A seminal year for the planet

Georgie Anne Geyer

December 31, 1992|By Georgie Anne Geyer

WHAT a seminal year this has been! As with the old love poem, I begin to count the reasons why:

* This was the year an American president finally announced the end of the Cold War. George Bush in his State of the Union Address last winter graciously declared it not simply a victory for the United States, but a victory for the "cause of human freedom."

My own less-gracious concern: The West has been very sympathetic to the Russians' fear of being mocked and humiliated in this failure of communism. Indeed, Western leaders have been so thoughtful of Russian sensitivities that they did not give their own people a serious sense of the magnitude of their victory! This, I am convinced, is one reason for the unsureness and groping in the Western world.

* This was the year of a criminalization of politics and economics across the globe. From Serbia to Somalia and from Russia to India, gangsterism was taking over from traditional military structures -- and every indication was that this was only the beginning.

The authoritative Jane's Defense Weekly of London identifies no fewer than 73 flashpoints around the globe that threaten regional or international stability, as well as 26 wars or insurrections. "We continue to live in the most dangerous decade of the century, and possibly ever," said Jane's publisher Paul Beaver.

* The year saw the premiere of what is being called the "failed nation-state." These are states that we thought were at least in part holding together. They aren't. And that fact is necessitating an entirely new and urgent international conversation about when the United Nations or the United States should or must intervene against slaughter, holocaust or civil war.

The American ambassador to the United Nations, Edward Perkins, for instance, described as "seminal" the Security Council resolution authorizing U.S.-led action in Somalia. It was the first time that a strictly humanitarian and not political crisis threatened international peace.

* Without many noticing it, the above-mentioned problems have this year brought to reality the old idea of "triage." In the mid-'70s, the medical term "triage" was put forward as a term signifying the effort to save only those persons or societies who had a good chance of surviving. The rest were to be thrown off the lifeboat.

This concept, unpalatable to humanitarians, is now becoming a reality as the developed world debates who is to be saved and who is too far gone for salvation.

* As nation-states in 1992 faced threats they had never before realized existed, the concept of "global tribes" began to be heard. These extended ethnic and cultural families constituted a rising force in everything from commerce to politics and were pioneering dramatic routes and exchanges.

To cite just one of these global tribes, the "Chinese-based economy" -- made up of Chinese from Singapore to Indonesia and in China itself -- is thriving. Economists say the Chinese are quickly emerging as the world's leaders of growth.

* This year also witnessed the growth of a counter-movement that can be found within democracies such as the United States, across the former communist states as they de-communize, and even within global economies. This is the movement to make individuals accountable for their actions, to create welfare or aid programs that decrease dependency instead of increasing it, and to revive the old idea of a social contract and all that means in terms of the "common good."

* Finally, 1992 witnessed in general the end of the idea, put forth by Marxists and by secular society alike, that salvation would come from society alone. But 1992 offered no other answers -- in short, it's been a stubborn and provocative year.

Georgie Anne Geyer is a syndicated columnist.

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