The World 1992

January 03, 1992

The Soviet Union dominates the world more in dissolution than it did when trying. No questions confronting all nations in 1992 are greater than whether Moscow's vast nuclear armament can be kept under central authority, whether the Commonwealth of Independent States will fashion a coherent economy, whether its members will war with each other and whether any will claim a right of intervention in others.

Problems of nationalisms, exploding through despotisms restraining them, bedevil more than Yugoslavia and former Soviet republics. Iraq and its Kurdish minority in the north are not finished with each other. Independence for Slovenia and Croatia, sanctioned by the European Community (EC), will whet the hunger for independence of small nationalities inside EC countries.

The end of the Cold War has allowed for peace wherever Cold War rivalry fed conflict -- but has not guaranteed it. Peaceful settlements are under discussion in an array of previously insoluble conflicts: Israel's relations with its neighbors; a consent-based regime for South Africa; unity for war-ravaged Cambodia; an end to revolt and repression in El Salvador (see editorial at bottom of page); an accommodation between the two Koreas. It would be wrong to predict success in all, equally wrong to predict failure for all.

Western Europe is ascendant in this post-Cold War epoch. Moreover, the 12 nations of the European Community have left the door ajar, and former neutrals plus some reformed Communist powers can see their way in. Several Communist countries are in for unhappy times before they make alternatives work. This triumphant Europe is not a club of equals. Germany is its leader, engine and creator. Since 1945, Germany has been timid in imposing its will on others, but no longer. Germany will be heard.

East Asia is much the same story, but without the cohesion of supranational institutions. Japan, the giant of commerce and weak government, will assert itself more. The other tigers -- South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore -- will grow apace, though not with Japan as leader. In China, the reactionary gerontocracy fails to make its barrier to progress effective. And in South and Central Asia, as in the Middle East and North Africa, the power of Islam over civic life is growing.

Everywhere it has been customary to look to the U.S. for leadership. Last year, the U.S. soared as the only surviving superpower. But where spare cash is power, the U.S. is declining. While the American polity takes the year off for elections, foreign affairs will be secondary.

The world will not stop in 1992 for the U.S. to get off. Some problems can be resolved without American participation. Those that need us are still going to be there, this time next year. By then an American government will be able to face them.

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