about the rest of the west, let me quickly add
that I do not belong to the western school of declinists. I do not see
the decline and fall of western civilisation. Indeed, the west will remain
dynamic and active for the most of the 21st century and it may well remain
the primary civilisation for a long time more. But what is likely to end
is its domination of the world. I see this as neither a happy nor a sad
conclusion. I have argued many times previously that for the past few
centuries, the west has borne the primary burden of advancing human civilisation.
The huge leaps in science and technology - which have resulted in huge
increases in the standard and quality of life for much of mankind - as
well as the significant new ideas in social and political philosophy -
which have generated the revolutionary ideas of freedom and equality for
all men - have all emerged from western societies. Mankind today would
have been in a sorry state if the west had not transformed itself into
the most dynamic civilisation. But having carried the burden of advancing
mankind's fortunes for several centuries, perhaps it is time that we give
the west a rest.
8 At the same
time, I hope that my remarks will send a message of hope to the majority
of the world's population, i.e. the five-sixths of the world's population
who live outside the West. If my thesis is proven correct, then the two
centuries during which they have essentially been passengers on the bus
will end. In this coming century, if they learn the lessons of history
well, they may finally get the opportunity to be co-drivers of the global
bus. And, to be honest, the reason why I chose this topic is to send out
this message of hope. Most living in the west do not appreciate or understand
the feeling among many in the Third World that they are essentially second-class
citizens of our globe. They need to believe that they too can become first-class
9 One key lesson
of history is that change has never been easy or smooth. Often it has
been difficult or turbulent. To capture some of the difficulties of the
processes of change, I am going to borrow the Hegelian/Marxist dialectical
concepts of change - that change takes place in a process of thesis, anti-thesis
and synthesis. My thesis will be that even today the world continues to
be dominated by the West. My anti-thesis will be about the forces bringing
about the end of western domination and my synthesis will be about the
Rest of the west. If you still retain the image I mentioned of a world
still covered by layers of western influence that image will describe
my thesis. My anti-thesis will describe how these layers will retreat
from minds of the globe and my synthesis will hopefully gie a glimpse
of the world to come when these layers retreat.
10 In the post-colonial
era, any thesis of continual western domination does appear to be counter-intuitive.
With the advent of the UN Charter, all nation states can claim to enjoy
sovereign equality. This is the theory. In reality, nation states - like
human beings in any society - do not enjoy equal power. What is remarkable
is that today, in many significant ways, the architecture of power relationships
in the beginning of the 21st century still resembles those of the 19th
11 Let me add
a quick qualification. The means of using or exercising this power has
changed significantly. With the disappearance of the colonial era, and
especially after the end of World War II, we have not seen often the brutal
use of military force to invade and occupy neighbouring countries, with
rare exceptions like the invasions of Afghanistan and Cambodia a decade
or so ago. But real power can be exercised in many different forms. And
if one looks beneath the surface at the underlying architecture of power
relationships in the world, it is remarkable how little things have changed
since the 19th century.
12 It is impossible
in a brief lecture like this to provide an encyclopaedic portrayal of
power relationships around the world. But a few examples may help to illustrate.
And I will move from examples of "hard" power to examples of "soft" power
(to borrow a phrase created by Joseph Nye of Harvard University) and illustrate
the continuing inequalities in the world.
13 First, look
at the military dimension. In the 19th century, western military power
could not be challenged. Today, this remains so. NATO remains the single
most powerful military organisation in the world. Four out of the five
(i.e. including Russia) official nuclear powers are western. Only the
US has the ability to project its military power anywhere in the world.
No non-Western power can dream of doing this. It is true that such military
power is rarely used today. But, if required, it can be used. The citizens
of Belgrade and Baghdad understand this well.
14 In the economic
sphere, one could also argue that there have been no fundamental changes
in the architecture of economic power. The relative share of the global
GNP of US and western (and now eastern) Europe remain about the same as
the 19th century. Accurate statistics are hard to come by. But it is clear
that today the G7 countries (which include Japan, both an asian and western
power) dominate global economic decisions. Most of the world's research
and development is still being done in OECD countries (which remains essentially
a Western club). Equally importantly, the most important multilateral
economic agencies - the IMF, the World Bank, the BIS, the WTO, the Financial
Stability Forum - are dominated by the western states. No non-western
citizen - not even a Japanese - has a realistic prospect of heading the
IMF or World Bank.
15 As we move
into the political sphere, we move from the realm of "hard" power to "soft"
power, partly because the exercise of political power has become more
subtle. In the 19th century, during the colonial area, most of the countries
of the world were mere pawns on a chessboard while the players were european.
In the 21st century, with the creation of the UN, all countries are nominally
equal. This nominal equality should not be dismissed. It has enhanced
the sense of self-worth and dignity of many people around the world. But
when it comes to making hard decisions on how and when the world's resources
will be deployed, we should have no illusion that all capitals are equal.
Just as in the 19th century, a handful of capitals make the big decisions.
Today, the key capitals are Washington DC, Berlin, Paris, Moscow, London
(and gradually Tokyo and Beijing). The 19th century list may not have
been very different. And where the decisions are made makes a huge difference
in the deployment of real resources. The Minister of State for Foreign
Affairs of Uganda, Amama Mbabazi, captured this reality vividly with this
statement: "When it is Kosovo, you are there in one minute and spend billions.
When it's East Timor you are there. When it is Africa, there are all sorts
of excusesiv." This statement accurately captures the consequence
of unequal political power.
16 As I speak
of the continuation of old forms of power, I know that some of you must
be puzzled. In your mind, you may be asking: "Isn't Kishore aware that
the world has changed dramatically since the 19th century?" Yes, it has
changed, and changed enormously. But the counter-intuitive point I want
to leave in your mind is this: despite these important changes, the underlying
architecture of power relationships has not changed significantly, both
in the hard military and economic dimensions I have mentioned and the
new soft dimensions of cultural and intellectual power.
17 Look, for
example, at the fields of information and information-technology: two
key dimensions of our world today. Those who control the flow of information
determine what content enters into billion of minds who have access to
radios, TV sets or even Internet access. Today, all the sources of information
with a global reach - whether it be CNN or BBC, the Wall Street Journal
or Financial Times, Time Magazine or Economist - are all Western-controlled.
And it is Western minds who determine what news is significant and worth
airing globally and what is not. This makes a crucial difference. To cite
a simple example, if an Asian or African or Latin American princess were
to pass away tomorrow, it will hardly be mentioned in the news. But when
Princess Diana died - and it was truly a tragic and terrible loss - it
became a global event because those who determined the control of global
information flows decided that this was a global event. Let me stress
that I am not passing judgement whether this is right or wrong. I am only
trying to analyse realities dispassionately.
18 The west also
dominates in many other areas: in universities, in research and development,
in Nobel prizes for science, in release of new technology. Virtually all
the cutting edge work in any field of science, perhaps even in social
sciences, is done in the west. Equally important, in the important discussions
of philosophy and human values, the great outpouring of writing and books
are generated in the west. Hence, while we are not surprised that the
United States should be passing moral judgement on the implementation
of human rights instruments by China, a visitor from Mars may be surprised
that a young 200-year old society of the world is passing judgement on
a 5,000-old society. In short, what we take for granted in the world is
a certain imbalance of power relationships which we take to be a normal
and perhaps eternal feature of the human landscape. And this brings me
to the second part of my lecture: what we take to be normal and eternal
may be changing. The anti-thesis is surfacing. The world is changing,
and changing dramatically.
19 One of the
key insights Marx left with us was that one of main drivers of world is
economic change. And if he were alive today, he would be amazed by the
scope and speed of economic changes we are witnessing today. He would
also be puzzled by the conventional wisdom that these rapid economic changes
will not lead to historic shifts in the political, ideological or cultural
landscapes of the world. Again when I showed my draft to my friends, they
challenged my assertion that conventional wisdom in the West today states
that nothing fundamental will change. To prove my point, let me cite two
examples. Barely two weeks ago, the Financial Times carried a column by
Michael Prowse where he said "I see the 21st century as belonging to Europe".
v Another well-known writer, Robert Kaplan, used even more
vivid imagery to describe the continuing western domination. He compared
the world in the 21st century to a "stretch limo in the portholed streets
of New York City, where homeless beggars live". Inside the limo "are the
air-conditioned post-industrial regions of North America, Europe, the
emerging Pacific Rim" [Note: Yes - this is a concession to a few outside
the West]. Outside the limo "is the rest of mankind, going in a completely
different direction." My vision of the future is sharply different from
the perspectives of these two western writers.
20 The main engine
of change in the 21st century will be the forces of globalisation. We
are all aware that there is a raging debate going on about the virtue
and vices of globalisation. The demonstrators at the recent Seattle WTO
and the Washington IMF meetings are trying to generate a consensus that
globalisation is bad. A recent column in the New York Times by Joseph
Kahn seems to support this view with the observation that "Among both
mainstream economists and their left-leaning critics, it has become axiomatic
that globalisation leaves too many poor people behind." vi Personally, I
agree with the view that the UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, recently
expressed: "The cure does not lie in protesting against globalization
itself. I believe the poor are poor not because of too much globalization,
but because of too little - because they are excluded."
for us this debate is irrelevant. Globalisation is an irreversible force.
It has been unleashed by rapid technological change. We cannot turn the
clock backwards. As a result of rapid technological change in many dimensions,
the earth has shrunk. We have gone from being planet earth to spaceship
earth. All of mankind has begun to be woven together in a complex web
of interdependence. The consequences for the future of mankind are enormous.
22 The first
consequence of interdependence is that we have a common stake in the economic
well being of each other. The asian financial crisis demonstrated this
vividly. When the Thai baht collapsed on 2 July 1997, barely three years
ago, the major economic capitals paid little attention. The big global
economic decision-makers of that time decided that this little crisis
on the other side of globe could be ignored.
23 The Thai baht
crisis spread to other countries in southeast asia. From there it shook
Korea. This in turn affected Russia. From Russia, it leapt to Brazil and
then, in an important leap, it began to rattle American markets. This
recent episode demonstrates vividly how interdependent the world had become.
The financial flows around the world - US$1.5 trillion a day - have become
so large that no one can control them. With the global integration of
all economies into one system, the strong economies now have to worry
about the weaker economies because, as Claude Smadja has observed: "In
an increasingly integrated world, the resilience of the global economy
is only as strong as the weakest of its components."viii Another
vivid example of global interdependence was demonstrated by the rapid
spread of "I love you" virus from a single computer in the Philippines
to the whole world in a matter of days.
24 The positive
effects of globalisation should not be ignored. It provides a new economic
tide which has already integrated millions in the Third World, especially
in the two most populous nations of India and China, into the modern world.
Although there remain huge numbers of poor people in India and China,
globalisation has already had spectacular effects in the social and economic
landscapes of both countries. The economic successes of China are well
known. Few are aware that India too may experience explosive economic
growth. The recent UN Millennium Summit report predicted that by 2008
- a mere 8 years away - the Indian computer industry would reach $85 billion,
a spectacular sum by any standard. From the mid-1980s since the economic
success of Japan and the four tigers (Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore)
became evident, it was clear that their success would spread to other
asian societies. The asian financial crisis of 1997-98 was a major hiccup
but it has not altered the upward economic trend. In the economic sphere,
western domination will gradually but inevitably decrease. A more level
playing field will emerge here.
25 The interdependence
I have spoken about in the economic field is also becoming apparent in
the environmental field. Chernobyl taught us a valuable lesson: environmental
disasters don't respect borders. Neither do new infectious diseases, which
can be immediately transported from one corner of the world to the other.
All western populations, like the rest of the world, have an economic
stake in the level of emissions that China and India produce as they industrialise
and progress. I am not an expert in this field but if their per capita
emissions reach half the per capita level of american emissions, the global
environment will be seriously destabilised.
26 So far, I
have only illustrated interdependence in the economic and environmental
fields. But it will logically and inevitably spread to other fields. And
as interdependence grows, a crucial change will take place in the relationship
between the west and the rest: both sides will have to cooperate if they
are to live together harmoniously on a shrinking planet. Interdependence
removes crucial levers of domination and creates a more level playing
field. For this reason, if for no other, the Third World should welcome
the acceleration of globalisation.
27 But growing
interdependence and changing economic realities will not be the only forces
reducing western domination. Changing demographic relationships will have
an equally profound effect. In previous centuries, western populations
appeared to increase at the same pace as the rest of the world. For example,
in the 19th century, when Britain dominated the world in many ways, its
population rose almost four times from about 10 million in 1801 to 37
million in 1901. In the 20th century, it increased one and a half times
only to about 60 million. In the 21st century, like most other European
nations, the population of UK is likely to remain stagnant.
28 All this has
created spectacular changes in demographic disparities. The developed
world's share of the global population will shrink from 24 per cent in
1950 to 10 per cent in 2050. In 1950, six of the twelve most populous
nations in the world were Western. By 2050, there will be one: the United
States. In 1950, Africa's population was less than half of Europe's (including
Russia's). Today, it is roughly the same. By 2050, Africa's population
will be three times larger.ix It is hard to believe that such huge demographic
shifts will have no serious social and political consequences.
29 Partly as
a result of these demographic changes, partly as a result of economic
and technological needs for new brainpower, partly as a result of TV images
now informing the world's poor that a better life exists within reach,
there have been increasing flows of non-western immigrants into Western
societies. The most spectacular and successful example of this is to be
found in Silicon Valley, where one reason for the Valley's success is
said to be the IC factor. "IC" refers not to "Integrated Circuits" but
to Indian and Chinese. Huge numbers of Indians and Chinese have provided
the brainpower needed for new software and hardware developments. Incidentally,
I should mention here that while the economic benefits from their brainpower
may flow mainly into California, their spectacular performance significantly
increases the cultural confidence as well as self-esteem of their native
30 The US, however,
has been used to receiving new flows of immigrants. Europe has not been.
But in the 21st century, this will change. The Economist (6-12 May 2000)
carried a lengthy article on immigration into Europe. As a result of both
aging as well as declining populations, most european nations will need
more immigrants. Let me quote The Economist: "To keep the ratio of workers
to pensioners steady, the flow would need to swell to 3.6 million a year
in Germany, 1.8 million a year in France and a staggering 13.5 million
a year in the EU as a whole."x
of This Anti-Thesis
31 At this stage,
some of you may be puzzled by this emphasis I am putting on demographic
trends. But if you are puzzled, let me remind you of my initial image
of the globe surrounded by Western layers. Let us also remind ourselves
how these layers began. First, look at how the world looked at the beginning
of the 19th century. Here I will quote William H. McNeill from "The Rise
of the West" [Note: All my friends who saw my draft text strongly advised
me not to read out these long quotes. So, I will paraphrase them in the
oral version of this lecture.]:
"At the outbreak
of the French Revolution in 1789, the geographical boundaries of western
civilization could still be defined with reasonable precision (i.e. within
Europe) ….. (But) within a few decades settlers of european origin or
descent were able to occupy central and western North America, the pampas
and adjacent regions of South America, and substantial parts of Australia,
New Zealand, and South Africa."xi
32 These population
movements have had an enormous impact on nature and character of civilisations.
In his book "The Triumph of the West", J. M. Roberts notes that for most
of the last five thousand years, there have been several distinct civilisations
living in the same world but apart, side by side. He also adds:
"Even when in
direct geographical contact, or locked in open conflict, they seem always
to have been separated by invisible membranes which, though permeable
enough to permit some cross fertilisation, have proved immensely tough
and enduring. Civilisations have co-existed for centuries, even sharing
land frontiers, but still passing little to one another which led to any
essential change in either. Their own unique natures remained intact."xii
At this point,
try to imagine if you can the world preceding western expansion to be
one where different civilisations survived as distinct and intact billiard
balls, unaffected by other civilisations. J. M. Roberts starts his book
with this world as his starting point and then he describes in great detail
how all other civilisations of the world have been changed, transformed,
affected by the explosion of western civilisations over the past two centuries.
33 The process
of change that he described was a one-way street: the impact of the west
upon the rest. These are my words, not his. Indeed, in his concluding
chapter, entitled "A Post-Western World", he speculates on how the world
will turn out with the end of western expansionary phase. But he remains
confident that western civilisation will provide the standards upon which
all other civilisations or societies would measure themselves. As he states:
"Here lies the
deepest irony of post-western history: it is so often in the name of western
values that the west is rejected and it is always with its skills and
tools that its grasp is shaken off. western values and assumptions have
been internalized to a remarkable degree in almost every other major culture."xiii
Indeed, his implicit
assumption that western civilisation represents the apex of human civilisation
is a deeply held belief in western minds. And this belief has also entered
non-western minds. V. S. Naipaul demonstrated this with his classic essay
that western civilisation represents the only universal civilisation.
34 My conclusion
is a remarkably simple one. Historians such as William McNeill and John
Roberts have been correct in describing the central flow of history for
the past two hundred years as a one-way street. William McNeill confirms
this point in his book "The Rise of the West":
"But the west's
expansion helped to precipitate decisive breakthrough of older styles
of civilized life in Asia about the middle of the nineteenth century.
For a full hundred years thereafter, the non-western world struggled to
adjust local cultural inheritances in all their variety and richness to
ideas and techniques originating in the European nineteenth century."xiv
I agree that
this how world history has flowed for the past two centuries. It has been
a one-way street.
35 My prediction
for the 21st century is an equally simple one: for the first time in centuries,
we will have a two-way street in the flow of ideas, values and people.
This notion of a two-way street of ideas is something very difficult for
many western intellectuals to conceive, partly because many believe that
they have created the world in their own image. Please allow me to quote
John Roberts one more time: "Paradoxically, we may now be entering the
era of its greatest triumph, not over state structures and economic relationships,
but over the minds and hearts of all men. Perhaps they are westerners
36 The simple
reality that J. M. Roberts did not grasp - and I must stress that in his
book Roberts comes across as a wise and modest man, not as arrogant or
closed mind - is that while western ideas and best practices have found
their way into the minds of all men, the hearts and souls of other civilisations
remain intact. There are deep reservoirs of spiritual and cultural strengths
which have not been affected by the western veneer that has been spread
over many other societies. This is why I began this lecture by referring
to the layers that the west has spun around the globe. The retreat of
these layers will reveal rich new human landscapes as we move into the
37 Only someone
who has lived outside the west - as I have - can see both how powerful
the impact of the west has been upon the rest of the world and at the
same time how limited its impact has been on the souls of other peoples.
The real paradox, contrary to John Roberts, is not that western culture
has taken over the hearts and minds of all men - the real paradox is that
western ideas and technology will over time enable other societies to
accumulate enough affluence and luxury to discover their real cultural
when asian populations acquired TV sets they watched western dramas out
of Hollywood. Many still do. But just as many Americans found the programme
"Roots" riveting as it described a past they were vaguely aware of, other
non-western societies have discovered their own roots from which they
have been effectively cut off for centuries. So in Asia, for example,
each asian society is beginning to re-connect with its past. Many in the
west have heard in passing about the Hindu epics of Ramayana and Mahabharata.
These epics have been absorbed heart and soul by young Indians with their
mothers' milk. But most of the time it has been handed down orally or
in print. When these epics were finally converted into TV dramas, hundred
of millions of Indians stopped whatever they were doing to watch the recreation
of their cultural legacy through western TV boxes. The same is happening
or will happen in other Asian societies. All this will, to put it simply
again, generate a renaissance of asian cultures not seen in centuries.
39 I know that
I am providing only a few examples of a changed world. Several readers
of this draft lecture complained to me that they could not imagine fully
the world I was trying to predict. Neither can I. But let me suggest one
area where we can look for leading indicators of the new world to come:
the Internet Universe. Today, I am told, 90% of the websites are in English.
But the content of the Internet is driven not just by the producers but
also by the consumers. If my predictions are right, the proportion of
English websites will fall steadily and be replaced by a huge variety
of languages. Let me add that there is one key structural reason why I
have chosen the Internet as a leading indicator. Unlike the Hollywood
films, the western TV dramas, the CNN and BBC reportage of the world that
enters the eyes and minds of the rest of the world in a one-way flow,
the Internet is unique in generating a two-way flow. And if my thesis
of a coming two-way street of ideas and values is correct, the first evidence
of this may also surface in the Internet universe.
40 All these
great changes do not mean that all the western layers that now envelope
the world will disappear. John Roberts is correct in saying that many
western ideas have proven to be utilitarian for both western and non-western
societies. Good technology is race blind and colour blind. It works for
all men. Medical advances in the west have benefited all mankind. So too
will many western social and political concepts. For example, if the rule
of law (rather than rule by law) becomes entrenched in asian societies,
it may well be the crucial variable that enables them to lift themselves
from their feudal practices, which continue to plague asian societies.
If meritocracy, rather than nepotism, became the norm of asian societies,
it would mean a tremendous unleashing of the brainpower found there. The
real challenge non-western societies will face in the 21st century will
be in deciding which western layers to retain and which to unravel.
41 The end of
the era of western domination will therefore not be a smooth or easy one
for non-western societies. If they reject all the western legacy left
in their societies, they may throw the baby out with the bath water. Each
non-western society, whether it be China or India, Indonesia or Iran,
will have to carefully decide which aspects of western systems and culture
can be retained and absorbed in their societies and which systems cannot.
I can tell you from my own observations that there is an ongoing monumental
struggle within the souls of many asians to decide what kind of identity
they want for their future. And I can tell you they are trying to find
the best from their own cultural roots and the best from the west. This
monumental struggle of souls is another reason why the next chapter of
history is going to be an exciting one for the world.
42 At the same
time, the success of Silicon Valley shows that there is a natural "fit"
between the brain food (now generated in the west) and the deep wealth
of asian brain power (that remains untapped). Economic forces - unless
interrupted by political or military disasters - will draw western technology,
capital and exports closer to asian workers and markets. If trade flows
across the Pacific once again begin to grow faster than trans-Atlantic
flows, the US links with Asia will again deepen.
43 All this could
lead to another new significant development in world history. Geography,
some say, is destiny. Hitherto, the common historical and cultural roots
of US and Europe have kept them close together despite the vast Atlantic
Ocean that separates them. But over time, their geographical and economic
as well as political needs could pull them in different directions. It
is conceivable that the United States and Europe will march to a different
drumbeat in the next century. So far, all the trade and economic disputes
between the US and Europe have always been resolved harmoniously in the
end. But if strains emerge, we should not be surprised.
44 All this brings
me to my final paradoxical conclusion. Writers such as William McNeill
and J. M. Roberts who documented the brilliant and magnificent contributions
of the west for the past two centuries shared a deep conviction that the
west would remain dynamic and vibrant. But as part of this continuing
dynamism, the west will increasingly absorb good minds from other cultures.
And, as it does so, the west itself will undergo a major transformation:
it will become within itself a microcosm of the new interdependent world
with many thriving cultures and ideas. The west may finally live up to
its highest ideals and become a truly cosmopolitan society.
45 Again, when
I speak about such a cosmopolitan destiny for the west, my friends frown
and state that they cannot visualise it. Fortunately for me, this month's
issue of National Geographic has a wonderful article on London. London,
it says, may well have become the most cosmopolitan city in the world.
As the article said:
"The whole world
lives in London. Walk down Oxford Street and you will see Indians and
Colombians, Bangladeshis and Ethiopians, Pakistanis and Russians, Melanesians
and Malaysians. Fifty nationalities with communities of more than 5,000
make their home in the city, and on any given day 300 languages are spoken.
It is estimated that by 2010 the population will be almost 30 percent
ethnic minorities, the majority born in the U.K."xvi
I began my lecture
by describing the central role London plays in the former phase of western
history, when its streets appeared to be paved with gold. The transformation
of London into a truly cosmopolitan city may indeed a harbinger to things
to come, not only for the UK but perhaps for most of the western world.
46 The rest of
the west may therefore see the creation of a new civilisation which will
truly integrate the best from all streams of mankind. I hope that my friends
in the west will see this as an optimistic, rather than pessimistic, conclusion.
i) Kishore Mahbubani, a Singapore diplomat, has delivered these remarks
in his personal capacity. They are solely his personal views.
ii) "The Rise of the West - History of the Human Community" by William
H. McNeill, The University of Chicago Press, 1963, 1991.
iii) Page 287, "The Triumph of the West" by J. M. Roberts, Little Brown
& Co., 1985.
iv) Page 3 of "Week In Review" section, New York Times, Sunday, 7 May
v) Page XXVII of Financial Times Weekend, May 13/May 14, 2000.
vi) Page 4, Section 3, New York Times, Sunday, 7 May 2000
vii) Speech by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to Millennium Forum on
22 May 2000 in New York.
viii) Essay entitled "The End of Complacency" by Claude Smadja, page 67,
Foreign Policy, Winter 1998-99.
ix) Page 52-55, "Gray Dawn" by Peter G. Peterson, Random House, 1999.
x) Article entitled "Europe's Immigrants", page 25, The Economist, 6-12
xi) Page 730-731, "The Rise of the West - History of the Human Community"
by William H. McNeill.
xii) Page 730-731, "The Rise of the West - History of the Human Community"
by William H. McNeill.
xiii) Ibid, page 278.
xiv) Ibid, page 730
xv) J. M. Roberts, ibid, page 289.
xvi) Article entitled "London on a Roll" by Simon Worral, National Geographic,
June 2000, page 10.