Now it is an accomplished fact: the one billion people who inhabit a broad stretch of the Northern Hemisphere reaching from the Cascades to the farthest reaches of Siberia are officially joined in an organization dedicated to liberal multi-party democracy and free market economies.
So great is the exultation in the ideological vanquishment of oppressive communism and so immediate are the concerns that a "Welfare Wall" may supplant the Iron Curtain in dividing a prosperous Western Europe from a bereft Eastern Europe that the implications of this new alliance for the outside world might be overlooked. It had better not be.
For all its vastness, the 34-nation combine that met in Paris this past week represents less than one-fifth the population (5.3 billion) of this crowded planet. Furthermore, its inhabitants are mostly Caucasian and Christian in a world that is mostly non-Caucasian and non-Christian.
These home-truths alone were enough to give pause to the presidents, premiers and prime ministers gathered in Paris. For their first "out-of-area" challenge (as NATO bureaucrats might put it) was upon them in Iraq even before they assembled. While the Persian Gulf crisis was not on the agenda of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, it was on everyone's mind.
One of the key tasks in bringing Iraq to heel is to do so in a manner that does not pit the First and Second Worlds (now amalgamated) against the Third World. And in not having the richest and whitest part of the world seem to be ganging up on a small, brown, backward Moslem nation with the good luck to have oil and the bad luck to have a power-crazed dictator.
This is the factor that makes the backing of Egypt and other Arab countries in opposing Iraq so important and why President Bush, swallowing hard, is meeting today with Hafez Assad, the notoriously untrustworthy president of Syria. It also points up, less obviously, the quiet but vital role being played by China, which alone has a population larger than all 34 CSCE nations combined.
By all indications, the Beijing regime is preparing to align itself with the United States, Britain, France and the Soviet Union, the other veto-empowered permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, in a resolution bringing ever-greater pressure against Iraq. Note the line-up: Four primarily Caucasian and Christian nations and one Asian behemoth, the five victorious powers of World War II, the quintet that set up the United Nations under its control. For the first time since the founding of the United Nations 45 years ago, the Big Five are preparing a unanimous use-of-force authorization. How it works, how it is perceived by the 3 billion human beings outside the preferred power circle, will profoundly affect what the Euro-centric world calls the post-Cold War era.