The Struggle for the Soul of the 21st Century
William Jefferson Clinton is the former president
of the United States.
great question of this new century is whether the age of interdependence
is going to be good or bad for humanity. The answer depends upon whether
we in the wealthy nations spread the benefits and reduce the burdens of
the modern world, on whether the poor nations enact the changes necessary
to make progress possible, and on whether we all can develop a level of
consciousness high enough to understand our obligations and responsibilities
to each other.
We cannot make it if the poor of the world are led by people like Osama
bin Laden who believe they can find their redemption in our destruction.
And we cannot make it if the wealthy are led by those who cater to shortsighted
selfishness and advance the illusion that we can forever claim for ourselves
what we deny to others. We are all going to have to change.
Philosophers and theologians have long talked about the interdependence
of humanity. Politicians have talked about it, quite seriously at least,
since the end of World War II, when the United Nations was established.
But now ordinary people take it as a given because it pervades every aspect
of our lives. We live in a world where we have torn down walls, collapsed
distances and spread information.
The terrorist attacks on September 11 were just as much a manifestation
of this globalization and interdependence as the explosion of economic
growth. We cannot claim all the benefits without also facing the dark
side of the coin.
It is very important, therefore, that we see the present struggle against
terrorism in the larger context of how to manage our interdependent world.
A LEDGER OF INTERDEPENDENCE | If asked on September 10 what are the
forces most likely to shape the beginning of the 21st century, the answers
would have varied, depending on where you live.
If you live in a wealthy country, and you are an optimist, you might have
said the global economy. It has made the rich countries richer and lifted
more people out of poverty around the world in the last 30 years than
any time in history. And poor countries that have chosen development through
openness have grown twice as fast as poor countries that have kept their
Second, you might have answered the explosion in information technology,
because that increases productivity which drives growth. Hard as it is
to believe today, when I became president in January 1993, there were
only 50 sites on the World Wide Web. When I left office eight years later,
there were 350 million.
Third, you might have said the current revolution in the sciences, especially
in the biological sciences, that will rival Newton's or Einstein's discoveries.
The sequencing of the human genome means that mothers in countries with
well-developed health systems will soon be bringing babies home from the
hospital with a life expectancy of 90 years. Nanotechnology and super
microtechnology are giving us the diagnostic capacity to see tumors when
they're only a few cells in size, raising the prospect that all cancers
will be curable. Research is now under way on digital chips to replicate
the highly complex nerve movements of damaged spines, raising the prospect
that people long paralyzed might get up and walk.
Fourth, from a political point of view, you might have said the dominant
factor of the 21st-century world will be the explosion of democracy and
diversity. For the ?rst time in the history of humanity, more than half
of the world's people lived under governments of their own choosing, and
within countries with open immigration systems and successful economies,
there was a breathtaking increase in ethnic, racial and religious diversity,
proving that it is possible for people from different backgrounds with
different belief systems to live and work together.
On the other hand, if you come from a poor country, or if you are just
pessimistic, you might have said the global economy is the problem, not
the solution. Half of the world's people live on less than $2 a day. A
billion people live on less than a dollar a day. A billion people go to
bed hungry every night. A quarter of the world's people never get a clean
glass of water. Every minute one woman dies in childbirth. It is projected
that the world population will grow 50 percent over the next 50 years,
almost 100 percent of it in countries that are poorest and least able
to handle it.
Further, you might have said that, despite economic growth or perhaps
because of it, we are going to be consumed by an environmental crisis.
The oceans, which provide most of our oxygen, are rapidly deteriorating.
There is drastic water shortage already. And global warming is going to
wreak devastation. If the Earth warms for the next 50 years at the same
rate as the last 10, we will lose whole island nations in the Pacific
and 50 feet of Manhattan Island in New York. We will create tens of millions
of food refugees, leading to more violence and upheaval.
The global health crisis might have topped the list. One in four people
every year dies from AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis and infections related
to diarrhea, almost all of them children who never get a clean glass of
From AIDS alone, 22 million people have died and 36 million people are
infected. One hundred million cases are projected in the next five years
if preventive action is not taken. If that happens, it will be the biggest
public health problem since the Black Death killed a quarter of Europe
in the 14th century. While two-thirds of the cases are in Africa, the
fastest growing rates are in the former Soviet Union, on Europe's back
door. The second fastest growing rates are in the Caribbean, on America's
front door. The third fastest growing rates are in India, the biggest
democracy in the world. And the Chinese have just admitted they have twice
as many cases as they had previously thought, and only 4 percent of the
adults know how AIDS is contracted and spread.
Even on September 10, you might have reasonably argued that the 21st century
will be defined by the marriage of modern weapons with terrorism rooted
in ancient hatreds of race, religion, tribe and ethnicity.
Taken together, these positive and negative forces are a stunning reflection
of the most extraordinary degree of global interdependence in human history.
WHAT IS TO BE DONE? | First, we have to win the fight against terrorism.
There is no excuse ever for the deliberate killing of innocent civilians
for political, religious or economic reasons. Terror has been around a
long time. The West has not always been blameless. In the First Crusade,
when Christian soldiers seized Jerusalem, they burned a synagogue with
300 Jews and proceeded to slaughter every Muslim woman and child on the
Temple Mount. My country is now the oldest continuous democracy in the
world. Yet, it was born with legalized slavery, and many black slaves
and Native Americans were terrorized and killed afterward.
Now America and other advanced nations face the reality of terror at home.
While we have to win the fight in Afghanistan and do more to develop defenses
against the possible use of biological, chemical or nuclear weapons, we
also must do more to figure out how, with open borders and increasingly
diverse societies, we can identify and stop people who come into our countries,
looking for somebody to kill.
This will be hard to do without violating civil liberties because, in
America and many other nations, there is somebody from everywhere. But
we will do it.
In all human conflicts, since the first person came out of a cave with
a club in his hand, offense always wins first. But then, if good people
do sensible things, defenses catch up and civilization proceeds. The more
lethal the weapons, the more urgent it is to quickly close the gap between
offense and effective defenses.
Terrorists aim to terrorize, to make us afraid to get up in the morning,
afraid of the future and afraid of each other. But no terrorist strategy
standing on its own has ever succeeded. This frightening effort will fail,
too, and it is highly unlikely that the 21st century will claim as many
innocent lives as the 20th century.
Not everybody who is angry wants to destroy the civilized world. A lot
of people are angry because they want to be a part of tomorrow, but they
cannot find the open door.
It thus seems fundamental to me that we cannot have a global trading system
without a global economic policy, a global health care policy, a global
education policy, a global environmental policy and a global security
In effect, we have to create more opportunity for those left behind by
progress, thus reducing the pool of potential terrorists by increasing
the number of potential partners. To make new partners, the wealthy world
has to accept its obligation to promote more economic opportunity and
help reduce poverty.
To start with, there should be another round of global debt relief. Last
year the United States, the European Union and others provided debt relief
to 24 of the world's poorest countries, if, and only if, they put all
the money into education, health care and development. There have been
some stunning results. In one year, Uganda doubled primary school enrollment
and cut class size with its savings. In one year, Honduras took its savings
and went from six years of mandatory schooling to nine.
For several years the US has funded 2 million micro-enterprise loans every
year in poor countries. We should do more of that. That 2 million should
rise to 50 million. As the Peruvian economist Hernando de Soto has shown,
economic growth can explode if the assets of the poor are brought under
the legal system, such as through gaining titles on their homes, which
in turn will enable them to collateralize credit. Whole new markets will
open up if this can be done.
Last year America and Europe opened it markets further to Africa and the
Caribbean as well as to Jordan and Vietnam. China was admitted into the
World Trade Organization. This market access should be expanded further.
We should urgently fund the $10 billion UN Secretary General Ko? Annan
has asked for to fight AIDS. America's share would be about $2.2 billion-a
mere tenth of a percent of the budget. And a lot cheaper than coping later
on with a potential 30 million AIDS victims in India alone.
The same argument applies to helping fund education. A year's education
adds 10 to 20 percent to a person's income in a poor country. There are
100 million children that never go to school-half of them in sub-Saharan
Africa. In Pakistan, the main reason that all those madrassas were not
teaching math but promoting such ludicrous notions as "America and
Israel brought dinosaurs back to Earth to kill the Muslims" is that
the Pakistanis ran out of money in the 1980s to support their schools.
Compared to the costs of fighting a new generation of terrorists, putting
100 million kids in school around the world is an inexpensive proposition.
And it can be done. In Brazil, for example, 97 percent of the children
go to school because the government pays the mothers in the bottom third
of the poorest families every month if their children attend school.
The Afghan war costs America about a billion dollars a month. For $12
billion a year America could pay more than its fair share of every program
ISLAM IS NOT THE ENEMY | President George Bush has made it clear that
America and the West are not the enemies of Islam.
We need to remind Muslims around the world that the last time the US and
the United Kingdom used military power it was to protect the lives of
poor Muslims in Bosnia and Kosovo; that 18 Americans lost their lives
in Somalia trying to arrest Mohammed Farah Aidid because he had murdered
22 UN peacekeepers from Pakistan. We need to tell angry Muslims something
they apparently don't know: In December 2000, the US proposed an agreement
that, in the most sweeping terms, provided a Palestinian state on the
West Bank and Gaza as well as protected Palestinian and Muslim interests
in Jerusalem and on the Temple Mount. While Israel accepted this plan,
the PLO said no.
To prove that Islam is not our enemy, the EU and the US have to get back
to the work of building a just and lasting peace in the Middle East.
OBLIGATIONS OF THE POOR COUNTRIES | The poor countries also have an
obligation-to advance democracy, human rights and good governance. Democracies
don't sponsor organized terrorism, and they're more likely to honor human
To that end, we must encourage the debate now going on in the Muslim world,
one that has risen and fallen for 1,300 years, about the nature of truth,
the nature of difference, the role of reason and the possibility of positive,
The most successful modern reconciler of faith and the imperatives of
modern life, King Hussein of Jordan, lamentably died not long ago. In
1991, he galvanized all the elements of Jordanian society and offered
a real parliament with fair elections, in which everyone, including fundamentalists,
could run, as long as they agreed not to limit the rights of others.
It is no accident that Jordan, a poor country, a young country, a majority
Palestinian country, a small country in a geographically delicate position,
is nonetheless the most politically stable country in the Middle East
today. That is because it has moved toward democracy with enforced mutual
respect and a role for human reasoning and debate. Those of us who want
to have a good relationship with the Islamic world must support this kind
of moderation and trend toward democracy.
A HARD ROAD | If interdependence is going to be good instead of
bad for the 21st century, then we must recognize that our common humanity
is more important than our differences. This is the struggle for the soul
of the 21st century. But history has shown how hard this notion is to
In my lifetime, Gandhi was killed, not by an angry Muslim but by an angry
Hindu, because Gandhi wanted India for the Muslims, the Jains, the Sikhs
and the Hindus. Anwar Sadat was killed 20 years ago, not by an Israeli
commando but by an angry Egyptian who thought Sadat was not a good Muslim
because he wanted to secularize Egypt and make peace with Israel. And
my friend Yitzhak Rabin, one of the greatest men I have ever known, was
killed, not by a Palestinian terrorist but by an angry Israeli who thought
Rabin was not a good Jew or a faithful Israeli because he wanted to lay
down a lifetime of killing for a secure peace that gave the Palestinians
a homeland and recognized their interests in Jerusalem.
Those of us who have benefited most must lead the way in making this world
without walls a home for us all.